I’ve been asked by the Subud community to write about the 2nd Cascadia Poetry Festival, which happened May 1-4, 2014 at two locations: Seattle University and Spring Street Center. Spring Street Center is the rental name for the Seattle Subud House and here’s how two of my selves collided.
As Rental Agent of the house, I am responsible for showing the venue to potential renters, answering airbnb queries and helping lodgers check-in and hosting events. As Founding Director of the non-profit organization SPLAB, I am charged with helping to implement and refine the mission, to: “promote spokenword performance, develop the audience for poetry, develop resources to support poetry, to do public outreach, and build community through shared experience of the spoken and written word.” As a person deeply committed to justice, sustainability and to my own individuation, I have come to the conclusion that a deeply subversive act is to think bioregionally, that is begin to understand the bioregion in which I live and the culture of this place and organize in that manner. (See: Why Cascadia, Why Poetry?)
To consider yourself a resident of a bioregion is to, on some level, recognize the arbitrary nature of “invisible lines” as the 49th Parallel was described a couple of times during the fest. I also believe the culture shifts before the politics do and, as such, is the substrate on which political changes are made. And these events are all about connections. In fact, it was inviting Sharon Cumberland to read at the After Party at Cascadia I that motivated her to offer Seattle U for Cascadia II and forced SPLAB to up its game by a factor of ten. We had hoped to sell 30 all access Gold Passes before Cascadia I and by Cascadia II, that number jumped to 300. Planning went on for over a year. The SPLAB Board was augmented by volunteers, many of which stayed engaged throughout the entire process. We applied for grants and got two specifically for the event totaling $1,400 and used a grant that was for general organization purposes for the fest, adding another $1,200. To give you a sense of what this cost, we spent about $10,000 to make this happen and all venues and all lodging was donated. No organizers were paid. We were denied about $32K in grant applications.
Wednesday afternoon April 30 poets began to arrive. Joanne Kyger came in from Bolinas, CA. A legendary poet who was part of the San Francisco Renaissance in the late 50s, took Room 1 at the Subud House/Spring Street Center, had the full-length mirror moved into the room and made sure there was plenty of fizzy water on hand. Heidi Greco drove in with Joanne Arnott from Surrey. (See Joanne’s take on the fest here.) Kim Goldberg, David Fraser, Linda Crosfield, Ursula Vaira and her partner Gordon May arrived on the Victoria Clipper on a stunningly beautiful night with the Olympics and Mt. Rainier in full splendor. (Linda Crosfield took some AMAZING photos and blogged on Day One here. Day two-four here. She put MANY photos on Facebook. Kim Goldberg blogged here.) Thursday night was the Kickoff Reading at the Subud House/Spring Street Center. Seven Canadian poets, most of which had been published in the Force Field anthology read their work, including Jo Lilley down from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, just outside the bioregional line of demarcation.
Friday morning at the Subud House, we had our one and only workshop. Since legendary BC poet Daphne Marlatt was ill, three of our headliners each offered one writing exercise: Joanne Kyger, George Stanley and George Bowering. (I plan to blog about the workshop soon.) That we’d have the presence and guidance of three master poets turned out to be a bonus. Friday afternoon we gathered in an ever-widening circle for the first Living Room of the fest, an open and democratic reading where poets read their own work. Many cite this event as their favorite, as established poets mingle with beginners (of all ages) and everyone listens to everyone else.
Friday evening the Keynote reading featured Joanne Kyger, George Bowering, George Stanley, Kaia Sand and Emily Kendall Frey. This reading illustrated the unofficial theme of the fest, that being the most influential poetry in this bioregion, for my money, is a truly North American West Coast poetics that comes out of the combination of the San Francisco Renaissance and the TISH movement of Vancouver and I hesitate to write BC after that. Joanne Kyger was part of the group that was constellated around Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser in the late 50s in San Francisco and she would recall those days in her presentation on the Innovative Poetry panel the next day. George Stanley holds a unique place in the bioregion’s poetics, as he was part of the scene in SF in the late 50s and early 60s, moved to Vancouver in 1970 and further north to Terrace not long after. As if that were not enough to compliment his own poetry bonafides in Cascadia, his Great Grandfather was one of the first Mayors of Portland, OR. Kaia Sand, reading off a surplus cord from her “cord drawer” was spell-binding and her fellow Portland poet Emily Kendal Frey added her own inventive work that thrives on surprise mind.
