I was tagged by C.E. Putnam for this project, the Next Big Thing self-interview. I tagged 6 other writers whose work I admire and will post links to their answers once they send them to me. The trick for me was that I have three book projects percolating. Actually, the first two are done and the third will be done soon. Here now:
Paul Nelson The Next Big Thing (Self-Interview)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
1. I organized a workshop in 2001 by Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling on the forms of Allen Ginsberg and they included American Sentences as one of the forms they would teach. I felt I could get a little ahead if I wrote one a day each day from January 1, 2001, until the day of the workshop in April 2001. Then I had to work for the KPLU (NPR) fund drive and missed the workshop. Writing one of these sentences every day was a great way to keep my hand in the act of writing poetry daily, sharpened my perception and helped tighten my work through the daily discipline of editing something down to 17 syllables.
2. I started doing interviews early on in my radio career, about 1981. In 1990 I was offered the position of News and Community Affairs Director at KKNW and was told I would have to create an hour of public affairs programming each week. I started a non-profit corporation in 1993 to carry out the work of producing and syndicating a weekly public affairs program and since then have created over 500 hours of original interviews. I had the name for the project years ago and bought the url www.AmericanProphets.org and now own .com as well.
3. In about 1998 I had the idea of writing a Paterson for Slaughter. Slaughter was the original name of Auburn, Washington, the town in which I lived at the time. The book A Time Before Slaughter was published in 2010. By this time I had come under the spell of the serial poem and decided that I was not yet finished with some of the themes covered in ATBS, so continued the work of re-enacting local history in verse by investigating the Pig War. I’ve also become quite interested in the notion of bioregionalism, especially as it concerns this bioregion, Cascadia and want to spend the next 19 years investigating the bioregion, its history, myths, terrain, watersheds and culture and report back in verse.
What genre does your book fall under?
3. Poetry. Serial poem re-enacting history of Cascadia.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I defer to my wife, Meredith, who says young me: Patrick Dempsey, old me: Robert DeNiro, because he could express my full range of emotions. You talkin’ to me?!? Maybe Andy Garcia as well. He knows something of Cubans.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
1. 17 syllable poems, sort of a North American take on haiku, written daily for 12 years.
2. Interviews with authors, poets and other whole systems activists.
3. A bioregional serial poem re-enacting historical events and re-telling myths from the salmon/rainforest coastal region of the Northeast Pacific Rim.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
1. 12 years and counting.
2. 22 years.
3. 2 years. Not yet complete.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
1. Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Andrew Schelling, Rebecca Nelson, Meredith Nelson, Debra VanTuinen, Stephanie Skura, Paul Nelson Sr, Lesbia Nelson and Ella Roque Nelson.
2. Gloria DeGaetano, Rupert Sheldrake, Jean Houston, Larry Dossey, Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Michael McClure, Brenda Hillman, Nathaniel Mackey, Phyllis Curott, Bhagavan Das, E. Richard Atleo and Beaver Chief, among others.
3. Michael McClure, Meredith Nelson, Buffy Sedlacheck, Lorine Niedecker, Susan Point, Nate Nackey, Jose Kozer, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Brenda Hillman, Beaver Chief, Johnny Moses, Joanne Kyger, Ed Dorn, Robin Blaser, Lissa Wolsak, George Bowering, Amalio Madueño, Bapak, Jim O’Halloran, Halimah Collingwood, E. Richard Atleo, Ramón Gomez de la Serna, Fa Tsang, Michael Vouri, Morris Graves…
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
1. The practice of writing these poems has been a life-changing event. That they were started before September 11, 2001, and continued for at least 12 years after shows, in a cryptic way, some of the changes in the U.S. in that period and how one poet responded to those conditions. They also serve as a kind of journal, or memory device. There is a story behind each one.
2. There are three sections: Thinkers; Activists and Technicians of the Sacred. The categories are somewhat arbitrary and doing the interviews helped me better understand a whole-systems approach to living in this world. Though they are years old in some cases, they are quite relevant to the situation we find ourselves in now. I think each guest earns the title prophet in their own way.
3. Peter Berg is looked at as one of the originators of the concept of bioregionalism. he said: “If the life-destructive path of technological society is to diverted into life- sustaining directions, the land must be reinhabited. Reinhabitation means learning to live-in-place in an area that has been disrupted and injured through past exploitation. It involves becoming aware of the particular ecological relationships that operate within and around it. It means understanding activities and evolving social behavior that will enrich the life of that place, restore its life- supporting systems, and establish an ecologically and socially sustainable pattern of existence within it. Simply stated it involved becoming fully alive in and with a place. By writing our way toward reinhabiting our bodies – which are our personal piece of the earth – as well as our home communities, we can become more “fully alive in and with a place.”
I think all people living in the world crave this connection. I feel that engaging in this project, the nature of a bioregional emphasis, and writing the poems in the mode of Robin Blaser’s “Practice of Outside” is an inherently political act. Too subtle for some, but quite natural and vigorously so for me. That, to paraphrase George Bowering, when you listen as scrupulously as possible and listen for what the poem wants to say, you get to be the first person that reads it, which is a joyful occasion. When you can learn to cooperate with language, rather than use it, as Robert Duncan said, the reward is in the composing.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
1. Still up for grabs.
2. Still up for grabs.
3. Dark Coast Press has expressed interest in the book, which should be finished December 31, 2013.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
Garry Thomas Morse