Friday, May 25, 2007

The Running Poets of Green Lake

Dear Poets,

Well here it is, 11 months into my year-long poetry/performance. I started taking my desk out to Green Lake on 1 July 2006. It's nearly July 2007 now! It's been a long and wonderful year. As my project winds down, I've started to organize some "instigations" to celebrate. For "Burning a Hole through the Seattle Freeze with Poetry" on 29 April, I took a blow torch to a 300lb block of ice. Once I'd melted a hole through it, I read "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost to people on the other side. It was a curious and beautiful object.
I am organizing now, "The Running Poets of Green Lake." As you know, the Green Lake pedestrian path is a 2.8 mile loop in the heart of Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood. It is wildly popular and thus a perfect place for poetry to go public. Participating runners will take a spin around the lake on Sunday 10 June 2007 while wearing poems written by local living poets.

I'd like you to participate!

1. Submit 1 short poem (max. 15 lines) to be printed on a cotton t-shirt
2. Include your name as you'd like it to appear
3. Include a short (5-10 line) bio to pass onto your runner
4. Send all info in the body of an e-mail to:
5. Deadline: 5 June 2007!! That's soon.

I'm printing 100 shirts, each with an RPGL logo on the front and a unique poem on the back. Artists retain all rights. If you are a runner or know runners who wish to participate, have them stop by Sunday 10 June (after 9am) for a shirt (72nd & Aurora @ Green Lake).

Thank you for your participation!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sunday 20 May 2007

45 degrees and wet. "A record rainfall of 0.56 inches was set at Seattle-Tacoma Airport on May 20th. This breaks the old record of 0.24 set in 2005" [NOAA]. Nobody. At times, the path is empty.


The Wart is my first visitor. He comes bearing wine from Mt Baker with instructions on how to decant. I can't wait to decant! I ask him what he knows about performance art in Washington. He tells me about Larry Van Over's stunt in the late 1960s, avant garde stuff.

Thousands attended Van Over's dropping of a piano from a helicopter into an open field in Duvall, Washington, a logging town which today has a population of about 6000. It was a KRAB-FM radio event (The Jack Straw Foundation was founded by KRAB). "KRAB-FM was one of the first non-commercial radio stations in the country. The station's main purpose was to be a forum for the discussion and presentation of science, arts and public affairs programs. KRAB was formed at a time of progressing technology, when relatively few FM receivers existed and community radio was unheard of. The first day KRAB was on the air, its transmitter blew up and was rebuilt. Broadcasting from locales ranging from an old donut shop to an abandoned firehouse, KRAB struggled and thrived for twenty-two years" [Jack Straw].

After the drop, people mobbed the piano and made off with the loose pieces. Once the crowd had dispersed, the only thing left was the harp. The Wart says he has it, the guts of Ray Shelbred's famous jazz piano, dropped from a hundred feet in the air. He's offered it to the EMP, but hasn't heard back.

The Piano Drop proved to be an important event not only for the avant garde scene, but for the rock music scene. It marked the advent of outdoor rock festivals in America. "The Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter than Air Fair was born of the “Piano Drop,” an event held four months earlier in Duvall on April 28, 1968, and sponsored by radio station KRAB and the Helix newspaper. The Piano Drop answered the musical question, 'What sound does a piano make when it’s dropped from a helicopter?' More than 3,000 inquiring people made a pilgrimage to tiny Duvall to witness this earth-splattering event and to see a show by Country Joe and the Fish. The Piano Drop was a countercultural success. The event also made money, causing Paul Dorpat, publisher/editor of the Helix, to speculate, 'If 3,000 people come to hear one band, how many would come to hear a dozen, or two dozen, or …?'" [History Link]

Unfortunately, the piano didn't burst into a thousand pieces or make the amazing music organizers were hoping for. It just sort of thud into the wet ground and, without losing integrity, slumped a bit.


The birds today are lovely, lovely and active in the trees and meadows. I take refuge in Sherwood, behind my Eastern White Pine. When I look up to place a twittering, I see a small yellow bird above my head. It is my first sighting of the American goldfinch at the lake. What a high and provocative call. In the late afternoon, I look back to see a raccoon scrunched by The Gates of Hell. He gallomps over the meadow to my White Fir. He climbs to the tippy top. I notice then all the large nests high in the trees. There are crow picking through my meadow. Behind Sherwood the barn swallows navigate a racecourse of insects. At four distinct times during the day, I place myself in their path. I let them spin around me. I follow one of them with my eyes, as it swerves and dives, and it's as if he is still and the whole world is a blur. I get caught up in his movement. It's like dancing with my eyes.

Three mallards walk by. A different pattern. A different speed.


5 teenagers on the path call to me, "Do you want to read us a poem?" I raise my head. I nod. They approach. They are wearing hoodies. They have facial piercings. Four boys and a girl.

I have a friend's anthology with me today. I flip to Amy Lowell's "September, 1918." "This afternoon was the color of water falling through sunlight." Lowell is explaining how we store up images in times of stress. "Some day there will be no war./Then I shall take out this afternoon/And turn it in my fingers."

