Saying the Names Shanty Makes the CBC Poetry Prize Shortlist

The journey you have been walking with me on this blog is making its way further out into the world. What great news! CBC Books has announced its shortlist for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize. Look at us proudly standing in for our poems.

The Poets and the Poems

l to r: Cornelia Hoogland (Tourists Stroll a Victoria Waterway), Laboni Islam (Lunar Landing, 1966), Sarah Kabamba (Carry), Alessandra Naccarato (Postcards for My Sister), and Saying the Names Shanty (Harold Rhenisch).

I am proud that my poem Saying the Names Shanty is making its way across the country today as one of the five short-listed poems, and I am humbled that only five poets are representing the 33 poems of the long list, announced last week. That is a great responsibility.

The Full List

http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/33-writers-make-the-cbc-poetry-prize-longlist-1.4389859.

Wouldn’t it be great if all 33 of us read our poems together and then opened the floor to a big open mic for the other 2400 entrants. It would take a full weekend, at least. Or a year-long tour. I’m all for it.

Closer to home, you can see that my writing workshop group here in Vernon is thrilled. And surprised!

And here is my poem swimming towards the Manhattan Project’s moth-balled plutonium reactors on its journey into the world…


…across the nx̌ʷɘntkʷitkʷ and on…

The nx̌ʷɘntkʷitkʷ (The Columbia River), or Who Needs the English Language Anyway!

By Columbiarivermap.png: Kmusser derivative work: Ivan25 (Columbiarivermap.png) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Columbia_River_Basin_map-sr.svg

Some of that water is the snow that falls on the valley that speaks, in part, through me as Saying the Names Shanty. The nx̌ʷɘntkʷitkʷ is one of the big rivers of the continent, with a massive pull, but it looks like the poem has good legs, so that’s good. As I mentioned last week, here, the poem is about saying the names for the social fields, rivers, grasslands and rivers in which I live, including the qawsitkw, below, that leads salmon through the reactor fields to Siberia and back home to the rattlesnakes and prickly pear cactus.

The Syilx Fishery at nʕaylintn.

The last unbroken salmon run on the Columbia and the source of renewal for the whole plateau.

The poem is one of many eyes of this story I have landed on. Here are some of its sisters, at Ktlil’x:

The sacred water at the heart of my country, with a rogue Russian Olive trying to blend in as only a date can.

There are more images here: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2012/04/16/sacred-waters-part-one/

You can find out more about syilx names for this country on the naming project, sqʷəlqʷltulaʔxʷ, or, roughly, Voices on the Land.

In the spirit of coming together, let’s sing a poem today and be brought to life by its voice, wherever it finds us, however we make ourselves open to it, in a shared giving of thanks that poems can still find us. I’m so proud that my poem is out there, giving thanks in a brighter voice than I can without it, and in your company, too. What a bonus! Thank you, from a Transparent apple tree and its dandelion-headed caretaker.

 

Saying the Names Shanty & the CBC Poetry Prize

As some of you know, when I’m not exploring the poetry of the earth, I am working for the words as they arrange themselves in similar patterns, also called poetry. Today, I am proud that my poem “Saying the Names Shanty” has been nominated to stand among 33 others in the long-list for the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize. You can read the full list of poems and their poets here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/33-writers-make-the-cbc-poetry-prize-longlist-1.4389859. I am proud that my poem and I get to rub shoulders with such a fine group of visions, words and people. What’s more, I am glad that the poem, which began in 2009 with a trip up the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon, rose out of the series that started this blog at the same time. Here’s the Columbia, as it sweeps through the ancient Sinkiuse homeland at White Bluffs, directly across the river from the Manhattan Project’s plutonium reactors.

That was my journey home from the Coast, that allowed my new poem’s journey across the mountains and back to Canada. The final impetus was written after visiting Yellowstone …

… and Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump …

… and the Blackfoot wind …

… and then sitting on the shore of the Conconully Reservoir in the early morning.

The poem came, in almost its final form. I think that’s the editing crew above. The reception apparatus is below.

The Poem Saying Harold’s Name

The poem begins like this:

It was Al who said it, to stick out the thumb’s knuckle and nail, crook’d,
to say with a gesture where you want to get along to

and see who is going there too, with her hands on the wheel’s leather
and the rubber taking the curves of the Crowsnest,

crossing the line from black tar’s unwinding ribbon
into the riddle of headlights weaving between Similkameen deer and Arcturus.

The Al mentioned is Canadian Poet and elder, Al Purdy, who has left us but whose poems and spirit still live. Here he is, just a month older than I am now.

Poetry Saying Al’s Name

One of Al’s poems, “Say the Names”, that inspired my poem is here: https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/arts/say-the-names-by-al-purdy/article4161335/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

It begins wondrously, like this:

say the names say the names

and listen to yourself

an echo in the mountains

Tulameen Tulameen

say them like your soul

was listening and overhearing

and you dreamed you dreamed

you were a river

and you were a river

It is a beautiful challenge. I accepted it. After all, many of the rivers and names that Al says with such love are my home country in the mountains, including the nmɘlqaytkw (the Similkameen), here:

The nmɘlqaytkw at Nighthawk, looking to c̓up̓áq̓.

You can read another of my love poems for this river here, a prose poem with photos: https://okanaganokanogan.com/2012/04/23/earth-writing/

My poem “Saying the Names Shanty” is part of a book-length manuscript of songs for being at home in the west beyond the West, and especially in the grasslands between the mountains, and of following the road across the mountains and prairies to the east.

