Cascadia in Cumberland

A comprehensive review of what I experienced in Cumberland, BC, at the first Cascadia Poetry Festival requires more bandwidth than I have right now, but a few thoughts. I as delighted to have Jared Leising, Matt Trease and Bhakti Watts join me. These are three key SPLAB volunteers, as Jared runs the MOOC on Innovative Cascadia Poetry, Matt has been coordinating the late night festival activities last year and this and Bhakti is an all-around advisor, numbers person and volunteer willing to do just about any job.

After checking into the Riding Fool Hostel, which the organizers had rented for the whole weekend, I made sure that we got to see the sculpture garden of George Sawchuk in Fanny Bay, BC.

I wrote a tribute poem to George and these woods earlier in the year after my first visit and debuted the poem at the festival to a warm reception. An excerpt:

Kevin Paul

Readings by Stephen Collis, Jan Zwicky and Sarah DeLeeuw were highlights for me, as well as the reading and overall presence of Saanich Nation poet Kevin Paul. I was not familiar with his work before this event, but his soft-spoken humility combined with powerful testimony from his elders, usually close family members, which coursed through his work and all of his participation over the weekend was inspiring. To give him a lift home and learn about his ancestral homeland was a real honor.

The event was not without was controversy, as we had a bit of mansplaining on the panel and it did not sit well with the only female panelist. It just shows how critical gender balance is to these events and that Adelia (Nicola) MacWilliam had to drop out as moderator at the last minute did not help that particular facet of the event.

The festival organizers Adelia, Ed Varney and Dan Kirk worked their asses off and are not yet planning a more intimate gathering the same weekend in 2018. Although SPLAB Co-Founder Danika Dinsmore likened the hostel accommodations as a “Poet’s Slumber Party” which of course would show up in an American Sentence.

Sarah DeLeeuw

All-in-all it is clear to me that this bioregional cultural organizing goes nowhere without an embrace from Canadians and without indigenous participation. Our progress, as I believe is the case with society as well, will only be successful if Indigenous people can live traditional lives with respect and dignity. We are a long way from that moment. Now if we could get some of the Tacoma Cascadia Poetry Festival (the big one, Oct 12-15, 2017) ) to attend in BC and vice versa.

9.9.17 – Morning after “poet’s slumber party,” of course panties in the bathroom.




Shanye Grec

Matt Trease

About Splabman

Paul Nelson is founder of SPLAB (Seattle Poetics LAB) in Seattle, the Cascadia Poetry Festival and the August POetry POstcard Fest (PoPo). He has published a collection of essays, Organic Poetry & a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, WA, A Time Before Slaughter (shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger) and American Sentences, a book of 17 syllable poems drawn from the first fourteen of his 20 years of daily practice. The tenth anniversary edition of that book includes Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia. He’s interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Wanda Coleman, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, George Bowering, Diane di Prima, Brenda Hillman, George Stanley, Joanne Kyger & many Cascadia poets (see: has presented his poetry and poetics in London, Brussels, Bothell, Cumberland, BC, Qinghai and Beijing, China, Lake Forest, Illinois, Ukiah, CA, and other places & writes an American Sentence every day.
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3 Responses to Cascadia in Cumberland

  1. heidi greco says:

    Not as good as being there would have been, but a great report, Paul. Thanks!

  2. C.J. Prince says:

    Thanks, Paul. What a grand gathering. I’ve had the pleasure of reading with Writers’ International Network Canada and Poets Across Borders. We are blessed by having a gentle border.

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