How are we accessing today's images? Are we taking the afternoon or are we storing it up? What is keeping us from it? I suppose stress is doing its part. And time. And all the comforts know. What a registry of images we'll have for later, when we find the calm we are seeking!

And when will that be?

What kept the women and children of 1918 from their "alleys of dropped maple leaves?" Lowell explains, for her part, "I have time for nothing/But the endeavor to balance myself/Upon a broken world." Time demands that we store the poetry.

One says, "Cool." One says, "I did a report on Emily Dickinson for school." Another says, "I like Robert Frost." "I write poetry," says the skinny boy. "He raps," explains the girl. He won't do it now though. He needs to be in the mood. They notice my mango. One of them asks where I got it. I tell them PCC. "Can we go up and get one?" "You don't have money." "Yes I do. Ok well, maybe I don't." I offer them my mango. "You can't take her mango! That's rude." I tell them it is part of my job. And so they take it.


16 brave people came to see me today. I read to them Dick Allen, Mark Strand, Amy Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop and Russell Edson. Let's get out of the rain!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sunday 13 May, 2007

Steady southerly. Cool. Damp. 100% cloud cover. Moderate traffic on the speedway.


Jim is coming up from the lake. I met Jim here a year ago. He is coming out of the Shell Station where he went in to ask, "Where is the poetess? Has it been a year already? Is she gone?" No. Not yet. Still two months to go.

He offers to help carrying my desk. As we follow the hillock into the glade, each toting a side, the drawer slips out, throwing my papers and streaked Fuji apple and three poetry books to the floor. Then out slides a fourth book, a book I thought I had lost, Rebecca Loudon's Radish King. I thought it had been stolen and, at the time, I was happy about that. At the time I saw promise in that. But here it is now, come out of hiding. Just like a radish to hide under a drawer!

I arrange my books while we talk about the project. Then I read from a new collection of essays by William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life (The University of Michigan Press, 1986). "You and Art," illustrates the work of the artist. It begins, "Your exact errors make a music/that nobody hears." And the depth and the development and time. "Year after year fits over your face." Ah, Jim says, It's about getting old. "Your straying feet find the great dance,/walking alone/And you live on a world where stumbling/always leads home." Yes, I say, and about being, about just being where you are.


I feel boxed up in plexiglas today, on display. As if in an isolation booth on a quiz show. A field researcher out gathering data. Someone not to be disturbed. Today there is a pictograph on a post beside me, it shows a figure seated at a small desk with her head cocked.

They can see I am busy. They pass and allow me to work, to observe, to listen. To fragrant birdsong. To the traffic whistling in the woods. To the motors yawning from stop to stop. To the ducks dashing out the silences.

As the day moves on, they begin to visit. Families and mothers and children and men and women, young and old. They roller blade and bicycle and walk to my desk. I share things with them. I attach poems to them which flutter and dance as they wander away, like leaves. Later they may ingest them more fully. Later they may feel these poems fluttering inside. "Your home/Was breathing softly when we all invaded,/Not only air but breath as in the poem/I treasure that you showed me,/which lings and flutters in my like a leaf" (Glyn Maxwell, The Breakage).


Melanie comes with baby Ariel wrapped around her. Do you know Christina Rossetti? Yes, of course. I read them the poem "To My Mother." Amma is coming, says Melanie. Amma, the Hugging Saint from India, will be in Seattle on Thursday 31 May. She will give darshan at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center at 10 and 7:30. Melanie and Ariel have met Amma before. Melanie explains, When you greet Amma, she lays your head on her chest. She recites the word "mother" in several languages. Then she hugs you, rocks you, transmitting pure love, a love many have never experienced.

"Most sages in this country, they won't allow people to touch them. But Amma, she doesn't see people as people, but she sees them as temples of God. It's Amma's way of awakening people to
spiritual life, to religion, to faith in God " [You Tube]. To receive Amma's darshan (blessing in the form of a compassionate hug), it is necessary to arrive one hour before the program to get a token. But beware, the wait to see Amma can be several hours long. When asked, "How can you do it, Amma? You go on seven days a week, for hours on end, you'll see thousands of people in one day, don't you get tired? Mother looked at them with a big flashing smile and said, No. Where there is love, there is no effort" [You Tube].


Giovanni, the Mayor of Green Lake, visits. He brings his friend, Allen, a poet. Allen has read for The Perfect Room series, which used to happen in the Electric Romaine Building. He asks, Do I know Larry Coffin? Larry is a local poet and playwright, an old man by now. I write his name in my book, another poet to research.

A father and daughter come around the bend. "My daughter asked what p-o-e-t meant. I didn't know how to answer." Ah well, p-o-e-t is a hard thing to explain. Let's see. Perhaps a poem will explain. How about A. A. Milne's "Buckingham Palace?" I am rewarded with smiles and curious glances. "Thank you very much!" says Father. "We made breakfast for Mom who is running around the lake now." The little girl, about 6, looks like a Ralph Lauren model in her buckskin jacket. Today is their day, father and daughter, to investigate threads. Any dangling question or curious thing is a thread to follow. "We are counting animals. We have seen 59 ducks, 58 dogs, 6 birds and 1 squirrel." They make a loop around the lake this way, on their fingers and toes. Have you fed crushed peanuts to the blackbirds by Turtle Log? They will sit in your hand if you are very still. "We didn't know about this." Another thread to explore!

