Please Give Big to SPLAB in 2021

I am asking your support for SPLAB during Give Big and contributions are being accepted now.

Between July 2020 and last week I have been working my ass off with the guidance of 501 Commons and specifically two of their representatives, Rebecca Garrity Putnam and James Morgese. They have been phenomenal and have provided the guidance I have been seeking for many years. I have resisted much of what passes for “organizational development” in the non-profit world because it has always been presented to me as a watering down of our content, which admittedly is niche, but also fills a need that I think is increasingly in demand in this culture. How to, paraphrasing longtime SPLAB friend Anne Waldman: “Be in the mind/perspective of a writer 24 hours a day.” How to lived the life of a poet as a spiritual calling? As a soul-building exercise? As the late longtime SPLAB friend Michael McClure would say, is poetry with “a hunger for liberation?”

The addition to the board of Matt Trease in December 2017, Cate Gable in September 2018, Jason Wirth in 2020 and Diana Elser in 2021 have changed the board culture and are ready to install some significant changes to SPLAB, including a re-branding as early as this summer. In them there is a degree of poetry knowledge, business world acumen, bioregional expertise and good old fashioned hard work that combined is prompting hugely positive developments. And former board members Joe Chiveney and Nadine Maestas are continuing their associations, which is a good sign.

We seek 400 SPLAB supporters at $100 each annually. We will have certain benefits for contributions at that level that we’re developing, and contributions made now will qualify the supporter for those additional benefits. I love how this is all coming together and more information is forthcoming. But let me say this:

The SPLAB year starts on July 4 with the release of the first lists in the Poetry Postcard Fest. A primer in spontaneous composition, this month one can get a taste of what Anne Waldman was referring to above. In the fall there is a Postcard Fest open mic to share postcard fest experiences and discuss work just created. Soon after are workshops, which give postcard participants and interested others a deeper look at the theory and practice of the spontaneous stance toward poem-making: Projective Verse (Charles Olson), Organic Form (Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan), The Practice of Outside (Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer), Experimental Lyric Poetry (Brenda Hillman), Serial Form (Daphne Marlatt, George Stanley, George Bowering) and Open, Exploratory Form (Nate Mackey.) A sense of the material covered in these workshops can be seen here:

and upcoming, here:

Workshop testimonials are humbling and accessed here:

Soon we will resume the Cascadia Poetry Festival and we continue to conduct interviews.

We have survived the pandemic (so far) and have used this time to sharpen our focus and make our case for your support. Thanks for considering support during Give Big and stay tuned for developments as we evolve.

With gratitude,

Paul E Nelson
Founding Director

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The Challenge of Editing a Beat Legend

A wonderful look at the working style of one of SPLAB’s poetry heroes, Michael McClure, as described by his last editor Garrett Caples. To hear about the project on which they collaborated, dig this:

Mule Kick Blues Book Release with Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, and Garrett Caples

Event will be held on Zoom. Click the link in the event description for info.,

Saturday, May 8th, 3:00 p.m. PT / 6:00 p.m. ET






The following day your humble narrator will be part of:

Michael McClure Memorial Tribute

Event will be held on Zoom. Click the link in the event description for info., Sunday, May 9th, 3:00 p.m. PT / 6:00 p.m. ET

A memorial tribute to

Michael McClure

with readings and remembrances by

Russ Tamblyn, CAConrad, Margaret Randall, Forrest Gander, George Herms, Jerome Rothenberg, Cedar Sigo, Paul Nelson, Lyn Hejinian, Andrew Schelling, Amy McClure, Jane McClure, and Joanna McClure.

This is a virtual event that will be hosted by City Lights on the Zoom platform. You will need access to a computer or other device that is capable of accessing the internet. If you have not used Zoom before, you may consider referencing Getting Started with Zoom.


Event is free, but registration is required.

(Click Here) to register.

