Deep

The format for the upcoming Deep in Cascadia poetics retreat is a rather original one and is taking a chance that a community based around place and poetry can settle on an agenda designed in dialog in the moment. We may be fooling ourselves, or we may be creating something exciting, but we’d like to hear in the comments as that what you are either:

a) thinking of presenting, or

b) interested in doing. Do you want generative workshops? Critique sessions? Discussions?

Chime in below.

About Paul Nelson

Poet/interviewer Paul Nelson founded SPLAB & the Cascadia Poetry Festival, published: American Sentences (Apprentice House 2015); A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, shortlisted for a 2010 Genius Award by The Stranger) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (essay, Lumme Editions, Brazil, 2013). He’s interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Sam Hamill, José Kozer, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Joanne Kyger, George Bowering, Brenda Hillman and Daphne Marlatt, presented poetry/poetics in London, Brussels, Qinghai & Beijing, China, and published work in Golden Handcuffs Review, Zen Monster and Hambone. Awarded The Capilano Review’s 2014 Robin Blaser Award, he writes an American Sentence every day.
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22 Responses to Deep

  1. Rob Lewis says:

    I’ve had a couple questions going through me head.

    One goes like this: in light (or should I say darkness) of the August fires and Tahlequa’s sad vigil with her dead calf through the Salish Sea, what is called upon a poet of Cascadia at this moment?

    Another has to do with language, and asks, since the scientific narrative about the nature world does not seem to be waking people up, is it time for a narrative structured more like a poetics, and if so, what would that look like?

    I’d be happy to lead break-out sessions on either or both of these questions.

  2. Paul Nelson says:

    Thanks for chiming in Rob. I would want to attend those sessions, should you offer them and I hope you do. I could either participate in them with a point about the notion of “impersonal voice.” See: https://www.paulenelson.com/2018/07/12/postcard-impersonality/ A key passage, quoted in that post is:

    impersonal voice:

    …enables the work of art to engage ethical questions concerning nonhuman nature and our relations with it… only through a fully impersonal voice can art apprehend the otherness of nonhuman nature without transforming nature into something that merely serves human ends… thus by means of impersonal modes of communication we can develop relationships with nature that aren’t strictly human…

    I would be interested in proposing a breakout session in which Impersonal Voice is discussed, is compared with other strategies of getting beyond the ego and offering an exercise that can blur the line of authorship and hopefully achieve something akin to impersonal voice.

    Glad you’re attending and hoping others attending chime in here.

  3. Re-visioning the imagination. A session/presentation on how bringing back Romantic notions of the imagination invigorates our creative process. Part Two: awakening the body as pre-requisite to any creative action. The body is the pre-condition, and the condition, and the cauldron of creation. I would like to present these notions and then have a conversation on what others are doing in their creative process

  4. Danika Dinsmore says:

    All of these sessions sound brilliant!

    Rob, I was thinking about something in line with your first session suggestion (what is called upon a poet of Cascadia at this moment). In light of my participation yesterday with CWAKE (creative writers against kinder morgan expansion) and as an editor with the magazine RECKONING, I find my activism and creative writing (in particular poetry) to have a inspiring / invigorating intersection. I consider myself an intersectional feminist… but is there a such thing as an intersectional poetics?

    Anyway… I’d be happy to co-facilitate something like that.

    In regard to everything else: I am least interested in critique circles — we can all find those outside of the weekend, but where else are we going to have a chance at this kind of deep dialogue? As well, I’d vote for 3 breakout sessions rather than a living room, as 17 of us are already reading. But, someone can always propose a living room as one of the breakout sessions for those that might be interested.

    Personally, I think this kind of approach to a retreat is visionary and important at this time. When you get this many creative thinkers in one place at one time, I think it’s the perfect format, as how do we know what our communal thoughts and energy will create until we are all gathered together?

