What is Geopoetics?

Geopoetics is deeply critical of Western thinking and practice over the last 2500 years and its separation of human beings from the rest of the natural world, and proposes instead that the universe is a potentially integral whole, and that the various domains into which knowledge has been separated can be unified by a poetics which places the planet Earth at the centre of experience.

It looks for signs of those who have attempted to leave ‘the motorway of Western civilisation’ in the past in order to find a new approach to thinking and living e.g. in the writings of intellectual nomads such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Thoreau and Patrick Geddes.

It seeks a new or renewed sense of world, a sense of space, light and energy which is experienced both intellectually, by developing our knowledge, and sensitively, using all our senses to become attuned to the world, and requires both serious study and a certain amount of de-conditioning of ourselves by working on the body-mind.

It also seeks to express that sensitive and intelligent contact with the world by means of a poetics i.e. a language drawn from a way of being which attempts to express reality in different ways e.g. oral expression, writing, visual arts, music, and in combinations of different art forms, sciences and thinking.

It involves the coming together of a network of energies in the International Institute of Geopoetics and its various Centres where disparate disciplines of knowledge can converge in a common concern about the planet and a shared project to develop an understanding of geopoetics and apply it in different fields of research and creative work.

International Institute of Geopoetics members with Kenneth and Marie-Claude White in Edinburgh 2018

Wherever we live, if we’re open to the world around us, we can be creative in whatever way we choose and understanding and practising geopoetics can help us be creative. Here is a summary of its main elements:

  •   placing the Earth at the centre of our experience
  •   developing a heightened awareness of the Earth
  •   using all our senses and knowledge in approaching it
  • developing it as an approach to the world, a way of being in the world, as well as a world outlook 
  • seeking to overcome the separation of mind and body and of human beings from the more than human world. 
  • learning from others who have attempted to leave ‘the motorway of Western civilisation’ to find a new approach to thinking and living e.g. ‘outgoers’ or ‘intellectual nomads’ like Henry Thoreau, Nan Shepherd, Patrick Geddes, Joan Eardley, Alexander von Humboldt, Kenneth White, and many others.
  • creatively expressing the Earth in a variety of ways e.g. oral expression, writing, the visual arts, music, geology, geography, other sciences, philosophy, combinations of art forms and of the arts, sciences and thinking.
  • developing a network through Geopoetics Centres with a common concern about the planet and a shared project to develop our understanding of geopoetics and apply it in different fields of research and creative work. There are such Centres in Quebec in Canada, different parts of France, Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Chile and New Caledonia.
  • opening up the possibility of radical cultural renewal for us as individuals and for society as a whole.

Rory McLeod singing at COP26

Geopoetics: An International Movement

Geopoetics is a growing international movement which encompasses a network of individual energies based in the International Institute of Geopoetics which the Scottish poet and thinker Kenneth White founded in 1989 in France. It now has various Centres in different parts of the world such as Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Serbia, Quebec in Canada, New Caledonia, France and Scotland.

The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, which was founded in Edinburgh on Burns Night in 1995, offers a resource for the study and development of geopoetics which is available to all. Because it is the only English language Centre it has attracted members from England, Wales, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Poland and Sweden and there are over 100 members of many different religious and political persuasions and none. A Geopoetics Network in England and Wales has begun to meet.

The International Institute of Geopoetics

Inaugural Text

What marks the end of this 20th century, back of all the secondary discourse and all the palaver, is a return to the fundamental, which is to say, the poetic. Every creation of the mind is, fundamentally, poetic.

The question now is to discover where the most necessary, the most fertile poetics are to be found, and to apply them.

If, around 1978, I began to talk of “geopoetics”, it was for two reasons. On the one hand, it was becoming more and more obvious that the earth (the biosphere) was in danger and that ways, both deep and efficient, would have to be worked out in order to protect it. On the other hand, I had always been of the persuasion that the richest poetics came from contact with the earth, from a plunge into biospheric space, from an attempt to read the lines of the world.

Since then, the word has been picked up and used, in various contexts. The moment has come to concentrate those currents of energy into a unitary field.

That is why we have founded the International Institute of Geopoetics.

The geopoetic project is not one more contribution to the cultural variety show, nor is it a literary school, nor is it concerned with poetry considered as an art of intimacy. It is a major movement involving the very foundations of human life on earth.

In the fundamental geopoetic field come together poets and thinkers of all times and of all countries. To quote only a few examples, in the West, one can think of Heraclitus (“man is separated from what is closest to him”), Holderlin (“man lives poetically on the earth”), or Wallace Stevens (the poems of heaven and hell have been written, it remains to write the poem of the earth”). In the East, there is the Taoist Tchuang-tzu, the man of the ancient pool, Matsuo Basho, and beautiful world-meditations such as one can find in the Hwa Yen Sutra.

But geopoetics is not the exclusive domain of poets and thinkers. Henry Thoreau was as much an ornithologist and a meteorologist (“inspector of storms”) as he was a poet, or rather, we might say, he included the sciences in his poetics. The link with biology is just as necessary, and with an ecology (including mind-ecology) well-grounded and well-developed. In fact geopoetics provides not only a place, and this is proving more and more necessary, where poetry, thought and science can come together, in a climate of reciprocal inspiration, but a place where all kinds of specific disciplines can converge, once they are ready to leave over-restricted frameworks and enter into global (cosmological, cosmopoetic) space. One question is paramount: how is it with life on earth, how is it with the world?

A whole network can come into being, a network of energy, desire, competence and intelligence.

We invite all those who feel concerned by such a project to get in touch with the secretariat of the Institute, at Chemin du Goaquer, 22560 Trebeurden, France.

For the International Institute of Geopoetics, April 28th 1989

Kenneth White

More texts can be found here: Founding texts of geopoetics.