Sunday, September 16, 2007

Paul's Postcard Wrapup

August Poetry Postcard Fest

August, 2007, is finally over and I have mailed my last poetry postcard, though I am sill getting cards in the mail. Today I got Catherine Daly’s card and when I returned home last night from the Bay Area seven other cards were waiting. I found myself this past month looking forward to going home, opening the mailbox expecting cards and THEN greeting my cat. We all have priorities.

This project worked out better than I had expected. I have been involved in collaborative efforts before, but this one ran rather smoothly. Lionel Kearns rightly pointed out that the community created is a non-hierarchical one and that is consistent with what I understand the Organismic paradigm to be, so I see my role as participant more than anything else. The fest has many more facets of an Organismic world-view, and though I won’t be able to recognize every one, this note is a start.

I think a brief description of what I mean by Organismic is necessary, so let me get into that now, but only briefly. While most North Americans see the world as made up of independent, isolated things in competition with one another, an Organismic view sees reality as made up of occasions of experience interconnected with all other previous events, influencing future events. (The Hua Yen Buddhists said future events also impact the present, but that discussion’s for another time.) Father Matthew Fox once created a wonderful graph illustrating the difference between the Mechanistic world-view and the Organismic. Two examples are:

Things Are Determined vs. Chaos, Spontaneity, Freedom…
Universe as Machine vs. Universe as Mystery

So, the Organic poem is one that’s process-oriented, as explained below.


When discussing the notion of writing spontaneously with Sam Hamill, he often complains that to write spontaneously with any degree of skill usually takes years and years of writing, and he’s right. Michael McClure said he does not know of a more adventurous gesture than to write spontaneously and that resonates with me also. So it is no surprise that any collaborative project which I have a hand in shaping has that quality. The instructions Lana and I came up with for this affair clearly stated that poems were being composed on a postcard. For some whose handwriting is rotten, we prefer that they are typed and pasted on to a card, but we hoped people would not compose on paper, cook the poem a little, THEN write on the card. When I saw a scratching out of a word on a card I received, I was actually a little pleased. The Organic poem can be seen as a map of the mind at work in the moment.

I look back and remember one card with a word that did not send the intention I had envisioned when composing and I sent an email afterwards to the recipient clarifying. My own documentation reflects the preferred version. This was poem #8, to Rochelle Nameroff of El Cerrito, California where I said parched instead of quenched.

In my poem #88 to Lionel Kearns in Vancouver, B.C., I wrote How much longer will Slaughter prevail? when how much longer will Slaughter go on? is better, but I documented the card as it was sent. I always composed on cards, with one time (#9 to Todd Johnson) having handwriting that was not clear, so I ended up doing some unintentional repetition that drove home the line with potentially garbled handwriting:

Go forth and birth, yes
go forth & birth your
inner Magician while Rosa

Without the actual cards, a lot of this context is lost, such as the description already printed on the card. This makes the true experience the one of actually handling the card itself, not a digital echo. Some things cannot replace the joy of Meat Space and the postcard fest is one of them. This is the major part of the project’s appeal.


I guess I have been harping on this for at least a decade because I remember my daughter Rebecca being in a writer’s circle (Living Room) at the old SPLAB! on Division Street. She must have been five or six years old and someone, with kindness but no real expectations, asked Rebecca if she wrote. She said something like, Yes, but I don’t really have a writing discipline. Folks were shocked to hear a child put it in those terms, but she knew at an early age what kind of commitment is expected.

To write every day is not a facet of the Organismic paradigm alone, but the daily discipline is a critical part of the process. As I was on all three lists we had compiled, I was writing three daily, and because of that I think I have a wider range of success (and failure) for what happened than the average participant. Some real duds, but a lot of poems I still feel good about. I’ll check back in five years and see what sticks.

