My new book was conceived sometime late in 1997, and when Joanne Kyger came to SPLAB and heard me talk about the history of Auburn, Washington (how it was originally named Slaughter after Lt. William A. Slaughter and how they blew up the Stuck River a couple of times), she suggested I write a Paterson for Slaughter. This was March, 1998.
In 1999, months before his death, Ed Dorn said he was delighted someone was thinking of writing an epic, although I prefer the term serial poem after Jack Spicer’s and Robin Blaser’s use of the phrase. To get encouragement from someone like Ed was more fuel to push the project forward.
Sam Hamill made sure I did not rush to publish the poem, saying this poem was too important to let that happen. His wisdom, and his ability to model the poet’s life, has been invaluable.
In 1999, Michael McClure heard an early poem in the series at dinner, during a visit to SPLAB, and said he didn’t think I had started writing the poem, and he was right. His blurb for the book is succinct and quintessential McClure.
Jose Kozer got a copy of the manuscript in 2008, read the whole thing in a week, and wrote one of his rare blurbs for it.
A Time Before Slaughter is more than a serial poem re-enacting Auburn history. It is my attempt to tell the story, slant, from a People’s History perspective, imbued with Negative Capability in such a way that it will strengthen a bioregional consciousness in Auburn and beyond.
I hope it will give future generations a reason to prevent some of the errors of the past from happening again and that it will eventually be used as a teaching aid in the Auburn schools. Most importantly for me, however, is that it has been done and is the culmination of 12 years of research and writing. My life is better and richer for having written it, and I believe my own perception is sharper.