To Garrett’s article:

I’ve been an editor at City Lights for a dozen years, during which time I’ve worked with some Beat Generation greats: David Meltzer, Diane di Prima, Joanne Kyger. As a poet myself, I’ve considered it an education to watch such poets be poets as we worked on their manuscripts and they made demands about their presentation on the page. And so it happened with Michael McClure. I’d met Michael here and there, but I began to know him in 2013 when City Lights republished his revolutionary volume of “beast language” poetry, Ghost Tantras (1964). It wasn’t my project, editorially, but I used it as an excuse to interview him for the alt-weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian. READ MORE

Hear Michael McClure being interviewed in 1995.

The 15th year of the Poetry Postcard Fest is dedicated to the memory of Michael McClure and Diane di Prima. See: or register at www.popo.submittable com

See also our online poetry postcard fest exhibit:

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Kubota Garden Poems

From Lola Peters:

Kubota Garden Revealed

Your Kubota Garden Poem

Open, online, poetry reading

Monday, April 12, 10:00-11:00 a.m.

Among the beautiful elements of the book Spirited Stone: Lessons from Kubota’s Garden are the poems by Anastacia-Reneé, Elizabeth Austen, Claudia Castro Luna, Samuel Green, Shankar Narayan, and Shin Yu Pai. To celebrate National Poetry month, Kubota Garden Foundation is making the April edition of Kubota Garden Revealed an open poetry reading. We invite poets near and far to sign up for a spot to read one of your Kubota Garden inspired poems. Please limit your poem to no longer than 3 minutes.

Use this link to get to the registration page. Click the green SIGN UP button for Poets and enter your information. There are 15 slots allocated for poets; however, if time allows, we’ll open the floor to more. To see the Zoom logistics, click the dropdown arrow beside Poets.

The reading will be facilitated by Kubota Garden Foundation’s office administrator and poet, Lola Peters.


Can’t wait to hear all the wonderful poems celebrating this wonderful place! Let me know if you have any questions.
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Richard Hugo House and the Writing Community

It is with great sorrow that I sit to compose this post about the Seattle writing community.

For many years now, perhaps for its entire existence, the Richard Hugo House has been a quintessential Seattle organization, and we’re beginning to see what that means. A coalition of writers, many of them good friends to SPLAB for many years, have determined that the Hugo House operates in a way similar to the institutional white supremacy that defines the U.S. and especially the last four years (Jan 20, 2017 – Jan 20, 2021) and that is unacceptable. They have in good faith attempted to help the Hugo House change its ways and give Seattle the writing center it deserves and, like any powerful and unaccountable institution, the Hugo House has dragged its feet, offered vague pronouncements and treated the Writers of Color Alliance as if they were disposable. This is a grave mistake, as the alliance includes the current Poet Laureate of the State of Washington, the current Civic Poet of Seattle, the past Civic Poet of Seattle and three other members with outstanding credentials, one of which has a long history with the ACLU. This is telling.

My own experience with the current Hugo House Executive Director, who has been asked to resign or face the threat of a teacher’s strike with an immense deal of support, has been similar to the experience WOCA describes in their email below, sent late last night. (I could provide details to anyone truly interested in the character/ethos of RHH leadership, if necessary, but suffice it to say SPLAB has not been involved in the Hugo House despite being a non-profit in the community for 27 years with a huge commitment to literary arts.) This is a common theme among people who have responded to my emails alerting them to the situation and getting responses like” “We gave up on the Hugo House 20 years ago…”

And this is at the core of this conundrum. Had Richard Hugo House been active to build a community while building an asset base ($7.7M according to published reports) it would be seeing a flood of support, but it is not. It is akin to an organization “circling the wagons” – a clichéd metaphor that looks all too accurate in an age where BIPOC activists (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) specifically allude to the indigenous community and the indignities they continue to suffer.

SPLAB made its own statement in 2017 about issues like these and we stand by that:

We urge all concerned writers who have ever had a connection to the Richard Hugo House to step forth now and be represented on the side of justice and community. There is so much the Hugo House could accomplish, but not as they have acted over their history and especially not as they have been led by current leadership. The time for Tree Swenson to retire with grace, with recognition for all she has done for this state’s literary community, including her expert and elegant bookbinding, her co-founding of legendary Copper Canyon Press, and many other invaluable contributions. All of SPLAB’s current board has signed on to the WOCA petition. You’ll also find four of the five Washington State Poets Laureate on that petition, which is a statement in itself.

