Why Poetry Matters

P1040373Well, for one thing, if we did our work ourselves instead of relying on virtual human slaves to do it for us, we would all look a lot less ridiculous. This urban scene (notice its lack of humans) is a landscape of slavery from one end to the other, with the exception of its deviations from order: the weeds on the right, and the sign that can’t resist irony. Poetry helps make these non-human, slave environments livable. And that’s just peek under the hood of my project Steam Punk City. More peeks here: https://www.witual.wordpress.com

Have fun in the city!

Ancestral Memory and Poetry

People write poetry for many reasons. Any that is written is not poetry, though, but an incantation that allows for poetry, a force within the universe, to appear. People cannot be taught to bring these appearances forth in the world, because people are not in conscious control of a process that is, ultimately, not human. People can, however, be led to moments in which the possibility of appearance is possible. The rest is up to purity of heart. Not very modern thinking, is it. No. Here’s a moment of possibility:

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That’s the Okanagan Nation fishery on the Okanagan River below a cliff that is an ancient story and which records the history of a war between the Syilx and Secwepemc people that ended with an agreement to share this land in the grasslands inland from the North East Pacific Shore. This is my home. Here is a cliff face in South Iceland. Geologists will point out, rightfully, that it is an ancient seashore cliff (that runs for a couple hundred kilometres) lifted away from the sea by tectonic forces. This image was taken from a point on the old seabed, for example. That kind of thing. It also has a stile and a beautiful woman who I love and who (I am blessed) loves me, walking through grass almost as tall as she is. This is a moment of my ancestral memory. It forms the foundation of my book The Art of Haying. It’s not, after all, a cliff. This is me. Iceland Day 3 to 5 065It is also, if you have eyes to see, a troll, with two gaping eyes, a pug nose, and a broad, frog-like mouth, with water spilling off the top of its head and forming a farmyard spring. You can see the farmyard rhubarb patch to the right of the image, just above the green lump, which is the ruins of an old turf house. What I’m doing here is showing you how an image of the earth is seen when ancestral memory and contemporary thought are one. I am not asking you to agree with this, disprove this, argue it, or abstract it in any way because it is incontrovertible. Still, if you’re used to setting this kind of material deep within a form of romantic consciousness called the unconscious, subconscious, memory, fantasy, imagery, emotion, creative imagination, or any of the modern terms that separate your identity from it, a bit of a guide might prove interesting. You’re seeing a few things. The troll, for instance. A large-green headed ram below the troll’s right eye. An ewe’s skull, teeth bared, below his chin. Another below that. A scatter of human heads, all formed of stone, on the ledge above the bottom section of the falls, and a baby troll peering out of the steeply-angled green hill just to the left and behind the stile. What’s more, the troll has one eye open and one closed. It is Oðin, the Norse cultural hero who plucked out one eye at the well at the centre of the world as payment for receiving wisdom. There is much more, plus a beautiful woman walking through it. The image, framed by the boundaries of the technology of the camera, is called art, because it brings these correspondences into relief, but, hopefully, I have pointed out successfully that these images and correspondences are in the world, exactly in the way that modern humans, such as you or I, are trained to read or parse poetry. On that foundation, let me point out that when a man is one with his mind and with the earth, he looks out at the earth and sees himself. What that means is that walking through this landscape, I am walking through my thoughts, which is, of course, exactly the process of writing a poem. There are a few things, though, which the poetry of the world is not: fantasy, for instance, emotional confession, too, literary dialogue, for another. It’s not a portrait of my feelings, an exploration of my thoughts, or the opening of a social dialogue. It is not an installation or a performance. It is not art. And yet it is poetry. This is poetry:

P1080198Ancestral Watcher at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ.

This is poetry:

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nm∋lqaytkw at Chopaka

This is my home mountain and my home river.

Look at it this way: on a foundation of geology, weather and biological evolution, on a field of societal evolution and history, on a journey of personal presence and breath, in a unified consciousness, this is an image of my self, which reveals itself to me as I walk through it. Some nut has built a concrete water diversion structure in it, which is the way of modern, non-unified consciousness, but make no mistake: it is inside me. I have to accommodate that. That’s where I live, in a space in which every breath, every thought, everything I see and walk through, is poetry, which is not, I feel I should stress, not something I make, something that can be studied in a university department of literature, taught in a department of creative writing, or something anyone else can make. This is not something I made. It is vital to remove the traditions of book thinking from images like this. Book thinking? Yes. If you see a landscape in the following image and if you see a narrative in it:…

buckHanford Reach

… it is book intelligence you are viewing it with. Behind that green flood bar, just to the right of this image, the plutonium for the Trinity Test and the Nagasaki bomb was manufactured, as well as most of the plutonium for the Cold War. Does that stag look like he is swimming home? He isn’t. He is home. So am I. This is my poetry. Anyone can find Facebook on their own, god help them. To find their ancestral, non-human intelligence, the thing that makes them human, a guide helps. Here’s mine:

