Becoming Cascadian — Investigating the intersection of poetics and bioregionalism

I sat down with Paul Nelson, SPLAB founding director, to find out about the upcoming retreat SPLAB is bringing to the Cascadia region.

First, what is Cascadia?

Cascadia is a bioregion that begins in the south at Cape Mendocino, at the beginning of the Cascadia subduction zone, goes north to Mt. Logan and includes Yakutat, Alaska, and the eastern border is mostly the Continental Divide, except in the south where the Great Basin (and Ranges) bioregion cuts out a hunk of Oregon. The definitive maps are created by David McCloskey and available at his Cascadia Institute website.

What is the Becoming Cascadian retreat?

The retreat will be held in (mostly) the Rainier Beach neighborhood in Seattle on May 31 through June 3. It’s a community-building event designed for poets, artists and bioregionalists to gather, share strategies, discuss our role as humans in this time of ecological crisis and end-stage empire. We will also make connections and support one another in our efforts to create the deepest gestures in response to this situation and how that relates to Cascadia.

Paul, you say this is a retreat. What do you mean by retreat? What makes it different from a conference?

Attendance is limited; it’s designed to be a more intimate event. We have one keynote poet. Much of the event’s agenda will be developed organically. During the opening circle Friday night, participants will be given the opportunity to offer a breakout session of their own design. Scheduling will be done via a democratic process.

Tell me a little about the keynote speaker, Andrew Schelling.

Andrew has taught at Naropa Institute for 30 years. He’s a poet and translator who taught himself Arapaho and translates Sanskrit. There’s no one alive who understands the confluence of bioregionalism and poetics better than this man. This is a unique opportunity for participants to connect with a poet working at a very deep level with a renowned commitment to place.

What should I expect from the retreat?

Most of the retreat will be held in Rainier Beach, overlooking the lake. Thursday we sit in Zazen at St. Ignatius at Seattle U. (Optional). On Friday night, there will be a dinner and opening circle, with introductions, in Rainier Beach. That’s the time participants can propose breakout sessions. Saturday will be the breakout sessions and keynote interview/discussion. Sunday is a tour of Kubota Gardens with Zen monk Dr. Jason Tetsuzen Wirth, a closing circle, and a closing reading at Open Books in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood.

I see there are public events attached to this retreat. Which are they?

Three events will open to the public: the Zen meditation session at Seattle University’s St. Ignatius Temple, the keynote discussion/interview with Andrew Schelling at Redwing Café, and the closing reading at Open Books.

OK, how do I register?

Registration is limited, and advance registration is required. The retreat is $80, plus meals. To register, send $80 through PayPal to pen (at) splab (d0t) org by May 29, 2018. Participants will received a confirmation email with all the salient details.

I’m psyched! Where can I find a schedule and more information?

You can find it on our web page Becoming Cascadian.

One last question. If there is one thing you’d like participants to walk away with from the retreat, what would it be?

To have a deep experience of place and poetics. So much in this life is superficial.

Here are some words from Paul about what he finds exciting about the event — and a link to Andrew Schelling speaking at Seattle University on February 20.

by Lisa Fusch Krause

Thank you sponsors!

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The Last Easy Speak Rainier Beach

It’s getting more difficult to find spaces that welcome poets. One that worked well for a couple of months is making other plans for the monthly night of poetry that we started in December 2017. We’re grateful to Jude’s for the run, even if it was shorter than we had hoped for, but we expect a good night for 98118 resident T. Clear for Monday, April 2.


Monday, 2 April 2018

Sign-up 7 – 7:30, show starts at 8, T. at 8:40 – 8:50


Easy Speak’s most intrepid poet

T. CLEAR, a Seattle native, is a founder of Floating Bridge Press. She has been writing and publishing for nearly forty years. Her work has appeared in many journals including Poetry Northwest, Cascadia Review, Fine Madness, Poetry Atlanta, Cirque Journal, Seattle Review , Crab Creek Review, The Moth, Terrain and numerous anthologies. She is inspired by the infinite possible variations in color and light that she is fortunate enough to explore daily in her day job working in sandblasted glass. And she would much rather muck out the chicken coop than write a bio.

T.’s blog

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Becoming Cascadian Retreat

The Cascadia Poetry Festival will not happen in 2018. While we work on a new home for the main festival after hosting it in Tacoma last year, Seattle in 2012, 2014, 2016, guiding the event in Nanaimo, BC, in 2015, and also helping to guide the 2017 version in Cumberland, BC, we are laying the groundwork again to produce the fest close to our new SPLAB World HQ in Rainier Beach (Seattle).

At the February 2018 board meeting, SPLAB’s brain trust felt it was in our best interest to continue the work of our bioregional cultural investigation, but in 2018 that might best be carried out via a smaller event that went deeper into the intersection of bioregionalism and poetics.

