June 2024
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Towards new open spaces with Kenneth White …

”Kenneth White is an absolutely genial and visionary Scottish-French author, an inspired and inspiring poet, essayist, traveller and philosopher who created  the concept of ‘geopoetics’* and the International Institute of Geopoetics* in 1989.

I first heard about Kenneth White years ago at Bordeaux Montaigne University when I began a late and short cursus of English studies. Then I didn’t know much about Scotland and Scottish writers. We’ve become since great fans of Scotland, of Scottish people and of Scottish culture. Our last trip there dates back to the winter of 2019-2020, a cold but unforgettable winter with breathtaking landscapes as wild and beautiful as ever in spite of harsh weather conditions…

Scotland is Kenneth White’s native country. France is his adoptive country (he took French nationality) but the poet’s world extends far beyond any country’s border…

Kenneth White has written a great number of books: books of poems, books of essays and fascinating waybooks. So far, my knowledge of his work and of the concept of ‘geopoetics’ is rather limited but the little I know makes me eager to learn more… there are new open spaces to discover and a fabulous world to explore, so let’s go…

Photo of Kenneth White taken from the cover of Un monde ouvert Poésie Gallimard 200

* The International Institute of Geopoetics was founded in 1989 by the poet-writer-essayist Kenneth White (Chair of 20th Century Poetics at the Sorbonne, 1983-1996), who presided over it up to the year 2013, when, in order to devote himself entirely to his own writing, that includes ongoing work in geopoetics, he handed over the presidency to Régis Poulet.

Here is the inaugural text of 1989.

What marks the end of this 20th century, back of all the secondary discourse and all the palaver, is a return to the fundamental, which is to say, the poetic. Every creation of the mind is, fundamentally, poetic.

The question now is to discover where the most necessary, the most fertile poetics are to be found, and to apply them.

If, around 1978, I began to talk of « geopoetics », it was for two reasons. On the one hand, it was becoming more and more obvious that the earth (the biosphere) was in danger and that ways, both deep and efficient, would have to be worked out in order to protect it. On the other hand, I had always been of the persuasion that the richest poetics come from contact with the earth, from a plunge into biospheric space, from an attempt to read the lines of the world.

Since then, the word has been picked up and used, in various contexts. The moment has come to concentrate those currents of energy into a unitary field.

That is why we have founded the Institute of Geopoetics.

Geopoetics Scottish Centre logo

The Scottish Centre for Geopoetics was established in Edinburgh on Burns Night in 1995 by Tony McManus and others and is affiliated to the International Institute of Geopoetics  founded by Kenneth White in 1989.

Lavoie du vide et du vent Kenneth White

Kenneth White’s life has been like an adventure from the start. His endless quest for new open spaces, his impatience to discover ways out of our cultural beaten tracks while exploring the world in search of the purest sources of knowledge is absolutely fascinating. Never tired of learning and writing, the inspired poet and erudite philosopher, the indefatigable walker and  traveller is certainly one of the most extraordinary characters and genial thinkers of our time and a very endearing and open personality too, as reflected in most of his books. One only has to look at the number of awards he has received over the years to be convinced of his creativity and the quality of his works.

For the question is always
out of all the chances and changes
to select
the features of real significance
so as to make
of the welter
a world that will last
and how to order
the signs and the symbols
so they will continue
to form new patterns
developing into
new harmonic wholes
so to keep life alive
in complexity
and complicity
with all of being –
there is only poetry.

(From the long poem ‘Walking the Coast’ – extract page  127 in Open World – Book Three – with a few words of introduction by Kenneth White : “The need for panorama and perspective. This long poem of fifty-three waves is a recapitulation of my living up to that date, a summing-up (summa scotica poetica) of the whole Scottish mindscape, and a map of new co-ordinates. Tidal analogies, Atlantic poetics”).

Grounding a World Essays on the work of Kenneth White Alba 2005

Grounding a World Essays on the work of Kenneth White Alba 2005

The basis of my biographical notes comes from two books I have in my library: Grounding a World – Essays on the work of Kenneth White published by Alba edition in 2005 and Kenneth White et la géopoétique, published by L’Harmattan edition in 2006. These notes which appear at the end of the books are very extensive and quite useful. Unfortunately they end at the year 2005 and so far I have not found bibliographical notes for the following years.  I will do my best to complete them as I find them…