10:58: Mass lets out. The broken shells of bells fall to the floor. Schink schink schin k.


I offer Rebecca Loudon's Radish King to The Wart. He takes it. Roxanne comes along. "Have you two met? Roxanne, this is The Wart. The Wart, Roxanne." "The Wart!? Is that your real name?" "Write a check to The Wart. See if it doesn't clear," he chuckles.

The Wart has become a regular visitor. He wears dress shirts and tall hats and usually, rather quickly and heavily, bends and drops to the ground where he sits with his legs crossed, telling stories and pointing out literary and historical constellations. He seems to know something about everything and is wildly informative.

He tells me that studies show that birds may be altering their songs based on human activity. Does this mean they are mimicking our technology, picking up on the sounds of our cell phones, our car alarms? How horrible! This sheds new light onto Jamie Fiddle's "Manifesto," in which he likens the our techno-sounds and beeping and constant chatter to bird bahavior.

And then I drop the question. I ask The Wart if there is a self. He suggests that "the self" is the very first construct we make and that the remainder of our life is spent developing that. And then losing that, I suppose. I ask, What would a society of people who never formed selves look like? What activities would such a people engage in? "I don't know," he answers. "I don't think it's possible."

He tells me, again, the story of Randy Finley, the owner of Mt. Baker Vineyards. As a child, in Washington D.C., Randy and his sister were kidnapped, for the day, by an organ grinder. Randy was made to hold the tin cup while his sister was made dance like a monkey. A relative was surprised to see them from the window of a bus and came out to rescue them. Randy later became a successful entepreneur, opening the largest chain of independent movie theaters in the Northwest, and his sister became an actress.


Mother and daughter smile, Laura and Lanie. Laura asks, "Do you know Michael Daley? He is my teacher, a poet. He read this month at Elliot Bay Books from his new book, Way Out There. He teaches at my high school in Mt. Vernon." "I don't know him," I admit, "but I will do my homework. I will find and read him. Thank you for the tip." "How about you," I ask, "Are you an artist too?" "My teacher is trying to make me into one."

I wonder what this entails? If I were trying to make a poet, I would propose a regimen of isolation and society, food and exercise.


1. Breakfast: Fresh bread. Hot beverage. A piece of fruit. Access to an open window. Time.
2. A room of one's own. A lockable door. The liberty to not answer the door and telephone.
3. Mornings alone. Afternoons alone. Access to the tools of your trade. The freedom to reject all of this and take spontaneous walks or trips or picnics to obtain good air.
4. Lunch: An artfully prepared sandwich with fresh greens. Tea. Something sweet and delicate.
5. Five-mile walks, daily, to interesting places, by the sea and in the wild.
6. Evening aperitifs, to be shared with stimulating friends, especially with language and music abilities, at 6pm, one half hour before supper. To include one small glass of wine and a conservative plate of olives, nuts or cheese.
7. Supper: To be shared with friends and guests. A long affair with rustic natural foods, fresh fish, vegetables, salad. Lively conversation.
8. After-dinner access to society. Quiet time reading in a soft chair among others, or talking or playing games.
9. Access to the roof, the heavens, the lights of the night. A room in which to work late. A space in which you can make noise and stay up late without disturbing others. A loft or garret or tiny studio in a back yard (basement studios forbidden), equipped with a mirror, a fainting couch, a radio or record player and a pot of tea.
10. Contemporary theatre 1x a month. Better yet, 1x a week.
11. Live music 1x month. Better, 1x a week.
12. Viewing of fresh contemporary art 1x a month. Better, 1x a week.
13. Three-five new poetry books a month. You may substitute live readings, but no open mics.
14. Three films a month.
15. One sail a week, any kind of boat, any kind of water.
16. A call sign, something obvious (a colored light perhaps), outside of your dwelling, to alert others (lover and friends) if it is safe to drop in. Something neon perhaps, like the "p-o-e-t" sign I am told Denise Duhamel hung outside her Lower East Side apartment building?
17. A distant confidante with whom you regularly share ideas and letters, especially in longhand.

Lanie tells me about Joshua Roman, the first cellist with the Seattle Symphony. He is 23 years old. He hails from Oklahoma. He joined the Seattle Symphony in 2006. She says he likes to do things in alternative ways and recently turned down a music residency in favor of traveling with his fellow musicians through Africa. Supposedly, while traveling, their group was followed like rock stars through the villages (they'd brought their instruments to give small concerts). The story recalls Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog), who drove a steamboat through the Amazon jungle bringing opera to the natives from old Caruso records on a gramophone. The natives responded by beating their drums.


Richard and Maureen bring Brecht on Brecht on cassette, with songs, poems, essays and excerpts by Brecht. They say it no longer available. They made a copy. Wow, fantastic! And thank you!

Sunday 6 May 2007

36 visitors today. Warm breeze. Starlings and crows and mallards share the meadow. Brushes of meadow daisies, rose-colored and ragged.


