Review of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia

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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


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