 Deep Scottish roots

  • 1936: Kenneth White was born in Glasgow, on the south side of the river Clyde, in the Gorbals, a neighbourhood with a rather bad reputation. His father was a railway signalman (in The Radical Field Tony McManus describes how Kenneth White recalls the signalbox slate his father had given him to write upon – ‘In some sense my writing began in a signalbox‘. 😉 William White was a socially-minded man and an avid reader of books too while Kenneth White’s mother seems to have been a secret and rather solitary woman (This woman, silent, her gaze plunged in to the fire). Kenneth White often speaks with affection of his parents and grandparents. His maternal grandfather was a colourful and adventurous character, playing the bagpipes and travelling a lot…
  • 1939-54: when Kenneth White was three years old the family moved from Glasgow to Fairly, a small village situated in Ayrshire, on the west coast of Scotland. From a promontory to which he used to climb up above Fairlie he could see the Firth of Clyde and a number of islands: the Cumbraes, Bute and last but not least Arran… In such a beautiful environment, Kenneth White led a happy childhood. The environment was quiet and beautiful (sea, woods, hills and moor) and, when the young Kenneth was not busy devouring books, he used to spend much of his leisure-time roaming the shore, hills and moors around Fairlie. He also worked on farms and on the shore (shellfish gathering) and did small jobs to financially help his family. He had a good schooling at Fairlie, Largs and Ardrossan with excellent results. He also studied with great interest local geology and archaeology. This period of Kenneth White’s life would considerably influence his literary career.


Largs Ayrshire western coast of Scotland

La voie du vide et du vent Largs Scotland Kenneth White & Patrice Reytier

From Glasgow University to Paris La Sorbonne and the call for the Pyrenees…

  • 1954-56: he studies at Glasgow University (French and German, with Latin and philosophy). He does a lot of reading in the University library (Ovid, Rimbaud, Höderlin…), not only the great authors but all sorts of books from metaphysics to mineralogy.
  • 1956-57: a scholarship allows him to go and study in Munich where, during a particularly harsh winter spent in a wooden shack, on the banks of the Isar, he leads a Spartan life, reading Nietzsche and Heidegger…
  • 1957-59: back in Glasgow, Kenneth White gets a double first degree in French and German and is named first student in the Faculty of Art. He obtains a post-graduate scholarship which allows him to go and study in Paris.
  • 1959-63: Kenneth White marries Marie-Claude Charlut whom he had met in Glasgow. The two have many tastes in common. Marie-Claude loves Scotland, has studied and worked there. She will soon become her husband’s main translator and “best critic” according to Kenneth White ;-). She is an art photographer. Life in Paris, then in Meudon. Kenneth White gives private lessons in English, explores Surrealism (Breton, Artaud…) and  begins  the manuscript that will become Incandescent Limbo In 1961, Kenneth White buys Gourgounel, an old farm in the mountains of the Ardeche, with several acres of moor,woods and rocks. There he spends summers and autumns restauring the buildings, leading a hermit’s life. He studies Eastern literature and thought (Taoism, Buddhism) and works to his manuscript that will become Letters from Gourgounel. He teaches at the Sorbonne and his students publish his first book of poems: Wild Coal. (“wild coal” is a technical term designating a rare and highly combustible quality of coal).
  • 1963-67: back to Scotland. As lecturer at the University of Glasgow he teaches 20th poetry and the Encyclopedists. Publication of poems, autobiographical texts and in 1964 of En toute candeur at the Mercure de France in Paris. While living in Edinburgh Kenneth White remembers Stevenson, De Quincey and he also meets MacDiarmid. He works at his long autobiographical poem “A Walk along the Shore”.

Pau vue sur le Pic d’Ossau wikipedia


They come to this studio
to discuss reality

all I ever say is
look out there at the mountain

On those fifteen snowy peaks
nothing moves
except, very slowly, the clouds (..)

(From ‘Eleven Views of the Pyrenees’)

A rich academic career, books, travels, lectures, exhibitions and a lot of literary awards…

  • 1967-69: back to France at a time of great political and social turmoil. While living in Pau (Atlantic Pyrenees) he teaches at the University of Bordeaux (at Pau) but he will soon be expelled due to his involvement in the May 68 movement. In his apartment, facing the Pyrenees mountains, he studies and writes a lot.
  • 1969-75: while still living in Pau Kenneth White gives lectures at the University of Paris VII. He also travels quite a lot in Europe: from Dublin to Marseilles, Amsterdam to Barcelona. These trips are the basis of Travels in the Drifting Dawn.
  • 1975-1976: travelling in South-East Asia: Hong-Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Thailand… and working at his manuscript: The Face of the East Wind (Le Visage du Vent d’Est Errances asiatiques – traduit de l’anglais par Marie-Claude White)

Le Visage du Vent d'Est Kenneth White


  •  1979: Kenneth White defends a State doctorate thesis on the theme of ‘intellectual nomadism’ which is recognized by the jury as opening up a new field of studies…
  •  1984:  French Academy’s Grand Prix du Rayonnement Français.