Late night programming included the Beer Slam Friday night, in which Robert Lashley of Tacoma/Bellingham took home the Beer Slam Chipmunk, who co-hosted the show with Graham Isaac. The After Party Saturday night featured poets from around the bioregion going to the stage for ONE poem. Mixing Slam poets like Sarah Brickman and Daemond Arrindel, with more experimental poets like Amaranth Borsuk and Chelsea Kurnick with straight-ahead performance poets like Larry Crist and Dennis Bolen, it is a format that lends itself to an energetic and fast-paced evening. The beer helped make people happy and was donated by Naked City Brewpub whose motto I just loved saying: “Get Naked.” I started the show with a poem that was a little longer than I would have liked, but was written with the occasion in mind. I posted it here and it riffs off of Allen Ginsberg’s famous poem America with a Cascadian twist inspired by George Bowering.
David McCloskey is unofficially known as the Father of Cascadia and this festival may not have happened without his multi-decade investigation into the bioregion and into bioregionalism itself. During the end of his Saturday morning talk, he unveiled new maps of the bioregion which treat off-shore features with the same emphasis as those on the land and it was stunning. I was told by many participants that his talk really put things into perspective.
Saturday’s academic meeting, not on the official schedule, was made possible by Jared Leising and his idea to teach a one credit course for his Cascadia Community College students attending the festival. (He is also taking a lead role on the MOOC to be developed on innovative Cascadia poetry.) That his students were joined by many students of The Evergreen State College is because of the efforts of Suzanne Simons and Rebecca Chamberlain, two faculty members of TESC. To them, we are grateful. The discussion that happened during that session was quite lively.
There are many more highlights to write about, most notable in my book the 2nd Saturday panel on Geoactivism (Geography & Activism). The panel included Kim Goldberg, Eric De Place of Seattle’s Sightline Institute, Trevor Carolan or North Vancouver, BC and Kaia Sand. This was a great compliment to the previous panel, both of which delved into perhaps the most pressing concern in the bioregion, that the dirty fossil fuels from the middle of the continent have to come through Cascadia to get to their target markets in Asia. We can stop them and there have been successes in standing up to oil and coal corporations. Having a non-poet on the panel was an especially good idea here, one that the fest will likely continue to do in the future as plans are emerging in Nanaimo, BC, to host the third Cascadia Poetry Festival April 30-May 3, 2015.
The Spring Street Center provided lodging, venue space and meals to headliners and volunteers. Joe Chiveney and his wife Cathy Visser made remarkable meals, stretched a tiny food budget and really made people feel at home. At a Monday morning meeting to break down what went right about the fest and what did not, I made it clear that the energy of the Subud House gets a lot of credit for the success of the festival. That Seattle U is a Jesuit institution made for a nice match, as both organizations have their “spiritual ducks in a row” as it were. There was one moment after Saturday’s Living Room that I began to sing as the facilitator began to stretch and I could feel the latihan coming on. It was a very short, but potent and organic moment. Two of my worlds collided creating a very good effect.
If Subud is to survive, using culture as the method to spread the word about how the latihan works is one of the least intrusive and most effective methods. That we do not proselytize in Subud is proper. That Western culture is dying for authenticity, as alluded to by George Stanley in the Saturday morning poetics panel when he said the ironic is what we have in poetry and the new would be something realistic and/or sincere, suggests that the Subud notion that true culture is an act of the jiwa is correct and people are hungering for this connection.
No empires survive and the damage created by colonialism is deep and affects us all. This bioregional activism and cultural investigation would not have been as potent or received as deeply as it has been if I were not practicing latihan. That friends, acquaintances and other participants could get a little taste of the latihan was a true gift and a testament to the vision of the Dewan of Subud Greater Seattle. To them I give thanks.