Reviews||

Nostalgia Forest by Amy Cutler

22nd Oct 2013

★★★★
Nostalgia Forest by Amy Cutler
Amy Cutler's début chapbook delves into the memory of trees and finds wisdom in their scars.

Nostalgia Forest twins tree diagrams with aphorisms from Paul Ricoeur‘s Memory, History, Forgetting. It is an artistic extension of dendrochronology, or the study of trees rings and cat-scars to deduce historic and future environmental conditions.

Rather than a scientific analysis of wood, Royal Holloway PhD student Amy Cutler transposes Ricoeur’s philosophical narrative onto an exegesis of trees:

This difficulty will continue to hound us

The paired sequences continue with more or less oblique relevance and conversations between their composite parts, and Cutler plays with the fun to be found in coincidence.

There is something rewarding about pertinent connections that can be construed as randomly generated and, though the pamphlet is meticulously curated, Cutler manages to retain some semblance of the happenstance.

She has orchestrated the skeleton of a matching exercise which allows the reader to indulge some rhythmic investment in coincidence, to fill in the gaps until the work balloons in the space between image and text.

Inviting the reader to compose their own associations is just one way in which Cutler throws authoritative ownership into disarray. On one page, two broken trees with wayward boughs are furnished with cross-sections branching off at all angles and the accompanying text:

Confusion is rampant not only at the moment of capture
but also with respect to the state of possession

In the composition of Nostalgia Forest, ‘capture’ takes the form of text collection and ‘possession’ is the curation of other works from different disciplines to form something entirely new. ‘Rampant’, then, is an appropriate term for the multiple creations that result from these small thefts. In Ricoeur’s words, re-set by Cutler:

The initiative of the search thus stems from our
capacity for searching

In her apparently simple juxtapositions, Cutler ensures that the act of reading becomes the subject of the piece, and that the reader must acknowledge and engage in this search to make sense of the work as a whole.

Such a radical pivot of the creative spotlight from author to reader is jarring, and you are left with a sense of the uncanny when originally unrelated texts sit so well side by side, as though they have superseded the intended phrasing – ‘a mistake akin to that of someone placing his feet in the wrong footprints’.

poetic recycling and a forget-me-not philosophy that can return to old wood and paper with patchwork irreverenceWith easy reference to her own arborescent chapbook as well as Cutler’s source texts, one Ricoeur quotation reads:

From the beginning the problem of forgetting is
posed, even twice posed

This musing is set below two images, each with three trees and three cross-section circles below them. With such shrewd pairing, Cutler sets in motion a series of duplications and multiplications in which each remembers the other. It almost functions as a visual rhyme, with the same sense of chiming coherence:

It is in one’s soul that one has heard, or perceived, or
thought this before

Like the annual concentric rings of the tree, Cutler’s juxtapositions have been ‘thought before’ because Cutler is recycling the text. This ecological motif cuts a perfect parallel to the thin sections of tree on printed paper, and also comments on the trials of making something new in a discipline so overwhelmed with precedent. Cutler illustrates creative responsibility with an image of hanging roots:

This gives some indication of the burden

Nostalgia Forest was published by Oystercatcher Press this year and emerges as Cutler’s proposed response to the burden of literary memory: poetic recycling and a forget-me-not philosophy that can return to old wood and paper with patchwork irreverence.

This motley collection exploits the life-affirming nature of scars, marks and blemishes, and attributes old memories to damaged trees until all its readers are rendered dryad.