From the Pyrenees to the shore of Brittany

  •  1983: he leaves the Pyrenees, settles on the north coast of Brittany. He is appointed to a newly founded chair of Twentieth-Century Poetics at the Sorbonne. La Route bleue, published by Grasset, is awarded the Prix Médicis Étranger.
  •  1987: Prix Alfred de Vigny for Atlantica
  •  1989: Kenneth White renews contact with English language publishing: The Bird Path, Collected Longer Poems, Travels in the Drifting Dawn. The same year he founds the International Institute of Geopoetics.
  •  1990: he publishes: Handbook for the Diamond Country – Collected Shorter Poems and the Blue Road.  First number of the geopoetics review : Cahiers de Géopoétique.  (I have in my library the issues 2, 3, 4, 5)
  •  1991: he receives an Honorary D. Litt. from the University of Glasgow.
  •  1992: more books published in English: Pilgrim of the Void which includes two books previously published in French and recounting his Asian travels: The Face of the East Wind i.d Le visage du Vent d’Est  (Hong Kong, South China Sea, Taiwan, Thailand) and The Wild Swans/ Les Cygnes sauvages in French (about a travel in Japan).
  •  1993 : Kenneth White is promoted in Paris from Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres to Officier des Arts et des Lettres.
Les Cygnes sauvages Kenneth White

Les Cygnes sauvages Grasset 1990

  •  1994: Kenneth White is awarded the prize of the Société de Géographie in Paris for Frontières d’Asie.
  • 1996: The National Library of Scotland stages an exhibition on Kenneth White’s work: ‘White World, the itinerary of Kenneth White’ which is later shown in other cities and towns. He publishes a collection of interviews Coast to Coast. He withdraws from the Chair of Twentieth-Century Poetics at the Sorbonne.
  • 1997: Travels and lectures in Serbia, Montenegro, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Spain. At Malaga, Kenneth White is awarded the Insignia of the Generación del 27. He publishes in Paris The Shores of Silence (Les rives du silence), the result of nine years’work in the poetic field.
  • 1998: awarded a D. Litt. honoris causa by Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. Publishes in France the book Strategy of Paradox (Une stratégie paradoxale), which sums up his socio-political itinerary. Begins the publication of his essays in English with On Scottish Ground. In France, is awarded the Prix Roger Caillois for his work as a whole. The French version, adapted and augmented, of the National Library of Scotland exhibition, retitled ‘Open World, the itinerary of Kenneth White’, begins to circulate in France.
  •  1999: travels and lectures in Sweden and Scotland. KW is elected to a three-year fellowship at Edinburgh College of Art. The exhibition ‘Open World’ is presented at Rennes in January.
  • 2000: a new book of poetry in Paris: Limits and Margins. An exhibition of his artist-books (close on a hundred) is held at the Librairie Nicaise in Paris. The exhibition Open World is shown at Evreux in March, at Le Lavandou in June, at Pau in November.


