The Mesh is a term used in Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought (2010). Morton uses an analogy of a piece of mesh to describe how he thinks about ecology. His thesis is, essentially, that to understand ecology, you have to make connections between things that you may not expect to have anything to do with the environment. For example, there might be an eco-crisis brought out about by deforestation because a particular tribe, religion, or culture, make clothes out of a specific plant. To understand that environmental crisis, you would have to take into account the religion or the culture that contributed to it. His theory of the mesh encourages people to look from many different perspectives in order to obtain a fuller picture and broader understanding.
His approach to ecology, I think, offers a good theme because it involves finding links within the world and understanding relationships. We live in an age of divisions: from Brexit, to the far left and far right, and rapidly evolving technology causing generations to grow apart faster than they ever have before. It is useful and refreshing to hear about the relationships between things, rather than the divides.
The mesh implies that there is no simple right or wrong relationship implied within a given situation or state. A mesh is simply an interweaving of many different threads, pulling the emphasis away from binary standpoints and more towards a plurality of ideas that interconnect.
Similarly, Morton’s Mesh allows for an interesting approach to the poetry that might be generated as a result of the theme. I shall illustrate this Morag Kiziewicz’s poem, ‘Hi Tracey’ published in Tears in the Fence 65.
In the second stanza of ‘Hi Tracey’, Morag’s speaker discusses how she images her “hippy” worldview would clash with that of the artist, Tracey Emin. Morag sets up the two opposing views, only to juxtapose them further by introducing a third view, a girl wearing t-shirt reading, ‘GENDER FREE FUTURE’.
This unexpected ending creates connections between different factions of the left wing political sphere, the divergent perceptions of gender in contemporary culture, and the frictions (or joyful differences) between intergenerational worldviews. This is exactly the kind of interconnected thinking that Morton summarises in the mesh. There are no stereotypical left or right wing figures in the poem, only nuanced perceptions of the world and hints about the relationship between these perceptions. The perceptions of other people’s perceptions, if you will.
The piece also sprawls out to connect poetry to the concept of what can be defined as art by contrasting the t-shirt to Tracey Emin’s iconic bed installation and paintings by Francis Bacon. The t-shirt represents a form of art that, being mobile, crosses the borders of privilege set up by art galleries with high entry fees (and extortionate prices in adjoining gift shops and cafes). But the message of Morag’s poem is not simply THE FUTURE IS COMING. Certainly, the final image of the t-shirt does look to a future in which genders are reworked or dissolved completely. Yet the form of the t-shirt itself brings with it the associations of concrete poetry popularised in the first two characters’ youths. Therefore a cyclical pattern is produced in which older ideas are recycled and adapted to fit the ideologies of the burgeoning era. Nothing is a statement on its own. Everything is linked. While I may have been side tracked by a bit of close analysis, it is these kind of connections that summarise Morton’s idea of a ‘sprawling mesh of interconnection without definite centre or edge’. (page 8).
Since the mesh discourages the reader (or writer) from following a binary trail of logic, this could bring about surprises in poetry. Some of the best poetry surprises us by turning away from the expected ending, ultimately drawing out an undercurrent within the poem, or widening it to a larger plane of meaning. So, writing with the mesh in mind can strengthen our work.
To summarise in a sentence. The mesh involves looking at things from multiple perspectives or having multiple viewpoints present in the same poem, which can improve poetry because it creates surprises by diverting away from the expected to achieve a wider plane of meaning.
I hope this generates some really interesting discussion points, as well as poetry at this year’s festival.
Joanna Nissel 19th February 2018