plant matters

Irma’s Garden

She was a victim of The Midnight Garden

and did not say a word

but shrunk before my eyes

Her voice receded

silenced by shame

and what remained

went back to the garden.


To remove nature, to isolate it from human nature and then write about it, is an extremity as unproductive as the one which sees all nature as a (symbolic) version of man. Man is a part of Nature and to isolate one from the other, or to slide the one over the other, is to miss either the (related) complexity of both or the ‘solidity’ of each. The two are contiguous; and that is what I’m trying to get at in the ‘flower’ poems. If seen as contiguous, they can be seen as two components of a whole capable of mutual enrichment.

Silkin constructs a poetics in which affect and empathy are not restricted to human beings. In his Holocaust poems the boundaries of human and non-human are reconstituted through suffering and crisis. Plants and humans are forced to share experience due to the atrocity they witness together, leading to a reallocation of roles across species. Categories of the human and non-human become porous in Silkin’s poetic acts of anthropomorphising plants in order to push the boundaries of affect and empathy. This can be seen most explicitly in ‘Milkmaids’ (Flower Poems, 1964), ‘The People’ (The Principle of Water, 1974) and ‘Trying to Hide Treblinka’ (The Lens-Breakers, 1992) which depict concentration camp sites and construct ecological spaces of memory.

James E. Young. Young’s monograph The Texture of Memory