Cultural Atlas: Mapping the Terrain

"You are Here" installation sculpture in cut grass at the airfield of Vespolate in Novara by Matthew Broussard
“You are Here” installation sculpture in cut grass at Novara’s Vespolate airfield by Matthew Broussard as part of the exhibition: Clicking the Territory

The time has come for the introductory essays for International Poetry Month 2013, a project I started 5 years ago in an effort to create a dynamic space for poetry around the world to be read and heard. Each year has had a theme and this year’s theme is ‘Cultural Atlas’. I admit, I stole this theme from The Sketchbook Project 2013. As I started working on my sketchbook I began to think of all of the ways this theme dovetailed nicely with what IPM is about: making cultures accessible to one another, sounding the similarities and marveling at the differences.

The photograph to your right is of an installation sculpture that my husband, Matthew Broussard, did for an exhibition called ‘Clicking the Territory’ in 2009 (the first year of IPM). It’s titled “You are Here” and is an image of the ‘clicky hand’ – that we all know and love from the virtual world – mown into the grass of Novara’s Vespolate airfield. So, you are here but where is here? Without google maps and panoramio how would you ever know how find or even be able to imagine the dirt runway and green grass of Vespolate if you’d never been there?

So, where am I? The ‘location’ box to the right of my screen says gemonio, varese italy; but I feel my internal, physical and cultural map of Texas bumping up against Gemonio’s every day. This is not a bad thing, it’s just noticeable. As a poet I appreciate the fact that it makes me think and inspires me. The interesting part is how often I need to superimpose these two maps to orient myself both internally – culturally and historically – and externally, for others who don’t have an internal map of Texas for reference.

As a Texan living in Italy, “Where are you from?” is a question I get asked a lot. It’s an easy answer; I grew up in Dallas and I have yet to meet an Italian who doesn’t know that it’s the city where either:

  1. JFK was shot, or
  2. the TV series Dallas was made.

I fall into this nebulous terrain on an Italian’s mental map, though few of them could indicate Texas on a map of the U.S. I am often, when describing where I’m from, constrained to superimpose a map of Europe over my internal map which results in comparisons like:

“Texas is about as big as France / Texas è più o meno la stessa grandezza della Francia.”

Or, time/distance equations with multiple variables:

“It takes the same amount of time to drive from Dallas to the border with Mexico as it does to drive from Liguria to Calabria / Ci vuole lo stesso tempo di guidare da Dallas al confine con il Messico, come fa a guidare dalla Liguria alla Calabria.”

The same size(mic) translation is required for my family and friends in Texas when trying to contextualize media frenzy over Italian earthquakes.

In blog land we are all in an ever evolving here, no matter how far apart we are. Here is where we begin our IPM exploration.

Where is your here? If you’ve written a poem that touches on mapping your cultural territory (interior or exterior) I’m interested in reading. Check out the submission guidelines HERE.

Stay tuned! Up next: Cultural Atlas of the Periphery and the Center…

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.

1 comment

  1. This essay has certainly opened up some unexpected thought streams for me, Bonnie. One of the first solid attempts I’ve made at answering your question ‘where is my here?’ started with trying to settle on a definition of culture. What is culture? My answer to that leads me to think most, if not all, of my ideas about where my here is are products of the “full range of learned human behavior patterns” ( ; clicky hand); or at least the ones that I am unaware of!

    So, not having been there, “[w]ithout google maps and panoramio” I’d have to rely on a different product, like a poem or an installation sculpture, to “find or even be able to imagine the dirt runway and green grass of Vespolate”. I could go there and see for myself, but then my ability to retrace my steps or imagine it later would be limited only by my vocabularies and the itinerary that gets me there in the first place.

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