  • 2001: Kenneth White publishes House of Tides at Edinburgh. Elected honorary member of the Royal Scottish Academy. Member of the executive council of the World Academy of Poetry (Verona, Italy). Delivers the Consignia lecture at the International Book Festival in Edinburgh: ‘The Re-mapping of Scotland’. The exhibition ‘Open World’ continues on its way: Besançon, Châteauroux, Mende, Fontainebleau.
  • 2002: KW is awarded the ARDUA prize (Bordeaux) for his work as a whole. He prepares the edition of his Collected Poems. Exhibition ‘Open World’: Nancy, Dunkirk
  • 2003: A symposium ‘Horizons of Kenneth White – literature, thought, geopoetics’ is held at Bordeaux (February) and another ‘Forty Years of the White World’ in St Andrews (October). In June lecture on a French cruise boat down the Caledonian Canal and up the Hebrides. Publishes Open World: Collected Poems 1960-2000 and Geopoetics: place, culture, world. Exhibition ‘Open World’ at Brussels in January.
  • 2004: takes part in an international poetry symposium in Italy at Stresa-Orga organised by the literary review Atelier (February). March: An international colloquium on geopoetics is held at Geneva, organized by the University of Geneva. Delivers a lecture on Rimbaud, at the poet’s birth-place, Charleville-Mézières. September: Delivers another lecture on Saint-John-Perse at Paris in an international colloquium on that poet organized by the Sorbonne. Publishes two new books in Britain: The Wanderer and his Charts and Across the Territories. Receives the Édouard Glissant prize attributed by the University of Paris 8 for his ‘openness to the cultures of the world’. Exhibition ‘Open World’ at Charleville-Mézières, March-April.
  • 2005: publishes three new books in France: Le passage extérieur (poems), la Maison des marées (narrative prose inspired by Kenneth White’s life in Gwenved, the writer’s home in Britanny near Trébeurden in Côtes-d’Armor ), L’ermitage des brumes (interview on his experience and vision of the Orient). August: lecture in Edinburgh “What is World Writing?”. October: conference at the Museum of Prehistory in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac: “From prehistory to post history”. A series of conferences within the framework of Northern Scotland HI-Arts (Highlands and Islands) International Fellowship. Docteur honoris causa de l’Open University de Grande-Bretagne.
  • 2006: Prix Breizh pour La Maison des marées et l’ensemble de son œuvre. Publication of Le rôdeur des confins (Albin Michel 2006)
  • 2008: Prix Grinzane-Biamonti pour l’ensemble de son œuvre.
  • 2010: Prix de l’Académie française Maurice-Genevoix 2010 pour Les Affinités extrêmes.
  • 2011: Prix de poésie Alain-Bosquet pour Les archives du littoral (Mercure de France). Publication of La Carte de Guido: un pèlerinage européen (Albin Michel 2011)
  • 2014: Les vents de Vancouver: escales dans l’espace-temps du Pacifique Nord (édition Le Mot et le Reste 2014)
  • 2016: La Mer des lumières (édition Le Mot et le Reste 2016)
  • 2017: La traversée des territoires.

Trébeurden Brittany France panoramic view by Spendeau on wikipedia





  • South-East Asia: Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Thailand (1975-1976)
  • Trip along the north Bank of the St Laawrence into Labrador (1979
  • Trip to Japan: KW follows Basho’s trail from Tokyo north and then into the Hokkaido (1984)
  • Trips to the Isles of America
    • Martinique (1988)
    • Guadeloupe, Saintes, Martinique (1989)
    • Dominica, St Vincent, Grenada (1991)
    • northern section of the Antillian Arc (1992)
    • The Virgins (1993-1994-1995-1996-1997-1998-1999)
  • European continent:
    • Corsica (1995)
    • Italy, Sweden, Norway (1996)
    • Serbia, Montenegro, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Spain (1997)
    • Poland, Sweden, Scotland, Morocco (1998)
    • Spain, Portugal (1999)
  • Canada (1996)
  • Trips to the Indian Ocean (1999-2003)
    • Reunion, Mauritius (1999)
    • The Seychelles archipelago (2000-2002)
  • Polynesia (2003) : a lecture on Gauguin at Tahiti in the context of a conference organized by the University of French Polynesia followed by a journey from island to island.

Virgin Islands Isles of America


The first book of Kenneth White I read is Lettres de Gourgounel… (Letters from Gourgounel in English).

Kenneth White Lettres de Gourgounel Les Presses d'Aujourd'hui 1979

. Kenneth White Lettres de Gourgounel Les Presses d’Aujourd’hui 1979

“A place of emptiness (…) to concentrate my life and thought. I found it in the Ardèche, more precisely, inthe valley of the Beaume, in the hamlet of Praduches, at a place called Gourgounel (that name gurgled, it spoke the language of sources).

(From Lettres de Gourgounel* 1979)

*Lettres de Gourgounel published by Les Presses d’aujourd’hui in Paris, 1979. This French version was considerably different from the original English edition published by Jonathan Cape, London, in 1966, with some chapters dropped and others added. The current French edition, published by Éditions Grasset in Paris (coll. ‘Les cahiers rouges’), dates from 1986. The revised edition of the book has not yet appeared in English. All quotations from Lettres de Gourgounel are from the French edition of 1986

(The Radical Field – Tony McManus)

Kenneth White Letters from Gourgounel London Jonathan Cape. (1966)

Kenneth White Letters from Gourgounel London Jonathan Cape. (1966)

I have the hardback of the 1st French edition of Lettres de Gourgounel but I couldn’t find (at a reasonable price) the English version which represents a huge mushroom on its cover. Two chapters are devoted to mushrooms in the book : “Le mystère du champignon” and “Le champignon planétaire” ;-). I’ve read this book several times…

Kenneth White was 25 years old when he bought the old farm at Gourgounel.

