Death of an Indian (Birth of a Shaker)

I was delighted to read as part of the Margin Shift series on Thursday, June 18, 2020. Earlier in the day I thought I would rehearse a long poem that is a huge part of the newly expanded edition of my book A Time Before Slaughter. The new section is Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia.

A story I would have told during the reading is that when I first moved to Seattle, in 1988, I had already been seeking a spiritual path and I ended up finding indigenous people and communities, including Beaver Chief, a teacher and friend who served on the Board of the organization that is now SPLAB. Through him and his Red Cedar Circle, which happened for a while at the Auburn SPLAB I learned many Shaker Songs. So when I started researching the history of Cascadia, it was interesting to see the Shaker Church as a uniquely Cascadian thing: not quite indigenous, but surely not in the “monotheistic religion” category. The poem I read below is a telling of the founding of the Shaker Church and John Slocum’s near death experience.

The interesting thing to me about my connection to the songs of the Shaker Church is that I joined Subud in 2004 and when my Latihan practice really caught on, it was as if my deep self was composing something like Shaker Church songs, but as if influenced by the music of the 70s fusion band Weather Report. So “Beaver Chief meets Zawinul.”

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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