In the year 2001, after the tragic events of that September, and only about five years under my belt as a curator/facilitator of events featuring visiting poets, I had the good fortune to organize a visit by legendary poet, anthologist, essayist, Jerome Rothenberg. (You can hear my interview with him here, conducted at the time of his visit to Auburn, WA, where SPLAB was then located.)
But one of the main things that lingered from his visit is his telling someone close to me that he: “expected a community of peers” to be a part of the visit, but all he: “saw was Paul.” Sure, there were workshop participants and people attending the reading. There were old friends that checked in with him and took him to dinner while I had to work, and other folks. But the human infrastructure that helped enable the visit was lacking. I know what you are thinking, such is the condition of a place like Auburn, Washington, the former Slaughter, and a place where I once joked that “the only culture in the town could be found in the dairy section of Safeway.”
It has taken years to work on the source of this inability to gather like-minded people who get the depth of my vision and seek to extend it. So the recent success of the 3rd Cascadia Poetry Festival is something I am going to savor for a while. And perhaps it is working with Canadian-Cascadians, and their legendary humility (as Canadians) that is a huge part of that, I don’t know. I LOVE the NHL tradition of the handshake line after every playoff series is over and I can’t but help compare this to the enmity I see in the average NBA series. That the Blackhawks of my hometown of Chicago were Stanley Cup Champions for the third year in six made watching that ritual sweeter for me last night.
So, my ongoing gratitude goes to the Nanaimo local organizing committee for making CPF3 the huge success it was, but also to people like Sharon Thesen. Her presentation on the Rewilding Poetry (Eco-Poetry in Cascadia) panel is something to consider deeply and begin to understand not only poetry from here, but the culture from here so that we may deepen our own experience as humans. She has sussed the current situation in North American poetry quite ably and this paragraph illustrates that:
“By “the world” I mean the public world, the world we share in common. We are encouraged to think, however, that such commonality is a socially constructed fiction. We do not share a world, it seems to say, but rather there is a “we” that excludes others, a “we” to whom all wealth, power, and security are owed. The communities we belong to are communities of tastes and brands. As we cling more and more to our finely parsed identities, what we take to be the world is more and more a totality of fractalled and fracked surfaces. The ground opened by poetry, on the other hand—by the world-making activity of poeisis—restores us both to the world and to one another. The late Robin Blaser, who was very much concerned about the disappearance of the public world, as he thought along the lines suggested by Hannah Arendt’s work on totalitarianism, noted, “The public world has to do with the depths beneath the surfaces in which each simple, separate [and I would say “innocent” and “wild”] person swims—the rhythmic relationships by which one can notice that the surface is violent.” None of this has escaped the notice of poetry. Young poets today must write in such a vast and slippery territory, including the world-vaporizing currents of both neoliberalism and academic suspicion of imagination and spirituality (unless safely ensconsed within indigenous methodologies).”
Here you can see the whole panel at which she delivered this essay:
You can see her read her own work here:
And her phrase: “academic suspicion of imagination and spirituality.” Wow. Perhaps Diane diPrima never imagined it would be poets, academic or otherwise that we’d have to worry about, but there it is and maybe diPrima did have some sense. For it is imagination which allows us to have compassion, is the act we engage in when we consider how it would be for “them.” How much in the world today suffers from lack of empathy, lack of imagination? Trevor Carolan, another Canadian poet living and working in Cascadia says compassion is one of the qualities of the best of Cascadian poetry. Not that it is missing in poetry from other bioregions, but our proximity to Asia, as part of the Pacific Rim, our proximity to wilderness much more so that most bioregions on this continent (and surely those with any significant population), and the fact that Indigenous culture here survived more than elsewhere on the continent, these all seem to me to be factors ratifying Carolan’s theory, but that exposes my biases.
Here we see again some very clear thinking, very relevant to our time politically and culturally and few south of the 49th parallel have ever heard the name Sharon Thesen. Yes, she is one of 89 poets in Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia. This is the kind of material that defines the Cascadia Poetry Festival and related activities and that is, to me, what success looks like. Thank you Sharon.