Author: Splabman

Poet/interviewer Paul Nelson founded SPLAB & the Cascadia Poetry Festival, published: American Sentences (Apprentice House 2015); A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (essay, Lumme Editions, Brazil, 2013). He’s interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Sam Hamill, José Kozer, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Joanne Kyger, George Bowering, Brenda Hillman and Daphne Marlatt, presented poetry/poetics in London, Brussels, Qinghai & Beijing, China, and published work in Golden Handcuffs Review, Zen Monster and Hambone. Awarded The Capilano Review’s 2014 Robin Blaser Award, he writes an American Sentence every day.

Trailblazing with Blaser

Trailblazing with Blaser
by Susan McCaslin (pdf)

From the moment I heard Robin Blaser lecture in my first graduate course at Simon Fraser University, I was drawn like a moth to the strings of a piano, to borrow a metaphor from his well-loved “The Moth Poem”:

The moth in the piano
will play on
frightened wings brush
the wired interior
of that machine

I said, ‘master’

Coming as a callow graduate student from Seattle to SFU at the age of twenty-two in 1969, I found that Robin had only been teaching there since 1966. Like me, he had emigrated from the States, and similarly (though I had no idea then), we both were to become Canadian citizens and remain permanently in Canada. I had recently crossed the border at Blaine with my draft-resisting boyfriend to pursue graduate studies in English Literature, having chosen SFU over the University of California at Berkeley because of SFU’s edgy northern image, accounts of its radicalism, and memories of visiting Vancouver with my family as a teen. Shortly before my arrival, the students had stormed the faculty lounge, while “be ins” and protests against the Vietnam War were part of everyday campus life.

It was one of the most blessed days of my life when I walked into Robin’s course on classical backgrounds, team-taught with Romantics scholar Rob Dunham. Robin was impeccably dressed with silver hair, aquiline nose, dark brows, and an elegant bearing. He seemed more European than American; yet he was, strangely enough, originally from Idaho, though part of the San Francisco poetry Renaissance. I had been reading fairy tales and myths since I was a child, but Robin re-opened myth for me in a radically transformative way. Good criticism, he remarked, honours the text by “providing entrance”; judgement has to await this honouring of the text. We delved into Aristotle’s Poetics where I learned that in Greek tragedy the characters are there “for the sake of the action and not vice versa.” This meant, he explained, that the protagonist moves toward a recognition of his or her place within in a larger, cosmological ordering. Some modern heroes, like Willie Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, weren’t truly tragic figures in this classical sense because we had lost this sense of praxis within an open cosmos. Robin taught us to read Plato’s dialogues not merely as metaphysics, but as an enactment of an erotic dialectic where apparent dualities could be experienced as un-collapsed, dynamic polarities. Mythos was a true telling of the particularities of the world and art, and therefore a matter of ultimate consequence. Hesiod’s Muses dancing “on soft feet/ by the dark blue water/ of the spring” of Mount Helikon evoked “astonishment,” one of Robin’s favourite words. Modernist poets like H.D., Ezra Pound, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan and Bob Creeley soon became household names for me, and through their writings, the import of Olson’s maxim that “form is never more than an extension of content,” along with Denise Levertov’s later modification, “Form is a revelation of content.” Poems were open fields; portals to transformation. Deep enchantment, the sense of embarking on a mystical journey, pervaded the syllabus and lecture hall.

The attention and care with which Robin approached these ancient and contemporary poems made it clear that graduate school was not merely about academic credits or jobs, but about what Keats called “soul-making.” His favourite poets became mine and I returned to them again and again over the years. Some, including Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, and Denise Levertov had been up to Vancouver in 1963 to attend a ground-breaking poetry conference at UBC organized by Warren Tallman. Emerging Canadian poets Margaret Avison, George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, and Fred Wah had been present as well. Robert McTavish’s newly-released documentary film on the conference, The Line has Shattered, documents this historic gathering. Warren later, at Robin’s instigation, became the external examiner on my MA thesis. Stepping into this north-south vortex eased my transition from the States. Gradually, I soon began reading Canadian authors like Gwendolyn McEwen, Margaret Avison, and P.K. Page; but the poets of the Black Mountain School and San Francisco Renaissance provided my introduction to twentieth-century North American poetry and poetics.