Now that I have some money, I have gone from buying bread to buying poetry. I stopped into Open Books this week. I have 4 new books with me. Oh how the Circlers will profit!


I stayed in the belly of the store for a long while, pulling author after author out of the ribs, stacking them on a bench near the spine. I pretended to be reading, but I was listening to the voices of the store. Five people visited while I was there. It was Friday, early afternoon. Two heavy-set women came in, separately, both well-seasoned poets. I didn't recognize either one. They had each picked up or dropped off some famous poet at the airport. They talked freely about their recent publications, of newer works and of being overlooked for this award or that, a reading series, a residency. Same old same old, the wrestling of poetry. Would that complaints magically turned into effort, into residency programs and print publications, the community would be dense then, the poetry movement might be at its beginning. A tall and big man came in. He had been drinking at The Blue Moon (where Roethke used to hang out). He was also a writer and had much to say about all sorts of general things. He chatted volubly with the owners.


I took my turn. I introduced myself to John, the husband part of the team. I had invited him to read for my series a few weeks ago. Though he said yes, he was having difficulty fitting into the 7pm schedule. The bookstore closes at 7pm. We discussed my Matchbook Poems. I left samples last time I visited. John was worried at the thought of matches in a bookstore, but decided to take them anyway and so we traded for store credit. Then he offered some names of local writers to solicit for my series. I scribbled them into my notebook.

I bought a miniature edition of James Wright's The Branch Will Not Break published by Wesleyan University Press. A hard cover measuring 3¼" x 2½", written in the tiniest legible font. I am not able to read it while walking. I suppose there is an industry standard being broken. I also bought, in more standard sizes, William Stafford's You Must Revise Your Life, Glyn Maxwell's The Breakage and Tomas Transtromer's Selected Poems 1954-1986. What a satchel of books! The trajectory I took then had everything to do with that potential. I pushed my bicycle down 45th, over I-5, to 8th and up to the ballpark on 50th where I claimed a spot in a carat of chain link fence and lay my books out in the grass. Look at these dear things. What a font! And this, with the blue matte cover! And then I read and read and read.


I found Fluxus artist Alison Knowles last night and brought her to the lake. I brought her work to the lake. Hers is the kind of performance I am searching for, that which stems from instruction, gesture, object, body, movement, symbol and purpose. Her work intrigues me, especially "Onion Skin Song." This too is poetry. This too is a form of thinking that changes the world.


Judith and her son Robin visit. I recognize Robin from Ski-for-All. They sign back and forth to one another. I read the first in the series of Glyn Mawell's "Letters to Edward Thomas." Judith recites one of her poems. I follow with "Roof of Air." She asks, "Are you funded for this?" Ha, I think, but Judith isn't the first to ask. Her question raises all sorts of other questions and leads me to the notion of time, the question of time, the idea of money, to the idea of time is money.

I work out another idea. Time is beauty. Where we direct our time, things grow. We nourish beauty. What kind of beauty do we nourish? A poem, a child, a wooden boat? A garden, an organization, a symphony? Time is a rainfall to the object. Where it falls, it feeds the roots of things and works its way up the trunks and on to the very tip ends of the tapered branches to the buds, the leaves and, in the end, o the petals of the thing. Time is movement, beauty is a change in form, an energy shift. We call it beauty. It is nothing more than the ability to change. And time is what feeds it. Time and love. Energy and water.


a familiar material
arranged by fives
springs in the breeze
some thing noble
under the weight
of some thing gray
a transparency
unfolds its pennant
&mottles the light

18 may 2007


If you were able to drop four books onto your own homeland before it developed into what it is now, before humans had come into existence, wisdom to later be found by some developing life form offering them a sort of blueprint on how to live, which books do you think would prove the most instructive for achieving a responsible and morale society?

The Wart sends me in 24 directions. Michael and Michael expound on these. And we're off! They offer musicians, playwrights, novelists and filmmakers. It is agreed that Donovan Leitch, Scottish singer and songwriter, provided much instruction in his album Fairy Tale. "The real gem on this record is "The Ballad of a Crystal Man." In my opinion it is just about the best antiwar song ever written. The young people knew so much back then, why oh why has the world turned out the way it has" [From an Amazon review by Danielle Lane]. And his album of sonnets, "A Gift from a Flower to a Garden." And what about "Sunshine Superman?" "The Isolation of Beautiful Women?" "The Magellic Clouds?" Yes and Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana." Oh you have to include The Zoo Story by Edward Albee. Yes "The Zoo Story" seems particularly suited to Green Lake.

Then there is Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. "Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; 'and even if my head would go through,' thought poor Alice, 'it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.'" How this applies too. If only our shoulders weren't so big, we could get into the poetry of the place!

Add August Strindberg's A Dream Play for its observations on the problems of being human, the problem of humans being human, being pitiable. I recall getting a lot out of the sci-fi paperback This Immortal by Roger Zelazny. And out of Ghosts by Ibsen and The American Dream by Albee for their discussion of dreams and taboos. Kenneth Patchen's experimental novel, The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, taught me how to keep my humanity. Add Allen Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. And something by Andre Norton, the prolific Tennessee writer who died in 2005, after penning 200 books. "She requested before her death that she not have a funeral service, but instead asked to be cremated along with a copy of her first and last novels" [ Oh, and add Wise Blood by Flannery O'Conner.