  5. I’m headed to DC to do my part to stop an awful Farm House bill from becoming the law of the land. There are 103 anti-enviro provisions in the bill, many aimed at speeding up logging to address forest fires, which it will not. I would be interested in exploring how we can communicate with passion and empathy about how nature doesn’t die in a forest fire but is reborn – a sort of phoenix emerges that is anything but death and destruction. So many people are clueless about the rebirth. How can we start a different dialogue about wildfires that the news media refuses to cover given all eyes are – rightfully – focused on people trying to escape fires and homes burning down?

  6. I want to add that I’d like to see a diversity of things offered, and that the retreat isn’t about political / environmental action, but going deeper into our work, whatever that may look like for us. For many of us the immediacy of what is happening to our planet is a driving force, but we also need to feed other parts of our creative / human selves.

    Paul’s “impersonal voice” session sounds like it could lead to lively discussion, and Ramon’s proposals sound inspiring as well. Ramon — it sounds like we would be generating work in that session?

    Also, we’re providing space for 3 breakout sessions, but if 3 or 4 people decide they’d like to work together on something, by all means, use the park, a cafe, someone’s dorm, or other space to work/create.

  7. That is open, Danika. The energy could reside in conversation or it could be channeled into voicing on paper. Maybe both. What I mean by conversation is conscious, flowing, inclusive.

  8. Paul Nelson says:

    Linking “impersonal voice” to those modes I have been studying for 25 years, especially Projective Verse, is a very exciting prospect for me. Two days ago the Los Angeles Times ran an article about 20th century North Americn poetry that had Charles Olson and PV as its subject and said, among other things:

    “Olson intends projective verse to enact a form of ego death through self-objectification. He encourages this overcoming of the poet-as-subject, what Keats derides in Wordsworth as Egotistical Sublime. The preferred ethos of “humilitas” effects what Keats calls “the poetical character,” which “is not itself — it has no self — it is everything and nothing.” If one sees oneself in nature, rather than nature in oneself, one will “sprawl,” and so “find little to sing but himself.” However, if one sees nature in oneself, such that “he stays inside himself […] he will be able to listen” to things outside of oneself — and, thus, lose oneself…”

    https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/all-architectures-i-am-the-unintended-legacy-of-charles-olsons-projective-verse/#

    How does this happen in poetry, this transcendence of the ego and in other arts?

  9. Adelia says:

    To answer Paul’s question, I believe that it happens when the poet/artist/sculptor… allows themselves to encounter “bewilderment”, meaning, in the archaic sense of the word in the 1680’s, to be lured into the wilds.

    From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

    bewilder (v.)

    1680s, “confuse as to direction or situation,” also, figuratively, “perplex, puzzle, confuse,” from be- “thoroughly” + archaic wilder “lead astray, lure into the wilds,” which is probably a back-formation from wilderness. An earlier word with the same sense was bewhape (early 14c.) and there is a 17c. use of bewhatle.

    I propose looking at the evolution of the definition of “wilderness” in the Western world, at what it means for each of us, and what allowing ourselves to be “lured into the wilds” might look like, and what it might mean for our writing/art.

  10. “I propose looking at the evolution of the definition of “wilderness” in the Western world, at what it means for each of us, and what allowing ourselves to be “lured into the wilds” might look like, and what it might mean for our writing/art.”

    Oh, yes – love this, Adelia. As you know, I’ve been reading David Hinton’s Mountain Home: the Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China (the “Mountains and Rivers” poets) to great inspiration. I’ve wanted to explore/discuss the selfless spontaneity of natural force, the perpetual unfolding of organic cosmology as a texture for daily experience, and the idea that “without thought we are wilderness” – which dovetails wonderfully into Paul’s proposal regarding impersonal voice.

  11. george stanleys says:

    I don’t intend to lead a breakout myself, but i am interested in the ideas proposed, particularly those of Rob and Dominick.

    george stanley

  12. Margareta Guri says:

    Hi all,

    These sound enticing. I’ve been thinking about the word “bewilderment” lately too and am keen to delve into that more.

    I’m also interested in having a breakout session where we share poems (not our own) that nourish/intrigue/perplex us. Perhaps we could springboard from that discussion into writing our own poem responses.