One graduate seminar took place at Robin’s home in West Vancouver, an impressive white house filled with art and antiques perched on a corner near the beach. Stan Persky, Robin`s friend and former lover, was auditing the course, adding humour and politics to the gatherings. My fellow graduate students included some who would go on to become established poets or publishers—Sharon Thesen (then Sharon Fawcett), Brian Fawcett, and Karl Siegler. Soon I met some of the TISH writers with whom Robin was intimate like George Bowering and Daphne Marlatt. Lionel Kearns, a fine poet, and Ralph Maud, an expert on Dylan Thomas, were also teaching in the English Department at the time. SFU was what we called then “a happening place.” To me it seemed the very center of a world where poetic language and thinking were honoured as essential to the public realm. Soon, because of Robin, I was reading Hannah Arendt and others who argued for a poetry and poetic of social-political as well as aesthetic engagement.

For my first graduate seminar with Robin, I chose to write a paper on Olson’s poem “The Praises.” Putting off my presentation till the very end, I rushed through my reading hurriedly, not once looking up or making eye contact with either teacher or class, struggling through an agony of shortness of breath. Finally, when I finished, a long uncomfortable pause ensued; then a single word floated miraculously on the air from Blaser’s lips: “Maaaavelous!” I was hooked on Olson, writing, and Blaser’s seminars.

I have to confess I became a Blaser groupie, or as they were called then, a “Blaserite.” Someone joked we should be called “Blaseriods,” a troop of blazing asteroids. Sometime afterward I summoned the courage to approach the poet’s office, the door of which was always open, and ask if he’d consider taking on the role of being my thesis advisor on Edgar Allan Poe. My long-time fascination with “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” and my father’s recitations of Poe’s “The Raven” at the dinner table, made Poe a natural choice. I was less interested in the macabre tales than in the more Neo-Platonic and mystical poems and lesser-known narratives like “A Colloquy of Mona and Una.” Blaser mentioned how much the French adored Poe, considering him a genius: “Poor Poe, to have been born in America in the nineteenth-century!” Robin once noted that Poe’s late essay Eureka was not just a failed pseudo-scientific treatise, but that it could be read as a cosmogonic myth for his times. Therein lay the seed of what became my Master’s thesis, chapters of which were later published. Comparing Eureka to Hesiod`s Theogony, I argued that Eureka should be read as a myth of origins, and that it is, in fact, a long poem where Poe synthesizes the imagery and symbols from his better known tales of mystery and imagination. What was to be about a 100-page study sprawled into a 250-page tome, but in the process I learned how to write scholarly prose that gathered in all one’s creative and poetic sensibilities. The revelation that the heart of the individual and the heart of the cosmos are one remains with me in my recent work on a volume called The Disarmed Heart.

After finishing my course work, I visited Robin regularly to discuss Poe, Blake, Coleridge, Shelley, and the Romantics. Once I told him I had discovered I was a Romantic, and he laughed his crow-like laugh: “We’re all living the legacy of the Romanics, my dear.” I took a year off school to work out some personal difficulties, but returned and finally completed the thesis under Robin’s guidance in 1973. Always ready to meet, never intrusive or controlling, Robin allowed me to flounder and find my own voice. Yet he was an incisive, sensitive reader whenever I presented him with a new chapter.

Many times in the early ‘70’s I visited Robin in his house in West Van. Once while in his bathroom, I sneaked a few drops of his Hermes by Calèche cologne, hoping to absorb some of his elegance. Soon I overran my grad student budget by purchasing my own bottle of the illusive fragrance. A few times Robin, I, and another student would pile into his car and head off to the A&W for teen burgers. Robin was a great lover of teen burgers. Another time, shopping with him and Rob Dunham at Eaton’s, I noticed the way he would finger fine fabrics. You and I are both “clothes horses, my dear. “

I have to admit I had a sort of adolescent crush on my teacher. I had no illusions that he was he was anything other than an openly gay man. Nevertheless, my fantasy was that he and I would slip off to Greece together and have a Platonic friendship, recite poetry all day at the beach, and track down sites sacred to Aphrodite and Dionysius. Because of my infatuation, I was slightly nervous around him, though he never appeared to notice.

In later years, even after the self-consciousness of youth wore off, I didn’t look him up as much as much as I wished to, partly because this aura of shyness remained. Though he wasn’t at all intimidating, he was so erudite I feared I would betray my relative ignorance or what I felt were gaps in my knowledge. I had come from a family where I was the only one who ever read much of anything besides the newspaper, and had not attended even a play or symphony growing up. Robin had an encyclopaedic memory and a way of being able to pull together wisdom traditions from many eras and cultures. In comparison, my cultural exposure and word-hoard, though immensely expanded and expanding, seemed small.

