For the 7th iteration of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, SPLAB moves its bioregional cultural investigation to The Multiverse on San Juan Island. A gallery and island cultural center run by Jennifer, Ian and Gavia Boyden will provide a more intimate setting for festival attendees to go deeper into the intersection of poetics and bioregionalism. April 30 – May 2, 2021, poets and literature fans will gather to celebrate the Life and Legacy of Robin Blaser and delve into The Practice of Cascadia/The Practice of the Self. Register today at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4434330

In addition to poetry readings at The Grange in Friday Harbor, an open reading and panel discussions at the Multiverse, there will be several breakout sessions: lectures, workshops and discussions related to the two main organizing themes and/or to poetics and Cascadia.

Poets and scholars scheduled to appear include Blaser biographer and literary executor Miriam Nichols (Vancouver, BC), Mary Norbert Körte (Willits, CA), Daphne Marlatt (Vancouver, BC) Sharon Thesen (Kelowna, BC), Bill Yake, (Olympia, WA), Barry McKinnon (Prince George, BC), Jason Wirth (Seattle), Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma (Vashon Island, WA), our hosts: Jennifer, Ian and Gavia Boyden, of San Juan Island, Matt Trease, Nadine Maestas, Meredith Clark, Peter Munro, Cate Gable and others are scheduled to participate.

One of the breakout sessions will cover the rare Island Marble Butterfly, once thought extinct, but found on San Juan Island. This breakout session will be facilitated by the National Parks Service.

Mary Norbert Körte & Paul E Nelson, October 25, 2019, Grace Hudson Museum, Ukiah, CA

Breakout Sessions

The Embodied Imagination: An Experiential Workshop on the Practice of Cascadia

The Japanese Zen master Dogen once distinguished between what could be translated as “not-thinking,” the mere negation of thinking, and “nonthinking”—that which points beyond or beneath thinking. With this as our starting point, we’ll explore how poetry can issue from one’s deeper body-and-mind, rooted in the earth beneath one’s feet. We’ll take a meditative approach to an awareness of body and breath, and play with some unusual exercises for freeing one’s voice—both one’s speaking or singing voice and one’s voice as a writer. We’ll also consider how this exploration connects with a practice and poetics of place. Wear comfortable clothing and bring a notebook and something to write with. Facilitated by Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma.

“The Holy Forest” as Method & Practice

Taking off from the title of Robin Blaser’s collected poems, this workshop will discuss Blaser’s use of the words “holy” and “forest” as a main focus, in addition to other mid-century spontaneous approaches, including Blaser’s and Spicer’s “practice of outside” and Charles Olson’s “projective verse,” along with Frances Boldereff’s rarely acknowledged contribution to the latter. Participants are encouraged to bring a poem they’d like to workshop.. – Sharon Thesen

Big Poetry and the Public World

This break-out session invites participants to push off from the “Big Poetry” section in chapter 7 of the Blaser biography (A Literary Biography of Robin Blaser: Mechanic of Splendor). In that section, I contrasted Blaser’s push for “big poetry” with some common literary-theoretical positions of the mid-1990s which would seem to preclude anything so ambitious. By “big poetry” I mean a poetry of cosmos—one that speaks the world as do the creation stories, myths, and epics of the world’s cultures. Blaser’s own model was Dante’s Divine Comedy.  The context of this section is the 1995 conference held in Blaser’s honor in Vancouver at the Emily Carr College of Art and the published proceedings of it, both titled The Recovery of the Public World (edited by Edward Byrne and Charles Watts, published by Talonbooks). The arguments that I selected from that publication which would seem to render a “big poetry” unthinkable are as follows:

  1. From Adorno scholar Robert Hullot-Kentor: a critique of the titular concept of the conference—a public world— as a façade for economic manipulation and of identity politics as the abandonment by progressives of class-based social change.
  2. From Steve McCaffery: a Deleuzean reading of Blaser that emphasizes the end of the discrete entity. Blaser’s poetic sensibility rests on the polarization of self and world which would seem to assume a universe of definable entities rather than one of continuities and intensities.
  3. From Charles Altieri: A critique of poetry as unable to offer anything but negation. If all idealizations are ideologically suspect, all histories contaminated, and all worlds partisan then the poet is left with negation of what is or a formalism that endlessly exposes its own devices.

The point of bringing these arguments into contiguity with Blaser’s oeuvre is not to defeat them in Blaser’s favour, but to explore the premises of Blaser’s position which I think come from a different starting point. The purpose of the seminar is to discuss those elements of the above  arguments that participants find compelling and current in the context both of Blaser’s work (and by extension that of New American poets close to him) and contemporary cultural landscapes: heterogeneous, globalized, presentist, unequal. Moderated by Miriam Nichols.

