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Life as Rehearsal for the Poem

In two previous workshops we discussed (& wrote from) the Eileen Myles notion of the hunted poem and her essay in which she talks about that method. Excerpt:

The process of the poem, the performance of it I mentioned, is central to the impression I have that life is a rehearsal for the poem, or the final moment of revelation… I’ve had this feeling before — of going out to get a poem, like hunting… I felt “…erotic, oddly / magnetic…” like photographic paper. As I walked I was recording the details. I was the details. I was the poem…

The act of writing spontaneously is an effort to return to this state. Myles calls it “oddly / magnetic” which is one way of looking at it. It is an enhanced state that comes in part from being a smaller part of the living and breathing cosmos. Words fall short here but we all have had the experience of something being witnessed or experienced through us. The Poetry Postcard Fest is an effort to, in the words of Anne Waldman: “Be in the perspective of a writer 24 hours a day… all your senses are acute, attuned to the delicate and fierce nuances of language… Repeat the mantra: I exist to write.

How are the energies and rhythms of life, the demands of individuation, the responses to the now and here (as Jason Wirth says it) reflected in the work? Is there an humilitas sufficient to make (the writer) of use? What practices support the cultivation of this state? What habits occlude it? Who are we reading? Who are our “great companions?” Miriam Nichols on Robin Blaser:

Blaser was passionate about what he called the public world. This was a concept he adapted from Hannah Arendt and presented in his poems and essays as a collaged conversation about the state of things—a kind of on-going commentary on what was happening around him in poetry, philosophy, politics, science, and society… 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. Once installed in that public space—and living up to one’s historical moment is not easy or self-evident—one may find the companionship of others who have done the same. Hence a way to be at home.

Buddhists know you have to be now and here and yet you don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand that, nor to understand how 95% of our culture is focused on the material life force, is distracted, may even be clinically neurotic in an age when the energy is so intense. As Bhagavan Das put it in a 1997 interview:

…someone who really wants to do a spiritual practice now and really get on it, you can get more merit and more advancement in three days than you could, say in 30 years, right? A long time ago, or in another age, like in the 1800s or, in the ancient times. In other words, it’s so bad, it’s so dark. No one’s calling God up on the phone, right? Everyone’s busy with the world. So God’s available. You can get through.

Paul E. Nelson: Operators are standing by.

Bhagavan Das: Operators are standing by to take your call.

Can you plan a three day retreat, alone, no devices, ideally isolated in nature away from family and friends with the intention to be able to live a life that allows you to: “Be in the mind/perspective of a writer 24 hours a day?” These three days would be spent doing your spiritual practice, praying, sacred dance, drumming, chanting, doing yoga, meditating, singing, doing Latihan, walking in nature, being in silence, whatever practice or practices support your inner life. If life’s obligations prevent a full-blown solo retreat, perhaps some help can be brought in for you to adapt this for three days of modified retreat.

This workshop will happen on five consecutive Sundays, June 6, 13, 20, 27 & July 4, 4-6pm PDT. Cost $200 via Paypal or check or Venmo:

The last night will be a low-key preparation for the 15th Poetry Postcard Fest in which participants will talk about their strategy for the fest and celebrate going through a whole season of workshops, the first such effort in SPLAB history. With gratitude for how you teach me and enrich my life as a poet and human.

1,000 blessings & appreciation for your consideration,

Paul E Nelson
Duwamish Ancestral Homeland
Cascadia Bioregion

Week One, June 6, 2021


READ: Gary Snyder As For Poets

READ: Gary Snyder Craft Interview

Consider doing the “pyramid-building” suggested in the Robert Moore excerpt and then write a poem using Snyder’s As For Poets as a guide. Consider the categories: SovereignBlessing, stewardship, and inclusive/nurturing. WarriorHealthy Aggression and effective action. MagicianCognitive function and understanding. LoverAffection, Joyful embodiment, and sexuality) as always using sensory imagery to relate your experience with any of them. Or you might create your own categories, perhaps one based on country, town, neighborhood, bioregion &c.

Palate cleanser:

Also, if you like, listen to:

And then read this.

From that interview there are several exercises you can do during this five week workshop and beyond. The first comes from page 17:

…ting into these difficult questions about what “form” is this writing in?”

1. Write something every day.
2. Locate Yourself.
3. Put the Date & Hour down.
4. Then see what happens; what gets into your head. Maybe you start a long poem where all the parts you write on separate days are connected.


Take ther first Kyger poem, the one on page 20 that starts with: “They are constructing a craft…” and do write a cover version, inserting something near you, or something in your imagination. Maybe it’s a different kind of vehicle, or something being organized. It’s not important. What is important is that there be some energy in it for you.


Do a grafting of her second poem, the one on page 21 and start it with the same words:

It is lonely

I must…

then take off from there.

You could choose to cover the second and graft off of the first, no matter. If you find that either of these prompts works for you, stay with that til you suck all of the sugar out of the cane. And re-read page 15 of the interview about flow.


Week Two, June 13, 2021



Write a poem about the place you are as you might tell someone during a check-in for this workshop. Something that fits on a page and includes some fun facts about the plants, animals, rivers, other water features, aboriginal name (or settler name) &c. Remember the three aspects of where you are now to be a good witch poet:

1. The building in which you live. (Does it have a name? Can you name it and unveil that name in your poem?)
2. The land it sits directly upon. (What tribe was there first? See:
3. The eco-system that the land is part of. (Watershed? Bioregion?)


Write a poem that connects you in your imagination to the spirit of the place in which you live. Take any of the three divisions of that from the Witches Poet’s Almanac article, or all three, or that and beyond. Maybe this is several poems. Do you have an altar? (Ofrenda?) If yes, how is that spirit of place included on your altar? If you do not have an altar, consider constructing one and writing a list poem: How to Construct an Altar. (See Ritual Poem)

More Gary Snyder! (& related to the task above.)

More Diane di Prima! (Essay from Beneath a Single Moon: Buddhism in Contemporary American Poetry)


If you REALLY like that, try this expanded playlist based on A.B.:

Palate Cleanser:


Sharon Doubiago (pdf)























WEEK THREE, JUNE 20, 2021 4-6pm PST
(Reminder, next week, June 27, 10:30-12:30 PDT)

Read quick Kyger article.


Listen to this:

Writing Exercise 1. Cover poem of:

Read: More on Spring & All. (As a pdf). The post “Writing or Re-Writing” linked there is also worth a look.

Palate Cleanser

Joanne Kyger Primer and List Poem Exercise

R.I.P. (This could give you some inspiration for the postcard fest.)

Writing Exercise 3.

WEEK FOUR, JUNE 27, 2021 10:30am-12:30pm PST



Palate Cleanser:

Copy all the text from either article, or from a manuscript of yours, (or any large block of text) and paste into THIS PROGRAM: and create a poem drawing from the wordcloud that comes from your pasting. (See THIS.)



Residency at the Morris Graves Foundation

WEEK FIVE, JULY 4, 2021 4-6pm PST

(Independence Day)




& find out what Canadians are really like.


Diane di Prima – Revolutionary Letters

WRITE: a cover or two or more of your fave Rev Letters.

Diane di Prima Personal Calendar Exercise


Can you add a stanza or two? Maybe your Dad, maybe someone else?

Father Death Blues text

Happy Postcarding!