Travis Macdonald is the author of two full-length collections of poetry (The O Mission Repo and N7ostradamus) as well as several chapbooks. He currently lives in Philadelphia, PA where he works as a copywriter and co-edits Fact-Simile Editions, a micropress dedicated to publishing works of contemporary poetry using mostly reclaimed or recycled materials. Below these four poems Travis discusses the thinking behind them.
When Travis sent us at The Clearing a sheaf of these strange and wonderful poems we asked him to tell us a little about where the inspiration came from. We have printed his response below.
‘I started this project while living in Boulder, Colorado, specifically after discovering that the Russian Olive trees that seemed such a natural and integral part of that city’s landscape are, in fact, an invasive species. I became interested in exploring the lines of demarcation that divide “invasive” and “native”.
As a nation of immigrants whose collective identity (our very American-ness) has often defined itself in opposition to a shifting other (most recently those of Hispanic heritage) we Americans tend to be inordinately preoccupied with ideas of border and origin. The fact of the matter is, these plant species did not arrive here by accident. They were brought here, in many cases very deliberately, by our colonist/immigrant ancestors. We label them invasive in order to establish their otherness, their opposition to our idea of a “pure” or “natural” ecosystem. And yet, by doing so, we also seem to be disavowing our own agency in the process, our own invasive nature. We seem to say: “Look, we are working hard to keep these evil invaders in check.” In this way we conveniently gloss over the fact that we ourselves are the invaders responsible for their presence in the first place.
Another aspect of this project that I would be remiss if I did not address is the fact that, while there are some definite areas of overlap, each state has different ideas of what is “invasive” and what is “native”. The very definition of these terms seems to be malleable. In some cases, this is due to shifting concentrations of the various species. As I have tracked progressive migration across the American landscape, it has become clear that each species’ journey begins at the coasts where the highest concentrations are found and then moves toward the middle of our nation. Not unlike the human (im)migratory pattern that has been playing out over the past several hundred years.
Of course, all sub-textual implications aside, as a poet, the most immediate delight of this project has been in the cataloguing of the stories contained within each name. The Latin categorizations of Linnaeus are stale and boring in comparison to the rich etymologies and associative implications contained within each plant’s colloquial “folk” name. In nearly every case, there is a thinly veiled origin or history being told by these brief but deeply descriptive terms. The collision and cohesion of different cultures’ metaphorical structures and organically evolved naming conventions has, I hope, resulted in a distinctly poetic evocation that is both sonically enjoyable and obliquely informative.’