The second of the two events planned for this year was the first conceived. Adelia MacWilliam, a poet based in Cumberland and one of the guiding forces of the 2017 fest, had the notion of having the same weekend each year as a time to gather poets from around Cascadia interested in place. Working with me and SPLAB Co-Founder Danika Dinsmore, who wisely fled the U.S. around the beginning of the administration of George W. Bush, Adelia has helped create the Deep in Cascadia Poetics Retreat.

We will gather, share strategies, discuss our role as poets and bioregionalists at this time of ecological crisis and end-stage empire, and support one another in our efforts to create the deepest gestures in response to this situation and how that relates to Cascadia. For registration U.S. citizens, contact SPLABman at pen (at) splab (dot) org. For Canadians, Adelia MacWilliam  adelia.macwilliam (at) gmail(dot) com. The cost is $128 and participants will either kick in additional funds for community meals, or go out to one of the fine dining places in Cumberland. Dominick DellaSala will be the keynote presenter and his talk will be free and open to the public, as will two readings featuring participants.

The first such retreat will happen May 31-June 3, 2018, in the Rainier Beach neighborhood. Becoming Cascadian will feature keynote poet Andrew Schelling. His articulation of West Coast culture in his latest book: “Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime De Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture” is something that resonates quite deeply with our own efforts. He wrote of De Angulo:

He was one of the first to bring into his life what I consider to be the primary characteristics of Pacific Coast culture, art and scholarship. I’ll list some of these. The encounter with wilderness. The search for primitive mind. A sharp investigation into what language is and how it works. A deep spiritual hunger, lonely, eccentric, keenly unorthodox, alert to Asian and Native California traditions. Anarchist pacifist politics… In more recent years, bioregional writers have gone to his writings, with their emphasis on nature literacy, watershed consciousness and reinhabitation…

The book is so rich, the perception so deep, it’s hard to know when to cut off a quote, but Schelling’s 40+ year investigation of De Angulo seems especially appropriate at this time, a time of crumbling infrastructure, climate chaos and crumbling empire, in all of its manifestations. I would add more to this about his takes on Left Coast counterculture, but will soon, as I have a good deal of audio from his last visit to post and I am way behind. But I will post THIS about the upcoming retreat:

What: Becoming Cascadian
When: May 31 – June 3, 2018
Where: Rainier Beach (Seattle) WA
Cost: $80 (Plus extra for meals)

Andrew Schelling’s notes on his presentation:

The Practice of Outside

For poets and bioregional visionaries, a practice of outside will take on several meanings. First should be the colloquial sense of outside, simply “outdoors.” Learn something of your bioregion—Cascadia, the Southern Rockies, or any place else—by getting outdoors. Then, as an inhabitant of the S. Rocky Mountains, for me to visit Cascadia as a poet means I will arrive as something of an outsider. I will explore significant differences between the water-rich, heavily forested, maritime regions around Puget Sound, and the arid high country where I live. I’d also like to explore some of the familiar elements or medicine powers we share. Certain trees (Douglas fir), many of the charismatic large animals (cougar, black bear, coyote), and a storehouse of story and song that may reach back to the last glaciation (“the Girl Who Married a Bear”). With these shared elements in sight, I’ll look at territory our poems share.

Andrew Schelling is a poet, translator, and essay writer. He has published twenty books, including seven of translation from India’s early poetry. His own work encounters the rhythms and features of the natural world, as well delving into linguistics. Recent titles are From the Arapaho Songbook and the folkloric study, Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture. Schelling lives in the Southern Rocky Mountain Ecoregion and teaches at Naropa University.

The event will be guided by participants who may offer breakout sessions that will be scheduled via a democratic process, much like our event in Cumberland, BC.

Please let me know if you have interest. We plan to present at least two free public events during the Becoming Cascadian weekend, but this chance to go deep into poetics and bioregionalism with one’s peers is a rare opportunity and signals a strong interest in our desire to intensify this work at this critical time of dying empire, collapsing biosphere and failing state, (the U.S.) perhaps the world’s first rich failed state according to Umair Haque.

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Sam Hamill’s Last Reading Cancelled

by Susan Slapin

I consider him the dean of Washington poets. Sam Hamill’s poetry life has manifested in an oeuvre that is quintessentially Cascadian, influenced by Asian wisdom culture, deeply connected to place and will soon find its place in world literature. His work as poet, essayist, translator and editor would be a good output for 4 of 5 people, he did it all, did it with a keen perception and huge commitment to justice and is calling it quits in celebration of his 75th birthday in an event that will launch the book After Morning Rain, which Sam says will be, “my final collection of poems.”

The 7pm May 15 reading at The Depot
in Anacortes has been cancelled. 

I have written so much about Sam, it’s hard to know where to begin, but here are a few links that you might consider clicking on:

Christopher Yohmei Blasdel is a world-class musician and worth the trip alone, but given his love and ongoing collaboration with Sam, this is an evening not to be missed.

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