A Sequence of Energies

The third in a series of workshops provided via Zoom, after Poetics as Cosmology (Fall 2020) and (Seriality: (A Workshop Winter 2021. Sundays 4-6pm PDT in April 2021: Registration $163.11 at: https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/splabman

The course of these workshops starts with the Poetry Postcard Fest. This is a primer in spontaneous composition if done as the guidelines urge. When one begins to experience the state of consciousness in which deep listening to the moment, combined with extensive reading of source materials (incubation), life experiences (“we swirl out what we are and watch what returns” – McClure) and deep connection to a “now and here” there is a practice that helps facilitate the composition of poems which do not require extensive revision. Each poem finds its own form as content is revealed. (There might be an urge or feeling of what shape the poem may take at the very beginning of any such composition.)

Each class will begin with one minute check-ins by all participants. Who you are, where you’re from and what in the past week struck you as true, confused you, or stated something that you think is flat-out wrong. After a break, class material will be the focus of a dialog, along with assistance for the ongoing serial projects of participants. One-on-One time is $30 per half an hour and can be arranged via email with the facilitator.

Robert Creeley, in the introduction to Robin Blaser’s lifelong serial poem The Holy Forest, quotes from Blaser:

It seems to me that the whole marvellous thing of open form is a traditional and an American problem… The whole things came in a geography where the traditional forms would no longer hold our purposes. I was very moved when, some years ago, I was reading a scholarly book by Jo(sephine) Miles in which she is making an argument for the sublime poem… and she begins to talk about the narrative of the spirit. I think the key word here is narrative — the story of persons, events, activities, images, which tell the tale of the spirit.
I’m interested in a particular kind of narrative—which Jack Spicer and I agreed to call in our own work the serial poem—this is a narrative which refuses to adopt an imposed story line, and completes itself only in the sequence of poems, if, in fact, a reader insists upon a definition of completion which is separate from the activity of the poems themselves. The poems tend to act as a sequence of energies which run out when so much of a tale is told. I like to describe this in Ovidian terms, as a carmen perpetuum, a continuous song in which the fragmented subject matter is only apparently disconnected. Ovid’s words are:
to tell of bodies
into new shapes
you gods, whose power
worked all transformations,
help the poet’s breathing,
lead my continuous song
from the beginning    to the present world
                                                         —from The Fire (1967)

And then Creeley continues:

Put it that one is to be somewhere in this transforming, accumulating poetry—not simply be led to a conclusion, but be taken by just such a magical carmen perpetuum to all the image-nations of this remarkable, revivifying world. How lovely that neither concept nor any other obligating pattern can enclose us, if we can “come into the world” as Charles Olson put it recognizing that “we do what we know before we know what we do.” The authority in any act is rooted here.

How does a poet allow one’s self to be “taken.” The workshops attempt to expose participants to writings and practices that will lead to a “multi-decade research project” (Sanders) or “saturation job” (Olson) that gives the poet the experience of merging the poetics of open form/seriality with the creation of one’s life via a creative project. “The wager of the lifelong poem is that by most thoroughly living and performing a localized time-space the poet can bring a perspective to the world necessarily inhabited by all.” (Miriam Nichols)

In A Sequence of Energies, participants will read assigned materials, write poems based on assignments and hopefully uncover a project that will take them in an Ovidian sense and enable their carmen perpetuum deeply connected to place with a rich understanding of their own individuated personal mythology.



Listen to:


Extra credit if you listen to her reading Blaser’s work.


Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies





Nate Mackey, Amerarcana

Read about the life of Toko Shinoda:

and consider writing an Ekphrastic poem about a work by Toko Shinoda. (Images) How does her art exemplify the life of a true artist? Is there a seriality, or theme running throughout her work? How could her desire to avoid representation manifest in poetry? Questions to consider before we meet or to answer in an ekphrastic poem.

Write a Japanese Death Poem. (See handout).

WEEK TWO, APRIL 11, 2021


Don’t be alarmed! I’ll discuss anything about this material. Some conversations are best done one-on-one. Others are best done in the two hours we have together for the next three weeks. If you don’t believe this stance-toward-poem making is for you, fear not. You can leave and you’ll have my blessings.

Registration is required for this, but worth it as Mackey is the world’s best serial poet, period: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/04/12/nathaniel-mackeys-long-song. You may want to listen to Sketches of Spain, referenced in the article above:

Follow up to last week by Anne Waldman and other poets.

William Corbett from “The Whalen Poem”

Can you write a poet laureate poem from the point of view of not wanting the position?


Notes on The Practice of Outside: Robin Blaser’s Divine Real

Open form is a term coined by Heinrich Wölfflin in 1915 to describe a characteristic of Baroque art opposed to the “closed form” of the Renaissance (Wölfflin 1915, chapter 3). Wölfflin tentatively offered several alternative pairs of terms, in particular “a-tectonic” and “tectonic” (also free/strict and irregular/regular), but settled on open/closed because, despite their undesirable ambiguity, they make a better distinction between the two styles precisely because of their generality. In an open form, which is characteristic of 17th-century painting, the style “everywhere points out beyond itself and purposely looks limitless”, in contrast to the self-contained entity of a closed form, in which everything is “pointing everywhere back to itself” (Wölfflin 1950, 124). In general, the closed compositions of the 16th century are dominated by the vertical and horizontal, and by the opposition of these two dimensions. Seventeenth-century painters, by contrast, de-emphasize these oppositions so that, even when they are present, they lose their tectonic force. The diagonal, on the other hand, becomes the main device used to negate or obscure the rectangularity of the picture space (Wölfflin 1950, 125–26).

This is important to remember. Open form is expanding and closed is not.

Mammal Grafting exercise



Listen to:

Write a poem about economic inequality, or squalor, or a related subject (like THIS) while listening to Children of Flint over and over. (You could start with a phrase from the linked article or use a line from that as epigraph.)

Rob Lewis essay

Not Me (My Hunted Poem) Exercise

Mesostic Exercise

Barry McKinnon interview of George Stanley

Notes for class:

  1. Back to 4pm next week. Sorry for the inconvenience.
  2. We are starting a Nate Mackey reading/study group for Double Trio. 2nd & 4th Mondays. You are welcome to attend. I’d love a couple of good readers to help. It will be in this same Zoom Room starting April 25 at 5pm PDT.
  3. Think about the possibility of this workshop continuing into spring and part of summer. What would you want?
  4. I’d love a couple of volunteers to help with my next interview project Cascadian Prophets. Reading, editing, design and getting it ready for Fall 2022 publication are my needs. I am having problems balancing all these tasks. Ping me if interested.