When consulting Robin about my thesis, I screwed up the courage to present him from time to time with a few of my early poems. He always took these embryonic efforts seriously and retuned them with detailed commentary, praising one and offering valuable suggestions for another. Though SFU didn’t offer a program in Creative Writing, having Robin for a professor was like getting a two-for-one deal, as he would take the poetry just as seriously as the academic papers. Looking back at my juvenilia, I marvel at how gently he responded, and how much he shaped me as a writer. Writing was serious business, the process as important, if not more so, than the product, though he was rigorous about insisting on the exact word and line break. He corrected more by example and through the kind of poetry to which he pointed me, than by overt criticism.

I inherited from Robin the sense of poetry as the highest vocation of all. Throughout a long teaching career as an English professor at Douglas College, marriage, and raising a child, this sense of poetry as my essential vocation has remained. Because of his influence, at the end of my life I will not ask whether I have succeeded, but whether I have been obedient to the poetic gifts I have been given.

Robin gave me permission to become in my own way what he was—a “scholar poet.” I have over the years researched such figures as Demeter or lived and breathed Blake or Teresa of Avila in a way that opened up poetic spaces, and have been drawn into alternative worlds where such writers become what Robin called his “great companions.”

From him I also found language by which to explore the mysterious process by which poems sometimes arrive—what his friend, poet Jack Spicer, called “dictation.” The term dictation can be misleading, as it suggests something like automatic writing. But for Robin it was a way of talking about the element of “otherness” or “the outside” in the creative process. In his Preface to Syntax (Talonbooks, 1983) he writes: “I read, walk, listen, dream, and write among companions. These poems do not belong to me.” And in his long essay on Spicer, “The Practice of Outside,” he writes,

Jack’s dictation, which develops from a “spiritual discipline,” as I have noted, or from what he described as an emptying out in order to let something speak through his language is not difficult to follow. It is at times frightening. The possibility of it, he derives from Yeats, who derived his from Blake. It is not the derivation that makes it alive, but the practice.I

In my case, while gardening, cooking or daydreaming, a line or two sometimes emerges like a rare gift dropped from a larger cosmos. The task is then to remain open to and to craft the rest of the poem so that it might stand among the wild order of those given lines. Just recently, for instance, the title of a poem arrived (“The Loneliness of Old Women”) followed a few minutes later by what was certainly the last line (“Are they studying infinity, / or absolute nothingness?”`). Much later after many revisions, I managed to summon and craft the rest of the poem. The practice of outside, as Robin acknowledges in his long essay, is complex, but in essence implies a receptivity to the real that requires a kind of self-emptying or kenosis in the act of composing, a letting go of the boundaries of the constructed self. It is because it requires relinquishing of the ego that it can be called a “spiritual discipline.”

Robin, pluralistic, postmodernist, heterodox, transgressive in terms of fixed belief systems, yet one who haunted ancient springs, also had a significant impact on my incipient inter-spirituality. The first time I spoke in any depth to him, he asked me pointedly if I was a Roman Catholic. I didn’t know then that Robin himself had experienced a Roman Catholic upbringing. I was, in fact, a lapsed Presbyterian at the time, and puzzled over the question, since on subsequent occasions he would repeatedly insist on associating me with Catholicism. Did I look like his idea of “a good Catholic girl or what?” In retrospect, I think what Robin might have sensed was that spirituality, as opposed to the external creeds and ideologies of institutional religion, was a central preoccupation for me. Several years later, I become absorbed in the European mystics, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Eckhart, and developed a lifelong passion for the mystical side of all religions, which I continue to explore today.

Years later, I discovered that Robin had been an altar boy and aspired briefly and at a young age to be a priest, and that his mother had been a devout Catholic. Robin’s reading of Dante, his love of George Herbert, and his “dear Whitehead`s” (Alfred North) process theology revealed to me a deeper, more philosophical, though entirely heterodox spirituality. Robin, neither theist nor atheist, would not have called himself a religious man, except perhaps in the deepest sense of the word “religire,” which he pointed out means to “tie again,” or be retied, not to the ideologies of the church, but to the mysterious movements of an open cosmos within both self and world. When I was rereading Robin’s long, serial poem, The Holy Forest, and examining his late work on the libretto for Sir Harrison Birtwhistle’s opera on the last supper, it became evident that Robin’s work enacts an arc of what he calls at the end of The Holy Forest “evolutionary love.”