What we said in the instructions was to start with some sense of place with the first few cards and then as cards start coming in, to respond with some kind of link to the next person on the list. The non-linear nature of this setup is certainly post-modern, as far as Literary considerations go, but it is also Organismic. It is chaotic only in the sense of a pattern not immediately apparent and how patterns develop is quite mysterious, so fitting in with what Father Fox points out above on the difference between Mechanistic and Organismic.


So some of the themes that emerged for me were:

Blood Moon
Lightning Moon
The Destruction (or uselessness) of Time
Chief Joseph
Panther (due to the current postcard stamp)
Elvira Arellano (The deported Mexican Immigrants-Rights activist)
Frida Kahlo

and of course my Love/Hate relationship with Slaughter, the old name of the town in which I live and the ongoing project of documenting the tension between the two paradigms discussed here.

Silence and Frida Kahlo are the two themes I did not start, but responded to and I am sure I’ll recognize other themes as I spend more time reading the cards. How themes develop, or become fields of energy, is another aspect of the Organismic. Having been involved in other group poetry collaborations, I was quite pleased that the general field of energy swirled out by postcarders was one of gratitude and cooperation.

Most cards have a picture on the front, which means that the postcard poem can be an ekphrastic poem. They can pick up a thread from a previous poem/card’s image, content, rhythm, tone, or a number of other impulses. The range of potential sources is quite wide and that adds to the likelihood of success for the project and each individual’s experience. Contrast this with similar projects where the poem must come up out of nothing and compare the results.


Who can let August go by without a trip or two? The road trip is one of my favorite ways to go now that I have a dependable car, and go I did. I wrote cards from

• Castlegar, BC at postcarder Linda Crosfield’s house,
• the grave of Chief Joseph in Nespelem, WA (where a WiFi signal is present),
• the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle and
• a Summer of Love 40th Anniversary road trip to San Francisco. I wrote the last two cards in Ft. Bragg and Castro Valley, California, respectively.

I felt sorrow while composing those last two cards. August was ending, and with it what most people believe to be summer, although Lana and I know better, as we have birthdays around the Autumnal Equinox. This project allows creativity to be the primary concern in August, a rare luxury, but more importantly, to act as Creator. Maybe we are not creating races of beings and planets, but we are creating a Self, as postcarder Lionel Kearns points out when he says in his poem Manitoulin Canada Day 1975, “Poetry is the articulate struggle to be, in this world, yourself, in spite of everything. It is the struggle of life against death, of the hero against overwhelming odds and it is everyone’s struggle.” If this effort is not undertaken, what fills the void in our consume-at-all-costs-pop culture are the messages of advertisers. Our consciousness becomes essentially that.


There are so many that it would take weeks to write appropriately about all the highlights. Poems from Christopher Luna and Greg Watson made me laugh out loud and Christopher’s collage card was quite remarkable. Kelli Russell Agodon had a line that reminded me of WCW’s Danse Russe. She said, “That night the poem//saw you in the kitchen doing the watusi…” Pit Pinegar reminding me, “What you see/is always more than/what you think you see.” The Endangered Sounds poem of Fran LeMoine. R.D. Shadowbyrd on The Desperate Sport of Poets.

I loved the card Lionel Kearns sent, The Rose of the World, a re-production of a Charles Olson manuscript from the Special Collections Library at Simon Fraser University, and the card Bruce Greeley sent out of Dali figures, was likely the coolest card of the 80 I received (so far). I sent out 92 during the August Poetry Postcard Fest. Lana stared the Frida theme, (or continued a theme I started with a poem written after seeing an exhibit of photographs at the Tacoma Art Museum), with A Brief History of Pain & Fame in which she wrote, “ Frida, you’ve procreated/ with paint,/ masterpieced Diego/ into the patron saint/ of footnote.” I don’t remember a line more powerful than that in all the cards.

This project, started more or less as a lark, has turned into an event beyond what the wilds of my imagination could conjure and was quite humbling for a person who seeks to build new connections, enhance existing ones, foster creativity and exist in a vibrant community of artists. September 6-11, 2007, 11:511AM, Slaughter,WA.

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