‘In this ‘hermit’s kingdom which spoke ‘only of the essential – solitude, silence, wind, sun and storm” – White combined the physical work of turning the abandoned farm into a liveable space, with mental work of study and writing, especially of his experiences in the Ardèche. After the teeming life of the city Gourgounel’s emptiness wasn’t only a delight but a space to explore :’

‘In Paris everything had been going round in cirles, amidst a confusion which was nauseating. In that context, I began to feel more and more separated from myself as well as others and the only place where I am not all alone is precisely in this solitude.”

(The Radical Field – Tony McManus)

The second book I read is La route bleue


La route bleue Kenneth White éditions Le mot et le reste 2013

La route bleue Kenneth White éditions Le mot et le reste 2013

In 2010, with Kenneth White’s book in our pockets and Janice as our guide,  we, “the trio” as we call ourselves, began a wonderful and unforgettable journey of discovery across the territories of Quebec,  trying to follow Kenneth White’s “Blue Road”. We wrote a series of ten posts about our adventures, the first one published on September 22nd 2010.

One of my favourite books is La maison des marées and I’m presently reading Entre deux mondes, Kenneth White ‘s last autobiography published in 2021.  I’m reading it on my kindle, underlying many passages, (an advantage of the tablet)  though I also have the paper version of it . On Entre deux mondes‘s cover we can read “Traduction de Brice Matthieussent” but, so far, I didn’t find any English version of the book.


La Maison des Marees - House of Tides

Kenneth White La maison des marées – House of Tides

My own house is very near the mouth of the Léguer. If my postal address is ‘22560 Trébeurden’, I live in fact about four kilometres from the village, which is to say about sevent kilometres from Lannion, just after that place on the Lannion road called ‘the white field’, because when there’s frost, that’s where it starts. In the old days, when the frost came, the folk would say: ‘The white wolf crossed the field this morning.’

Kenneth White’s study in Gwenved

“My workroom is laid out on a west-east axis, so that I go to work with the rising sun in one window, and finish it with the setting sun in the other. (…)

The library is downstairs.

When the removers delivered the boxes of books to Gwenved, they told me there were three tons of them. That was ten years ago. There must be at least five tons now.

At first, with shelves running round three walls, I thought I had plenty of room. But I pretty soon had books in double rows practically everywhere.”


Vue de l’Atelier atlantique de Kenneth White

Kenneth White has always liked to collect stones on his way. The above picture, taken at Gwended, his house in Trébeurden, shows how he uses them as paperweights… a lovely and old habit which must date back to the time when he was a child, collecting stones and old sort of things on Ayrshire beaches…

Now I’m back again, this Autumn evening, in my Pyrenean study.

Around me, books, many books, and piles of manuscript on the floor, each pile topped by a lump of quartz.

(The Wanderer and his charts – Essays on Cultural Renewal – chapter ‘Aquitanian Affinities’ Kenneth White Polygon 2004)


The Wanderer and his charts kenneth white

Kenneth White The Wanderer and his Charts Polygon 2004

I can’t resist to quote another passage from The Wanderer and his Charts…this time from the chapter ‘Letter from the Pyrenees’. I’ve enjoyed quite a lot these lines… it makes me want to take the Transcapian Railway…

The Trans-Caspian Railway is a railway that follows the path of the Silk Road through much of western Central Asia. It was built by the Russian Empire …

Here I am at this present moment on a sandy shore of the Landes, just up from the Basque country, and in a few days’ time I’ll be back in my room in Pau, drinking a glass or two of Laphroaig* (a whisky I drink for ethnopsychological reasons when the moon is full) and conversing familiarly with my ghosts in Glaswegian. So I go, chaos-cosmically, from a Scotch novel (say The Master of Ballantrae or The House with the Green Shutters) to a Chinese dictionary, from there to a map of the Transcapian Railway (do you know the K country, that goes from Krasnovodsk to Kashgar, passing through Kizyl-Arvat, Ashkabad and Boudhara, with lateral thrusts to Khiva, Kerki and Tashkent?), a study of the Avatamsaka Sutra, ending up with the geology of Cape Wrath, which is connected in my erratic mind for more than just alliterative reasons with Key West, where Wallace Stevens pondered imaginatively on the question of order.

*Laphroaig distillery is an Islay single malt Scotch whisky distillery. It is named after the area of land at the head of Loch Laphroaig on the south coast of the island of Islay. The meaning of the toponym is unknown, but a commonly suggested etymology includes the elements “lag” (Gaelic: hollow), “breid” (Norse: ‘breidd’ breadth) and “vik” (Norse: ‘vík’ bay), implying an original Gaelic form something like “Lag Bhròdhaig” (the hollow of Broadbay). The name may be related to a placename on the east coast of Islay, “Pròaig”, again suggested as meaning “broad bay”.