Michaels mentions then a poet, no one has called on poetry as instructor yet. I don't know his name. He describes in one of his poems the smell of the war. My searching yields only this book by Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, a book about the Spanish Civil War. "Orwell has little to say about…the urge to find out the truth…and yet this is what drove him to see Spanish Civil War firsthand. He arrived in Spain as a journalist intending to sort out the conflicting stories about the war, yet he soon found himself volunteering to fight Franco and the fascists. When he tells us the smell of war is the smell of human excrement, left by the soldiers near their trenches, he's not interested in a vivid memoir. He's after the truth of the experience of war, as he knew it. Near the end of the book there's another moment that is quintessential Orwell: "In case I have not said this somewhere earlier in the book I will say it now: beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of fact and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events. And beware of exactly the same things when you read any other book on this period of the Spanish war." How often have you come across a similar warning in a book on war or politics? This encapsulates why Orwell is so remarkable" (John Bradley, Big Bridge #12).


I shared a new project idea, "Homeless Poetry," with The Wart. It's elicited some strong responses from those I've shared it with. The idea is to solicit homeless people to wear t-shirts for a day, to raise money for reconstruction and housing in New Orleans and then to exhibit their photographs, portrait-style, as a gallery exhibit in the hopes of raising more money from the viewing audience. I imagined it would be an inspire change. If the homeless can work together to affect change, why can't I?

The shirts will have slogans on their fronts in bold lettering, things like "Poetry is Dead" and "Poetry is for Losers." I was surprised that the project, which in its conception included giving cash directly to the homeless, met with such opposition. Philanthropic concerns of how the cash money would be used (alcohol and drugs) and what our responsibility is in that. But God forbid someone should tell us how to use our money! What do we spend our hard earned dollars on? How much of it goes to the homeless? How much goes to gasoline? How much to paper products? How much to saturated fats? Alcohol? Refined sugar? Preservatives? Supposing my employer withheld payment for work I'd done because he didn't approve of how I was spending my money?

The Wart responded with a shrug. There's a project on the web called "Beer for the Homeless." They were likewise blasted for their irresponsibility. A legitimate charity, they raise money to buy beer for the homeless, the idea being that not all homeless people are alcoholics and that a beer shared between friends can be a dignified and warm gesture. Theirs is a much referred to site, but it seems to have disappeared from the web.


In April, Pope Benedict let go of limbo. What a shift in the heavens! What a migration of souls! All those heroes! Eiee, the updraft! But will they be happy up in heaven? Will the accommodations suffice? Won't the wine be too well-balanced? The meat too tender? I suppose the feasts will be a little more lively, but how long before our heroes become transparent, get blanched by this all-loving, never-altering, God-perfect environment? How long before they lose their vitality? Or is this just it, is this the whole idea, to appropriate our heroes? Ho there, Pope Benedict, hold up! Just suppose we say no. You cannot have our heroes. Leave them be here in limbo. Leave them mellow in their imperfect, holy, non-Christian states, where we can keep an eye on them, where we can share in the glory of their imperfections. They are what we strive to be, human and heroic. Real heroes. Mothers. Fathers. Voyagers. Artists. Sinners.

How is such information going to alter our history and our art and literature? The liquidating of limbo is going to illegitimate Dante's First Circle of Hell. All those virtuous, non-Christian adults in Limbo are going to have to take their place in heaven. Pre-approved! And the souls in Milton's limbo, the Limbo of Vanity, the Paradise of Fools, the outer globe where Satan sat imagining the future, the foolish sinners, Milton's contemporaries, the monks and priests, they are all on their way up to heaven. The suicide victims. The unborn babies. O! Just think of the crowding! Perhaps the idea of "property" will begin to surface in heaven. Instead of oceanfront views, souls will bid for a view of God's light. Lawsuits will arise over the shading of one view over another. It could get messy. Better to leave our heroes in limbo.

"Limbo, rather, (meaning “hem” or “border”) is a construct of the Middle Ages, an alternative destination for the souls of the unbaptized who were previously thought, because of original sin, to go to hell. The question surrounding the fate of these souls was first addressed properly in the fifth century by St. Augustine, who concluded that they did in fact wind up in hell. Paula Frederiksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University, says St. Augustine reached this conclusion as a result of his training in dialectical reasoning, a process of critical thinking whereby a problem is solved through the alternating consideration of opposing points. Since original sin was seen as being indelibly tied to the act of sex, and since babies were the natural result of that act, Augustine reasoned that they must carry sin. Ergo, those who die without having that sin removed must necessarily go to hell. “This was the corner he painted himself into,” says Frederiksen. Since Augustine was the last great Christian theologian before “the lights went out in the Western Roman Empire,” Frederiksen says, his theological legacy went essentially unchallenged for the next several hundred years. For this reason, Roman Catholics have traditionally baptized their children as soon as they could after birth, and Catholic missionaries have circumnavigated the globe, emphasizing baptism as the key to salvation" (Newsweek, "Letting Go of Limbo," MSNBC, 24 April 2007).


