2014 Postcard Afterword
It has become a ritual for me to write about my experience with the August Poetry Postcard Fest on September 1 each year. That September is my birth month lends it a little more glow in my mind, but there is always a feeling of melancholy with this month. Summer is not over, but the light has changed, the days, shorter, and many people call Labor Day the end of summer. The 80 degree days forecast for late this week may change some of this, but the change in light and day length are here to stay and my mind tries to hang on to summer for as long as possible.
For each poem this August I used a line by Denise Levertov for the epigraph. Starting postcard poems with quotes from other poets is now an established part of my postcard method. This is a great way to be exposed to a poet’s work and that Levertov lived about a ten minute walk from where I now live, makes it (in my mind) a necessity to have a deeper experience with her work. She had such a spiritual pull, especially toward the end of her life, when she lived in Seattle and wrote poems about The Mountain and that’s inspiring, but I am not inspired by her more overt religious overtones and references.
The postcards always reflect what’s happening in my life and in addition to my long trip (17 days) to Mexico for the 14th Subud World Congress, I visited Charles Potts in Walla Walla at the end of the month. The August Poetry Postcard Fest now actually starts in mid-July, which is a huge break for me, as a two-year old tends to have an agenda that is sometimes counter to the alone time needed to do something like the postcard fest properly. Gato Barbieri’s gnarly tone on tenor saxophone colored the first poem, (471. Killing Gato) which was written during a time in which I was listening to Carla Bley’s Escalator Over the Hill double cd in the car for a week or so.
My ongoing investigation into proprioception combined with my late Dad’s Mother showing up in my dream, a potent combination for poetry. That Dad had two knees replaced makes my investigation of the correspondence between though patterns and physiology especially poignant right now and is reflected in 472. Dos Rodillas Artificiales.
473. More Listening Than Longing combines the deep Levertov understanding of the organic poem with Lissa Wolsak’s notion of deepening our own personal gesture and is informed by scene glimpsed walking around my Hillman City neighborhood.
474. Ghost Training goes again to process. Jack Spicer and Denise Levertov did not especially care for one another, and one brief encounter was enough to spur a poem or two by each, but their poetics, the notion of receiving, seemed to me to have a lot in common.
The ongoing Israeli offensive into Gaza captured a good deal of my Facebook energy, as I have two friends who seem to have an excuse for everything Israel does, which I find unfortunate and enabling the slaughter of civilians and, just today, the ongoing seizure of Palestinian land. (See: THIS LINK).
This issue started to show up in 475. Counterstroke, which refers to Levertov’s legendary activism. In her case the USAmerican War in Vietnam was the incursion to oppose and criticize.
It continued more deliberately in 476. Logic of Ordnance and in a poem a little later in the series.
477. Still Echoing was inspired by the music of Jazz pianist Lennie Tristano and a book I was reading at the time by Peter Ind on his experience with Tristano and about Tristano’s visionary nature. I did post about the book here and I do see the similarities between Levetov’s organic approach, the real improvised gesture as displayed by Tristano and other Jazz musicians and other 50s flowerings of spontaneity such as the Gestalt approach to psychic wholeness, Comedy Improv and other expressions of life ensconced in the moment. The postcard project is an outgrowth of those ways of engaging reality in, I think, a deeper way than we normally experience in western society.
There was a rant against hipsters (478. Hipster Cancer) those who put the appearance of cool over being human. That the image on the card was by Clyfford Still, was telling. The image is an early Still painting, when he appears to have been depicting the drudgery of farm life. The specific example is not as obvious as others in Still’s series, but how the cards and poems find their own symmetry is interesting. Occasionally too, the poems will slip in a line or image from one of the received postcards, but it was often too hard for me to remember to document those occasions. The received postcards then become part of the vast spice rack of language from which I pluck a line or phrase to sweeten the card. In addition to not being able to give proper credit to the source of any quote (& I usually quote or paraphrase the postcard reference) I did not even get the numbering of the cards right! I have corrected that here, though cards are now in the universe with improper numbering, a huge letdown for a perfectionist Virgo!
