I put my last two postcards from this year’s August Poetry Postcard fest in the mail today and, with the baby resting, have a few minutes to share my thoughts about how the fest went as is my wont in August. I had done that each year with the 315 Project which I did for 6 Augusts before Lana Ayers and I hatched the postcard plan.
As I’ve mentioned on my blog, I specifically chose to use epigraphs for the postcard poems from Nate Mackey’s latest book of poetry Nod House. I wanted to make sure I delved more deeply into the book before my August 25th interview with Nate, which turned out well. In the book, Mackey continues the two-stranded serial poem Mu and Song of the Andoumboulou. From Dogon (West Africa) culture, the Andoumboulou are “rough draft” beings striving to become fully human.
In Nod House we see them go through a journey that suggests they are in some kind of pre-birth place and one meaning of Nod House might be the house your soul is in before you get the nod from whoever it is decides these things that you are ready to incarnate again. Hopefully, you get closer to becoming a noble human and not a breathing dead Andoumboulou. The quotes I use may or may not reflect certain aspects of this search and in the book, as I point out in the start of my interview with Mackey, there are MANY references to soul, what soul was, what it is &c. My own poetry practice is a quest to reveal the more noble human (hopefully) taking shape in this veil of soul-making, to quote Keats. Out of this substrate the poems begin.
And I wrote every poem in my study, a 2nd floor office, which looks west onto a plum tree with MANY greengage plums, Stellar’s Jays, squirrels, crows, pigeons, hummingbirds and other creatures. Plum trees and falling plums have been an ongoing image in my poems since I began writing. Plums refer to longevity in Japanese culture and wisdom in Chinese culture and there are MANY plums trees in Slaughter.
I had quite a complex process to write and document these poems. By the end of the month it got even more complex, turning into a bonafide ritual, but even from the three cards written and sent out on July 27th, I would choose a card (I am a postcard whore and already have enough for ten more Augusts), then choose a quote from Mackey, then write the poem. Once written I would transcribe it, trying to capture the layout and linebreaks as perfectly as possible, then scan the card and save it. I would then schedule a post on my blog, usually without commentary, but occasionally with a note or additional photo in one case. #394 is a good example or transcribing lineation, with little holes in the text where I had left spaces. And it was on that occasion that I REALLY noticed the plum tree’s lichen. This is a sign the air quality is pretty good, which is one of the nice things about living in Cascadia.
In card #395, also on that first day, I started to plum the Flower Ornament Sutra, from Hua Yen Buddhism into the poems now and then. I would go to the page I left off when last reading the sutra and pick a line or image that seemed appropriate before the poem, or in that part of the poem as it was being composed. I was using cards purchased from last year’s August trip to China and they were from a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, so that seemed appropriate.
Often in August, news stories inform the content of the poem. This year the severe drought found its way into a poem. My printer began to lose its ability to recognize color, but fortunately we had a backup and the old one is still in my trunk. (I want to put it out on a corner with a FREE sign, but have not done so yet.) The largest controlled sediment release in a dam removal project anywhere in the world was another newspaper act too awesome to ignore, this being from the Elwha Dam removal project, which I have been following for MANY years, the Olympics being one of my favorite places in the world, having been lost there and going by the Elwha River on MANY occasions. The Oak Grove, Wisconsin Sikh Temple hate crime massacre was another current event reflected in my August poem #401 from the 6th.
On the 8th, poem #403 in my postcard career, I renewed my fascination for obsolete constellations. I believe that is a great metaphor for human beings, being once luminous things that eventually are forgotten. That sub theme came up for a few days. By the middle of the month I started writing on cards from Mt. Constitution. They have these collage cards that are WAY cool and I HATE to give these up, but what are postcards for anyway?
Another influence that started to come near the middle of the month was Lorine Niedecker, again. I used her short calendar poems as prompts a couple of years ago and I have been reading her excellent biography by Margot Peters and watching the brilliant Cathy Cook movie about Lorine in preparation for our September visit to Black Hawk Island. What a remarkable woman and poet! In #410, I try to mimic one of the main forms she developed with a rhyme, or near rhyme, on lines 4 and 5 of a short poem.
Well, I could go on, illuminating every arcane reference, but I do want to mention that the cards I got this year were by far the best. Sure, some people do not follow basic instructions, but Jim Teeters MADE his card and I loved it and the poem:
I helped move part of his thought into the next poem I wrote. And Lenora Good sent perhaps the best poem, which echoed part of mine sent to her earlier in the month. First mine: