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American Sentences
Organic Poetry


I have studied poetry since 1994. I am mostly interested in poets in the North American Open Form lineage which Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov at one time called Organic. (My graduate essays on this subject, evolving from Open Form in North American Poetry to Organic Poetry can be read here.)

I have been fortunate enough to interview Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Robin Blaser, Ed Sanders, Jerome Rothenberg, Eileen Myles, Wanda Coleman, Joanne Kyger, George Bowering and other poets connected to this tradition. (See for links to soundbites.)

My own poetry writing practice centers on three main projects currently. One is writing a serial poem that re-enacts the history of Auburn, Washington. (It was originally incorporated as the town of Slaughter in 1891.) My poem is entitled: A Time Before Slaughter. It is my contention that we each have inside us an inherent conflict between controlling something (or someone) or helping to aid its (their) individuation (freedom). The tension between Dominism and what Lissa Wolsak calls "Co-Mercy." The poem chronicles this conflict in me, in the town and in events such as the internment of Japanese-Americans and the treatment of the local environment and Native population. The book will be published by Apprentice House of Baltimore in May of 2009.

Another practice involves my take on Allen Ginsberg's American Sentences. He wanted to Americanize the Japanese Haiku. Since 2001, I have written at least one of these poems every day. An essay entitled: American Sentences: Catching the Shadow of the Moment is linked here. Click here for an audio excerpt of an interview I did with Anne Waldman and Andrew Schelling about this form. For some of my American Sentences from the last few years, click HERE.

A third effort is the August Poetry Postcard Project, co-facilitated by poet Lana Ayers, and when not August, its companion the Perennial Postcard Project. More information is at the Poetry Postcard site. The project continues through the perennial postcard project.

Research is on-going into an extension of the Organic Poetry inquiry, specifically looking at the link between a process mode of composition and the organismic cosmology. Why is spontaneous composition organic? Organismic? Beyond reductionism; dualism? I am getting a few more clues into the Organic approach from what Morris Berman identified in his 1989 book Coming to Our Senses: Body & Spirit in the Hidden History of the West. The book outlines some of the ramifications of the mind-body split in Western Culture.

Near the end of the book he outlines how the sensual curiosity of the world present in children is usually repressed by age 5. From that stage he says there are three basic creative groups people grow into. Of course there is overlap, but this is a model for understanding and overcoming what we all must face as creative people.

The first group Cr. I is Inhibition. (most people). Repression is totally effective; unconscious activity emerges via symptoms such as hysteria and other forms of psychosomatic illness. Posture toward life is one of (usually unconscious) fear and hatred.

Cr. II is Neurotic Compulsion. Repression is largely but not totally effective; unconscious activity emerges into creative work by a process of breakthrough or eruption. Creative work is the substitute lover.

Cr. III is "Smooth" sublimation. Individual escapes repression; unconscious activity is free-flowing and not characterized by stress. Jivitindriya. Dinnerstein's "enterprise"; openness toward life.

In this third branch Berman says there is a fairly smooth descent into the unconscious, not an eruption from it...The state of "no-mind" familiar to Eastern thought is largely foreign to the modern West (van Gogh was out of his mind, not in no-mind.) For no-mind is a state of detachment of wholeness, and this indicates that the healing takes place before the work begins. This material does not reflect the search for unity; it is, rather, an artistic expression of psychic unity previously attained.

He goes on to say in Cr. III that there is a lack of any self-expression...the unity is what is being expressed, and that is seen as being don't create the work, but rather you step out of the way and let it happen...

And as with craft, all of this is part of daily life; pouring tea, carving wood, cooking persimmons - all activities are considered worthy of craftsmanship. You don't have a special place called a "gallery" to which beauty is assigned for storage and display, nor do you have a special heroic category in society reserved for creative people...each person is a special kind of artist. And this necessarily means the absence of an addictive or schismogenic structure. This kind of art is continuous with life; it doesn't attempt to "outdo" life by means of psychic acrobatics.