they threw the old rocking chair from the lost house out—but they cut the leather backrest out—with the portrait of the wandering Jew or nomad on it—whose eyes follow me or “you”—into corners—to the end of the boxcar parlour—even into the brilliance of reading under the library table—and sent it to me

nevertheless, I rock there,
wandering Jew and nomad

I imagine evolutionary love,

my thousand and one celebrations

Frequently in Robin`s later work, he distinguishes between what he called “Christianism” (fundamentalist ideology which is sexist, racist, homophobic, dogmatic) from lost forms of more contemplative and visionary Christianity like that of Blake and the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. In his radically revisionist libretto of Birtwistle’s opera on The Last Supper, which premiered in Berlin in 2000, Robin’s text retells the familiar narrative to explore the betrayal of Christ by the historical Church and Jesus’ recognition that the Church’s appropriation of his life and teaching led to centuries of anti-Semitism and finally to the Holocaust. Jesus’ piercing cry, “The Holocaust shattered my heart,” is counterbalanced by what Blaser calls Jesus’ “religion of life.” In the opera, the act of washing the disciples’ feet symbolizes both a “reversal of hierarchies” and a washing away of the dust of what Robin described as

the historical deformations that have reduced Christ’s “religion of life” to “bestiality and vileness.” It’s quite a list: the tormenting of heretics, pre-emptions of god’s judgement, the state usurping the kingdom of heaven with its own murderously “redemptive programmes, hatred of the body, victimisation of blacks, women, aboriginals and homosexuals as well as Jews, proliferation of genetic definitions of “worthless life,” and savage attempt to replace human history with order.

Critic Patrick Wright astutely points out that

While it is no part of Blaser’s intention to offer a programme for Christian renewal, it is noticeable that, in its lyrical dimension, the libretto keeps hinting at the possible restoration of wonder and dignity to a human experience that has been…tormented by religious intolerance with its life-denying “mimicries of God.”….For the real work of the libretto consists of bringing the imagination back to earth….

If Robin’s probing, then, is heretical from an orthodox perspective, it is the kind of heresy that points to alternative ways of engaging unitive spiritual traditions. His late libretto is clearly “a visionary text, rather than merely an essay on the historical sins of Christianity.”

My own spiritual journey has led beyond attachment to doctrinaire formulations and creeds into global mystical streams grounded in direct interior illumination. Robin’s work as a whole traces many of these mystical sources to their wellsprings, synthesizing and integrating sacred images of many traditions and breaking down the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane. I would say that spirituality is for him an act of high imagination, an opening to ever more elegant and complex fields of awareness that root and ground the human being more fully in the world.

Twice, while having lunch with a friend at a restaurant in Kitsilano called Trafalgar’s I spotted Robin sitting with his partner David Farwell and caught up with him and his many activities and projects. Once, after quite a few years had elapsed and I had allowed career and family to preoccupy my attention, I attended one of his fairly rare Vancouver poetry readings. Moving up in line to get him to sign my book, and fearing he might not recognize me after so many years, I extended my hand and began to say my name. Immediately he interrupted: “How could I forget you, Susan.”

Later in 1995, I attended a Vancouver conference in honour of Robin called “The Recovery of the Public World,” organized by my friend Charles Watts, who presided over Special Collections at the SFU library for many years. I enjoyed the banquet where Blaser was feted and crowned Laureate for the evening; but more importantly I was happy to see his work receiving the attention it deserved. More recently, when I heard he was nominated for the prestigious Griffin prize, I phoned to congratulate him and we chatted briefly. About a month before his death, I left a message on his answering machine which was never returned. I now realize he must have been quite ill at the time due to a malignant brain tumour. When the shocking news came through email of his death on May 7, 2009, I was unprepared, as I had always hoped to see him again and had no idea he had been so ill. The women in my writing group lit a candle for him shortly afterward and we read passages from The Holy Forest.

Once Robin spoke about the importance of honouring one’s teachers in the context of his own early mentors. A teacher who transmits not only the love of his subject but a lifetime of inspiration is an honour to celebrate. If this tribute seems unrelievedly laudatory, it is not because Robin, like all human beings, didn’t have his faults or shadows, but that my slowly awakening interior poet found him unstintingly supportive and nurturing at a crucial stage in my life. Unlike Denise Levertov (who broke with her poetic mentor Robert Duncan, partly over his dismissal of her impassioned engagement with protests over the Vietnam War), there had been no breach, only too many lacunae and failures to connect. And I have a hunch I am only one of the hundreds of his students with similar stories who were influenced by Robin over his long teaching career. The number of his students who went on to become poets themselves is evidence of his ability to transmit creative fire.

Robin has now permanently entered the realms of his great companions” like Dante, Blake, and Shelley; therefore he becomes for me one of my luminous companions as I continue to encounter him through the legacy of his living words where, as he said, the “truth is laughter.”

