Terroir is a wine term meaning the particular taste(s) imparted to grapes by the many different qualities of the environment in which the fruit was grown. I have also heard the term applied to cheese: the type of soil, grasses, even water that eventually creates the milk, among other factors.

Perhaps literature possesses a terroir, as well. There are cultural influences, of course, but what shapes a culture? “It’s becoming increasingly clear that the way we speak is shaped by external forces,” says Sean Roberts in a report from NPR.  The fact that a place is hot, for instance, may be one influence on how a language sounds, or is used.

As for literature, there are those interested in documenting the “place-ness” of writing. POECOLOGY is an example, with each issue attempting to “inspire and enhance the understanding of place and the environment through literary arts.” There are five issues, all accessible online. Unfortunately, their “Literary Locator” map does not appear to be operational at the time of this writing.

Not to worry, however, as Poetry Atlas has that covered. With a “Featured Place,” a “Poet of the Week,” and a virtual pushpin map, Poetry Atlas endeavors to put a place to written works. Want a list of poems about London? There are also lists covering rivers, or battlefields, for instance.

How does your writing reflect the places you have lived or worked?

—Michael Fink


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