For more details, see:

And for those who care about these issues and want to help create an organization that is committed to racial equity and sees its own history as sincere, but inadequate, we invite you to be involved in SPLAB.

Paul E Nelson
SPLAB Founding Director

The most recent WOCA email:

Dear Tree and Hugo House Board:

We write to follow up on the communication we received from Shahina Piyarali two days ago, and to name the continuing lack of equity or acknowledgment of us in this process.  Following your Board meeting on Tuesday night—at which Dick Gemperle let the media know he believed issues relating to Hugo House’s lack of equity would be “resolved”—we received a communication from Shahina in which she said an announcement responding to WOCA’s demands was forthcoming, and that a small number of board members (unnamed) wanted to provide us “details” of the announcement as a “courtesy” the following day.  We asked directly whether Tree Swenson had been removed; Shahina let us know an announcement within 48 hours was forthcoming, and that she was “not authorized” to reveal anything to us in writing.  Today, 48 hours after our exchange, we learned from the media that no announcement is forthcoming this evening.  In the meantime, the hundreds of people who have expressed a desire to see a more equitable Hugo House have remained in the dark, and Hugo House’s website continues to ignore this issue entirely.

In the past we have avoided naming the various microaggressions aimed at us in the hope of convincing the Board to work constructively with us, but in this instance, we will name those microaggressions.  To us, this sequence of events encapsulates all that has been deeply wrong with Hugo House’s leadership for a very long time: non-transparent and unaccountable to community, reflexively secretive without explanation, and steeped in a sense of privilege more reminiscent of a private country club than a publicly supported nonprofit whose community demonstrably cares deeply about equity.

That after seven months of engagement we should have to find out about Hugo House’s revised announcement timeline—which appears to be an attempt to avoid making the current news cycle—from the media, rather than directly from  you, speaks to the disdain with which Hugo House’s leadership holds BIPOC communities.  That that leadership should be unwilling to reduce to writing the “details” they were willing to share with us verbally is merely the continuation of a pattern we have observed over the last seven months, of a strong, legalistic preference for unaccountable methods of communication that don’t leave a paper trail and can later be denied.  That the Board refuses to answer a simple yes-no question regarding whether the ED was removed on Tuesday night shows a failure of basic transparency rendered even more glaring by the fact that we, and other community members, have previously named it as problematic.  For the record, transparency to community is not a “courtesy”—it is a core part of equity and of your duty as Hugo House leaders.

This pattern makes us wonder if the Board has read any of the letters sent to them with our last communication (an updated version of which is attached, now weighing in at a whopping 113 pages) or taken note of the many partner organizations and teachers now pledged to withhold their labor and partnership from Hugo House—all of which remain unacknowledged in any form by Hugo House leadership.  The Board could perhaps bring to mind the powerful statement posted by Hugo House’s partner organization, Seattle City of Literature, which reads in part:

“In its approach over the last year, Hugo House has not only undercut the work of individual staff members and teachers who have pushed for racial equity, the House’s leadership has also disrespected the writers who started the racial equity pledge. It has failed to receive this situation for what it is: an opportunity to not just appreciate the richness of the community it serves but to grow as an organization with the entirety of our community in mind.”

Or by Seattle Arts and Lectures’ statement this afternoon:

“We all must be part of the movement towards building a more just future. We stand in solidarity with writers of color calling for racial equity and transformation @HugoHouse and support the work to create cultures of belonging in our literary communities.”

Hugo House continues to fail to respect its own community of BIPOC writers, former employees, donors, teachers, allies, and students, or to see the current situation as an opportunity to address the issues that divide us and move forward with openness and equity.  To quote the subject line of a powerful letter sent to Hugo House yesterday, “Hugo House’s delayed response is an act of harm.”  The Board continues to compound that harm with its disdain for basic transparency and any shadow of accountability.


Anastacia, Claudia, Dujie, Harold, and Shankar.

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