August 2017 Poetry Postcard Fest Afterword

September 1, 2017
by Paul Nelson

Nothing signifies the end of summer in Cascadia like rain and it is raining as I write this. This year especially. 60+ days of no measurable precipitation makes me feel a little guilty about all the rain going to Texas and Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Of course, having a birthday on September 22 means I know exactly when summer officially ends, but fall has been starting earlier in recent years and the sense of summer for me ends in large part when I have sent my last card in the August Poetry Postcard Fest.

A few things about this year’s fest, from my writing perspective. For almost every poem I used a quote from Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. I can’t begin to say how impressed I am with her work, her sense of play, her use of language, surprise mind, sound, her commitment to social justice and the energy of all her work. She writes poems that say so much about the times we live in, employs a deep sense of her personal mythology, and she never lapses into rhetoric. To create such work is such a difficult task and Brenda Hillman has mastered it. My biggest mistake for the fest this year might be writing a card that starts with a line from Brenda and the rest of the effort goes downhill after that!

As the postcards are supposed to be epistles, or at least have some kind of “here and now” feeling like letters do, the here and now for me in August involved news events like the White Supremacist Rally and execution-by-auto in Charlottesville, Virginia, B.C. and Washington Wildfires, Hurricane Harvey, the August 21 solar eclipse, the release of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound and other current events, as well as my own travels down the Redwood Highway to Arcata, Inverness, Oakland and Grass Valley, California, then to the Olympic Hot Springs in the national park after which they were named, Orcas Island, Washington, in the amazing San Juan Island archipelago and Rainier Beach, Seattle.

Rainier Beach because we moved to this Seattle neighborhood officially July 20, 2017, and as I noted in my very first APPF2017 postcard:

The front yard of
our new house is a lake
Blue Herons exit to land
in the marina parking lot.

Since 1995, I’ve tried to spend a few mid-September days in the Olympic National Park to savor what’s left of summer. It is kind of like a watermark for me, having had the experience of Michael McClure’s poem Dolphin Skull in that park at 5,300 feet above sea level, in unspoiled wilderness in 1995. The Olympics always remind me of that, and subsequent deep experiences there, such as the trip in 2000 when I ended the trip via a military helicopter rescue. I was a little preoccupied with finding a way to see the spot I was holed up in for several days awaiting that chopper this past month and am researching plane charters and other possibilities. I’d love to go back there, but not without at least two other people, one of whom would be a bushwhacking expert. But the Olympics were on my mind and I did get to them twice during the fest. The park always has those two key events coloring anything I do there.

Another thread/influence I remember now that I review the cards I’ve written is that of Ted Berrigan. A reader at the Easyspeak open mic series at the Wedgwood Ale House had a line that included the time. “It’s 3:17 or something like that. I was reminded immediately of The Sonnets by Berrigan, another poet who had surprise mind, humor and wit mastered. Time stamps fall into several poems, as does that Berrigan sonnet cadence, or something resembling it. He was a postcard poet as well and the New York School of poetry is known for its “I did this and I did that” technique which is one method appropriate to poetry postcards.

As a person who believes the most open or poetics forms are the projective/organic method and seriality (the two are related) this fest could not be a more perfect way to exercise those two approaches. As a fan of the serial mode, memories of the Gemini G.E.L. exhibits in D.C. and Los Angeles came right back due to an experience looking at the sun’s reflection in Otter Cove at Doe Bay. I was reminded of the Rounds of Richard Serra, black blobs that are evocative of black holes or the famous Rorschach Test.

As for the postcard images, for the most part I used cards from the Olympic National Park or my own images of the work of the late George Sawchuk, taken from his sculpture garden in Fanny, Bay, BC. One example:

From George Sawchuk’s “Wacky Wood” Sculpture Garden, Fanny Bay, BC

Fitting that the month ended with elegies to the recently departed Louise Hay. She of the “Heal Your Body” book, which has sold millions and allowed people to see the way in which toxic thought patterns manifest as specific ailments. Her approach is the opposite to allopathic medicine and has been liberating for me and generated a great deal of heat from people who prefer a safer (& less liberating) manner in which to live their lives. Caroline Myss explained it years ago in a talk in which she said that our first language of intimacy is “woundology,” or how some people define themselves by their physical, emotional, or social wounds. Politics and social media is infested with this habit and it’s deadly. That Louise Hay spent her life providing an alternative way of being in the world is a huge legacy and the two elegies which ended this August for me came easily riding the energy of appreciation for her work and how it has helped liberate me. My heart goes out to those who can not yet appreciate what she is offering and hope we all can someday to heal this bioregion, all the others to which it is connected and the biosphere that sustains it all.

12:21pm – 8.31.17


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