17Robin Skelton

He was the earth, standing up and walking. He was the sea. And I? I am here to tend an ancient fire

P1000865I used to think that this fire could be kept burning in books, but that was before I realized that literature was a game of artifice and I was not speaking of artifice. I still passionately work with poetry, edit books of poetry, review them, write poetry, and walk through it daily, but I do so from the ancient context I hinted at above, because the work is to keep the world alive, all of it, or die. In my recent book of ghazals, Two Minds, the Sufic force of unified nature, the Sufic Green Man, Khdr, fills the body and mind emptied of self, the lost traveller or lover all-in-a-tangle, with the world, so that the world is there at the core of the soul’s movement through the world, not the technologically-created, abstract, book-based, Enlightenment self, as beautiful a piece of engineering as it is. We can be more.

twomindsWe are more.
monolithAncestors at Extreme Low Tide, Discovery Passage, Facing Cape Mudge …

… where their descendants live.

This is what I have learned during 58 years on this earth. It is not what I was taught. It is more. This is my standard for poetry. It must be alive. After all, I am a man of the earth. I am memory. I am the fire keeper.

Unlaunching The Okanagan, Tonight in Kelowna

Tonight, March 9, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. at the Laurel Packinghouse, at the corner of Cawston and Ellis in Kelowna, I will be helping to unlaunch the Okanagan. Read all about it here. I will talking about stories, such as this one at Dry Falls…

… and my heart, Palouse Falls, just north of the Snake River.

I will also be talking about the loons of Kokanee Bay, from my book Winging Home, or the Centre of the Universe, from my book Tom Thomson’s Shack. Time will tell. Why not come and find out?

February 28: How to Escape Slavery to the Book and Thrive in the Wild

Humans, are you feeling trapped by the book? Are you tired of trolls like this?

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Well, there’s help. I’m giving a talk about all this at Cottage Bistro in Vancouver on Sunday, February 28, at 5 pm. Here are some slides from the book, with their original captions.

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Do you feel that books fill your heads with thoughts and lead you down the garden path to a field choked with thoughts and then locks the gate and you can’t even figure out the darned latch?

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Do they not even bring you any sugar cubes anymore?

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Well, you’re not alone.

The performance is at Cottage Bistro, at 4470 Main Street in Vancouver. Their phone is 604-876-6138. The show is at 5 p.m., Sunday, February 28.

Here’s a hint of the story I’m going to tell from my new book, the Art of Haying.

Haying Cover

I didn’t find this story. It found me on the Camino through the dark forest of Germany, where I lost my identity right about here …

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…was give a temporary identity to ride to keep me going, now that I didn’t have a book to hold me …

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… and then met the Afrad (one of “The Chosen Ones”) Khedr when I was completely emptied out. He appears now on the cover of my new book of poems, Two Minds, a series of sufic ghazals, conjuring consciousness out of the winds of the world. That’s what Khedr does. He is the force of the world.

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I’ll be talking about him on Sunday. He dropped me in Iceland a few days later.

artofhaying.001 I made new friends.artofhaying.080

They taught me that humans build farms under the cliffs, and keep sheep, and that this is a form of writing but writing in the world, not writing on sheepskin or paper. They taught me that I already knew this, and that there are creatures who are keeping these farms, so that humans keep sheep, because these creatures love sheep. They me that I am a kept thing, within these books. They taught me that I am prey.

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And so in Iceland I learned to see the pens and fenced pastures of the book. Here’s a collection of such books, including human house, abandoned turf houses, elf house and farm, and in the background, looking out over the fjord, a troll.

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Here’s a young Icelandic reader learning her craft with a machine that is killing her, while gentler machines on display in this agricultural college are calling to her: “Go get a horse, dear!  We can do that for you.” But she doesn’t hear over the machine.