479. Girl w/ the Green Hair is the first of two collage experiments. My feeling about the use of parenthesis is that it is a more exact transcription of the thought process that happens during composition. In this poem those parenthetical thoughts in part reflect the politically correct culture of Cascadia. I am reminded of Sam Hamill telling a story of someone talking in a disembodied/pseudo intellectual way to Robert Creeley and Creeley’s response was “who did that to you!?!” So, a little fun-poking, part editor’s mind incursion, but also reflecting convictions too. The neo-barroco approach to composition is something that liberated the possibility of parenthetical incursions into the poem and I’ve written about that stance toward poem-making here: https://paulenelson.com/2012/12/06/neo-barroco/.
480. More Dead Air comes from a rent dream (probably that morning or the day before) and is a reference to a recurring dream (nightmare) of panicking over dead air. I have heard other radio professionals have this dream and 8 years after my last professional radio gig, it does come up from time to time.
481. Dispatch From the Fringe is a quote from a Facebook friend (& one time postcard participant) about a link I put on Facebook regarding one take on the situation in Israel/Gaza. (A conflict that troubles me to no end.) The poem itself is almost all quotes, including lines from the baseball game that was playing on the radio. So, it is the other collage poem, or one that was intentionally a collage. To me it is fascinating to see how the poem emerges from wherever it comes from. One could perceive from the title of Robin Blaser’s seminal essay, The Practice of Outside, that the poem’s source is beyond the poet, but when the poem in the moment of composition clicks for me, its source is near the intersection of what is my small “s” self and those systems of which I am a smaller participant in the larger force: my household, neighborhood, city, state, bioregion, country, hemisphere, planet, galaxy. One might say the frequencies of these forces inform the poem and they are just a few. But I knew I had something when I saw the words that becomes the title of 481. See also the videopoem version of this.
482. Corset Warrior Armor is the first of ten poems written in Mexico, during my trip to Mexico City and Puebla to do two things: Visit Casa Azul, the former home of Frida Kahlo and attend the 14th Subud World Congress. My 2007 Frida poem was well-received at the Poems for Peace event at the World Congress and my wife was excited to hear about more Frida poems, since she is sick of that old one. Visiting Casa Azul is something I have wanted to do for a long time, so when I heard that Subud would have its once-in-four-years gathering in Mexico, it became a plan to see her house and I was not disappointed. In addition to the vibe, the truly Mexican feeling of the home, the kitchen, the bright colors, and the vibe that Frida left behind, that of a tremendously courageous and uncompromising woman making her was as she saw fit in a man’s world, the temporary exhibit of her clothing was stunning and eye-opening. The corsets she had to wear to make bearable her pain stemming from the legendary streetcar accident she had as a young woman were on display and anyone with any human feelings could only have empathy for what she had to go through to make it through another day. That she had a photo of butterflies above her bed as the last image she would see before falling asleep tells you a little bit about the personal mythology of one who would not let many things stop her from being the remarkably creative and focused woman she was. (Of course I bought postcards at the gift shop, as I did yesterday at the Seattle Aquarium and at FedEx the week before, though the FedEx cards were of my own design.)
There is a great stolen quote describing Frida near the end of 483. Iniciador which was on the wall at Casa Azul. I think it was around this time that my numbering got off track, with the Congress, the intense focus on historic blockages to my own health and well-being and negotiating a town and culture with very little Spanish. 484. Cricket Speak again has a Frida connection and begins to include more Spanish, a reflection again of the mind at work in the moment, being plunged into a new (to me) and softer culture. I really feel like the sense of competition, so rampant in the casino-capitalist culture of the U.S. was taken down several notches and I learned how to make sure I would not pay an extra 10 pesos for a cab ride (most of the time) and eventually would take the bus to the Congress and back, if I did not walk, taking in the smells and colorful sites of this colonial era town. The poems, I think, give you a better description of Puebla and my experience better than can be said in prose.
485. El Espejo is a reference to my fascination with all the mirrors for sale at the Zocalo. I got one especially good selfie after I bought my new hat and chaleco and have used it as a Facebook profile photo for a while. The mix of cultures and the best parts of those, the wisdom cultures from around the world, is evident in this poem.
486. Tormenta Gigante was indicative of another blessings in Puebla, summer thunderstorms. Marston Gregory, my Subud Seattle brother, mentioned that Puebla was chosen for the World Congress despite the fact that August was the time of their rainy season. Still, living in Cascadia where the locals do seem to be tormented by these events, I loved hearing the thunder and the feeling one gets when the light and sound of such events are not separated by much.
