Owain Jones in conversation with Frances Presley - Frances Presley

Owain Jones in conversation with Frances Presley

(from More Than Human Research 06/12/2013 http://www.morethanhumanresearch.com)

In 2002 Owain Jones  (with Paul Cloke)  published the book Tree Cultures and since then has kept up a series of conversations with academics,  artists and professionals about ‘aboriculture’. Recently, Owain has been in conversation with the poet Frances Presley who became aware of his work on trees through the book. Frances writes poetry and prose on landscape, language, nature and history. Her current Arts Council funded project involves engaging with individual trees in particular landscape settings. In late October, Owain and Frances spent a day visiting trees sites in Bristol and also met with the botanist Libby Houston who is an expert on the rare whitebeam trees that grow in Avon Gorge Bristol. Below is an extract of their conversation and some pictures of the day…

24 October 2013, Arnos Vale cemetery, Bristol.

FP: I am very conscious of the difference between urban space and somewhere like Exmoor, especially the context and extent of it.  As an artist you could take a close up of a leaf or a tree and it could be anywhere, but it isn’t.  As a writer in London I am conscious all the time of the thinness of it…

OJ: Thinness?

FP:  The thinness of the experience in terms of the tree and where it is situated – the fragility of nature before you get back into the urban.  It is a completely different experience to having that almost infinite reach you get in wild landscapes.  I think trees behave in different ways in the city – as well as people.

OJ:  How definable is that?

FP:  I think it happens in the work.  Using language you draw in more aspects of the landscape and the people who live there, the whole area.

OJ: Some aspects of that must be unconscious.

FP:  Yes, there is a richness and density of experience on the moor which makes itself felt in the writing.

OJ:  Which is the opposite to thinness I suppose.

FP:  But the thinness is also interesting, almost more interesting at times.  There are violent juxtapositions, such as the trees and the graffiti on the Parkland Walk in London – a disused railway line.  Trees are stressed in the city, even sometimes graffitied, as if they were another brick wall.