John C. Ryan , Arts, UNE, will present in the 2018 Arts Research Seminar series on Thursday, 8 March 2018, between 12.00 pm  and 1.00 pm in Oorala Lecture Theatre, Building (E22).

Title: Plant as Co-Author: Writing with Intelligent Flora

Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) from Tacuinum Sanitatis manuscript (ca. 1390)

The idea of ‘the intelligent plant’ has enjoyed a revival of late. This phenomenon is nothing new. Darwin speculated about the existence of a root-brain ‘directing the several movements’. Bose devised the crescograph to understand plant-script. Recent studies probe how plants think, communicate and experience the world without brains and nerves. Pea seedlings learn by association; mustard plants inherit memories of stress; some species repress recollections that could have negative effects on later generations; and arabidopsis—a common lab plant—displays care for kin and non-kin.

Of course, plant intelligence remains fiercely contested. It also provokes questions about the value of anthropomorphising descriptors—intelligent, conscious, sentient—in redeeming the botanical world from its low status on the scala naturae.

This presentation will focus on how plant semiosis has moved my writing towards ideas of collaboration and co-authorship. How does the co-authoring plant reconfigure creative practice? Does co-authorship need to be consciously ‘willed’ by the human writer? Or have poets been co-authoring all along without realising it? Theorising poetry as a ‘collaborative vehicle for inquiry’ (Tanner 2015), I consider these questions through poems and poetic shards I’ve co-written with the smarty plants of the New England Tablelands. The techniques I’ve experimented with include: (i) large-format visual poems; (ii) composted sonnets subject to editing by natural elements; and (iii) first-person narration from the plant perspective. Warning: some of this poetry will be read. 

To see upcoming seminars in 2018, please visit the Seminars & Public Lectures page.