Islands of Text and the Flooded Page

In this workshop, we will engage with the concept of islands as high points of land and story in a substrate of sea. We will generate texts in order to flood them, we will drain the water from existing texts (including Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho), and we will participate in group and individual exercises to create our own topographies of land and water on the page. This is an experiment in landscape, seascape, and time-travel. Moderated by Meredith Clark.

Sunday 8-9am – Gentle Pre-Breakfast Yoga
In this session, we will practice gentle yoga, conscious breathing and somatic meditation.  Attending to the body, breath, mind and heart is the fundamental focus of yoga. Flexibility is not required!  Laura will bring some mats and blankets, but if you have your own, please feel free.  Facilitated by Laura Yon.

“The processional aspect of the world”: some pointers from Robin Blaser on writing now

This will be a session that talks about what might be involved in writing our actual present.  It will begin with a brief talk that unfolds from the above phrase taken from Blaser’s germinal essay, “The Fire.” This session begins with the question: how write out of both the personal and the so-much-larger than personal in our crisis-riven time?  It will include a reading from one of his serial “Image-Nation” poems.  There will be time for discussion of these ideas and how they might be relevant to one’s own writing practice in the present. If further time allows, there will be a prompt for an on-the-spot writing session. Facilitated by Daphne Marlatt.

Island Marble Butterfly

The Island Marble Butterfly – A Cascadian Endemic and Inspiration (handouts)

Believed to be extinct until rediscovered at American Camp on San Juan Island in 1998, the Island Marble Butterfly is a true endemic – limited (as far as is known) to San Juan and Lopez Islands. One of the last colonies persists on National Park Service (NPS) land just a couple of miles from the Multiverse – site of the 2020 Cascadia Poetry Festival. Like us, its future is precarious. In this breakout session we plan to visit American Camp where NPS staff will show us how they are working to grow this the Island Marble colony by hand-raising butterflies from eggs, preserving their food plants, and improving their considerably abused habitat. It is not an easy task. We should also have some time to consider the role of butterflies and moths (ephemeral, evasive, and often pale) as they have inspired a range of poems and poets — including examples from Vladimir Nabokov, Robin Blaser, Jim Morrison, and several poets native to Cascadia. Participants should bring a notebook (Rite-in-the-Rain might be best given weather uncertainty), a pen/pencil, outdoor clothing and sturdy shoes. Binoculars and a camera might also be helpful. Facilitated by Bill Yake


Ching-In Chen is a genderqueer Chinese American hybrid writer, community organizer and teacher. They are author of The Heart’s Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009); recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017; winner of the 2018 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry); and how to make black paper sing (speCt! Books, 2019). and Kundiman for Kin :: Information Retrieval for Monsters (forthcoming from Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs and a Finalist for the Leslie Scalapino Award). Chen is also the co-editor of The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities (South End Press, 2011; AK Press 2016) and Here Is a Pen: an Anthology of West Coast Kundiman Poets (Achiote Press, 2009). They have received fellowships from Kundiman, Lambda, Watering Hole, Can Serrat and Imagining America and are a part of Macondo and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation writing communities. They are currently Assistant Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics at the University of Washington Bothell. www.chinginchen.com

Meredith Clark is a poet and writer whose work has received Black Warrior Review’s nonfiction prize, and appeared in Gigantic Sequins, Berkeley Poetry Review, Phoebe, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of grants and residencies from The Vermont Studio Center, Artist Trust, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Art Farm Nebraska. Her first book, Lyrebird, is forthcoming in 2020 from Platypus Press.

Mary Norbert Körte (born 1934) is an American poet associated with the Beat movement. A former Catholic nun from the San Francisco area, in the 1960s she became a poet, teacher and social activist. Her published work includes several volumes of poetry.[1] Körte grew up in the hills near Oakland and Berkeley east of San Francisco Bay. At the urging of her family, she became a nun in 1952 when she entered the St. Rose Convent in San Francisco and became Sister Mary Norbert. Influenced by readings by Allen Ginsberg and others at the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965, she began to write poetry and to assist poor poets living in Haight-Ashbury. The Beat poet David Meltzer helped get her first book of poetry, Hymn to the Gentle Sun, published in 1967. As her secular and religious interests diverged, she left the convent in 1968 and moved to Berkeley to take a job as a secretary in the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley. There she became friends with the poet Denise Levertov. Nominated by Levertov,[1] Körte was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1969.[2] In 1972, she became caretaker of woodland property in WIllits, in northern California. She eventually bought the property, supporting herself by teaching at a nearby reservation school. She continued to write poetry, and she became active in the environmental movement, including Save the Redwoods.[1] River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester in New York holds a collection of 10 boxes of Körte’s personal papers. They include correspondence, manuscripts, works by other authors, biographical documents, and other material.[3]

