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F e a t u r e s /  A l l e n P a i s a n t begins: ‘It’s as if the black experience is only lived within an urban environment. I thought I liked the Lake District; where I wandered lonely as a black face in a sea of white.’

The evocation of Wordsworth in ‘I wandered lonely as a…’ is, of course, evident. Through the ironic evocations of Wordsworth’s iconic poem, the artist challenges the Romantic associations attached to wandering on foot through the land – leisure, relaxation, finding oneself – while highlighting the absence of bodies like her own in the landscape, and in cultural representations of the English countryside. There is an ambivalence in the speaker’s feelings: the artist depicts herself as wanting to be there, as discovering the pleasures of the Lake District (‘I thought I liked the Lake District’); and, at the same time, as feeling a strange sensation of ‘unease; of dread…’. The suspension dots suggest an ongoing question, a kind of inability to fully explain why such feelings of unease exist and persist. Wordsworth’s poem speaks of rest – the rest that allows one to observe the daffodils ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’, and the rest that such an experience gives to the mind. By contrast, the body language of the woman in the photograph does not strike me as being entirely restful. Her facial expression and her legs and knees that press against each other suggest a state of tension, that she might not feel entirely safe in this environment.

In one interview, Pollard was asked whether there was any personal experience that triggered her interest in the British rural, its mythologies and overwhelming Whiteness. She replied:

Just going on holiday. We only had a couple of holidays as a family – we didn’t have that kind of income – but we went camping a couple of times. When I left my parents, I used to go with friends to the Lake District. I wouldn’t see another black person for a week, and you would notice. It was hard. My white friends would be going to relax, and it would create anxiety for me. I appreciate the countryside, but it wasn’t particularly relaxing. I just wanted to do something about that.

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My forthcoming book Thinking with Trees considers Blackness and nature from the perspectives of time, race and class, while interrogating the cultural and geographical meanings of landscape. These poems evoke the environmental conditions underpinning Black identity, while urging us to imagine alternative futures. The book follows a Caribbean tradition of weaponising language through irony, and does so as a means of challenging social, racial and spatial boundaries. It engages a Jamaican lens on the British landscape and British ways of life, while reflecting on my changing ‘identity’ as I negotiate the shared and constructed space of landscape.

Thinking with Trees grapples with the fact that spatial exclusion grows into the literary field as well. In the eyes of publishers and readers, nature writing is a White concern. They bemoan the dearth, or ‘non-existence’, of Black nature writers. They ask, ‘Where are they? Are Black writers not interested in nature and ecology?’ The question is loaded with a set of assumptions and ossified ideas about nature, about Black writers, about the human being in relation to nature. It fails to acknowledge certain realities about the relationship between Blackness and landscape. It is ignorant of History, of the undemocratic aspects of landscape, and of the things that ‘nature’ might mean in non-White imaginaries.

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Those Who Can Afford Time

Who wanders lonely as a cloud with three golden retrievers?

Not me no not me I could never understand this poetry never understand what the poem was saying and how this could be poetry for me when my English teacher drilled the imagination of a white man’s country

I didn’t know how but somehow I knew this wandering was not for me because ours was not the same kind of time our wandering never so accidental so entire so free as if nothing was coming as if no hawk was near as if they owned the land and the mansion on it as if tomorrow and forever was theirs as if they had the right to take their time because everything about them was refined was secure

So Wordsworth’s poem never made sense I’d never stop to listen to the poems about trees & mushrooms & odd cute things & birds whose names I could never pronounce

My poetry was Tom the village deejay It was more material I said than the woods than the lives of those who loafed

& bought their time with money I thought those who had all the time in the world

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Where the relationship between Blackness, nature and history is concerned, a few observations are necessary. I will state these baldly. Firstly, in disrupting relationships

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