With Ursula K. Le Guin's solstice chant from "Winter Solstice Ritual for the Pacific Northwest":

It is holy in the east.
It is holy in the north.
It is holy in the west.
It is holy in the south.
Up above it is holy.
Down below it is holy.
It is holy in the middle and around the outsides.
It is holy in all the crevices and little sticking-out bits.
It is holy in all the parts I have forgotten.
Between the toes and behind the ears it is holy.
Along the selvedges and hems and seams and gussets it is holy.
It is holy between 2:30 and 4 and even in prime time.
It is fairly generally and as a more or less continuous thing holy.

Burning a Hole Through the Seattle Freeze with Poetry

Sunday 29 April 2007


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

--Robert Frost


As my project winds down, I've started to organize some "instigations" to celebrate. For "Burning a Hole through the Seattle Freeze with Poetry," I took a blow torch to a 300 lb block of ice. Once I'd melted a hole through it, I read "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost to people on the other side. It was a curious and beautiful object.

Instigation #1 succeeded in bringing people together and incorporating poetry into something visually fascinating. Working with ice was surprisingly alluring and addictive.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sunday 22 April 2007

Sunday 15 April 2007

Sunday 8 April 2007


Sunny. Almost warm. I approached the lake hefting my desk. A strong music greets me. I straighten a bit. The bells are a serious affair today and play, for some duration, Schiller's "Ode to Joy." Beethoven's Ninth, inspired by Friedrich Schiller's poem, an ode, from 1785. This piece of music took Beethoven ten years and over 200 versions to complete, which is why every note sounds as it does. Which is why we straighten to hear it.

Beethoven's Ninth was first conducted on Friday, May 7, 1824. Here it is again, nearly 200 years later, to greet me. What about Schiller inspired Beethoven to spend a decade creating it? Was it the belief that we humans are bound to one another, for better or worse, in humility? Was it that we humans will all one day prostrate before the higher good, will all one day march to another place? Was it the need to impress this upon people, that our destiny is a common one? Schiller writes, "We approach fire-drunk/Heavenly One, your shrine/ Your magic reunites/What custom strictly parts;/"

The Joy theme has been adopted as the anthem of the European Union, as a symbol of togetherness. It has been taken as a universal human anthem. Leonard Bernstein conducted it at the international celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Whatever cultural differences remained between East and West Germany have been described as "Mauer im Kopf" ("The wall in the head"). The sort of wall Beethoven can overcome?

Circlers, we must form bonds. Communication and mutual understanding, our destiny. "Yes, whoever calls even one soul/His own on the earth's globe! And who never has; let him steal,/Weeping, away from this group." "And for the lonely soul, lonely no more, you are part of this mass, you are part of the final marching parade." "Be embraced, you millions!/This kiss for the whole world!" ["To Joy," Schiller] We must grow not only as individuals but as a community. And what is to be the method of our communal growth?" Commerce? Logic? Sport? No, probably something more along the lines of poetry and play. "Aesthetic education is necessary," Schiller argued, "not only for the proper balance of the individual soul, but for the harmonious development of society" [Books and Writers]. And so we have poetry. We have theatre. Music. And the heavenly bodies in the sky.


All day I work, constructing a nest in the grass, using the pliable yellow branches the black willow threw at me last year. The Circlers come to see, "How beautiful! Who taught you how to make that?" I am just now learning. I have all day to learn and perfect it. It's nothing really. If you had eight hours you could make a nest too, perhaps a more beautiful nest than this. Time looks like skill to you becuase you have no time. Time looks like skill in a time-drained society. Time at a task, any task, is capable of becoming an object, a long arranged object. Anything, anything other than nothing, becomes a focus. And anything other than nothing is admirable.

If you were a bird or a beaver, this would be neccessary. A survival skill. But you are human and this nest is not necessary. It is, therfore, art. Craft.

In my nest, I place one small stone, wrapped in four magenta camilla petals. When I leave my meadow, at the end of the day, I carry my nest, it is now a foot long and 4" deep, to the water's edge where I place it under a tree, near a thicket of rushes.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Sunday 1 April 2007


There appeared at my desk a man. "How about a hug?" Not your usual question. I looked at him. Who is he? Do I know him? He looks gentle, but what is he asking? He forced eye contact. I must know him. Must I? I know him. Ah, It is Dan Hall, a PCV Poland, IX. It has been over ten years! Dan had heard about the project and was visiting Seattle. He brought his friends, a married couple and their children-- a little tiger boy and a girl name Zoë. Lovely things. "Zoë wants to write a poem. Will you write a poem with Zoë?" And so Zoë and I talked about our favorite colors, the animals we liked, then we thought of some words and rhymed a bit before adding more. After that, we blessed it with a pen and called it a poem. Then we read it out loud and it was fine.


I wandered into The Zone today. On my way home, I wandered just the smallest bit into The Zone. The Zone is my name for the Lower Queen Anne Greenbelt on Aurora that stretches out and back up the slope through a deep berry and ivy belt to Taylor Street atop Queen Anne. It's deeper than it looks, a gnarled green space book-ended by woods, where the homeless sleep when they can't afford the Aloha Hotel. It is from this green zone that Always Running Water flows in plates onto the sidewalk year-round. Even in the dead of summer, when the watersheds have all run dry and the grasses have crisped to a grayish brown, water sparkles over the sidewalk here. There must be a spring high in the hills here.

