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SICA Notes from the May 29-31 Retreat, Portland, OR

SICA Notes from the May 29-31 Retreat, Portland, OR


As soon as I got the email from Leonard Dixon about the SICA retreat in Portland the last three days of May, I instinctively knew I was going to attend and made plans to carpool with Marston Gregory. In preparation for the weekend, I read some of Bapak’s notes on culture posted on the website here:


In this way you will soon become adept at doing work that is in tune with your soul, and this will certainly make your life happy, for this skill will grow from your human soul which will have brought to life your whole inner feeling. As a result, my child, you will acquire a lasting interest in your work and your achievements will not be disappointing.

This is the true meaning of culture, for its source is the human soul, and it is received in an inner feeling that has awakened and become free from the influence of its own subordinate powers. It is a culture filled continuously with the life-force…

Seen from an ordinary, outer point of view, your work will appear no different from ordinary work. In reality, however, there will be a very great difference. For ordinary work and skill are acquired by learning from someone else – or from a group – unable yet to determine whether or not the work is in harmony with the one's identity. But the skill in work that you will acquire in this way is of a quality which has its origin in the human soul….


So what is produced as culture today has no lasting quality and comes to an early end… If just for the sake of making money, giving this kind of performance is quite all right and fitting. But we do not only want to make money, brothers and sisters. We should be able to show real culture, coming from the jiwa, so that the performances not only attract the hearts of the onlookers but make them really aware of their lives… This is true culture…


I was immediately struck by the similarities of these comments and what I came to call Organic Poetry. More on that at  


Marston and I arrived, his wife Hadidjah with Miryam Gordon had taken another car from Seattle and then Leonard Dixon arrived with food! Others were to make their appearances and I was delighted to meet new folks, including several from Canada and re-connect with folks I did not know well, including Muhammad Isman, who I’d met in Vancouver, WA the previous summer.


Most of the time between our arrival and the session after lunch on Saturday was spent talking about culture, which I found frustrating. There seemed to be a lot of kvetching about not creating. This was especially disappointing because we had at least three qualified workshop facilitators in our midst just waiting to be asked to facilitate.


But in the afternoon on Saturday, the workshops commenced and I felt the energy change immediately. I was able to facilitate the Organic Poetry workshop I have done many times in the past. My preference is to work with folks serious about writing and connecting with those authentic qualities of the Jiwa which Bapak spoke of earlier.


I like to start workshops with a bit of reading and had the class recite segments from one of my favorite poems, Michael McClure’s Dolphin Skull. Some of the gathered found it a bit odd and inaccessible. I think this may be linked to some of what Bapak was discussing earlier. I feel our sense of what art or culture is has been addled by the industry-generated-culture in which we live. Here’s a snippet from a column I wrote in September, 2008:


I first heard the phrase industry generated culture from Media Literacy Activist Gloria DeGaetano, who founded the Parent Coaching Institute. In short, DeGaetano says this is a culture which is seeking what it can get from the people, rather than what it can give to the people. This is a complete perversion of what culture is supposed to be and it is indeed, often perverted. See the wardrobe-malfunction incident of the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, or something much more relevant to people: food.


It is works of art that go deeper than this impulse that will change our lives and I tried, perhaps in an awkward way, to encourage participants to go beyond their comfort zones to a use of speech, in Charles Olson’s words: at its least careless and least logical. His full essay on the matter, Projective Verse, has been an invaluable source for my own work for fifteen years.


Participants at the SICA Organic Poetry workshop seemed to be excited by some of the things that came up in a couple of random, shared exercises, including one where a question, starting with why was asked, with the question hidden and the answer written by the person to one’s left. Examples:


Why do we grow old and die?

            Because our fragments are pixels asserting their right.


Why does it rain on Memorial Day?

            Because of the need for meaning and low blood sugar.


Why is the sky blue?

            Because in the darkness everything is scarier and so dire looking.


Why did he piss on the haystack?

            Because no waters flow uphill.


There were other exercises and after the workshop we had an acting workshop, which were short improvisations led by Benedict Hermann. One involved two people, with each person having one line and only one: Yes and the other having only No. These exercises, much like the poetry ones, allowed us a glimpse into our tendencies and our crutches, as we tend to fall back on them when engaging in something new and different. It was good to have the experience of the beginner in this workshop. I found Benedict to be a wise and very capable facilitator.


There were many opportunities for latihans and testing, thanks to Isman and I found them to be of a very strong quality, for which I am grateful. I hope to attend a similar event being planned for Vancouver, BC in the near future. The Portland Subud house is a beautiful and energetically-strong gathering place and I am grateful to Leonard and all the Portland Subudites for making this event happen.

Some tips on self-publishing are linked here.


9:24P – 6.5.09