  13. Danika Dinsmore says:

    I’d definitely like something generative at some point. It sounds like Ramon’s offering might take us there. Additionally, I’m guessing the whole experience will generate work beyond the weekend.

  14. This all sounds fantastic, thanks Paul for facilitating this.
    I’m not primarily a poet, but rather mostly work in creative non-fiction and essays. I’m the founding editor of Cascadia Magazine, and would love to talk more about this project and my vision for a cultural magazine that showcases longform journalism, essays, fiction, photography, and poetry from across the bioregion.

    I’m especially interested in the notion of place as it finds a voice in writing from writers across Cascadia, and if I were to lead a breakout session, I’d be interested in pursuing a discussion of the various ways that a mindfulness of place and ecology defines both our writing and who we are. I’m not dedicated to one way of experiencing place: a biologist or naturalist will have an approach defined by rigorous observation, of seeing patterns (such as how pine beetles are increasing in frequency in east-side forests in tandem with warming winter temperatures). An Indigenous writer may choose to see place through the lens of tradition, of stories passed down about the origin of salmon, the importance of rituals to ensure their return. An essayist could choose to remember a childhood experience or delve into the deep human history of a place and draw lessons about its traces in the natural world we see now (I’m thinking along the lines of Terry Tempest Williams–even if her subject isn’t specifically Cascadia). Or a poet may want to create an impersonal voice (as Paul referred to above) to gain a deeper connection to the non-human. Or conversely, poets may also chose to explore how their identity is shaped and defined by place (I’m thinking of say a poet/memoirist such as Chelene Knight exploring what it means to grow up black Canadian in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver–I’m a firm believer that urban spaces are also part of the Cascadia bioregion and that both the human and non-human landscapes need to be documented and explored).

    I’m a big fan of writing that “meanders” as rivers do: wandering from topic to topic, searching for a thread, a deeper meaning within a place, getting lost, dis-oriented, and emerging at a surprising destination (the late German writer W.G. Sebald was a skilled practitioner of this mode of writing, literally wandering through Europe and the landscape and also the deep history of a place.)

    How can these different modes of expression bring us to a better understanding of the place we call Cascadia? I’d be interested in leading a discussion of this, and exploring ways in which these modes cross over boundaries & disciplines (biologists informing poetic work, scientists examining indigenous traditions, etc.)

  15. Andrew! The retreat was Adelia’s idea and she and Danika are doing the heavy lifting. Glad you’ll be part of this and grateful we have poets like Barry and George attending.

  16. Ian Cognitō says:

    Collaborative Poetic Dialogues

    Time: 2 hours
    Participants: 4 or 8

    In this break-out session the presenter will share his experiences and observations about collaborative writing from his ongoing writing partnerships. Participants will then have a chance to join in a 4-part chain-poetry writing activity to experience the process of response writing directly, rules and judgement parked at the door. Here’s an opportunity to discover new and unexpected sources of inspiration. Prerequisite: a spirit of playfulness.

  17. Adelia MacWilliam says:

    I love this idea for a break-out session. Us poets are always riffing off each other anyway and this offers an opportunity to take that process to another level of play. A bit like jazz musicians doing improv.

  18. Dan Kirk says:

    I am interested in Ian’s and Margureta’s proposals and the place where Paul’s thoughts on the impersonal voice and Adelia’s thoughts on bewilderment meet.

  19. Adelia says:

    Denis Mair wrote:

    I would be willing to speak about how Chinese poets write about nature. That’s a good subject that’s close to my heart.

    I posted a poem on PoemHunter that can serve an example of how modern Chinese poets still like landscape poetry, and how they look at landscapes from many angles.

    adelia MacWilliam
    4 Sep 2018, 07:30 (2 days ago)

    to 梅丹理

    HI Denis,

    Amazing poem. Am reading and re-reading it. Beautiful. For example, so interesting how Li Jin (and your translation of )
    express the corruption and loss of habitat using the voice of the river.

    “The native plants have lost their attachment to me, gone over to the bleak arms of autumn/Into the arms of evanescence.”