I wandered into The Zone as far as the second Y in the trail, only about 40 feet in, before climbing along a felled tree. I picked my way back through the swamp and a thicklet of blackberries to the walk. It was deadly inhospitable! As vicious as I'd imagined, no, more so! Packed dirt trails, skinny and enclosed, ran in and out of the brush. Tree trunks crushed bushes. Mud from the springs made the low-laying sections a sucking carpet. Trails turned into the shadows. Brambles and thorn bushes made deviating from the trail impossible. Only the narrow trails could be navigated. If someone were to follow you into The Zone or meet you there in that density, you wouldn’t be able to retreat or avoid them. You would have to face them, head-on.

There has been no move to eradicate the ivy gone to seed here, as in other parks. Ivy climbs the trees here and trees fall.

-From "A Song of Sobbing By the River" by Tu Fu

David Horowitz points again to Tu Fu, the greatest poet of the Tung Dynasty (680-900 BC). Tu Fu was alive at the same time as Li Po and later came to influence poets Basho and Kenneth Rexroth.

A Long Climb

In a sharp gale from the wide sky apes are whimpering,
Birds are flying homeward over the clear lake and white sand,
Leaves are dropping down like the spray of a waterfall,
While I watch the long river always rolling on.
I have come three thousand miles away. Sad now with autumn
And with my hundred years of woe, I climb this height alone.
Ill fortune has laid a bitter frost on my temples,
Heart-ache and weariness are a thick dust in my wine.

Translated by W. Bynner


Richard Hugo House (Capitol Hill, Seattle): "Get Paid: Financial Grants for Writers," May 14 at 7 p.m. A panel discussion about locally available grants for writers. Presenters include two granting agencies (one public, one private) and three recent recipients: Miguel Guillen (from Artist Trust), Irene Gomez (from the Mayor's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, City of Seattle), Angela Fountas, Johnny Horton and Stacey Levine. For information, contact Kit Bakke.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Walking the Elephants

Ms. Deborah Jensen, Director
Woodland Park Zoo
601 North 59th Street
Seattle, WA 98103-5858

Dear Ms. Jensen:

I am writing this note on a blustery day on Green Lake where I am performing a year-long public poetry project to bridge the gap between poets and the public. During my days on the lake, I am often inspired with ideas, dreams or flights of fancy, some of which are in progress, others yet to begin. However there is one dream I have been holding onto since the beginning. I have been sharing this dream with adults and children at Green Lake. I'd like to share it with you now.

My dream is to bring the Woodland Park elephants to Green Lake. I'd like to invite the elephants to stretch their legs, breathe the air and see the sights. No need to tell you that elephants can smell water from 3 miles away. Mustn't their trunks perk up for the sweet smell of the lake? After considering the acreage drained for human use here (around 100 acres) and the immense difference in space set aside for elephants, it dawned on me: Might there be a way to share this spatial wealth? I have been reading about the great concern for the domesticated elephants of Thailand, who've taken up musical performance to attract support. The spectacle of elephants improvising their own music on traditional Thai instruments (elephant-sized, of course) has inspired new wonder and respect for these amazing animals. What about the elephants of Seattle? Might the elephants and humans have something to offer one another right here in Seattle?

I'd like to request your serious consideration of a weekly walk of the Woodland Park elephants to Green Lake. It's not so far down the hill after all. I am sure the runners and walkers at the lake would gladly step aside for the opportunity to observe elephants en plein air. It seems such a small gift to give our beautiful and well-loved elephants.

Thank you for your kind attention to my proposal. I am disheartened when people respond to the dream with these sentiments: "It's a beautiful thing, but it'll never happen." We build viaducts. We send shuttles into space. And yet the thought of walking a captive elephant ¼ mile from a public zoo to a public lake seems impossible? Have we lost our ability to dream? Please take a moment to imagine the impact that bringing the elephants to Green Lake might have on a generation of children growing up in Seattle. Why exclude the youth of Seattle from the experience, shared by the youths of rural Sri Lanka, of witnessing elephants bathe in public waters?

I express my full willingness to advocate, organize, solicit volunteers, fundraise, or whatever it takes, that this dream might flourish. I look forward to your reply.

Most sincerely,
A. K. Allin

Nostalgia | A Conversation with Ashok Panikkar

A. K. Allin

AP: I remember seeing Solaris a long time ago. I know of Tarkovsky only because of the near adulation many film buffs seem to manifest when they talk of him. Regardless, I can empathize so completely with his notion of "Nostalghia" that it makes me almost home sick for him! Rushdie, Marquez and Naipaul also refer to this sense, often from the point of view of the immigrant. I felt this sense of nostalgia even when I was very young and, incredibly enough, had no way to know any other "home" well enough to miss it.

AKA: Rushdie calls home "an enabling migrant fantasy." I have migrated enough to know it is this precisely, a fantasy. That doesn't reduce my need for it though, and because of my need I have trouble calling it fantasy. I prefer direction or home. I might be wrong, but I think there is a hope one day I will obtain it.

