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Jon Cotner’s newest art project, Poem Forest, brings people closer to their environment.

Participants of Poem Forest in NY Botanical Garden

JON COTNER works at the intersection of writing and place. He’s always moving us towards the community-building potential of words, the way in which language draws us out of isolation and returns our awareness to shared spaces and how we interact with them.

Last summer we reported on his Spontaneous Society, whose mission was “to replace urban anonymity with affection.”

Yesterday the BMW Guggenheim Lab posted an audiovisual tour of Jon’s newest project, Poem Forest. Participants undertake a self-guided walk through an old-growth forest at the New York Botanical Garden, reciting 15 lines from 2500 years of poetry from around the globe, including US, Chile, China, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Sweden.

Here’s a audio track of some of the participants reciting:

Poem Forest by Jon Cotner

In describing the vision behind Poem Forest, Cotner wrote:

I’ve always felt that poetry is not an art object to be idly studied. Rather, it’s a way of life, a mode of knowing—a call to become more attentive and active. Koreans have an important proverb: “Knows his way, stops seeing.” Spanish poet Antonio Machado responds to this existential blur by advising us to “wake up as much as possible.” And before him, near the very beginnings of Greek philosophy (that moment when philosophy and poetry were still linked), Heraclitus said: “We share a world when we are awake; each sleeper is in a world of his own.”

Machado and Heraclitus get to the heart of poetry’s power. Poetry can wake us, and in the process we create a shared world or “the commons.” But what characterizes this common world? How can we describe it? With such questions in mind, I shaped Poem Forest.

For more information, please visit the BMW Guggenheim lab. And if you haven’t checked out Jon Cotner’s (along with fellow Notebook contributor Andy Fitch’s) revolutionary book Ten Walks/Two Talks, please see these notes. And to keep up with Jon’s work, please follow him on Twitter.



About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • jenna

    sounds like an interesting project- i like the idea of poetry as spoken rather than an inaccessible assortment of words.

    also like the korean proverb- going to be thinking about that one for a while, thanks david!

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