Cascadia Poetry Festival in Cumberland

In August 2014, I attended the Subud World Congress in Puebla, Mexico. It was my first World Congress and it was life-changing. While there I was urged to get involved in the Subud International Cultural Association and attended a few meetings as a new Chair was nominated and elected, Sebastian Flynn. I was not selected to serve on the Board, which is probably a good thing considering the developments since then. One of them owes its existence to Subud and SICA.

It was October 2014, just a couple of months after the Congress when I got an intuitive hit that I should try to combine Subud, poetry and Cascadia. It was only two years previous to the Congress that I started my 20 year bioregional cultural investigation into Cascadia and felt that Subud houses in the bioregion would be good places to host poetry festivals. I applied for a grant to do outreach into Canada and attended a Subud gathering in Errington, BC, half way to Tofino. The gathering was excellent, the people kind and the latihans good and I gave my pitch. Out of this effort came my friendship with a Subud member living in Victoria Adelia MacWilliam. Like many Subud people she took on a name specific to her Subud life, so some people know her as Nicola. Long out of school and with a great deal of experience behind her, on at least two continents, she had a desire to get her MFA and delve more deeply into poetry.

The following May (2015) she attended the 3rd Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo which was organized by a group headed by David Fraser and others associated with WordStorm. There are a few people who get the combination of the practice of art and culture as a soul gesture and a poetry festival with a deep connection to place. Adelia got it right away and saw the level of expression from so many fine poets including Sam Hamill, Robert Bringhurst, Sharon Thesen, Barry McKinnon, Rita Wong and many others. The WordStorm people had great experience in organizing and had attended CPF2 in Seattle in 2014, so had an idea of the format and the sense of community that we’re after and mastered it.

To get ready to leave for Cumberland, BC, and this smaller version of the Cascadia Poetry Festival in this cool, island town, is a direct result of the Subud connection. New friendships with people like Ed Varney, Dan Kirk, Gary Hamilton, Joe Ziner have developed and I am learning about another place in the bioregion and how Cascadia looks via that lens. It is also exciting that Ed, Dan, Adelia and others have formed a non-profit org, known in Canada as an Arts Society and are calling it the Cascadia Poetics LAB. They are defining their ethos and mission as they go and I think the understanding of poetics leads to a deeper sense of cosmology, as the way one makes a world is very similar to the way they do anything, the making of a poem included.

Ed Varney, Adelia MacWilliam, Bhakti Watts, August 2016

Thank you Adelia, Ed, Dan, Gary, all Comox Valley supporters of the festival in Cumberland and to SICA and Subud, for making this possible. It is the vision of the Cascadia Poetics LAB Society to create such a festival every other year and I am delighted to help this happen and deepen the ties between the poets of BC and the US throughout this remarkable bioregion.


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August 2017 Poetry Postcard Fest Afterword

Nothing signifies the end of summer in Cascadia like rain and it is raining as I write this. This year especially. 60+ days of no measurable precipitation makes me feel a little guilty about all the rain going to Texas and Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Of course, having a birthday on September 22 means I know exactly when summer officially ends, but fall has been starting earlier in recent years and the sense of summer for me ends in large part when I have sent my last card in the August Poetry Postcard Fest.

A few things about this year’s fest, from my writing perspective. For almost every poem I used a quote from Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire. I can’t begin to say how impressed I am with her work, her sense of play, her use of language, surprise mind, sound, her commitment to social justice and the energy of all her work. She writes poems that say so much about the times we live in, employs a deep sense of her personal mythology, and she never lapses into rhetoric. To create such work is such a difficult task and Brenda Hillman has mastered it. My biggest mistake for the fest this year might be writing a card that starts with a line from Brenda and the rest of the effort goes downhill after that!

As the postcards are supposed to be epistles, or at least have some kind of “here and now” feeling like letters do, the here and now for me in August involved news events like the White Supremacist Rally and execution-by-auto in Charlottesville, Virginia, B.C. and Washington Wildfires, Hurricane Harvey, the August 21 solar eclipse, the release of Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound and other current events, as well as my own travels down the Redwood Highway to Arcata, Inverness, Oakland and Grass Valley, California, then to the Olympic Hot Springs in the national park after which they were named, Orcas Island, Washington, in the amazing San Juan Island archipelago and Rainier Beach, Seattle.

Rainier Beach because we moved to this Seattle neighborhood officially July 20, 2017, and as I noted in my very first APPF2017 postcard:

The front yard of
our new house is a lake
Blue Herons exit to land
in the marina parking lot.

Since 1995, I’ve tried to spend a few mid-September days in the Olympic National Park to savor what’s left of summer. It is kind of like a watermark for me, having had the experience of Michael McClure’s poem Dolphin Skull in that park at 5,300 feet above sea level, in unspoiled wilderness in 1995. The Olympics always remind me of that, and subsequent deep experiences there, such as the trip in 2000 when I ended the trip via a military helicopter rescue. I was a little preoccupied with finding a way to see the spot I was holed up in for several days awaiting that chopper this past month and am researching plane charters and other possibilities. I’d love to go back there, but not without at least two other people, one of whom would be a bushwhacking expert. But the Olympics were on my mind and I did get to them twice during the fest. The park always has those two key events coloring anything I do there.

