Cascadia IV (I Did Not Build That)

I’m thinking of the controversy from an event during the 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign. It’s the You Didn’t Build That notion and was the response by less conscious people about the nature of how things get done, even in (especially in) a country and culture that clings to the (toxic) myth of the “rugged individual.” During a July 13, 2012 campaign stop in Virginia, President Obama said:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. (If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that…

I won’t get into the notion of how toxic it is for someone to believe they are separate, to think they themselves are responsible for their own success. Funny how it is people who have been given inheritances, or had their college education paid for, or some other such support, that are loudest to crow about how they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. When you believe you are separate, I am convinced, it is a recipe for your own health to suffer.

And I write today about the next Cascadia Poetry Festival, Nov 3-6, 2016, at the Spring Street Center in Seattle, at 15th & Spring. That it is at Spring Street Center is a gift, because it is the home of my spiritual community, Subud Greater Seattle, and the house comes at the greatest bargain ever known. The house also provides a warm spirit of community and a tremendous setting for creativity, which I can’t do on my own. I’ve tried. Future fests will have to work to replicate that aspect, but for the 2014 fest and this upcoming one, we are set as far as that is concerned.

And the Cascadia Poetry Fest would not have been possible without having experienced the Taos Poetry Circus for three years in its heyday, 2000-2002, I think it was. That Amalio Madueño has become a friend and key advisor in all things poetic, has – more than anyone else – shaped the fest, starting with the providing format: Academic, Democratic and Performative aspects, is critical. Thanks also to Anne McNaughton and Peter Rabbit (RIP) for welcoming me warmly to Taos, for dedicating so much life energy to the Circus and for creating the format. The Circus remains in my mind as the best poetry festival I have ever attended and our Living Room reading is a tribute to the Circus as THEY invented and named that event.

Gratitude also to Chuck Pirtle, who upon looking at my early essays, said that it looked like I was beginning to articulate a West Coast poetics, and he was right and that guided me to look at my own part of the world more deeply and see how I could begin to further articulate and even shape cultural matters. More than anyone Chuck Pirtle is responsible for my 20 year Cascadia Bioregional Cultural Investigation, of which the fest is one part.

Credit to the SPLAB Board, past and present, which has given me a free hand to follow hunches and helped create the fest the way it is today. That Joe Chiveney would cook for the 2014 and 2016 fests with his wife Kathy, and feed headline poets, volunteers and participants so well is a reflection of his big heart and deep love. That Nadine Maestas has opened my eyes to perspectives from people at the margins: women, GLBTQIA+ and other people of color has been invaluable. She’s also one of the keenest poetic minds I know. I am grateful she continues to be on the SPLAB Board. And through Peter Munro, Jared Leising, Thomas Walton and Adelia MacWilliam are not on the SPLAB Board officially, they have helped as if they were, with Peter hosting the panel on Water at this year’s fest. (Nadine has the Levertov panel.) Jared has capably made the Innovative Cascadia Poetry MOOC a huge success. Thomas helped the Small Press Fair evolve and Adelia adds another open poetry+Subud perspective as well as a Canadian perspective, which is huge. Greg Bem and Matt Trease have taken on part of this year’s Late Night Programming with great skill and enthusiasm. As always, Philip Brautigam and his expertise on graphic design and web help is incomparable. I am grateful to have called him my friend and collaborator for over 20 years.

The group in Nanaimo, who took on the fest and staged an amazing event in May 2015, deserves special credit. David Fraser, Kim Goldberg, Kim Clark, Mary Anne Moore, Ursula Vaira (who also brought the Cascadia anthology into being) and so many others understood the vision immediately and staged it with such grace and warmth, it is as if they had been waiting for the chance to share the vision of one people, separated by an imaginary line, the 49th parallel, that has become so real. Thank you Nanaimo poets.

The poets who have appeared at the three previous fests are too numerous to mention, but you can see who I am talking about at www.CascadiaPoetryFestival.org. The Small Presses who have appeared in the past deserve credit, as these people invest so much time and effort into the task of publishing poets and that they do it out of love is critical in my book, no pun intended.

David McCloskey IS the Father of Cascadia, having named it and dedicated so much of his life to understanding what it means to live here and to BE here. Thank you David for so much effort, for your guidance and for such prophetic vision.

Gracias to Brian McCracken and Shanna Alden, who accepted my invitation to stage a Cascadia Regional Poetry Slam in Hillman City during our fest at Black & Tan. Details coming soon.

Denise Levertov

Thanks also to Jayne DeHaan and the Rainier Valley Rotary for helping the Levertov Plaque project happen. A million thanks to them and to Sam Hamill for his help on this, his appearance at three of the four fests so far and, in general, his guidance for me in myriad ways.

I see that I could go on and on with this for a LONG time, but will end with sponsors. Festival Sponsors in previous years never get the credit they deserve and that is one reason why we leave festival pages up online as they were at the time of the fests as best we can. THIS YEAR we already have commitments from these folks and more are coming. Thanks for helping build this. Stay tuned for wonderful news about CPF5 (Fall 2017) in Tacoma!

About Splabman

SPLAB and Cascadia Poetry Festival founder Paul E Nelson wrote American Sentences (Apprentice House, 2015), Organic Poetry (VDM Verlag, Germany, 2008), a serial poem re-enacting the history of Auburn, Washington, A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, 2010) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (Lumme, Brazil, 2013). Founder of the Cascadia Poetry Festival, in 26 years of radio he interviewed Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Anne Waldman, Sam Hamill, Robin Blaser, Nate Mackey, Eileen Myles, Wanda Coleman, Brenda Hillman, George Bowering, Joanne Kyger, Jerome Rothenberg & others, including many Cascadia poets. He lives in Seattle and writes at least one American Sentence every day. https://www.paulenelson.com. Co-Editor of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, he is in year five of a twenty year Cascadia Bioregional Cultural Investigation. www.CascadiaPoetryFestival.org (Oct 12-15, 2017, Tacoma, WA)
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