Cascadia Poetics LAB


It’s About Time Craft Talk Notes

Organic Poetry



(Notes for Craft Talk at Ballard Library It’s About Time Reading, April 11, 2013)

Source of the Organic

Much of the source material for this stance-toward-poem-making was developed through 14 years of hosting (& later syndicating) a radio program on Whole-Systems approaches. I am convinced the shift (from reductionist to mechanistic) Organic Poetry represents that shift in literature.

Organic Manifesto

The Organic poem is not the record of an event, it is an event, an occasion of experience, a map of the mind at work in the moment, ear measuring and mind mediating the crowd of outside voices/impulses and resonances erring on the side of entelechy for the individual and polis and culture, in deep connection with dimensions larger than the pen-holder, enacting – not describing – the instant rather than the act of thought about the instant.

The Organic poem is allied with velocity and the duende beyond mere discourse and the function of symbology, imbued with a luminousity that exists just beyond comprehension of the pen-holder, and ripples with the silver of a wave in the midnight of Harvest Moonlight, or the white of alder-filtered September sunlight just beyond the foot of the morning altar.
It is the living apprehension of the underlying form as it spills out its testimony as only the moment can reveal, never completely contained in one poem except that poem which is the final result of a lifetime of an individual poet’s never fully articulate striving, a chaotic murmur of soul re-directing self to Self in an alchemical conjunctio only antepasados fully comprehend.

It is the practice divine of ear training, star to mind to hand to pen to blossoming, a harvesting of forces learned over years, decades, lifetimes of homage and refined, knows process as its own inherent reward in a systemless system which chooses recklessly those who would use speech (at once) at its least careless and least logical, poet as time mechanic, not embalmer.

The Organic poem is the mercy, mercy, mercy of the intersection of the vastness of outer space with the vastness of the space inside skull in complete candor, the ordinary mind in discovery of perceptions eternal in celebration of person (Universe is Person), not a stream of consciousness, more a coherent splendor, more a field of first permission to which one is allowed access more often than one thinks.

peN – 11:13PM – 9.10.07

Organic Origins

The term Organic is taken from correspondence between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov from 1963 in which Robert Duncan described the difference between the (perhaps unconscious) cosmologies of Conventional, Free Verse and Organic poets:

For the conventional poet, universe and life are chaotic; the natural is formless (chaotic); the poet (the civilized or moral man) is given an order to keep against chaos. Every freedom is a breakdown of form. Freedom = (a) disorder or (b) sin.

For the poet writing free verse (and we are reminded of WCW’s notion that no verse is actually free, that each takes on its own patterns & tendencies,) the universe and man are free only in nature which has been lost in civilized forms. The poet must express his feelings without the trammel of forms. The poem does not find or make but expresses…Free verse just doesn’t believe in the struggle of rendering in which not only the soul but the world must enter into the conception of the poem. (Ginsberg’s Howl is one of Duncan’s examples of free verse.)

For the organic poet, the universe and man are members of a form. Freedom lies in the apprehension of this underlying form, towards which invention and free thought in sciences alike work. All experience is formal — We feel things in so far as we awake to the form. The form of the poem is the feeling (and where form fails, feeling fails.)

Process (Play AG First Thought/Best Thought)

The Organic Poetry process of composition was best described by Charles Olson in Projective Verse & is sympathetic to the process philosophy outlined by Alfred North Whitehead in which the fundamental elements of the universe are not concrete objects, but occasions of experience and the relationships between those occasions. All experiences are influenced by prior experiences, and influence all future experiences. An occasion of experience consists of a process of prehending other experiences, and then responding to it.

(Describe the Snohomish golf story prehension experience)


“The real business of poetry is cosmology” is what Robin Blaser said and Organic Poetry is based on an organismic cosmology in which all things in the universe are equal and interconnected. Whitehead’s Process Philosophy, the cosmology of Hua Yen Buddhism (the interdependent origination of the universe) and Tibetan Bon cosmology are largely sympathetic to the cosmology which underlies the Organic Poetry process of composition. This is the “stance toward reality” Charles Olson references in Projective Verse.


While most poetry composition processes involve extensive revision, Organic Poetry is written largely without any revision except for a fine-tuning, as poet Gary Snyder described it. Think of poetry as a continuum, in which the Organic is one pole in which revision is minimal or rendered unnecessary due to the attention and discipline of the poet, and the other pole, the Closed is either formalism or free verse where the original impulse is lost in a complete overhaul of the first draft of the poem, or the end of which was decided at the beginning. Sunn Shelley Wong said, “at every moment in a life or in a poem, the formal choice is between answering to that which is alive, or attempting to enslave it.”

Among the more notable practitioners of Organic Poetry are Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Joanne Kyger, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, George Bowering, Wanda Coleman, Sam Hamill, Nate Mackey, Diane di Prima, Jose Kozer and Eileen Myles.

(Play Eileen Myles Milk and on Milk.)

If time, read Juan Vicente…

JVdG 1

JVdG 2

JVdG 3