I presented this at the 7th Cascadia Poetry Festival, on 7—OCT—2023, at the Subud House/ Spring Street Center.
“I’m located therefore I am.” — Kombu-merri elder, Mary Graham.
Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.
I pledge allegiance
I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.
— Gary Snyder
I want to talk today about the poetics of the Cascadia Poetics Lab, how they developed and hopefully what will come across is a sense of the radical, de-colonial and soul-building nature of those poetics. As always telling it slant, which is Emily Dickinson’s advice and my way, for better or worse.
Gary Snyder, perhaps the quintessential bioregional poet, was there when bioregionalism was being formulated and has the greatest short definition of bioregionalism which is: “stay put, watch what happens.” How does this stance, staying put, contrast with what the bioregionalists have been saying since the 70s — that people live on this land LIKE INVADERS. You see why Michael Daley called his book Reinhabited, and why he said when I interviewed him in July 2022, that bioregionalism is an anti-colonialist stance. To imagine national borders created by nature and not by white generals sometimes using a map is a transformative exercise, but thanks to David McCloskey’s maps and life work, we don’t need to imagine.
In 1992 I interviewed Peter Berg who founded the Planet Drum Foundation. (They are 50 years old this year, by the way.) In that interview, conducted a year before this organization (CPL) was founded, he said:
The imperative is that we learn how to live in harmony with natural systems in sustainable ways. That means that the ways that we live would change, the kinds of things we would do to get basic human needs, such as food, shelter, water… and I would include culture in that, would be more adaptable to the place itself.
Elsewhere he said one of the goals of bioregionalism: “is to support the work of reinhabitation, of people becoming native to the places where they live.”
David McCloskey and every indigenous elder would say we need a culture that comes up OUT OF THIS PLACE & is the PLACE SPEAKING THROUGH YOU. Peter & Gary & Diane di Prima & Joanne Kyger & others were saying it in the 1970s, (Chief Seattle in the mid-1800s) and now we have the Anthropocene & checking the Air Quality Index on summer days to see if we can safely go outside. The quality of air may be the one thing that gets across to mass consciousness what the commons is, or as I said in a poem once: “It’s weather will get their attention.”
In 1994 I interviewed Allen Ginsberg who talked about Open Form, starting with Walt Whitman, First Thought/Best Thought (which he likened to Buddhism) and the need for specifics in the poem. His paraphrase of William Blake: “Abstractions & generalizations are the plea of the hypocrite, knave and scoundrel” is better than the exact Blake quote. The Mind Writing Slogans Allen collected for decades are a wonderful tool for getting this point across and Andrew Schelling and Anne Waldman read several of the Mind Writing Slogans when I interviewed them in 2001.
Related to this is Charles Olson, who, in his essay Human Universe, talked about how particularism must be “fought for anew”, that discourse prevents discovery (is a dodge) and that:
The distinction here is between language as the act of the instant and language as the act of thought about the instant.
These notions resonate with me deeply and fall right in to the kind of “stance toward reality” that Olson said brings a certain kind of verse into being. A stance that is systemic, radical (meaning affecting the roots) and one might say sustainable in the way Peter Berg was using it. A poetics that comes out of Alfred North Whitehead & I think Hua-yen Buddhism with similarities to the writings of Dōgen and Keiji Nishitani of the Kyoto School of Philosophy.
We must also note when we mention Charles Olson, of Sharon Thesen’s brilliant research into the letters of Olson and Frances Boldereff, & Boldereff’s influence on Olson’s thinking. The poetics of the Cascadia Poetics Lab could very well be Boldereffian & not just Olsonian and Levertovian. (Denise Levertov’s Some Notes on Organic Form is also one of the most cogent essays on the stance toward poem-making that I think is foundational for this organization. We’ll use her Overland to the Islands book as our main text in the five week online workshop that begins next week. Poetics as Cosmology and Life as Rehearsal for the Poem.)
I mentioned the Commons, & should also note The Cascadia Poetics Lab has existed for nearly 30 years despite the subversive nature of our content, of the radio shows & podcasts, of the stance-toward-poem-making (projective, spontaneous, organic, impersonal, a method that makes room for the prophetic, for discovery ) and the cosmology that underpins that.
Fred Moten mentions the phrase “the prophetic organization” in his book The Undercommons. The members of this class of people are considered by the university, Moten says, as: “uncollegial, impractical, naïve, unprofessional.” It’s a kind of professionalization that confronts “any attempt at passion.” They are public administrators, including people in public health, environmental management [and] non-profit and arts management… He says: “It is not difficult to see that these programs exist against themselves, that they despise themselves” in Moten’s words. CPL has existed as an alternative to that neoliberal “ethos” that has hypnotized this continent since at least the 70s. We were against it we even before knew what neoliberalism was. Sort of like Robert Duncan who said he did not know what LANGUAGE Poetry was about but when he DID find out, he would oppose it!
No interview that I have done was more impactful on my own life than my October 1995 interview with Michael McClure. He was touring with the book Three Poems and the newest poem in that book was Dolphin Skull. He talked about his method, Projective Verse, the 1950 Charles Olson essay, and told me after the interview that it should be read aloud, as it was written in a style similar to Ezra Pound and that I would understand his (Michael’s) poetry better if I read that essay. I took the text to KPLU-FM and, working the overnight shift at this Jazz station once a week, I recorded myself reading it during long Jazz tunes during my shift and then listened to the CASSETTE, that should date things right there, listened to it over and over ’til I loaned it to someone & never saw it again.
When I started my graduate work, Michael advised me not to stop with US poets, and I found the TISH poets of Vancouver and the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference & also José Kozer & the neo-barroco school of Latin America & Ramón Gómez de la Serna & those strains influence the poetics of the Cascadia Poetics Lab. TISH in particular for writing from HERE.
“A use of speech at its least careless and least logical.” An act of discovery. A vision quest. As Michael said in October 1995 about the poems in Three Poems:
They’re spontaneous… and are as they were written… each one… a kind of a spiritual challenge… a very sweet possibility of taking a trip through experience that I’ve never taken before…
This vision quest aspect is seriously engaged with something like the Day Song. A writing exercise given to online workshop participants after the postcard fest, to reorient postcard poets from the SPATIAL restriction of postcards to the TEMPORAL restriction of 24 hours in the spirit of Bernadette Mayer’s Midwater Day and the Canto Diurno of Pierre Joris. It’s hard to imagine a Day Song being written with the conventional/mainstream poetics of our time. Those poetics, I believe, reinforce colonialism and use capitalism’s methods of measuring success.
Projective, Organic, Bioregional, an act of discovery, a commitment to here. To the Coots, Osprey, Eagles, Ducks, Song Sparrows, Geese, Buffleheads, Beavers, Caspian Terns and other critters of dəxʷwuqʷad, the creek that runs by my house and empties into Lake Washington that someday may be completly daylighted as I stay put here & watch what happens. Thank you for listening.
Casa del Colibrí