487. Sin Carne comes from a phrase Bhakti Watts had to say over and over to make sure she could maintain a vegetarian diet, which she was almost totally successful in doing. (Sometimes she had to explain that she did not want pollo either.) A Subud Portland member and postcarder! We had a lot to discuss and helped each other navigate the world outside the Congress. She was also witness to my life-changing session of Ontological Kinesiology, of which mudras were a part. The fact that I had a touch of Montezuma’s Revenge also begins to inform the poems at this point.
488. Hold the Thorns reflects my preference for blood oranges over the graphic blood of Christ. Being a good Subud member, I am more than a little suspicious of dogma and though the cathedrals elegant and worth a closer look, including the one on the pyramid in Cholula which in part inspired this poem, the focus on Christ’s death for me has been one of the limitations in Christian art and surely in the mythic aspect. I’d give a few pesos for more representations of Christ challenging the money changers, but what can you do?
489. Bandera de la Mariposa is a reference to an exhibit Bhakti and I saw at Museo Amparo. A beautiful museum in a restored colonial building, the main exhibit featured the work of Pablo Vargas Lugo. A Mexican artist he had several projects on display at the museum, the most striking of which was an exhibit featuring colorful rectangular pieces that were the reproductions of over 50 species of South American butterflies. The colors and patterns, as you can imagine, were beautiful on their own, but the implication that we ought to have as much reverence for these creatures as we do for the symbols of the abstractions we call “nations.” Nanao Sakaki, turning around a poem by Tu Fu, said: “The mountains are rivers are destroyed. The nation remains.” This is the state we have devolved into and Vargas Lugo turns that “conventional wisdom” on its head with this project that works on so many levels. It is the rare bit of “conceptual” art that has real depth and is a comment on ecology that does not come across as didactic in the least. I found this work, and other exhibits he had on display quite inventive and expect to see more from Pablo Vargas Lugo in the future. The first poem inspired by the exhibit contrasted that reverence for the natural world on display at the museum with events back home that flared up in August. I was stunned by bold repression of constitutional rights the Ferguson, Missouri, police displayed in the wake of the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man. 490. Bronzing Mexican Air continues the references to the ontological kinesiology session and a different Pablo Vargas Lugo exhibit at the museum.
491. Uncommon Speech is one of my favorite postcard poems from 2014. It combines an image from German Montalvo, another Mexican artist whom I met at the Congress. He has made his own collages of the tops of famous works of art paired with the bottoms of fútbol players in another remarkably successful artistic gesture. I have several of his large postcards left and there is one that combines a fútbol player with a famous Magritte image that I may frame. Montalvo was part of a panel discussion on the Future of Design. The card reflects images of Puebla with the intention of the Congress (helping Subud members to exist more often at the noble human level of consciousness) as well as the trouble created by the culture of competition and the unfettered growth required by the demands of capitalism so endemic back home.
492. Star Lings is the first post-Congress poem, written in Seattle and has the softness of domestic life and old images which may now be part of my personal mythology, starlings and Steller’s Jays. That there were horses on the card, which I made myself at the Denver Art Museum, would be an image that would recur later in the month with a visit to the ranch of Walla Walla poet Charles Potts. he raises Appaloosas and they would make quite an impression on my youngest daughter Ella Roque.
By 493. Rose Petals & Chicharrones, I was still thinking about Puebla and Cholula, likely because of the card and the persistence of the experience. I loved feeding pigeons chicharrónes and love saying that word. It was something we’d eat now and then when I was a boy and that we were sever them in a restaurant was beautiful. Bhakti, being sin carne, of course avoided them.
494. Momentarily Non-Local is a sort of Levertov meets Whitman meets the notion of multiple selves. Sam Hamill says I am a “man of a thousand faces” and at least that many selves. Agai Cholula memories but this time palpably from Cascadia. Were I to edit this, I’d take out the word “like.”
495. Hazards is steeped in Buddhism and one of the quotes was directly from a postcard poem that I received, I think, but I can’t find it now! I loved it when Brenda Hillman described her own work as “experimental lyric” because of the notion of song implied by that characterization. I find much of my time in latihan turns to song, from the riffing of Shaker Indian medicine songs to improvised versions of the thousands of tunes that go through an old DJ’s head, music has always been a huge part of my life. I was watching a guy with earbuds walk by me on the ferry today and thought that I’d prefer to have my sense of sound available to me while I am in such a public place. Also, music tends to go through my head quite often from memory, as it did when I was lost in the Olympics. Might be Charlie Christian playing Til Tom Special with Benny Goodman, Carla Bley playing One Banana, Pictures of Matchstick Men by the Status Quo, or Basin Street Blues by Keith Jarrett, recorded live at The Deer Head Inn. A Jazz musician and Subud member I met in Puebla told me he could hear the Jazz rhythms in the work I read at the Congress and it’s a high compliment when that things happens, which is rare and takes a certain kind of ear.