Le Rodeur des Confins Kenneth White

Two shelves of my library are devoted to the books of Kenneth White, books about him and about geopoetics. Only a few of them are in English but that is simply because most of the Kenneth White’s books have long been published in French only, their original English version having remained for a long time or still being in manuscript form. A number of Kenneth White’s books which were out of print are being re-edited though a few old editions are still available in second-hand bookshops but at rather expensive prices…

Did you notice how the titles of the poems, essays and waybooks are lively and colourful, perfectly in keeping with their contents…

Kenneth White Across the Territories Polygon 2004

Kenneth White Across the Territories Polygon 2004

… same thing with the covers. A special mention to Le rôdeur des confins with its beautiful photo-montage suggesting the extreme and solitary character of many of Kenneth White peregrinations all over the world: arctic/desertic landscapes.

I’m looking forward to the publication (in 2023, if I’m not mistaken) of the first two volumes of the collected works of Kenneth White published by Edinburgh University and very eager to be able to compare the differences between the English and French versions. They’ve already been published but the price of these first editions are for sale at a very high price,  quite prohibitive as far as I’m concerned ;-). But I can wait, I’ve so much to read still!

To enter the world of Kenneth White is a fascinating and difficult quest but  with a lot of clues to discover along the way: “white world”, “open world”,” intellectual nomadism”, “geopoetic”s… an endless quest making us to discover new horizons…  opening our ears to the music of the earth…

The Collected Works of Kenneth White volume 1 - Edinburgh University Press

The Collected Works of Kenneth White volume 1 – Edinburgh University Press

The Collected Works  of Kenneth White, Volume 1  edited by Cairns Craig will be available at a reasonable price in 2023 and the rare volumes already for sale are very expensive.

The book is subtitled  “Underground to Otherground” which suggests the author’s literary beginnings and the emergence of a philosophy which is omnipresent in his poems, essays, travel writing.

I’m looking forward to reading this first volume which contains three books by Kenneth White in English and among them Letters from the Gourgounel.

  • Incandescent Limbo
  • Letters from the Gourgounel 1966
  • Travels in the Drifting Dawn 1989

Incandescent Limbo recounts White’s years in Paris. Many a writer in the modern era had made Paris a focal point of his or her activity, but probably no one made more of it or got more out of it than Kenneth White. While exploring a labyrinthine underworld, the book is fundamentally an autoanalysis and traces the birth of the writer as an intellectual nomad.

Letters from Gourgounel takes us from the city to a wild part of south-eastern France, the Ardèche, where White undertakes a resourcing in an elementary context. Hailed in England as a ‘fascinating curiosity of literature’, this book not only made White famous overnight in France, it was seen there as a turning point in the contemporary situation.

In the third book, Travels in the Drifting Dawn, the intellectual nomad begins his moves across territories and cultures. After passing through the London underground of the sixties, then delving into the ground of his native Scotland and neighbouring Ireland, we shift back to the Continent, accumulating experience on different levels in France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, before concluding the cycle in North Africa. The trilogy is not only a summary of White’s itinerary in its initial stages, it opens up a whole intellectual and cultural programme.

The Collected Works of Kenneth White volume 2 - Edinburgh University Press

The Collected Works of Kenneth White volume 2 – Edinburgh University Press

The book is subtitled “Mappings: Landscape, Mindscape, Wordscape”… very interesting keywords to explore…

Portrait de Kenneth White à Tromso Norvège par Marie-Claude White

If I set out to write this book on the work of Kenneth White and geopoetics,

it’s because it has been obvious to me for some time now, not only that White stands among the most significant writers and thinkers working today,

but that his work belongs to a very rare category, one that stands outside those currently in vogue.”

(Tony McManus – The Radical Field – Sandstone 2007)

I do love the above portrait of Kenneth White by his wife, Marie-Claude White : travel – the North – the sea – the boat – the harbour –  the white world – Kenneth White’s notebook… quite representative of the author…

The Radical Field by Tony MacManus - Sandstone 2007

The Radical Field by Tony MacManus – Sandstone 2007

“At a time when a certain mediocrity is reaching planetary proportions,

one of us has stood up, turned his back and, possessed of real knowledge, moved off”

(Revue des Belles-Lettres, Geneva)

