The first mapmakers sought to answer these questions: where is the food?, where is the water?, and where is the fuel and/or shelter from the storm? Thus answered, the first map begged the questions answered by the second map: who are our rivals for the necessities of life and where are their camps? Once plotted, the minions of the Lord High Chartmaker went on to clutter the landscape, if not history, with cartography: grids of streets and roads, fences and walls, canals and bridges, sea lanes and airways, telephone wires and electrical cables, railroads and even clotheslines. Which is to say that even something as seemingly unimportant as laundry makes its own kind of map.
When you start to think about it, everything is cartography: Itineraries, grocery lists and recipes are the mappings of our daily lives, whether they be a chart of a car pools' schedule of after school activities or a map of the arrangement of elements that help us arrive at Carrot Cake, for instance. Obviously I am speaking of more than mere geographic or political boundaries; I am speaking of a personal cartography, a sort of domestic atlas, the way in which we order our lives, plot each year: order the inchoate. The map of our own bodies and the bodies of those we love is part of this personal cartography. A year's worth of used post-its might be construed as a map of what we are afraid will fall out of our heads. The route we take to work and the alternate routes we drive/walk/bike when the Mariners are playing at Safeco Field, during which time all major thoroughfares are hopelessly bottlenecked, sheds light on what we are becoming. Our resumes, our daily planners—everything is a map.
My first experience with underground cartography was of a Pyncheon-esque variety and transpired in 70's Berkeley when I chanced to meet a conceptual artist whose first name was Anna and whose surname name I am embarrassed to say has fallen out of my head. Anna wanted to get an MFA in laundry, wanted to fill every art gallery with clothesline, set up fans to blow red bandanna cowboy shirts and Bo Peep nightgowns the way the wind would blow them, studying the shadows that the billowing arms of hung-out-to-dry shirts made. Such an exhibit, crisscross grids of rope, a cartography of laundry, was --Anna proclaimed --emblematic of the sum total of the labor of the women of the world. Her subject did not fly with the powers that were at the time. So Anna haunted Laundromats, taking lint from dryers and making an artistic study of it, a subject that did fly.
The point being: human kind was put on this earth to order it. To organize,
to group in whatever individualized, eccentric, prejudiced way we saw fit.
Homo Sapiens are a species of Set Theorists. The set of all X such
that X equals, for example, a piece of clothing or bedding in need of being
laundered and hung out to dry. Who we are as seen through what we do in
a day is the way in which we chart each tiny grid that adds up to, say,
Anna, surname forgotten.
And now at the end of the second millennium we have so cluttered the landscape--the earth, air, and water--with every kind of possible division, that we now (with great zeal) move on to ordering the ether, a place where perhaps there was no need for order until we disordered it. And so we impose a kind of chaos called cyberspace upon the ether and the cartography of this cyberspace (which includes this very poetry journal) will challenge the Lord High Chartmakers of the third millennium with the same questions that faced the first map-makers way back at the beginning of time: where is the e-food, the e-water, and the e-fuel? And even before the answers, we are jumping all over the questions of who are our e-rivals and where is their e-camp.
So how does poetry fit into all of this? Poets were the original charters of the ether--trackers of the chaos of the emotional, of that which cannot or will not be spoken. Adrienne Rich's poem The Cartography of Silence immediately bounces to mind. The Poet's job always has been to chart the lawless waters of the psyche, track the unpredictable weather of the heart. Poets are the cartographers of heaven, hell and the afterlife. What the poet does is to take that which is amorphous and give it theme. Evidence: the poems herein are a mapping, figuratively speaking, of the age-old cartographer's question: food, water, shelter from the storm; our rivals, their camp. Cartography, Vol.5, No.1 Where have we been? Where are we going?
Where indeed? --Jana Harris