Another thread/influence I remember now that I review the cards I’ve written is that of Ted Berrigan. A reader at the Easyspeak open mic series at the Wedgwood Ale House had a line that included the time. “It’s 3:17 or something like that. I was reminded immediately of The Sonnets by Berrigan, another poet who had surprise mind, humor and wit mastered. Time stamps fall into several poems, as does that Berrigan sonnet cadence, or something resembling it. He was a postcard poet as well and the New York School of poetry is known for its “I did this and I did that” technique which is one method appropriate to poetry postcards.

As a person who believes the most open or poetics forms are the projective/organic method and seriality (the two are related) this fest could not be a more perfect way to exercise those two approaches. As a fan of the serial mode, memories of the Gemini G.E.L. exhibits in D.C. and Los Angeles came right back due to an experience looking at the sun’s reflection in Otter Cove at Doe Bay. I was reminded of the Rounds of Richard Serra, black blobs that are evocative of black holes or the famous Rorschach Test.

As for the postcard images, for the most part I used cards from the Olympic National Park or my own images of the work of the late George Sawchuk, taken from his sculpture garden in Fanny, Bay, BC. One example:

From George Sawchuk’s “Wacky Wood” Sculpture Garden, Fanny Bay, BC

Fitting that the month ended with elegies to the recently departed Louise Hay. She of the “Heal Your Body” book, which has sold millions and allowed people to see the way in which toxic thought patterns manifest as specific ailments. Her approach is the opposite to allopathic medicine and has been liberating for me and generated a great deal of heat from people who prefer a safer (& less liberating) manner in which to live their lives. Caroline Myss explained it years ago in a talk in which she said that our first language of intimacy is “woundology,” or how some people define themselves by their physical, emotional, or social wounds. Politics and social media is infested with this habit and it’s deadly. That Louise Hay spent her life providing an alternative way of being in the world is a huge legacy and the two elegies which ended this August for me came easily riding the energy of appreciation for her work and how it has helped liberate me. My heart goes out to those who can not yet appreciate what she is offering and hope we all can someday to heal this bioregion, all the others to which it is connected and the biosphere that sustains it all.

12:21pm – 8.31.17

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Important Dates

Summer is supposed to be a lazy time with a lot of loafing, picnics, softball, kayak rides and other ways in which — as George Gershwin put it – “the livin’ is easy.” Throw in year 11 of a poetry postcard fest, a five year old, involvement in the creation of two different poetry anthologies, various writing projects, involvement in the local literary community (which used to take summer’s off around here) summer travel, a solar eclipse, and one might be pining for November. But no, here are some dates and events I hope you’ll consider investigating:

Sarah de Leeuw

September 8-10 – Cascadia Poetry Festival, Cumberland, BC. It will be three days with some of the brightest northern lights of the Cascadia bioregion, including Stephen Collis, Sarah de Leeuw, Jan Zwicky, Matt Rader and others. is the website and a new arts society has been created to produce this festival every-other-year in odd years. My Subud sister Adelia MacWilliam has been involved in organizing with Ed Varney and Dan Kirk and this feels like it is the beginning of something remarkable. That I was granted funds from SICA to investigate the possibilities of literary outreach in BC specifically through Subud channels is particularly telling for me. True culture comes from the jiwa in Javanese culture, the soul at it appears that’s what is driving organizers. Gold Passes to all events are $20 and available here.

October 5-9 – Death Rattle Writers Festival, Nampa, ID. A visit to Eastern Cascadia to participate in this event I’ve never attended. Serena Chopra, Quenton Baker, Jayy Dodd, Indrani Sengupta and Rachael Jensen are among the features. Their GoFundMe campaign could also use some love.

Poetry Postcards: a panel and conversation will be held on Monday, October 9, 2017, 7:00pm, at the Mount Baker Theatre Encore Room in Bellingham. The event is free. Details here: and Eugenia Petty has replaced Carla Shafer on the panel. This will be my first literary event in Bellingham in about 20 years and you know poetry postcards are near and dear to my heart.

October 12 – King’s Books, 218 St Helens Ave, Tacoma, WA, Launch of 56 Days of August, the poetry postcard anthology. Yes, more postcard mania, with Ina Roy-Faderman and Judy Kleinberg, among other veteran postcarders. This book has been a vision for years and Ina and Judy worked their asses off to make it a reality. My gratitude goes to them and to King’s Books. That this event launches the 5th Cascadia Poetry Fest and the first of hopefully many in Tacoma is also a huge deal for me.

October 12-15, 2017, the 5th Cascadia Poetry Festival at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. Gold Passes and workshop registration at:

Michael McClure, Patricia Smith, CA Conrad, Sharon Thesen, Ianthe Brautigan, Bruce Weigl, Tod Marshall, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Philip Red Eagle, Lorna Dee Cervantes, a Tribute to Tacoma Native Richard Brautigan and many other events. This is easily the most ambitious and best-funded event I have ever attempted. I hope you’ll consider attending.


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