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Poetics as Cosmology

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Poetics as Cosmology

(Intro to Spontaneous Composition)

A five week online (Zoom) workshop for people who have had a little experience in spontaneous poetry composition and want more. Join Cascadia Poetics Lab and Poetry Postcard Fest Co-Founder Paul E Nelson in a lively course designed to start where the poetry postcard fest left off and help you tap into deeper levels of knowing that can begin inform your non-writing life & reduce reliance on editing.

Some theory to understand the poetics of 20th/21st c approaches to spontaneous composition, some writing exercises, discussion and between class homework. The work of Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Michael McClure, Wanda Coleman, Nate Mackey, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser and others may be discussed along with concepts such as seriality, & investigative poetics & how to write more by getting the most out of first drafts.

The course being offered in January 2023 will focus on the first 60 pages of Brenda Hillman’s new book In a Few Minutes Before Later. All times PACIFIC.

Thursdays, 4-6pm PST, Jan 12, 19, 26, Feb 2 & 9, 2023. REGISTER FOR THURSDAYS HERE.
Saturdays, 9-11 PST, Jan 14, 21, 28 & Feb 4 & 11. REGISTER FOR SATURDAYS HERE.

Limit – 12 participants in each session.

Paul E. Nelson’s “Poetics As Cosmology” course begins in a completely astounding way with a poem by Ed Dorn, “My Tribe.” If that is not enough to stop you in your tracks, what follows provides inroads and out roads from this seed sprout, this shake down. While Dorn would be embarrassed to be an initiator of such weight of purpose, he would also be so honored by Nelson leading “Poetics As Cosmology” and its poetic investigation via the stance of the Black Mountain School with his poem.

Nelson helps all attendees to explore the possibilities of language, and especially the long poem as an embodiment of instruction in one’s own life. Course materials, discussions, and work-in-progress all contribute to a sense of participation in the mysteries of the creative process made real and “organic,” to use Levertov’s term. Knowing that Nelson’s course is dispatched from deep in the Cascadia bio-region makes it even better. How wonderful it is to be a part of this.

– Susan Kay Anderson, Fall 2020 Poetics as Cosmology participant

Paul Nelson’s Poetics as Cosmology course was resonant and revelatory. I appreciated Paul’s high expectations for engagement. The workload was significant, and pushed me to meet the material: to engage with the demanding readings, to write a lot each week, and to make space in my life for artist dates. Paul pushed me to live as an artist: all-in, lit up, senses sharp, aware of life’s richness and magic. The experience felt like much more than a weeks-long, online course. It felt like a door onto something very good.

– Laura King, Fall 2020 Poetics as Cosmology participant

Paul Nelson’s organic poetry workshops are less a class than a journey, leading the participant not only to an ingeniously natural method of writing, but to the living energy of the poem itself. And he does this all with humor, profound inclusion and deep knowledge about organic verse, its origins with the Beats & Black Mountain school and its profound applicability to today’s poets. If you want to learn how to clip the strings of your mental editor and free your lines to run where they really want to, take this course.

– Rob Lewis, Fall 2020 Poetics as Cosmology participant

Expect to be surprised. Paul Nelson is a master at opening doors to fresh perspectives on poetry and your relationship with it. His Poetics As Cosmology workshop was challenging, fun, and inspiring. Paul is practically a living library of modern poetry whose depth of knowledge led me to explore readings and recordings of poets who were new to me as well as some I’d loved and forgotten.

The lessons and writing exercises offered insights into different poetic forms and the opportunity to experiment with them, each exercise like walking down a strange new street. The first writing exercise, a cover of Ed Dorn’s “My Tribe”, blew the lid off any reluctance I had to explore my own mythology. And that was only the beginning. The discussions and laughter shared with Paul and other participants, and hearing some of their poetry, added an even deeper level of richness to the workshop. I came away more confident and more disciplined in how I work and play with my poetry. Highly recommended.

— Carol Keslar, Fall 2020 Poetics as Cosmology participant

How is a stance toward writing poetry a model for living one’s life? How can the act of writing spontaneously deepen one’s intuition/guidance/connection to one’s more noble self? In five weeks we’ll investigate several post WWII stances toward spontaneous composition, read essays, poems, engage in writing exercises, discussion and have related outside-of-class activities suggested to deepen one’s relation to this stance.

Participants are to read materials in advance of the regular session & come ready to discuss with a 3-5 minute check-in. Reading of class writing assignments is not required.

This page is for participants in the Poetics as Cosmology  workshop, Year 3, October 2022. Each week’s course materials will be posted on this page requiring you to scroll down each week.