Works Cited

Blaser, Robin. The Holy Forest. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1993.

________. Syntax. Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks, 1983.

Spicer, Jack. The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. Ed. Robin Blaser. Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1975, 271-329.

Wright, Patrick. “Facing Up to the Subterranean Stream: The Challenge of Robin Blaser’s Libretto.” (September 2001). http://www.boosey.com/teaching/news/Birtwistle-The-Last-Supper-s-libretto-explored/10682

Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument

From David McCloskey:

Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument MapHello Folks,

Pres. Obama just declared the “Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument“!
The official declaration provides a nice summary of some of the area’s unique
and significant geological and ecological qualities.
Cascadians, Californians, & Bioreregionalists should shout out the news from the highest rooftops!
If you look on the new Master Map of Cascadia, you will see that Snow Mountain
is entered as the farthest southwestern point of Cascadia in its “foot” in the Klamath-North Coast Range of N. California. The dividing line between the Central Valley and Coastal Mountains, Snow Mtn stands at the headwaters of the Eel River which gathers waters from this entire area, and drains into the Pacific just north of Cape Mendocino and just south of Eureka….
The shattering of the North Coast Range by the San Andreas Fault and our micro-plates differentiates the north-trending rivers like the Eel from south-trending rivers like the Russian. Further, the name “Snow Mountain” suggests its uniqueness going south climatically, where, in normal times, the last feathered edge of the N Pacific storm-track hits the twin peaks…. For the southern boundary of Cascadia can be found where high elevation snow lasts into early summer, where closed-canopy forests end, where sheltered snowmelt & springs feed river flow, feeding salmon habitat, etc.
So, in many ways, Snow Mtn stands forth as an important landmark bioregionally.
(We need not follow the geographic extent southward to Lake Berryessa, but it does highlight Snow Mountain….)
From a bioregional perspective, Snow Mtn, like the Shasta “gate” and the twin
horns of Cape Mendocino, are shared sacred sites between Cascadia and California….If we become deeply grounded in the life of the larger place, then we
may learn the shared guardianship of such “bridges, gates,” etc.
I write this note to inform you of this significant event b/c of its intrinsic/historic interest
and your network capacity to alert others to its significance!
Bioregionally yours,
David McCloskey

Make It True Reading Audio

Make_It_True_Front_CoverA reading from the first ever anthology of Cascadia Poetry was held Wednesday, June 24, 2015, at Milepost 5 in Portland. At the beginning of a heat wave at the end of summer is NOT an idea time for a reading, but thanks to anthology poet and longtime Portland literary activist and barefoot reader dan raphael, as well as Duane Poncy and Patricia McLean of Artists Milepost 5, the reading happened at a really wonderful venue in a part of Portland that more people associate with fast food haunts than artists. But dan raphael had a family emergency with which to deal, leaving Duane and I in charge of the show. So here is the audio I took with my trusty IC recorder. Enjoy.

1. Duane Poncy and Paul Nelson Introductory Remarks 5:21.

2. Allison Cobb – Look 4:23

3. Jen Coleman – (Keiko is Missing (Bill Carty)) and Gossip (+ emcee comments) 5:32

Endi goes barefoot to read dan raphael's poem

Endi goes barefoot to read dan raphael’s poem

4. Endi Bogue Haritgan (Moments from the History of Rain (dan raphael)), Dreamed Thoreau and Twenty-Second Elegy 8:15

Endi Bogue Hartigan

Endi Bogue Hartigan

5. Jared Hayes (Thing Language (Jack Spicer)) and a distilled version of Blue Mountain Water Raindrop Sutra  3:08

6. Jimbo Beckman, who is not in the anthology, read postcard poems. 1:18

7. Emcee notes on Poetry Postcard Fest and co-editors 2:14

James Grabill

James Grabill

8. James Grabill Introductory Notes 2:01

9. James Grabill The Idea of 2020 4:52

10. Paul E Nelson The Day the Weather Decided to Die 3:00

11. C.E. Putnam (reading Meredith Quartermain’s Heat Haze), Day 22 and Day 164 Before You Put it In The Pan 7:16

12. Paul Nelson reads Thomas Walton’s With Gary Snyder on the Trail and Rita Wong’s The Wonder of Being Several – 3:00 

13. Marilyn Stablein (reads Frances McCue’s Steeple River Faith) also What Water Carries and three prose poems – 8:29

14. Paul E Nelson Closing Notes – :57

IMG_0779

Bottom Row L to R: C.E. Putnam, Jimbo beckman, Jen Coleman. Upper: Endi Bogue Hartigan, Allison Cobb, Paul Nelson, Jared Hayes, James Grabill and Marilyn Stablein