    So quietly sad, because the voice of the river is so innocent.

    And so many other angles of looking here!

    I could say much more, but later. So much to do.

    Suggestion:
    We have up to an hour and a half if we want – speak on this subject. Please include this poem!

    then a discussion about how Cascadia’s poets are looking at nature – see where that goes,
    “no worried nature poems” (ask Rob Lewis)
    innocence vs. experience
    how we situate ourselves as poet in nature
    (other suggestions will come from poets or you of discussion topics)

    then we could all go near the water – there is a trail that leads to wetlands nearby, with lots of birds
    (I’ll make sure there is a map)

    From there we could, if we wanted to, write about a body of water that we know well, thinking
    of Biography of West Lake as a kind of cover poem if we wanted, borrowing from Li Jin’s work,
    using some of the dips and shifts in voice, and perspectives,
    the way the poem looks at the body of water from many angles
    so the body of water speaks, the history emerges,
    and we create some small vignettes.

    Here is Denis’s translation:

    Biography Of West Lake – Poem by Denis Mair
    by Li Jin
    (translated by Denis Mair)

    …Not just any scenery deserves to be called West Lake

    ONE
    From here north connected to the Yellow River, southward linked to the Yangtze, only West Lake
    Has been preserved up to today [1]
    Like someone’s homeland, like the workings of fate, like a fortunate encounter
    Slightly heavier than transitory eras, slightly lower than water lilies, moistening and ever-clean

    TWO
    I extended downward from North China’s plain. The native plants of North China
    Have lost their attachment to me, gone over to the bleak arms of autumn
    Into the arms of evanescence. Time’s expanse of light-and-shade
    Has room for me, yet has no more room for my watery roadways
    At this present moment, roads negotiate each other’s growth
    And extend themselves. Roads are not everything, but they are part of life
    They feel pain, they have starting points and end points
    They have penetrating edges, aimed at the future and past; only at West Lake
    Can I pull away and find seclusion, let futility be smoothed by ripples

    THREE
    From when I first came on the scene, West Lake possessed a nurturing heart

    FOUR
    In a certain year B.C., First Qin Emperor passed Danyang, reached Qiantang River, viewed scenes of Zhejiang, at a time when waters were foul
    In my chest are waters fouler than a hundred stormy miles of Dongting Lake. From here downstream
    Qiantang River overreached itself; it overcame the legendary flood-tamer, overcame the Great Canal
    Holding the sweep of years in its lap, going hand-in-hand with passing days
    But time played no favorites: that excess of dazzling waves was put in its place
    Converted to watery currency, to give all drifting things a yonder shore
    A native place for all, a heartland
    Where all living things could withdraw to, and all have something of me
    Creeping up on them this morning, a West Lake to call their own

    FIVE
    Water is the stuff of time. On banks of West Lake, history is summed up in a word
    But this cannot be done for scenery
    Not just any scenery deserves to be called West Lake
    In this six-square-kilometer watery realm are two towers, one mountain, three islands, two dikes
    Watching emptily over five lakelets, [2] all living in wind-tossed waves
    Yet at rest in stillness
    At rest in an old domain… egrets glide in afterglow past autumn’s long horizon
    At rest amid sightseers on the bank, promenading in the halcyon times
    Of a nation, passing time amid declivities of lakeside bluffs and streams

    SIX
    West Lake’s benign heart nurtured Yue Fei, Su Shi, Yu Qian, Marco Polo, and the Mad Monk Jidian [3]
    It gathered in Qin Kuai [4] and Fa Hai [5]
    With countless rising, dipping byways through stream-fed glens in the fall
    Here I do not reckon with heart-chilling autumn, I only borrow the lake’s water
    To acquaint myself with living, breathing couples
    And with myself…through meetings and partings over months and years

