In The Tree, his classic essay on the interplay between the natural world and creativity, John Fowles writes, “If I cherish trees beyond all personal . . . need and liking of them, it is because of this, their natural correspondence with the greener, more mysterious processes of mind—and because they also seem to me the best, most revealing messengers to us from all nature, the nearest its heart.”
Katie Holten’s The Language of Trees seems inspired by the feeling that animates Fowles’ book, a deep and abiding affinity for our arboreal neighbors that seems less personal than it does instinctive. Holten, a visual artist who created a font composed of trees (A for Apple, B for Beech, C for Cedar, etc.) after working on a series of prints for an exhibit at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, has gathered in this anthology dozens of texts relating to trees in all of their varieties—literal, figurative, biological—and, using her font, has translated each into tree. The effect of these translations is beautiful and also unsettling, with text rendered into often dense and illegible forests. The reader—inasmuch as we can read natural phenomena—cannot help but feel disoriented as The Language of Trees poses vital questions about the nature of art and of nature in an age of environmental catastrophe; about the power of language to convey meaning; and about why and how we conceive of the natural world.
“Biology,” writes Brian J. Enquist in one of the anthologized pieces, “is basically all about trees.” Holten’s rich book—one in a potentially infinite series of similar books, she says—reminds us of that basic fact, and with it our inextricability from the natural world. If literature is looking for a way forward in the Anthropocene, surely this is a place from which to start.
"Inspiring. . . . insights that are scientific, intimate and surprising. . . . a call to action for those who still care."—The Washington Post
Inspired by forests, trees, leaves, roots, and seeds, The Language of Trees: A Rewilding of Literature and Landscape invites readers to discover an unexpected and imaginative language to better read and write the natural world around us and reclaim our relationship with it. In this gorgeously illustrated and deeply thoughtful collection, Katie Holten gifts readers her tree alphabet and uses it to masterfully translate and illuminate beloved lost and new, original writing in praise of the natural world. With an introduction from Ross Gay, and featuring writings from over fifty contributors including Ursula K. Le Guin, Ada Limón, Robert Macfarlane, Zadie Smith, Radiohead, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, James Gleick, Elizabeth Kolbert, Plato, and Robin Wall Kimmerer, Holten illustrates each selection with an abiding love and reverence for the magic of trees. She guides readers on a journey from creation myths and cave paintings to the death of a 3,500-year-old cypress tree, from Tree Clocks in Mongolia and forest fragments in the Amazon to the language of fossil poetry, unearthing a new way to see the natural beauty all around us and an urgent reminder of what could happen if we allow it to slip away.
The Language of Trees considers our relationship with literature and landscape, resulting in an astonishing fusion of storytelling and art and a deeply beautiful celebration of trees through the ages.
About the Author
Katie Holten is an artist and activist. In 2003, she represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale. She has had solo exhibitions at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Nevada Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. Her drawings investigate the tangled relationships between humans and the natural world. She has created Tree Alphabets, a Stone Alphabet, and a Wildflower Alphabet to share the joy she finds in her love of the more-than-human world. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Artforum, and frieze. She is a visiting lecturer at the New School of the Anthropocene. If she could be a tree, she would be an Oak.
Ross Gay is the author of The Book of Delights, a genre-defying book of essays, and three books of poetry: Against Which, Bringing the Shovel Down, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. He is also the co-author, with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, of the chapbook "Lace and Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens," in addition to being co-author, with Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., of the chapbook, "River." He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call it Ballin', in addition to being an editor with the chapbook presses Q Avenue and Ledge Mule Press. Ross is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Ross teaches at Indiana University.
Over 50 writings from notable authors, philosophers, scientists and artists—including Plato, Ursula K. Le Guin and Ada Limón—are delicately translated into Holten’s visual “tree alphabet” in this ode to the world’s trees.
— The New York Times Book Review
— The New Yorker
Inspiring. . . . insights that are scientific, intimate and surprising. . . . a call to action for those who still care.
— The Washington Post
An unexpected mix of poems, essays, quotations, song lyrics, recipes, and other texts. . . . offering diverse perspectives on those towering woody plants and their relationship to human life.
— Poets & Writers
Stunning. . . . I’ve never seen anything remotely like this work of art.
— Book Page, Starred Review
An appealing, celebratory offering with an urgent message.
— Kirkus Reviews
Science and storytelling are braided with history and art to create something quietly urgent and beautiful here. This is nature writing in a new way, full of tree magic.
Celebratory. . . . delightful. . . . lovely as both exercise and artifact.
— Orion Magazine
Incredibly refreshing. . . . A stunning celebration of trees through the ages, this book is sure to spark passion with every passing page.
— Chicago Review of Books
An imaginative compilation of poems and stories translated into a stunning visual language based on trees. . . . Perfect for an evening meditative read, or for placing out on your coffee table to share with friends.
— District Fray Magazine
An astonishing fusion of storytelling & art, and a deeply beautiful celebration of trees through the ages.
— Write or Die Magazine
Absorbing. . . . offers knowledge and inspiration alike.
— Frontier Magazine
Revelatory. . . . Wondrous. . . . An exquisite ode to all things arboreal.
— The Washington Independent Review of Books
Stunning. . . . a beautiful, artistic rendering of the many ways trees nourish and undergird our world.
— Shelf Awareness
One of the most exquisite books inspired by trees in recent memory.
Touching. . . . An ode to literature, language, and nature that intertwines and loops like branches of a tree.
In The Language of Trees Katie Holten plants trees in our imagination, transferring them from objects of outdoor devotion to subjects of deep contemplation.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This literary anthology will give readers a new vocabulary when it comes to talking about nature.
— District Fray Magazine
A masterpiece. Katie Holten's tree alphabet is a gift to the printed world.
— Max Porter, author of Grief Is a Thing with Feathers