I have left a couple of browser tabs open on my mac for a couple of weeks now because of their relevance to my ongoing cultural investigation of Cascadia. Both have to do with a study by two psychology professors at the University of Maryland which used a bevy of statistics to promulgate a theory that can predict (and theoretically prevent) drug and alcohol use, homelessness and other social ills. (The Washington Post blog post on the study is here. The study’s abstract here. Floyd McKay’s summary in Crosscut is here.)
Needless to say I am fascinated by the study which has three Cascadia states at the very bottom of the tightness scale, meaning that they are the most permissive and the other three states which have some territory in the Cascadia bioregion also rating more permissive than the U.S. norm. As an aggregate, or course excepting the British Columbia portion of the bioregion, would be the 8th loosest state and I am guessing that dropping off the portion of Montana east of the continental divide would probably score Cascadia looser than that.
There is so much in the study to report and the paper, despite its mathematical jargon, is easy to read. Tighter states are more punishing than looser states, are motivated by fear more so than looser states and are more religious. They have fewer natural resources, higher food insecurity and higher poverty rates.
The authors also reference “collectivist” and “individualistic” states as well as “honor” cultures, the last of which are said to be more in the South and Midwest.
To their credit, tight states are associated with more conscientiousness, which I find fascinating. Also notable is that tighter states are determined to be “less creative” and their source for this determination is a combination of utility patents and the number of fine artists (painters, illustrators and writers) per capita. That creativity is still yoked to a capitalist culture in which being a sociopath is a positive trait is one of the study’s flaws, but I would not know how to suggest an alternative method of determining creativity that would survive scientific scrutiny. One can expect only so much creativity in a scientific study funded in part by two research arms of the U.S. Army, but the report gives us much to consider and much that validates the open culture of Cascadia. In fact, the authors actually use the term openness and show it is a “positive predictor of creativity.” Its antithesis is fear, which is a key component of Conservatism, according to the authors. To them Conservatism is: “an individual-level set of beliefs that includes two key features: …resistance to or fear of change, and …preferences for inequality.”
Open Form in Cascadia
I have studied Open Form in North American Poetry for two decades now and the notions expressed in the study only reinforce the intuitions I have had about an open stance toward poem making. To further the discussion in that arena which George Stanley articulated quite clearly at the 2nd Cascadia Poetry Festival this past May, an innovative Cascadia poetry would go beyond the ironic. It would feature notions actually felt by the poet (sincerity seems a poor word to describe the depth of the gesture I see in the best poetry) and retains the modernist qualities of concrete imagery and an avoidance of sentimentality. It would not concern itself with the notions of syntax or form, but would not necessarily exclude forms and proper syntax. It would be open to that and much more. There would be an inherent humility in the kind of poetry I envision, something Stanley does not outright say, but implies in his statement linked above. There would be, as Robin Blaser put it, “a spiritual chase” in this poetry which would correspond with Jack Spicer’s notion of the “human crisis” to which Stanley did refer in that piece. That a noble human impulse would shine out from underneath the words, but in such a way as to perhaps be baffling not only to those in “tight” states, but also to those conservative poets in the loosest states and yet would communicate something to those who are open. Abstract painter (with Cascadia roots) Clyfford Still’s famous quote applies in work such as this: “Demands for communication are presumptuous and irrelevant.”
I remain convinced that the most marginalized people in the arts community are the experimental poets who resonate with William Carlos Williams’ notion that “there is no poetry of distinction without formal invention.” A study of Pulitzer Prize winners, Poets Laureate, or even funding from any arts granting agencies would surely validate this. The culture suffers when the aesthetic bandwidth is consciously limited to artists producing the most conservative work. That they are given the vast majority of grants, reading and publishing opportunities and other financial “rewards” meager as they are in poetry, is evidence of the weakness of the industry-generated-culture’s understanding of authentic and adventurous poetry.
I also remain convinced that a truly innovative Cascadian poetics would have the depth of wilderness experience and reference of someone like Gary Snyder without sacrificing the depth of gesture that is seen in more experimental poets like Blaser (again), to name one. It would have a vast openness. (The serial poem is an example and I have gone into that before in pieces like this one.) That we have studies like the Tightness–Looseness Across the 50 United States is helpful in understanding what is truly open in artistic gestures and as a result will strengthen the sense of bioregional culture we experience here in Cascadia. Gestures which anticipate the political battles ahead (climate refugees and their successful assimilation into our culture here among them) and prepare people in the bioregion for the vastly dramatic future that colonialism, casino-capitalism and the industry-generated culture have ensured for us and the environmental challenges and economic inequality (among other issues) that are symptoms of these known pathologies.