Heart First Into This Ruin cover Wanda Coleman






From Godine Publishers, re: Heart First Into This Ruin:

Dear Mr. Nelson,

Our publisher has agreed to offer a 10% discount with free shipping to your students. They will need to call our office to place the order and mention your name to receive this discount…

Best Regards,
Linda Johnson


With support from 4Culture and the Des Moines Arts Council, we’ll be offering several free workshops:

WEEK ONE, OCTOBER 20/22, 2022


American Sonnets 1-24 by Wanda Coleman

Some Notes on Organic Form by Denise Levertov

READ or LISTEN: Projective Verse by Charles Olson You can scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the YouTube Link.







READ: Can you imagine an obsession you have that could be applied to a multi-decade research/writing project? What gives Monet’s series its power? The question: “What does the replication do to the meaning of the image?” Is it something that can be applied to poetry? Via grafting?


Ten American Sonnets. You do not have to share in the workshop session if you do not want to share.

WEEK TWO, OCTOBER 27/29, 2022

Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth Century—A Conversation with Rowena Kennedy-Epstein & Francesca Wade Thu, Oct 27, 5:00 PM (EDT, 2PM PDT). This event will take place in-person in The Skylight Room (9100) at the CUNY Graduate Center. Click here to Register and attend.

Join The Center for the Humanities for a conversation with Rowena Kennedy-Epstein on her new book Unfinished Spirit: Muriel Rukeyser’s Twentieth-Century which explores Rukeyser’s analysis of the gender politics of women’s artistic lives and labor based on Rukeyser’s extraordinary archive of unpublished and incomplete works. In this conversation, biographer Francesca Wade and Rowena Kennedy-Epstein will explore the ways in which the archive remains an invaluable space for writing women’s lives – thinking about how political repression and misogyny influences the kinds of texts we have access to, read and value, and showing why bringing unpublished archival materials into publication has changed how we understand the culture and politics of the 20th-Century.


Sharon Thesen Olson Lecture

READ: Wanda Coleman American Sonnets 25-40



READ: Ed Sanders – The Fully Developed Bard

LISTEN: Diane di Prima Interview


WRITE: A poem based on THIS.


READ: Wanda Coleman American Sonnets 41-65

Pick out two favorites and tell why you like them in your check-in. Ponder what gives Wanda’s sonnets their power. Have you tried writing sonnets? Best to do them in bunches.

READ: If you are continuing to write American Sonnets (or Canadian Sonnets which are currently 78% of an American Sonnet) or Mexican Sonnets, could you write one as Wanda Coleman as planet earth? Consider.

READ: Kannō-dōkō How can you have more candor in your own poems?


READ: Rent going up? One company’s algorithm could be why

READ: Brainwashed (Sex Camera Power)

WATCH: Brainwashed Trailer

READ/Listen: Wanda Coleman Emmett Till

WRITE: Wanda’s Rivers, Your Rivers



READ: Wanda Coleman American Sonnets 66-83

READ: A couple of notes on form from a 2017 journal entry:

Form is always temporal, i.e., relative, for it is nothing more than the means necessary today through which the present revelation makes itself heard… Form is the outer expression of the inner content… We should never make a god out of form. We should struggle for form only as long as it serves as a means of expression for the inner content. Therefore we should not look for salvation in one form only… Wassily Kandinsky


To see without eyes is to see freely, not in the sense of granting one’s own ego free license to do whatever it wants, but rather to participate in the sovereignty of Nature’s own imagination, that is, the freedom at the heart of the coming to be of form. The freedom is not found in myself, because I, like the artwork, am a product of this freedom… Jason Wirth, from Mountains, Rivers and the Great Earth: Reading Gary Snyder and Dōgen in an Age of Ecological Crisis.


READ: Will Alexander Interview


(or WATCH🙂

This is the same interview, so if you are more visual, watch. Aural, read.

LISTEN: 1st Thought, Best Thought by Allen Ginsberg Also, READ: MIND WRITING SLOGANS

LISTEN: Try # 6, #8 & #10. His author preface to Three Poems is one of the best statements on spontaneous composition ever.


WEEK FIVE (what?!? Yes) Nov 17/19, 2022

READ: Wanda Coleman American Sonnets 84-100

If you dig what Will Alexander’s talking about there are a few Zoom events, or if you’re near L.A. or S.F., you can see him read.


READ: Colonial America is a Myth. Can you write something like the Kyger/Sanders-style investigative poetry on this article, or better, could you conceive of a longer-term project about a tribe near you and imagine turning the “conventional settler wisdom” on it’s ear? Perhaps there is a local elder you can talk to, or a book about a tribe near you that would inspire such a project based on the thesis suggested in this article.

READ: For Kent Johnson


Listen: Bordeaux, Pharoah & More (playlist)

WRITE: Berrigan Collage Sonnet Exercise

or: Wordcloud Exercise. You have many sonnets, right? Take ten and do the Berrigan thing, or take postcards you did last summer and do it. Or maybe do the Wordcloud thing. Or both.

We’re back Thursday/Saturday, January 12/14, 2023 studying Brenda. Consider registering. Let me know if money’s an issue. Thanks for being part of this work!