Documenting Pandemic

Thanks to POPO participant Linda Clifton, I learned about an essay by in The New Yorker:

A key paragraph for me:

Are you keeping records of the e-mails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.

This is part of why we launched our annual Poetry Postcard Fest (POPO) early. In fifty years who  is going to believe that a Fox News affiliate in Cleveland, Ohio, had a feature like:

Hopefully in 50 years there will not be a TV network like Fox News, which uses demagoguery to sew division and create profits out of human misery, but I digress. These are the kinds of things happening during this unprecedented Shelter-in-Place era. TV stations seeing as their duty to remind us WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS. Hopefully this is a gag to you and you have rituals which are keeping you sane. You might even be able to use this time to make changes in your life cognizant of the suffering happening in our world. Two tabs still active on my browser on COVID-19 are:

And what better way to get into a groove with one’s deep self by writing as much as possible? 31 postcards before August 31 is quite possible and you can get access to folks seeking to write more than that via POPO. 218 people have joined us so far by registering at Brown Paper Tickets. It’s a huge thing you can do for your own writing practice, your own sanity and for the little 26 year old non-profit org that dreamed all this up, not knowing that someday it would be one of the few literary festivals that would not be canceled due to a pandemic. It is SPLAB‘s largest annual fundraiser and if you can’t participate, maybe you know someone who might be interested. And in fifty years when someone doesn’t believe you, whip out a poetry postcard sent to you from a stranger.

May you & yours be well.

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A Time Before Slaughter/Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia

When the box of books arrives at your house and for the first time you hold your new book in your hand, it is quite an experience. I remember moving to Seattle in 2009 and having the first box of my first book of poems A Time Before Slaughter come via UPS. Ironic that I worked on the book for at least 13 years in Auburn, going to the local history museum, documenting weird and poignant facts about the history of the town once known as Slaughter, and the book waits until I am living in Seattle, looking at the skyline.

My big launch plans have been redirected, though I still hope to have the physical launch at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, and you can order the book through them and support local, independent book stores.

There are many acknowledgments in the book and surely you can read them there and I hope you do, as there are too many people to thank in this blog post, which is designed to create information about the Zoom launch on April 11, 2020, at 7pm. Details:

Paul splabman (at) icloud (dot) com is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Launch of Paul E Nelson’s A Time Before Slaughter/Pig War expanded edition
Time: Apr 11, 2020 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 206 422 5002

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My hope is that I can get 100 people to tune in and have a Q & A after.

The one person I want to thank in this post is Matt Trease, who has become a close friend over the last few years. He was able to articulate in an introduction for the second part of this new edition, the Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia, what is so close to me, I could not say in so many words:

That is to say, these “Other Songs of Cascadia,” composed in the decade since Slaughter, are not blunt appendages, or extra rooms tacked onto the same intellectual property, not a re-telling with bonus features. If the original Slaughter reads like an archeological elegy for a past consciousness virally erased by settler “Dominism,” the extended book turns that on its head, and lends us new instruments with which to re- inhabit place… Poetry need not romantically lament a lost reality, or limply critique hegemonic systems. As these poems teach us, poetry is always engaged in what Ramón Gomez de la Serna… articulated as “an extraordinary perception [by which] all pairs and even peers among things [become] involved in a sort of natural and fatal competition of desire which [alter] the whole humdrum surface of reality.” In these poems, Cascadia isn’t a lost place, an Atlantis, but an island, a “vast metaphor for concentration,” a place surrounded by sea, something potential always waiting to be spontaneously inhabited and made true.

Wow! Matt had agreed to talk about this during the Zoom session and I am hoping my Subud brother and long-time collaborator Jim O’Halloran will lend his flute to at least one piece, something we’ve done together in public before. Thanks Matt, Jim.

I am so grateful to have this book out in the world. I hope the Open Books reading is rescheduled as soon as is possible.

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POPO is Here (Early)

Faced with the prospect of not having any (in person) poetry readings for a while due to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and self-isolation for several weeks, the SPLAB Board agreed with my notion that we ought to start POPO early. POPO is the new name (thanks Terry Holzman) for the August POetry POstcard Fest, which is in YEAR 14! A few folks did not like their rhythm disrupted, as SUMMER is the time for POPO. Two said this was not a good idea because it was not clear if one could contract the virus via postcard. (WHO says the risk is “Low.”) Registration is open until July 18.

So, with little fanfare, we opened up the fest via a new website, brilliantly designed by Be Seen Media‘s Philip Brautigam: (Cool url, eh?) We also have a Project Manager on board, Barb Nelson, who is working to get word out about POPO. Yes, this means I have not two weeks but TWELVE weeks of sending out lists and corrections, so there is a downside for me. I love the two week rush of getting lists out and then enjoying MY OWN writing of poetry postcards, but this is why I get paid the big bucks.

And I have sat down to write some of my own cards. Allen Ginsberg said poets are people who “notice what they notice” and being WITNESSES to life at this highly charged time in world history is critical. Postcard poets are documenting their own lives via the fest and that may be the most important reason why now is the time to write.

There was a great feeling as I sat down to write my first card, to longtime POPO participant S.E. Ingraham (the first of two Canadian poets on my list oddly enough). That feeling was like being with an old friend again after a long break and getting caught up in NO TIME. Like the feeling of postcard composition is its own little universe and I’d not visited for months.

YES I had a pile of cards which I made last year and had two prints made of each. The fest has continued to deepen my own practice. I have written before about the depth of spontaneous composition, which is at the heart of the festival, and the notion of seriality (which I continue to practice in the tradition of Robin Blaser, George Stanley, Daphne Marlatt and other Cascadian poets) but then going on to create my own collage postcards was a huge gift. I may have some more time this year to create postcards and I still have my collage material stash:

And I’m working on penmanship, which I hope is my final postcard frontier. So, if you’re in group one, get ready for Postcards from the Pandemic. Forgive me for the handwriting on the cards already sent.

Since we added 108 days to the fest for 2020, I expect I can do about one every three days or 56, which is a nice round number related to postcards via the anthology 56 Days of August: Poetry Postcards, edited by Ina Roy-Faderman, Judy Kleinberg and I, in 2017 and now in its 2nd edition!

Writers have time now. We can only hope for the best from our political “leaders,” prepare for the worst and do what we need to do to be safe and sane. Postcards are a step toward sanity.

Happy Postcarding!



Thank you SO MUCH for making the decision to move this project up. I am a theatre actor and all the creative endeavors I am most deeply connected to are getting cancelled and postponed, so it is a breath of fresh air and hope that this project is actually coming to fruition SOONER because of the madness of our world at the moment…

Cassandra B.
Egg Harbor, WI

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