In the opening paragraph of the first essay in Antlers of Water, poet and writer Chris Powici describes ‘a sonorous rhythmic mixing of the human and the wild’. The same can be said of this collection of prose, poetry, and images on the nature and environment of Scotland. Edited by writer and poet Kathleen Jamie, Antlers of Water brings together 23 writers and artists to share some of the myriad views of both human and more-than-human in Scotland’s landscape.
For those who already enjoy contemporary Scottish nature writing, there are some old friends: Jim Crumley writes about the return of the eagle; Amy Liptrot considers how wild swimming and new motherhood might fit together; Malachy Tallack learns what it means to hope as our planet declines. Their work sits comfortably alongside emerging writers. Shetlander Sally Huband looks at the raven and its association with the patriarchal celebration of Up Helly Aa, while Jaqueline Bain writes on immobility and its effect on her relationship with nature as she watches wasps in her Paisley garden.
Some of these writers also seek to travel beyond perceived boundaries. Jim Carruth’s collection of poems, Native, crosses the boundary of time, offering a glimpse of this landscape before humans came to live here. Chitra Ramaswamy travels across the physical border between England and Scotland, showing the lives and perceptions that we carry into our view of the landscape.
Just as the red kite in Powici’s essay is ‘going about the business of mapping and re-mapping its world’ so too this collection maps and remaps the human and the wild in Scotland’s mountains and bogs, in its coasts and islands, as well as its gardens and paths, its streets and school playgrounds. As Jamie highlights in her introduction, ‘The natural world is not here as a painted backdrop to our human concern: it is our human concern.’ The writing that emerges in this collection is conscious of humans as a keystone species, and is a Scotland in which questions can be asked about our past, our present, and our future relationships with the nature and environment in which we live.
This collection resonated with the Scotland that I know, but at the same time it opened out new ideas about our world and the species we share it with. In commissioning this work, Jamie asked ‘is there an identifiably Scottish new nature writing’? One thing that becomes clear is that the writers, artists, and poets gathered here all share an awareness of place, and an awareness of both human and more-than-human as integral to Scotland’s rural and urban landscapes today.
Reviewed by Kirsteen Bell