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Latitudes & Longitudes

Research Institute of Irish and Scottish Studies.
University of Aberdeen, 2013.

Editor's presentation

Kenneth White's work has always been global in scale and local in concentration and in this new book of poems, his first since his collected poems Open World (2003), he travels out from Scotland across Europe to traverse the Americas and Asia before coming back to Armorica, the northern French coast where he now has his home. Populated by intellectual nomads like himself, from the medieval philosopher Erigena by way of David Hume to Edmund Husserl, Latitudes & Longitudes charts alternative paths throught he cultural inheritance of both West and East, in order to recover a fundamental earth-poetics.

Hailed by  many as Scotland's most important poet-thinker since Hugh MacDiarmid, and by many others as one of the most significant writers working anywhere today, Kenneth White's poetry co-ordinates the intensity of immediate responsiveness to the natural world with a perspective on universal history which mounts a powerful challenge to the values of modernity.
Mackenzie’s Report

I, Mackenzie, Alexander
gather these notes together
in the midst of the American wilderness
to tell of our expectation
state and progress
in the course
of that memorable journey we made
from Fort Chipewyan to the Pacific Ocean

with myself, McKay and a dog
were ten French Canadians
(the best canoe-men you can get
except of course for Eskimos and Indians)
all aboard a crazy boat
loaded to the gunwhale
with 3000 pounds of heterogeneous material

day after day we spent
paddling, poling, towing
lugging packages over portages :
tedious and toilsome labour –
but what splendid beauty everywhere !
tall cliffs, red and grey
a multitude of rapids and cascades
birch, cedar, hemlock, willow
lofty blue mountains crowned with snow

doing trade with the Beaver People
the Rocky Mountain bands
the Salmon Folk
learning how they talk
looking into their ways of living
in those extreme northern lands

to the armchair geographers
this definitive message :
having travelled the road
I can say with no fear of reproach
there is no fabulous North-West passage
leading to some Asia indolent and rich
only a wan and silent water
a seaweed-covered beach
involved in fog
inhabited by seal and otter

I entrust this letter
to a battered old rum-cask
which I hereby deliver
this June 27th, 1793
to the waters of the Unnamed River
thinking that, who knows
one day someone in the future
will discover it with eyes full of wonder.

Letter from the Indian Ocean

Banana leaves
flap indolently at the window

elegant vanilla
climbs inch by inch up a palm

an emeraldgreen lizard
flickers over grey granite boulders

tweetering sunbirds
flit from one flower to another

white-tailed phaetons
cross and recross the sky

lying open on the table
an album of paleo-geography

a notice on the door says
« Gone away to Gondwana. »

A Monk in Tibet

Up in these highlands
that look down over
the criss-cross roads of Eurasia…

seen from the outside
this country of ours is hard and harsh :
icy ridges, cold scrub, salt-encrusted wastes

but here in this stony cell at Sa-Skya
between the Kunlun and the Himalaya
I contemplate the morning clouds
wrap myself in the snow of meditation
and walk for hours on end
in the pure land of the liberated mind.

On the Road to San Remo

Sunset on the Ligurian coast
and a wild wind blowing from the West

Nietzsche holds his head in Genoa
while Shelley drowns in the tide off La Spezia

the man at the wheel turns round and says
Italy’s in a hell of state these days

sure, I answer, I‘ve heard the story
but there are still some signs of the paradiso terrestre

a full moon was rising in the sky
like the premise of a lonely philosophy.