Intro to Kozer Variations

Author Introduction

It’s not ironic that a key image from the last Kozer Variation is an ant. How inspiration happens, how subjects lead from synapse to synapse in search of whatever they need, continues to be a remarkable process for me to witness. A process, however, with a velocity that stuns and a logic we can often understand only after the moment of composition, when one is composing as an occasion of experience in the Whitehead or Hua-yen Buddhist tradition.

The ant is a specific and recurring trope for Cuban-born Jose Kozer, whose book Stet provides the substrate or launch pad for this collection. Perhaps the ant means persistence, diligence, strength, perseverance, or other things. Maybe it’s just a creature to torture on a sidewalk with a magnifying glass, though I never did that as a kid. For the ant to pop up in the final poem, Periphery, as a noun, verb, and Starling cleansing implement, is remarkable and yet not surprising, even though in the moment of composition I was not aware of the link back to Kozer’s use of the ant, even though his book Stet, from which I derived all the titles for this collection, (some with slight modifications), mentions it often.

No. I was in full organic composing mode, meaning immersed in the moment and guided by, or tapped into, a force outside of me. It is a collective unconscious as Jung would say, a Buddha-field in my friend John Hogue’s parlance, or Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere? Somewhere, and I continue to be delighted by access to those realms, that field of first permission, Robert Duncan called it.

I watch the magnolias at Portland’s Union Station after they’ve dropped most of their blossoms, yet I can’t be sure spring awaits me upon my return to Seattle. Chaos seems to be the operant mode in this 2nd decade of the new century, but if what Whitehead said’s something that resonates with you: it is the business of the future to be dangerous, then the future is doing its work. It is times like these when our own rituals and perseverance are rewarded. The field becomes more revealed when that which is around it begins to drop away.

Part of that work of the future being dangerous is in its informing of the present. Whether it’s the ritual stepping on the bathroom scale to gauge the success of the reintroduction of steel cut oats cooked with bananas and cashew pieces served with soy milk and maple syrup, or the daily drawing of a Rune to determine what energetic rituals need more attention, the organic poem is a feedback system and experiment into the not yet known, the coming into view, the ancient bloodline issues bubbling up to the top of consciousness, the fuzzy edge of the emerging fields of awareness. How dynamic, miraculous and multi-layered the process is! As Francis Cook says in The Jewel Net of Indra, “interdependent existence is a dynamic process beyond comprehension.”

And the fields now coming into my experience are forever flavored by the preeminent Cuban poet of his generation, Jose Kozer. As I made conscious the intent during my graduate work to find poets working organically outside of the U.S., of course I was bound to cross paths with this remarkable poet. His intelligence, wit, generosity and dedication to the craft of poetry and most importantly, his living example of the life of a poet, are standards for which to aim. Though I only have one parent born in Cuba, and speak little Spanish, meeting him reinforced the notion that there is a lot of Cuban in me and funny how that manifests in hyper-polite Seattle. But how many of these things manifest is funny, after the fact, if you are supple enough and open to viewing the first clues of each new system.

And this gives me hope that our species can navigate the changes that face a person living after the death of the old gods and before the birth of the new. This is the time for which we were born and to live now is a tremendous blessing, despite the horrors perpetrated against the planet every day, whether it be premeditated wars against alleged terrorists, government-sanctioned torture, insane levels of spending on militarism, class wars disguised as bank bailouts, or the angry destruction of anything resembling a public commons.

The Poems

The poems in this collection were composed between November, 2008, and February, 2010. Each poem was written organically, using the title (or approximation) from each poem in Jose Kozer’s collection Stet and then using that poem as a jumping off point for my own excursion into the wilds of my own consciousness, memory and experience.

Whether it be travels to Tofino or Cuba, lost in the Olympic Mountains, or trips via the ether to Indonesia, whether it be inspired by morning yoga practice, latihans, or daily Rune divination; by going further into the issues and archetypes first related in my book A Time Before Slaughter, by more careful examination of my bloodline and deeper compassion for my parents and siblings, or through the settling in one’s self when it’s realized, in Gary Lemon’s words, I’ll never take off my clothes again in front of a stranger, I do know that composing in this manner may be the most satisfying thing I do. Satisfying to discover each time anew the unique stew made of all these things bouncing around inside me demanding expression, yet somehow coming from a place much bigger than me.

It is my hope that you, the reader, will find in these poems a window into a deeper sense of knowing your own life, that it will give you the courage of the Rune Teiwaz, representing Tyr, the Norse god of war, so that you may understand the evil you are capable of, while mustering the courage to live life as best you can in harmony with all living things everywhere. It is no accident that I pulled that Rune today, nor is it an accident that today is Tuesday, and that Tuesday is Tyr’s day, because coincidence is the universe’s sense of humor.

Amtrak Cascades 506
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
1:32PM

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