    SEVEN
    West Lake is good at seeing things as they are, good for recalling someone, good at leaning into the years amid mist and rain
    For seeing a city advance or withdraw at will, for seeing a massive wave of prosperity
    No longer content with brushwood gates or boatmen’s nets. At West Lake I have seen
    A water-bird take flight from Leifeng Tower
    A young man and woman sprouting greenly amid willows
    In this era, I make out a portion of the true picture: all of us appear
    On a backdrop of misty waves, each an inalienable part of West Lake

    EIGHT
    As I depart, small boats are loosed to the depths of West Lake

    NOTES:
    [1] West Lake is the sole remnant of a network of waterways that once connected the Yellow River and Yangtze River watersheds, by way of the Great Canal and tributaries of the Qiantang River.
    [2] The five lakelets (sections) of West Lake are Wai-Xihu, Li-Xihu, Beili-hu, Xiao-nanhu and Yue-hu.
    [3] Jidian (1148-1209) , meaning “Crazy Ji, ” was an eccentric monk who lived in Hangzhou’s Lingyin Monastery during the Southern Song era. His crazy-sounding utterances always contained a grain of wisdom. He was often asked to arbitrate in civil disputes, in which he stood up for oppressed. He was beloved by common folk of the Hangzhou area, and tales about his deeds were handed down in the book BIOGRAPHY OF MASTER JI.
    [4] Qin Kuai (1090-1155) has historically been reviled as the representative figure of the appeasement faction at the Southern Song court. He advocated giving land and tribute payments to the northern Jin (Jurchen) tribes in exchange for peace. He ostracized and undermined generals like Yue Fei who wanted to attack the Jin. His grave is located on the grounds of Yue Fei’s shrine beside West Lake.
    [5] Fa-hai is a character in the popular folktale titled “Tale of the White Snake.” He is a monk who suspects Maid Alba (Bai-niangzi) of being a demoness in disguise. When the young scholar Xu Xian falls in love with Alba, Fahai persuades Xu to stay in a monastery and prepare for examinations. Fahai tries his utmost to keep the two young sweethearts apart; later he exposes Alba’s identity as a white snake-spirit. After overcoming her in a contest of magical powers, he imprisons her under Leifeng Tower. In tales about “White Snake Maiden, ” folklorists discern traces of an ancient cult of snake worship in the Hangzhou area.
    Denis Mair

    I wrote back:
    speak on this subject. Please include this poem!

    Then a discussion about how Cascadia’s poets are looking at nature – see where that goes,
    “no worried nature poems” (ask Rob Lewis)
    innocence vs. experience
    how we situate ourselves as poet in nature
    (other suggestions will come from poets or you of discussion topics)

    then we could all go near the water – there is a trail that leads to wetlands nearby, with lots of birds
    (I’ll make sure there is a map)

    From there we could, if we wanted to, write about a body of water that we know well, thinking
    of Biography of West Lake as a kind of cover poem if we wanted, borrowing from Li Jin’s work,
    using some of the dips and shifts in voice, and perspectives,
    the way the poem looks at the body of water from many angles
    so the body of water speaks, the history emerges,
    and we create some small vignettes.

  20. Rob Lewis says:

    In light of the wonderful proposals being offered, I’ve decided to combine my two previous ideas into one, to keep things simple:

    In light (or should we say darkness) of the August fires and Tahlequah’s vigil with her dead calf through the Salish Sea, what is called upon a poet of Cascadia at this moment?

    More specifically, what is called upon the poet in terms of narrative? At present, society’s relationship with the non-human is mediated by a scientific narrative, full of technical framing and emotional distance. But can this technical perspective, and the language it uses, really explain our situation? What would happen if more poetic sensibilities were brought to the discussion?

    Participants will consider these and other questions, while we envision alternative narratives that naturally arise from the stance of poetry.

    Other ideas about the impersonal voice, the intersection of poetry and activism, and bewilderment could intersect nicely.

    Looking forward !R

  21. Danika Dinsmore says:

    Fantastic!

  22. Louis Stevenson says:

    I am proposing a session on the importance of the urban poet in Cascadia concentrating on the work of Robin Skelton, past professor of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria. I believe he has something important to say to all of us at the Poetic Lab.

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