On the shelves of my library devoted to Kenneth White, and on my reading list too ;-),  I have a few books about the author and also about geopoetics. But to begin with, and though I often make a little research in these extremely interesting works, I prefer to focus on the author’s books for I still have a lot of them to read! However, I did make an exception with Tony McManus’s The Radical Field. Really it’s a great book, and all the more interesting that it was written by a fan who became a friend of Kenneth White. He was one of the founders of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics in 1995.  Tony McManus, a dedicated and loved teacher, a musician and a poet, was born in Edinburgh in 1953 and died in 2002. Below is an extract of an interesting article by Norman Bissell, Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics

Tony McManus

Tony McManus was one of the finest men you could hope to meet. Highly intelligent and insightful, multi-talented and quietly dedicated, he was a man whose strong sense of justice and unquestionable integrity carried real conviction. These qualities shone through in his life and in all that he did as an exceptional writer, musician, teacher and educationalist.

Tony was a man of many interests who had read very widely and went deeply into various theoretical fields yet carried his learning lightly, but it was his discovery in the late 1980s of the work of Kenneth White and his concept of geopoetics that was to change his life and become its central focus. It appealed to Tony’s wry sense of humour that he first heard of this great Scottish poet-thinker not amongst the Edinburgh literary circles with which he was familiar but from his mother-in-law when he was on holiday in Tarbes in southern France with his wife Nanon and family.

He scoured the bookshops and read everything he could find of White’s work, which was mostly available only in French at that time, and was amongst very few back then who understood its world significance as a theory-practice for radical cultural renewal. In an article in the Scottish Book Collector Tony explained geopoetics in these terms:

So, from diverse disciplines the forward thinkers see the need for the philosophical mind “to unite their perceptions, ‘to see life whole’ and to give expression to that complete vision. …. Poetry, here, is the expression of the human mind which has reached a perception of the world which it must express. In other words it is the natural and, potentially, universal expression of what White calls the ‘sense of world’.”

To develop his understanding of that complete vision Tony made direct contact with Kenneth White and worked closely with him over many years to raise awareness in Scotland of geopoetics and his work. He wrote articles about them for magazines such as Chapman, The Edinburgh Review and Cencrastus, interviewed White in depth for BBC Radio Scotland, provided the introduction to Into the White World, the Scotsoun cassettes of White’s reading of many of his poems, and argued persuasively from the outset for the need to have his essay books published in English, which eventually began in 1998 with the publication by Polygon of On Scottish Ground.

Open World Kenneth The Collected Poems 1960-2000 White Birlinn Ltd 2003

Open World Kenneth The Collected Poems 1960-2000 White Birlinn Ltd 2003

In Open World I’ve found a very moving poem  written by Kenneth White to the memory of his friend. A poem of extreme beauty called “Lament for McManus”. Below is an extract :

It’s a blue diamond evening over Lannion Bay
the sea is whispering up against the shore
and the gulls are yelling homewards

the news came through this afternoon
that you died this April morning (…)

as I walked along the Goaslagorn valley
the air was full of bird notes
some close some far
like some unfinished symphony

I was remembering
the last time we walked together
that was at Cramond, Edinburgh
along the banks of the Almond River
talking about Duncan Ban Macintyre
and about the name he gave to the Lowlands
the Machair Alba

when suddenly we saw a heron
standing still and absolutely attentive
in the midst of the rippling water (…)

it’s the flowers of the machair here
whin flowers and blackthorn bloom
with sprigs of purpurine heather
I’m scattering over your grave, McManus (…)


La voie du vide et du vent le héron Kenneth White


La traversée des territoires Kenneth White

La traversée des territoires Kenneth White – Le mot et le reste 2017

« Même avec la chambre la plus minable, je m’arrangeais :

un livre et un carnet sur la table, une carte épinglée au mur, et le tour était joué, le contexte se transformait. »

(La traversée des territoires. Kenneth White – Le mot et le reste 2017)

What a man! 😉

It’s time for me to conclude this page (though not the subject;-)) but I hope to have inspired you to read or re-read Kenneth White. It’s exactly what I intend to do from now on and be assured I will share my readings with you in the coming months…

I leave the last words to Kenneth White…  as they appear in La voie du vide et du vent… Un vagabondage planétaire... so poetically illustrated by Patrice Reytier. I do love this book!