Marilyn Stablein’s Book Art

Great review of the Cascadia Small Press Fair at the last Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo, and specifically of the Book Art of Marilyn Stablein. Mary Ann Moore writes:

What is a book to an artist, is the question some may ask Marilyn. She sees the book as

Marilyn Stablein at the Small Press Fair CPF3, Nanaimo. (Photo by Mary Ann Moore)

Marilyn Stablein at the Small Press Fair CPF3, Nanaimo. (Photo by Mary Ann Moore)

artifact, the book as celebration, the book as chance discovery, the book as found object, the book as travellog, the book as sacred space, the book as cultural relic, the book as ritual object, the book as sculpture, the book as visual poetry, the book as personal geography, the book as object poem, the book as intimate museum, the book as personal narrative, the book as poetic cartography. Don’t you love that list? And that’s just a beginning. (I’m a fan of “intimate museum.”)

See the whole blog post here: http://www.maryannmoore.ca/small-press-fair-2/

New Maps of Cascadia

Cascadia MapThe beautiful new map of Cascadia, unveiled by David McCloskey at the last Cascadia Poetry Festival is available.

• For info on new McCloskey’s new Cascadia map see:
Cascadia-Institute.org

Click here to see how the map was recognized as “Map of Year” by Esri (GIS leader)–

• New maps may be ordered directly from this link.

 

 

 

 

And do enjoy David McCloskey’s opening comments at the last Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo, BC, May 1, 2015.

Review of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia

The Vancouver SunThe Vancouver Sun 2 The Vancouver Sun 3

 

MAKE IT TRUE: Poetry from Cascadia

Edited by Paul Nelson, George Stanley, Barry McKinnon and Nadine Maestas

Leaf Press

Poet Christine Lowther of Clayoquot Sound opens the door to poetry from Cascadia in this brand new anthology launched at the Cascadia Poetry Festival at the beginning of May in Nanaimo.

In Lowther’s poem, Nuu-chah-nulth, Good Advice, the decolonization of “my mind,” aligns very nicely with co-editor Paul Nelson’s introductory words about the “wilderness of the mind.”

Lowther writes: “I’ve been advised not to study / French or Spanish, rather / to stand still, make roots from words, / take in the language of the place / I’ve made my home.”

Standing still, listening, observing, witnessing are all practices of the eco-conscious poets in Cascadia. They “take in the language of the place.”

Cascadia is a bioregion spanning from Cape Mendocino in the south to Mount Logan in the north. It is that “bioregionalism, or the effort to reimagine ourselves and the places where we live in terms of ecology, sustainability and harmony with the natural systems” that inspired the four editors in the book’s creation.

Paul Nelson, founder of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, is from Seattle as is co-editor Nadine Maestas. George Stanley (born in San Francisco) lives in Vancouver; Barry McKinnon is from Prince George. The work of all four is featured in the book.

Cascadia is at the edge of the continent and poets are “at the edge of things” as Maestas pointed out in one of the panels in which she took part at the festival. And as Nelson says, “It is the poetry of outsiders who are forward-looking.”

As outsiders and poets on the edge, these critics and celebrants have been climbing mountains, protesting threats to Cascadia’s thousands of miles of coastline, and helping to save its ancient trees.

Susan McCaslin of Fort Langley, for instance, initiated the Han Shan Poetry Project, a successful campaign to protect an endangered rainforest along the Fraser River.

Simon Fraser University professor Stephen Collis protested Kinder Morgan’s field studies at Burnaby Mountain. His poems in the anthology include The Insurgencies.

Poets that took part in “the bioregion’s most seminal poetry event, the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference,” are part of a “generous sampling.” They include George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt, Fred Wah, Jamie Reid and Judith Copithorne.

Poetry took on its ceremonial cloak of mourning and remembrance as Victoria’s poet laureate, Yvonne Blomer, hosted a tribute to Peter Culley at the Cascadia Poetry Festival.

Culley, a photographer, art critic and poet, died April 10 in Nanaimo. He referred to his area of the city as South Wellington and took photographs to document the landscape of the former mining community.

His longtime Nanaimo friend Kim Goldberg (whose work is also in the anthology) and his publisher Rolf Maurer of New Star, were among those sharing memories of the Culley who contributed two poems to the book.