496. The Occasional Chicharrón has more Congress and Puebla reflections, another reference to Vargas Lugo’s butterfly nation flags and the impending USAmerican football season, the advent of which signals the end of summer in many different ways. The intense violence of the game is a contest to the pastoral nature of baseball, which has no clock and is a summer game. George Carlin’s bit on the difference between the two sports comes to mind, but that the U.S. is addicted to violence in every manifestation is a living example of Diane di Prima’s prophetic line, “the only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All other wars are subsumed in it.”
497. Levertov Butterfly Nation is an homage in part to the woman to whom I was paying tribute with every poem I wrote for the 2014 Postcard Fest. I visited her grave on a couple of occasions and sent out at least one card that was made from a picture of her last home, the one on Seward Park Avenue in Seattle. That Levertov is buried not far from Bruce and Brandon Lee is referenced in the poem.
498. Depth Untended became a bioregional poem with the Levertov epigraph I chose for the occasion. (Or that which chose me.) It takes a note David McCloskey sent to me, that a cartographer took offense that he, McCloskey, had the temerity to name ice fields in the bioregion! Cascadia, to me, is (of course, in part) the natural features such as the Olympic Mountains I can see from the back of the Sealth Ferry, the sky dotted with the white of seagulls attempting to mooch fries from tourists, USAmerican football fans streaming in to see their Championship Seahawks begin the defense of their Super Bowl title and the huge white stipe made by the wake of the boat, but it is also the super creative people who made contributions to the culture here. Levertov’s spirituality, McCloskey’s love for the bioregion and his effort to open people up to the concept of a Cascadian culture that sings through us, and many other people who crop up in my work from time to time. Levertov and her methods have yet to be appreciated fully, which might be a huge part of my personal myth given people like her and Lennie Tristano, referenced earlier. I am drawn to these unappreciated, or under-appreciated in Levertov’s case, geniuses.
499. Literary Bruxism combines more personal myth (bruxism) with a Jazz reference, a Southern Cascadia totem (Giant Redwood) along with another line lifted from a postcard I got. This one from Catherine Lewis of Bothell, WA.
500. Passing Lane reflects a life firmly back home into the routine of taking walks in my Hillman City/Seward Park neighborhood, learning the names of local plants (which may not be local) and diving back into the daily competition/domination exercise the locals call “freeway driving.” The last line is a reference to a line from Charles Potts.
501. Hawthorn Presence uses an image I took on my cellphone of the house Levertov lived in, images of my visit with Charles Potts in Walla Walla and one smudge from a Hawthorn berry I put in my pocket while Charles took Mer,Ella and I up to a ridge on the back 750 to see his horses and a 360 view that included Black Snake Ridge.
This is my story and if it is not the longest postcard afterword I have ever done, it feels like it. I am now going to look over the cards I received and make some random notes on them. The depth of my gratitude for this project continues to grow, year after year, and I’m also quite grateful for all the kind notes on Facebook, my blog and elsewhere about how much people appreciate this August respite from the rat race and the plunge into spontaneous composition. I have big plans for year 9 in 2015.
3:39P – 9.4.14
Hillman City (Seattle), WA
471. Killing Gato
472. Dos Rodillias Artificiales
473. More Listening Than Longing
474. Ghost Training
476. Logic of Ordnance
477. Still Echoing (For Lennie Tristano)
478. Hipster Cancer
479. Girl w/ the Green Hair
480. More Dead Air
481. Dispatch From the Fringe (See also videopoem version of this.)
482. Corset Warrior Armor
484. Cricket Speak
485. El Espejo
486. Tormenta Gigante
487. Sin Carne
488. Hold the Thorns
489. Bandera de la Mariposa
490. Bronzing Mexican Air
491. Uncommon Speech
492. Star Lings
493. Rose Petals & Chicharrones
494. Momentarily Non-Local
496. The Occasional Chicharrón
497. Levertov Butterfly Nation
498. Depth Untended
499. Literary Bruxism
500. Passing Lane
501. Hawthorn Presence