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: www.POPO.cards. (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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(Streaming) Lyric World Conversations with Koon Woon


I was delighted to be part of an event that features a local poet who has been part of the Seattle literary scene for many years and is finally getting some local recognition. Koon Woon moved to Washington from a village near Canton, China, when he was eleven in 1960. He earned a BA from Antioch University Seattle and also studied with Nelson Bentley. The author of The Truth in Rented Rooms and Water Chasing Water,  he lived for over a decade in the International District, only to be displaced due to gentrification.

This last point is critical because the theme of the evening is related to what Koon has been through in many ways. To do interviews live on stage is a tough gig, but talking to Koon about poetry and displacement, will be easier than most live interview assignments. I am grateful to Shin Yu Pai for asking me to conduct the interview and delighted Paul Kikuchi is on the bill to provide music. If you have not been to the newly renovated Town Hall Forum venue, it is gorgeous. (The recent MLA off-site reading was there in January.)

BUT COVID-19 FEARS HAVE RELEGATED THIS EVENT TO A LIVE STREAM, FRIDAY, MARCH 20, 2020 at 7pm. (See: https://townhallseattle.org/live/)

Koon Woon is a real poet. He’s not someone who writes a poem once a month and then submits it 400 times until it is published. He reads like a motherfucker, has incredible surprise mind, draws on his rich Chinese heritage and has used the practice of poetry to pull himself out of severe mental illness. From The Truth in Rented Rooms:

……………………………………….It took ten years and the destruction of
6′ x 4′ x 4′ or 96 cubic feet of poetry and 10 years to make me feel better.

I hope you’ll join me in honoring this local poet and literary legend.

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Plugging Into the Current: The Immediacies of Daphne Marlatt’s Writing

I had a flurry of activity about a month ago. I prepared a talk for a poet’s society with which I was engaged for a couple of months to serve as a sort of “dress rehearsal” for a talk at a conference I had a hand in planning. My talk was about SPLAB‘s 20 year bioregional cultural investigation. In that talk for the Cascadian Zen conference, using slide-show images as prompts for improvising about SPLAB’s work and findings since 2012, I brought up SPLAB’s poetics. How can I articulate that? An old post from this site, Writing or Re-Writing from 2013 further developed the tradition of spontaneous composition fostered by many of the poets I have written about many times over the years and I leaned on that for CZ.

So, to be reconnected with Daphne Marlatt (who I interviewed January 11, 2014) at the February 14-15, 2020, Cascadian Zen conference at Seattle U, was a delight and reminded me of the power of her poetry and her perceptions. Having been a founding member of one of the most influential movements in Canadian poetry (TISH) and linked to West Coast poets of the Organic/Projective/The Practice of Outside tradition (Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, Robin Blaser and others) she has a good bead on what Cascadian Zen might be and her presentation was clearly the highlight of a conference that had much to offer. Her understanding of place, the indigenous culture here, the power of poetry ESPECIALLY the outsider traditions of the New American Poetry, the prophetic nature of the first two waves of feminism and the benefits of decades of engagement with Vajrayana Buddhism were woven in with her own poetry acting as a spice within the stew of her talk.  I wrote an American Sentence based on something she said:

2.15.2020 — Daphne Marlatt knows the start of every good poem’s a current.

RiveringSo, I went back to the Marlatt book that I got right AFTER I had done that January 2014 interview. That book is Rivering and I loved this sampler of her work as well as the book’s closing essay “Afterword: Immediacies of Writing.” Some notes on that essay:

“So here, at the beginning of my writing, was a basic dualism between my woman’s body and then-inherited place in the world, and a male-engendered poetic and grasp of that world.” (She touched on this during our January 2014 interview.)

She notes in prose “the appeal of the rhythmic run of a sentence, the way a thought will grow, extending itself through rhythmic variation, syntactic possibility, and melodic association to branch out into extended meaning — as if a sentence might embrace the multiplicities of an immediate world/whatever is local to it.”

After discussing some of her 1960s mentors (mentioned above), the social movements of period between the 60s and 80s: “civil rights, anti-war, feminist, and later post-colonial and lesbian/gay rights” she mentions aural history, intertextuality, etymologies and how poetry for her “has never been a form of reportage. Composition, the act of putting words together, is full of immediacies. There is always edge, the edge a poem rides in its coming into form out of the inchoate, the formless.” All these things are fascinating (& validating) to me. I am reminded of Barry McKinnon, another brilliant BC poet who notes that William Carlos Williams once said that “each poem you write should be a summary of your life up until that point” and not only does that resonate with me, but comparing one’s outside life to one’s inner and one’s personal mythology is always a rich ground for investigation. This was true for me in a huge way at the Cascadian Zen conference (& the short-lived engagement with the poet’s society) and a reminder that it is our shadow dance with others (& the pain which often accompanies that) that allows the greatest self-knowledge.

Finally this long quote from Marlatt’s essay:

“In its coming into words (the immediate act of composition), a poem will generate a current, a charge as it develops. This current pulls into it material that may simply be flotsam (surface float) or may further the current, twist and merge with it. Writing — not the fingers on the keyboard or the pencil (yes, their rhythms and movements too) so much as listening, listening in the echo chamber language operates in charged thinking. Hearing other / alter(ing) even errant possibilities of connection both phonemic and semantic levels, on memory levels (resonating phrases from others’ work through time, all points of contact in the resonating web of language that is our medium for thought.”

Listening to the charged language of thinking for the current. Wow. This is consistent with a little trick of Jack Kerouac’s Michael McClure once taught at the old SPLAB called alluvials. That is, when one gets stuck while writing (spontaneous composition, of course) go up a line, or a few lines, or to the start of the poem being written and re-read it and the current is found again. One can continue. (It is a good feeling to get back on track. Like finding the stock path again when bushwhacking.) Not sure if this works in the 19th draft school of poetry composition, nor in traditional North American MFA (workshop) poetry, but I’ve never found a home there anyway.

Bravo Daphne Marlatt. We’ll need this in the interdependent future, which of course, is now. Or as she says in the poem in Rivering entitled “In the current”

Daphne Marlatt will lead a breakout session at the Cascadia Poetry Festival, April-30-May 2, 2021, San Juan Island on:

“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. Registration is open: https://cpf-sji-2020.bpt.me/ and info is here:


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