What Duncan and Levertov, through their work and correspondence identified as the Organic method, what Olson called Projective, that sense we all have had, that the poem can often write itself IS this third method. One training one's self to compose this way is looking for that free-flow, is open and allows themselves to be vulnerable. Hey, so you learn more about what makes for great poetry ten years after a certain poem is written. That poem was perfect when it was written and is a document of the consciousness the author had at the time it was written.

peN - 3.4.09

I have taught perhaps 400 workshops using Organic poetry techniques. Testimonials are here, and one outline of a six-week course is here.

2009 Poems

Tribe (After Ed Dorn, with Ed's original.)
Three February Poetry Postcards

2008 Poems

Uncommon Ground (Chicago, 12.27.08, co-written by the Fair, Sweet, Never Anything but Tender and Merciful, and certainly not demonic, (except-when-photographed-at-a-certain-angle), Almondina.

Exquisite Victoria Reunion Corpses (2008) written at the reunion of the Victoria School of Writing Summer School, Victoria, BC, November 8, 2008 with George Bowering and five other poets.

Because We Couldn't Stand the Grief written for Barack Obama.

Dear Almondina, written for Meredith Sedlachek.

Doe Bay - An Exquisite Corpse co-written with Meredith Sedlachek.

Orcas Island Corpse co-written with Meredith Sedlachek.

At Robin Holcomb, co-written with Meredith Sedlachek.

Comet Falls Corpse, co-written with Meredith Sedlachek.

Desolation Blues 13th Chorus written with John Burgess atop Desolation Peak, in front of the shack where Jack Kerouac was a fire lookout in 1956. Tom Gotchy's photos of the visit, here.

Box of Dream Stuff

Maybe a Cat Poem

Poet's Obligation

2007 Poems

Elegies for Slaughter

Frida One and Too for Frida Kahlo.

Funeral Photo Caption For my Dad at his sister's coffin, Feb 13, 2007.

Five Thirty-Ones for Doctor Bill Mitchell

The Death of Doctor Bill Mitchell

A series of short poems inspired by the late Indian poet Binoy Majumdar.

2006 Poems

After Blaser (Above Nebraska)

A sonnet ring written after my Father's June 2006 strokes, Nine Sonnets for Pop.

Tuscan Sonnet Ring written after trip to Florence Biennale.

2005 Poems

Poems that were inspired, in part, by the encaustic paintings of Debra Van Tuinen, some in collaboration with John and Roberta Olson are linked here: Alphabet of Wax:

Guanabo Written in Havana.

If We Can Bomb and Rebuild Iraq We Can Rebuild New Orleans

From the Victoria School of Writing Summer School July 2005:

George Bowering

Short Train Poem for Pop

Here is a series of poems written as I was closing SPLAB! at 14 S. Division: Dear Danika

Here is a poem written after hearing of the death of friend and legendary radio host Phil Harper: Googling Phil Harper

These are some old Jazz poems and one unofficial 3:15 poem I still like:

First, Breath (For Bud & Monk)
The Story of Pastorius (One View of a Secret)
The Path of Survival (For Frank Morgan)
S.O.B. Sonnet XXIII (For Charles Mingus) and
September's Search for Duende

One from 1999:
My Obligatory Seattle Rain Poem

For publishing credits, readings and other literary activities, see Community Activities.

Published chap books are:

"Twisting Runes - CD & Chap Book" June 2000
"Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Invisible Maniac" June 1997
"99 Lives" September, 1996
"We Don't Celebrate Halloween in Cuba: and other stories from Auburn"July, 1996

Selected Quotes

"To a genius interviewer and visionary" - Larry Dossey, M.D.
"Your sense of the mythic is down and dirty as well as sublime" - Jean Houston
"To a real radio intuitive" - Mona Lisa Schultz, M.D., Ph.D.
"An original thinker and poet of the airwaves." - Jane Leavy, Author