Bonne lecture! Á bientôt. MairiUna



Kenneth White’s Works


  • Wild Coal. Paris: Club des Étudiants d’Anglais (Sorbonne). (1963)
  • En toute candeur. Paris: Mercure de France. (1964)
  • The Cold Wind of Dawn. London: Jonathan Cape (1966)
  • The Most Difficult Area. London: Cape Goliard. (1968)
  • Scènes d’un monde flottant. Lausanne: Alfred Eibel Editeur. (1976)
  • Terre de diamant. Lausanne: Alfred Eibel Editeur. (1977)
  • Mahamudra. Paris: Mercure de France. (1979)
  • Ode fragmentéeà la Bretagne blanche. Bordeaux: Willim Blake & Co. (1980)
  • Le Grand Rivage. Paris: Nouveau Commerce. (1980)
  • Le dernier voyage de Brandan. Paris: Les Presses d’Aujourd’hui. (1981)
  • Atlantica. Paris: Grasset. (1986)
  • L’anorak du goéland. Rouen: L’Instant Perpétuel. (1986)
  • The Bird Path: Collected Longer Poems. Edinburgh and London: Mainstream. (1989)
  • Handbook for the Diamond Country, Collected Shorter Poems 1960–1990. Edinburgh and London: Mainstream. (1990)
  • Les Rives du silence. Paris: Mercure de France. (1998)
  • Limites et marges. Paris: Mercure de France. (2000)
  • Open World: Collected Poems 1960–2000. Edinburgh: Polygon. (2003)
  • Le passage extérieur. Paris: Mercure de France. (2005)
  • Les archives du littoral. Paris: Mercure de France. (2011)


  • Letters from Gourgounel. London: Jonathan Cape. (1966)
  • Les Limbes Incandescentes. Paris: Denoël. (1976)
  • Derives. Paris: Denoël. (1978)
  • L’Ecosse. Paris: Flammarion. (1980)
  • Le Visage du Vent d’Est. Paris: Les Presses d’Aujourd’hui. (1980)
  • La Route Bleue. Paris: Grasset. (1983)
  • Travels in the Drifting Dawn. Edinburgh and London: Mainstream. (1989)
  • Les Cygnes sauvages. Paris: Grasset. (1990)
  • Pilgrim of the Void. Edinburgh and London: Mainstream. (1992)
  • House of Tides: Letters from Brittany and Other Lands of the West. Edinburgh: Polygon. (2000)
  • Across the Territories. Edinburgh: Polygon. (2004)
  • Le Rôdeur des confins. Paris: Albin Michel. (2006)
  • La Carte de Guido. Paris: Albin Michel. (2011)
  • The Fundamental Field (with Jeff Malpas) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press (2021).


  • The Tribal Dharma. Carmarthen: Unicorn Bookshop. (1975)
  • The Coast opposite Humanity. Carmarthen: Unicorn Bookshop. (1975)
  • Approches du Monde Blanc. Paris: Nouveau Commerce. (1976)
  • The Life-technique of John Cowper Powys. Swansea: Galloping Dog Press. (1978)
  • Segalen, Théorie et Pratique du Voyage. Lausanne: Alfred Eibel. (1979)
  • La Figure du dehors. Paris: Grasset. (1982)
  • Letter from North Armorica, in Hearn, Sheila G. (ed.), Cencrastus Cencrastus No. 16, Spring 1984, pp. 2 – 4, ISSN 0264-0856
  • Une apocalypse tranquille. Paris: Grasset. (1985)
  • Zen and the Birds of Kentigern, in Parker, Geoff (ed.), Cencrastus No. 23, Summer 1986, pp. 3 – 7, ISSN 0264-0856
  • L’esprit Nomade. Paris: Grasset. (1987)
  • Le Poète Cosmographe”. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux. (1987)
  • Le Monde d’Antonin Artaud”. Bruxelles: Complexe. (1989)
  • Le Chant du Grand Pays”. Nimes: Terriers (1989)
  • Hokusai ou l’Horizon Sensible. Paris: Terrain Vague. (1990)
  • Le Plateau de l’albatros: Introduction à la géopoétique. Paris: Grasset. (1994)
  • Le Lieu et la Parole. Cleguer: Editions du Scorff. (1997)
  • Une Strategie Paradoxale”. Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux. (1998)
  • Les Finisterres de l’Esprit. Cleguer: Editions du Scorff. (1998)
  • On Scottish Ground. Edinburgh: Polygon. (1998)
  • Le Champ du Grand Travail”. Bruxelles: Didier Devillez. (2003)
  • The Wanderer and His Charts. Edinburgh: Polygon. (2004)
  • L’Ermitage des Brumes. Paris: Dervy. (2005)
  • On the Atlantic Edge. Sandstone. (2006)
  • Dialogue avec Deleuze. Paris: Isolato. (2007)
  • Les Affinités Extremes. Paris: Albin Michel. (2009)

Interviews (Collected)

Coast to Coast. Glasgow, Open World and Mythic Horse Press, 1996.





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