In northern British Columbia, Sarah de Leeuw writes of “Copper River,” known as such by the “settler locals.”

From her vantage point in Yukon, Clea Roberts writes in Cold Snap: “The simple arguments / of juncos retreat / into the forest.”

Dennis E. Bolen of Vancouver uses wordplay in what has been called a “highly physical vernacular style” by Jamie Reid, one of the original five editors of Vancouver’s TISH magazine in the early 1960s.

The bioregion is home to the vernacular and Seattle’s Robert Lashley is another who uses the very real, gritty language of the street, the bar, or in the case of one of his poems, “the club.”

He was a fierce competitor at the Marmot Bout, a late-night, spoken word slam at the festival.

As the Pacific Rim configuration is subject to “the influences of Japanese and Chinese philosophy and religion,” Zen poets Jim Dodge and Sam Hamill are included in the collection. Hamill, who is the founding editor of Copper Canyon Press and a celebrated translator of ancient Chinese, Japanese, Greek and Latin, was a headliner at the festival.

“I say, the trees listen, / and even soil has mind,” Hamill writes in his 11-part poem, Habitations.

From Alaska to Arcata, from Nanaimo to Missoula, the 89 poets in this Cascadian collection explore, preserve and celebrate the mind’s wilderness and the wilderness of this place. As community artists they “encourage the best in each other.”

Canadian Metis/mixed-blood writer and arts activist Joanne Arnott reminds us, in An Impressive Array, to remember our bodies as part of this place: “our bodies / are the mark of our passing, our bodies / are the soft earth of self and the panoply / of thought streams and disruptions, the / culture-tangled nots and knots and naughts / our bodies are the ground of our beings, and / the playing field of our minds … “

Mary Ann Moore, a Nanaimo poet, writer and writing mentor writes a blog at www.apoetsnanaimo.ca.

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Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Anthology+poetry+from+Cascadia+celebrates+sustainability+harmony+with+nature/11093961/story.html#ixzz3chm7oLSI

Rewilding Poetry by Sharon Thesen

Sharon Thesen
“Rewilding Poetry” Panel
Cascadia Festival
Nanaimo, 2015
Sharon Thesen

By way of contributing to today’s discussion about the possibilities of “rewilding” (or, as I prefer to say, “re-worlding”) poetry, I would like to make a few observations to start with.  One is a quotation from a book published in 1986 by Andrew Ross called The Failure of Modernism:  “Poetics can no longer be regarded as the innocent haven for ‘wild’ philosophy or ‘wild’ politics which modernist poets claimed as their special privilege, but rather as a set of different and often conflicting discourses that are ideologically produced and therefore irreducible to any particular poet’s ‘vision’.”  This describes pretty much the trajectory that poetry went on to take for the next three decades.  Few poets now write without consciousness that discourse is ideologically produced and that they themselves inhabit, or are inhabited by, subject positions that are as distorted and unethical as the discourse they are situated in.   Despite the fact that successions in poetry are part of its history of continuing renewal,  and no poetic succession ever goes completely obsolete, what one poet calls “periodically recurring sweetness of heart” could be, I think, a welcome interregnum today.  And perhaps a re-wilded, or re-worlded, poetry could find a place within contemporary poetics, affecting both poets and readers in a place where maybe it IS the “innocent haven for wild philosophy” that Ross accused deluded “modernist” poetry of being. 

However, I feel cautious about the prefix “re,” implying an era of wild poetry either tamed and corralled, or displaced by domesticated monocultures, much as wild land has been; and that could, if elements of the wild ecology were re-introduced, revert to a wild condition.  In practical terms, this might entail introducing the vernacular into a thickly abstracted lexicon; or vice versa; or using pictorial or scenic imagery to “disrupt” an appropriated text; or vice versa.  These are techniques meant to mirror a dialectic.  Larger versions of this dialectic (reformation, counter-reformation, restoration) have plagued modernity until neoliberalism vanquished them all and we are now thrown into a dark ages of ubiquitous empire.  Except there are no uncolonized margins left.  Everywhere is in the state of becoming a neoliberal monoculture, via technology, economic seduction, and/or brute force.  As worldlessness consumes the earth, our attention is drawn to globalized cyberspace, if not to outer space—where, if we are lucky, we might run into the late Sun Ra, who said he  was born on Saturn and whose musical composition “Space Is the Place” should be our global anthem.

