Editorial: nature and its absence

What do you think about when you think about nature? Weeds? Mountains? The sea? Do you think about its absence, or perceived absence, in cities? Or do you ponder human nature, like Petrarch was moved to do when he climbed Mount Ventoux? In this issue of PEN Transmissions, we track some of those thoughts – though, alas, no Renaissance philosophers.

We came to think about nature and its absence when we read Iranian poet Mahvash Sabet‘s extraordinary poetry, steeped in reflections on the natural world and written in prison, where she herself had no access to it. What is our relationship with nature? How can we live without it? You can find our conversation about poetry, beauty, prison and flowers here.

Like Mahvash, Luljeta Lleshanaku is a poet with nature on her mind. Growing up in a small, ‘wild’ town in Albania, at that time a repressive Communist regime, the natural world was more reliable than many other things. After all, as Luljeta says, ‘bees don’t betray you. Nature never betrays you.’

But nature is more than just trees, bees, snow and wind – especially when humans get involved. Jeremy Tiang reflects on Singapore and its impulse to control both human nature and the natural world, from supertrees to sexuality, and wonders if the country is ready to ‘let in a little wildness’.

Finally, Daisy Johnson (whose novel Everything Under is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize) dives into how language shapes our nature, how we are changed by the words we use. Daisy wins a special Transmissions award by referring to a perfect film in her piece. Find out which one, here.

I hope you enjoy this issue of PEN Transmissions. Let me end by quoting  from an Iris Murdoch novel that I often think about, where an Australian teenager visits England for the first time: He was depressed by the countryside which they all thought so pretty, and constantly exclaimed about instead of taking it for granted.

– Theodora Danek, Writers in Translation Programme Manager, English PEN