I never felt nostalgia as a child. I first felt it in my mid-teens when I awoke to a new idea-- I was inhabiting the wrong space. My God, I thought, I should have been born somewhere else! I longed for that place and began to fantasize about it. And about leaving. Sailing and writing and running were ways to escape. I continued to feel that I was meant for another life, a life far from suburban PA. Any place really beyond this endless stretch of ¼ acre lots. Farmland? Chester Country? Laboring on the land, living close to the cows, under a long arch of elms?

AP: I sometimes think this infinite yearning for a "homeland of the spirit" is as much of a curse as a romantic ideal.

AKA: But if it is involved in what it means to live, how can it be an ideal? I think we turn it into a curse by neglect, by removing ourselves from the search. And what a chore, this removing!

AP: How beautiful those moments are, when we feel we understand and can even touch what we deem to be true beauty and harmony and how wretched it is, when it quite inevitably, slips away.

AKA: How this pushes us to create such moments! How this asks us to live them! This is what I mean by search, the chosen land, the crafted nostalgia which becomes, with practice, over time, quite natural.

AP: On a personal note, and I don't know how we can talk about this except at a personal level, I think there was a way in which the place that came closest to being "home" for me was ten thousand miles away in Cambridge/Boston.

AKA: For me, it is much the same. Boston embodied home most of all, gave most of what home might be. A history, a built-up place, society, and the way we construct a place, the way we weave ourselves in. Will I ever make a home in Seattle? I feel more and more the answer is no. The frequency of my migrations, over the years, has made the path my home. Strange to say, but I feel at home when traveling, when truly adrift. At sea, wandering, on the fringes. Then, as an awful contrast, I go back to a place, seek a lost home, and experience the most god-awful feelings of loss I've ever known. Seeing everything just as I'd left it, but never quite the same. Movement and change have become standard fare. Perhaps they are safer?

AP: Home was Boston, despite the months of loneliness, the trauma of being broke, not having the right working papers and the other innumerable challenges that come with being an immigrant. I think that in the predictable and yet dramatic shifting of seasons; the bracing chill of the winters; the almost edible beauty of the New England countryside and the ways in which I felt a strange one-ness with people who were so different from me-- I felt that I was finally home (even if alone). I guess the fact that I am not there anymore resigns me to yet another stretch of 'homelessness'. And condemns me to another bout of unquenchable nostalgia.

AKA: Not despite the months, but because of the months of loneliness, because of the trauma. Because I was writing and because you were writing. Because we were still learning. How open we were! How easy, how fresh our voices!

AP: What is your distant homeland? And what can you do about getting there?

AKA: My distant homeland is a guest cabin on"Lycia" in the South Pacific. A picnic table on a hoa with Manu. A tiny NYC apartment with Mora and Kike. Mount Baker with Lisa. Puget sound with Hayley. The Brandywine River. The sidewalk between Porter and Harvard Square. Night or day, rain or shine, summer or winter, in Krakow. On a folding chair in an aviary with Kazmierz, just outside Nowy Sacz. My distant homeland has more to do with the table and bread, with the ladeling hand, than with latitude. But I am at fault for creating competing homelands, for forming and dropping home more quickly than it can mean. And my family is at fault for dissembling our home and for squandering our bonds. And my friends are at fault for casting themselves to distant harbors. Might there be a way to piece together a homeland by fusing all of the places that have a bit of me in them? A wealthier poet might have built a home to host their lost friends. A wealthier poet might have revisited her homes often enough to keep them alive.

AP: How can your friends help you in your search? Is the search as much intellectual as it is spiritual and personal?

AKA: Not only can a partner (friend) help in the search, a partner can be the search, can ultimately be the homeland. We know it immediately when we meet bits of our home. We know when we meet our kin and tribe.

AP: Is the search helped by the presence of a companion? Or is it best undertaken alone?

AKA: Every search is undertaken alone.

AP: What is the cure for this- is it complete immersion in the mundane routines of everyday life?

AKA: Complete immersion in the various tasks of everyday life (I shall not call them mundane because I feel they are exalted) is the only option to living. Anything else is subsiding. Anything else is idling astride life.

AP: Or is it best to plunge deep into the sea of 'non-tranquility' knowing that the only way to "restore harmony in the world" is through the "renewal of personal responsibility."

AKA: The sea of non-tranquility exists right here. And over there. Plunge into everything! Do what you are doing, but do it with deliberation. Harmony in the world will only come through harmony in the self. They are one in the same.

AP: And in that case, what might it look like?

AKA: It might look like a hammock. It might look like a bench. It might be yellow or blue. It might look like you with a ladle, making home where you go. It might look like me with wings. Home is a liquid thing and yet is a connected place, a place with texture, the pattern of which we know from having lived it so well. Home is the place where all the pieces of you float about intersecting all night. A place this complex and liquid can only exist in you. Home is what you carry about with you.

ASHOK PANIKKAR is a Bangalore based writer and conflict resolution professional. He is founder and Principal Consultant of Meta-Culture: Center for Conflict Transformation and Dialogue.