By “the world” I mean the public world, the world we share in common.  We are encouraged to think, however, that such commonality is a socially constructed fiction.  We do not share a world, it seems to say, but rather there is a “we” that excludes others, a “we” to whom all wealth, power, and security are owed.   The communities we belong to are communities of tastes and brands.   As we cling more and more to our finely parsed identities, what we take to be the world is more and more a totality of fractalled and fracked surfaces.  The ground opened by poetry, on the other hand—by the world-making activity of poeisis—restores us both to the world and to one another.   The late Robin Blaser, who was very much concerned about the disappearance of the public world,  as he thought along the lines suggested by Hannah Arendt’s work on totalitarianism, noted, “The public world has to do with the depths beneath the surfaces in which each simple, separate [and I would say “innocent” and “wild”] person swims—the rhythmic relationships by which one can notice that the surface is violent.”  None of this has escaped the notice of poetry.  Young poets today must write in such a vast and slippery territory, including the world-vaporizing currents of both neoliberalism and academic suspicion of imagination and spirituality (unless safely ensconsed within indigenous methodologies).

It seems to me that poetry’s de-wilding has been accelerated by top-down academic avant-gardism and its demand, similar to that of the corporations it now must service, for constant “innovation” (but with the caveat that the innovations also deploy “ethical” attitudes and activities, as its evangelical wing the Ted Talk also does).  Avant-gardes used to be scandalous; now they are merely au courant.  By re-branding former repressive rhetorical structures as “constraints” and by freely borrowing the discourses of other disciplines—usually cultural and critical theory—contemporary academic poets are redefining as wildnesses (that is, innovations) poetry’s traditional generic limitations and returning it to democratic speech.  Here, the way to reclaim poetry’s life, to “rewild” it, is to pursue conceptualism.  An urgently-required critique of dominant discourse (the discourse that also excludes earth and nature except as instrumentality) is in this way accomplished.  But where I think the conceptual move has perhaps not quite delivered as far as rewilding poetry goes, is where it enacts a curation of discourse, the poem a proxy for the de-centred, voiceless, visionless subject.  The poem is now without an unconscious, without depths, although its constituent words and referents are teeming with it.

This is not to dismiss the thought, passion, and knowledge driving a needed reaction to a poetry increasingly enervated by the plethora of “workshop verse” and conventional magazine verse.  The blindnesses and complacencies of mainstream modernist lyric poetry have been decried for decades, and very recently Junot Diaz in a New Yorker article criticized the unbearable whiteness of creative writing programs.  But there also exists a large contingent of informed and talented poets working on their own, although they will have aesthetic and personal alliances and claim a place in certain lineages.   They are continuing to write the poetry that, as Gary Snyder put it, “lingers in the mind.”  What San Francisco poet Duncan McNaughton referred to as “sweetness of heart” strikes me as a possibly interesting move toward a re-wilding that I believe is constantly trying to take place anyway.  Sweetness of heart, McNaughton says, is “what is really common to our desirous souls, the quality which overcomes all barriers in order to circulate anew the heart’s creative feeling among men and women, who have more than enough reason to despair.”  To radically expand the field of feeling seems an unintended ongoing work of any poetic practice of the wild.

I am interested in the nature of poetic imagination, or as Blake had it, poetic genius, which transcends the relative merits of anybody’s individual poem.  Someone once said that even unpublished poetry has an effect on the world.  I would say that poetic imagination is similarly alive in an infinite number of human feelings and interactions—with art, with nature, with each other, with spirituality, with language.

We have all seen representations of rewilded humanless cities, with vines hanging off the highrises and panthers draped over defunct signage, but this is not what we mean by the quest to rewild poetry.  What is, or was, wild poetry?  I suspect it would be poetry that speaks to us directly and openly, despite interiority of vision, or of distance or difference of time, space, and body, or formal peculiarity.  There is presence, and with presence, unavoidable complexity of the poet’s sense of reality.  Robert Duncan felt that poets were indeed on a “wild and far-out quest, albeit equipped with a pathetic compositional technology.”  Yet, he says, no shrewdly imposed technology can work for long or at depth.  Duncan felt that poetry was not interdisciplinary, that it couldn’t beg its ethics from other disciplines, and that the real audience for poetry, in the end, was human DNA.  As a reader or a listener, I have often enough had a feeling of my life being made more vivid and real by hearing or reading a particular poem.  I feel, quite literally, that I can go on.  These are the poems that as Gary Snyder says “linger in the mind” and the body, and are part of the gift exchange that has turned out to be the ethos and spirit of this Cascadian event.  This is the magic, the wildness, the innocence, the ecology of poetry, which is to say of poetic imagination.  Poetry, the sound imagination makes in language, is always to our deepest communal benefit.

© SharonThesen, 2015