Vancouver poet Daphne Marlatt regards Robin Blaser’s thought and poetry as profoundly influential. Marlatt’s more recent titles include Liquidities: Vancouver Poems Then and Now (2013) and Reading Sveva (2016), a poetic response to the work of the Canadian artist-poet Sveva Caetani. In 2017 Talonbooks published Intertidal: Collected Earlier Poems 1968-2008, edited by Susan Holbrook. Her 2018 Fieldnotes chapbook, On the Threshold of the Page, introduced by Stan Dragland, presents a talk on poetics she gave at Queen’s University, Ontario.

Miriam Nichols is a Professor Emerita at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C., where she taught American and Canadian literature, international modernism, and literary theory before retirement in 2019. Her publications include A Literary Biography of Robin Blaser: Mechanic of Splendor (Palgrave 2019); Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside (Alabama 2011); and editions of Robin Blaser’s The Astonishment Tapes (Alabama 2015); The Holy Forest: Collected Poems (California 2006) and The Fire: Collected Essays (California 2006).

Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma is an author, poet, translator, teacher, magician, musician, and lover of life. His books include The Safety of Edges (poems), Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar (translated from the Tamil), and Body and Earth: Notes from a Conversation (with the artist C.F. John). He also performs regionally and beyond, combining poetry, story, magic, and song in talks and presentations for the young and old alike, and serves as Language Consultant for the Cozy Grammar series of online video courses. He has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, 4Culture, Artist Trust, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the U.S. Fulbright Program, the American Literary Translators Association, and Oberlin Shansi. He makes his home on Vashon Island, Washington, with his husband, David Mielke. thomaspruiksma.com

A life-long Cascadian, Sharon Thesen has been living, working, and writing in British Columbia, from Prince George to Kamloops to Vancouver (for a long while) and more recently in the Okanagan Valley.   Robin Blaser was a mentor, teacher, and friend at Simon Fraser University, where she completed an M.A. on Coleridge’s Shakespeare criticism.  She taught for decades at Capilano College and more recently at UBC’s Okanagan campus where she is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing.   Sharon hosts a series of poetry workshops (Pinecone Poetry Workshops) out of her home in Lake Country.  She is the author of ten books of poetry, editor of two editions of a Canadian long poem anthology, and is co-editor of the Charles Olson-Frances Boldereff correspondence.  While teaching at UBCO, Sharon co-edited Lake: A Journal of Arts and Environment; and earlier, at Capilano College, was an editor of The Capilano Review.

After Party host Matt Trease is an artist and astrologer living on the Duwamish ancestral homeland in south Seattle, WA, where he serves on the board of the Seattle Poetics Lab (SPLAB), co-curates the Margin Shift reading series, and teaches poetry at Hugo House. His poems have recently appeared in small po[r]tions, WordLitZine, Phoebe, Fact-Simile, Hotel Amerika, and Juked (among others), and in the anthologies, Shake the Tree Vol 3 (Brightly Press, 2018) and Make It True Meets Medusario (Pleasure Boat Studios, 2019). He is the author of the chapbook Later Heaven: Production Cycles (busylittle1way designs, 2013).

An Olympia poet and scientist, Bill Yake was born and raised east of the mountains – moving west in 1977. His home watersheds have included the Spokane River, the south fork of the Palouse River, the Deschutes River, Scatter Creek (Chehalis River) and, currently, Green Cove Creek/Salish Sea. He worked for 25 years with the Washington State Department of Ecology as an environmental scientist tracking down toxic contaminants  in fish, rivers, groundwater, sediments, and soils. Since retirement he’s traveled — to Papua New Guinea, China, Sicily, Australia, France’s illustrated caves, Peru, Mongolia, and even Texas.  Bill’s full-length collections include This Old Riddle: Cormorants and Rain and Unfurl, Kite, and Veer. These and several of his scientific publications are included in holdings at the Library of Congress. His poems appear widely in anthologies and publications serving the environmental and literary communities. These include Open Spaces, Orion, Rattle, Cascadia Review, and NPR’s Krulwich’s Wonders.

Laura Yon has a Master’s Degree in Sports Medicine, is a Certified Yoga Therapist, practices hospice massage and is also death doula.  She has taught gentle and therapeutic yoga in the viniyoga tradition since 1992. She integrates breathing and mindfulness into all of her teachings. Laura dedicates her life to helping others move with ease, open their hearts and still their minds. More information about Laura can be found at LauraYon.com

More to come…