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And so I learned the way out of the pastures of the book into a new wildness.

artofhaying.047 I learned old forms of creativity that are still new on Iceland.artofhaying.062

I learned to read the modern creative individual, the kind that Creative Writing programs are designed to craft (somehow, it didn’t take on me) …

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… and the lures that book set to draw humans into domesticated fields …

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… and I met many people, many ultra modern people, of the book’s fields. This guy in Reykjavik, for instance. Yes, he is a blockhead.

artofhaying.015 The Spirit of Reykjavik, too. Well, actually a film-maker’s Norse curse on the Americanized Reykjavik across the harbour from his encampment.artofhaying.024

And this woman in Seyðisfjörður, after her body set her aside to dry in the sun after a hard day shovelling snow.

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I learned that identities can be put on and taken off when they come to the end of their usefulness for the book trolls who run the farm. Here’s an art gallery of human book identities in downtown Reykjavik.

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I also learned there is something else that is stronger than that identity and remains when it is stripped away, as mine was on the pilgrimage path through the German Revolution of 1989, and the Celtic Revolution of … well, long before that.

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There is a form of creativity that predates the modern age and is stronger than it. It is still alive in Iceland. Khedr led me to it. It’s time to talk about these things. There’s a way out of that field, my friend.

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Does that look like you, living on an elf hill, sniffing the grass in my hand, as I stand beneath the sacred rowans of the graveyard that is always beside an elf hill? Yes, it is! Come on, let’s go to Iceland. I’ll give you the key to that gate.

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Changelings: Story Telling at Cottage Bistro in Vancouver on February 28, 2016

Changelings_FC-275x413Cassy Welburn and I are story-telling at Vancouver’s Cottage Bistro on Sunday, February 28. From  fairies to a waitress at a truck stop who

calls out orders
over the sound of retarder brakes
and exhaust,

Cassy’s startling and life-affirming stories rise from the Celtic tradition after long experience as a performer and story teller. Click here for a review of Cassy’s book. Cassy and I were on stage in Lethbridge last fall and had a blast telling stories with each other. It’s your turn to be charmed. I will be telling stories from my book The Art of Haying: a Journey to Iceland,Haying Cover including encounters with elves, trolls, the Green Man, a dragon and others on a pilgrimage through the German forest and escape to the volcanic remnant of Atlantis in the North Atlantic. This is a love story and a tribute to the beauty of Iceland. I’m bringing a collection of photographs from the book to show you all the top of the world.

The performance is at Cottage Bistro, at 4470 Main Street in Vancouver. Their phone is 604-876-6138.

The show is at 5 pm. We’ll have you home in time for dinner with the elves.

 

Cassy Welburn

Cassy

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Harold

 

 

Our Fragmented Place on the Land: Three Writers Reflect in Campbell River

Let’s talk.
threewriterstitlethree writers

Wayne is going to talk about the costs of the domestication of people. Andrew is going to speak about the costs of technology on people and the world. I am going to speak about an alternate form of creativity that re-wilds the self and provides tools for repairing human-earth relationships. To keep it real, I’m going to include passages from The Art of Haying, my book on Icelandic creativity, and link my vision to Roderick Haig-Brown. Three powerful perspectives, based on lifetimes of combined experience. Well four, if we include Rod.

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We’ve set aside a lot of time for discussion, between each other, and with you. I hope to speak with you there. The red balloon marks the spot. Easy to find!

where

Here:

stage

Here:

Haying Cover

Reading from Two Minds at Planet Earth Poetry Friday, February 5, 2016: 7:30 p.m.

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I will be reading from my book of sufic ghazals, Two Minds, on Friday, February 5, 2016, at The Planet Earth Poetry reading series at Hillside Coffee and Tea, 1633 Hillside Ave (across from Bolen Books), in Victoria. The evening begins at 7:30 with an open mic.

I am looking forward to sharing these poems and stories of being initiated by the Sufic spirit Khedr (that’s him on the cover, from a pleasure palace in Saxony) on my pilgrimage to the Northern Orient in 2010.

 

Readings in Regina, Edmonton and Calgary in the fall were a lot of fun. I hope you can come out.

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Khedr

The poems began in 1977, with conversations with P.K. Page and the rich trove of Eastern material she poured into my head in those few weeks she taught at UVic and I was lucky enough to be there. These are the poems I wrote for myself for thirty years, and which fell into place when I was living in Campbell River in 2008, between the mountains and the sea. Thank you to the B.C. Arts Council for the grant which brought three decades together like this.

On February 7, I will be reading at the Centre for Spiritual Living in Yaletown, Vancouver. You can read about that reading here.