The Grass Beyond the Mountains

The View from Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump

To which, with respect and thanks for the syilx people, whose land, whose Nxʷɘlxʷɘltantɘt, I live upon, I add the Okanagan Nation declaration:

“We are the unconquered aboriginal people of this land, our mother; The creator has given us our mother, to enjoy, to manage and to protect; we, the first inhabitants, have lived with our mother from time immemorial; our Okanagan governments have allowed us to share equally in the resources of our mother; we have never given up our rights to our mother, our mother’s resources, our governments and our religion; we will survive and continue to govern our mother and her resources for the good of all for all time.” https://www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/okanagan-nation-declaration/

To all syilx people, yours are the names. Thank you for keeping them alive and for sharing them. Your act of sharing has given me life, and a chance to sing of love. The woman whose hands are on the wheel in the poem, is the poet Linda Rogers,


…source

who introduced me to Al’s poem “Say the Names” by reading it to me late at night in her kitchen in Victoria, with, if I remember correctly, a whoop of joy. I sure felt one, at any rate. Thanks, Linda. All of us, and the poet Pat Lane…

…whose poem “Similkameen Deer”, which begins with a road sign like this …

…Driving through the Similkameen valley

I watch for deer on the Road.

Miles roll out beneath me….

… probably below the screes and Mount Mazuma Ash at As’nola Mouth, where the waters of the Pasayten Wilderness and the Cascade Range meet between Hedley and Keremeos, began me on this journey four decades ago, have, among others, made this poem together, although the words came to it through me. Friends, poets, brothers, sisters, words and spirits, thank you. This moment is yours, a gift for you for the gifts you’ve given. Thank you, CBC, for the chance to share it.

You can find the CBC’s page on my poem here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/literaryprizes/saying-the-names-shanty-by-harold-rhenisch-1.4371756

Oh, yeah, and this:

Poetry Saying Its Name as Arcturus

Source

Gardens of Water

I left the garden today, and all its lettuces, kale, spinach and dill, and went up to the water, where the birches rise out of the cedars and the wild roses.

The ducks were feeding on the blue damselflies and shrimp as clear and white as clouds.


The water showed the directionality of the sun, the coloured space that was blue from one angle, green from another, and from another all gravity and tension.


To my ancestors, there were languages: the language of birch, the language of cedar and the language of water, and sometimes they joined together and then there was song, or consciousness. My ancestors began there in that offering.


Being together with these languages, at the point of their meeting, was like reading cloud or reading the sea room for the weather coming from the north.


I am learning this language again. Poetry was once the tool for speaking it in human form. I learned this art in an old age of the world from a man who had gone to the old ages of the north of the world to find it.


It still is this art. It still is this age of the world. It is still this old earth. It is still this new.


It should not, however, be confused with literature or “communication,” as beautiful as they are. It can be spoken of alongside beauty, if by beauty we mean balance or organic or earthly form.


Speaking it as a garden is not a confusion. From high lakes like this, water leaves the sky and enters the streams and pipes that take it to my red orach, my oregano and my egyptian onions. They drink this. I feed on this, and not just physically.

From high lakes like this, light leaves the sky and enters my garden, too, in a form fitting of these heights. As I am this land, I am this water. It is not, you can see, what is normally called human. Of course it isn’t. This is the old knowledge. It is not humanism. That is a beautiful but far different thing.


To my ancestors, the cupped hands, or the skull, were raised in thanks and blessing. Skold! they said. They didn’t mean the skull, but the bowl it made that held the mind. They didn’t mean the hands, but the bowl — the old world was scale, or Schale, as they said (and say) in German — that held, that was the power of holding, lifting up and offering and that created them through this offering or lifting up.

 

This is the holding up and the offering, this language of birch and cedar and water. This is where mind becomes.

This is the garden.

Against the Descending Night, A Prayer in the Rushes

I am not angry.p1470038

I am sad.

p1470037

My elders taught me that these were cat tails. They taught me that poetry was a fairy tale.p1470033

They taught me that these were swamp weeds. They taught me that words expressed thoughts.

p1470020

I learned later that these rushes were the winter food of snow geese, who summer in Siberia, when it is like our winters here in this fjord lake valley. But that was not enough.

p1470018

I learned later that the people who are this land that has brought me to the sky built their houses out of these reeds. Why did no one tell me this? Why were they separating me from my body like that? I am nothing but this body. These rushes are my thoughts. I am them walking.  It was not enough.p1470051

I learned later that I have ancestors, far older than my elders. To them, these were not plants. There were no plants in their world. There was the sound of wind rattling the stems, calling them. It is all that I am.

p1470012

It has not been enough. There is only the world of men, I was taught forty years ago. If you do not accept their way of speaking, and I promise you I was instructed in this, then you are an outlaw and can expect the laws to be used to suppress you. I am not speaking in metaphor. This was the point of philosophy forty years ago. Men wanted to build a world that consisted only of a social network.

p1420352

And they did do that, but not for those of us who are the world, who are a rush brushing against a breast with the sound of geese leaving to overwinter on the seas of the moon. As if that were up in the sky, and not right here.

p1420345

 

As I grew through adulthood into middle age and then past it and became a last remnant of a lost earth, under stars most men and women have never seen, younger people began to correct me.

p1420320

They had learned well. They were very helpful. They told me that this was a wetland. Not the moon. I do not think that they were trying to kill me, the poet, the man of the rushes, but the effect was the same.

p1420318

I am not angry.p1470014

The people who lived in books told me that my ancestors were simple people, who read themselves into the land, but “we” understood reality now.p1470054

They told me that what you see in these images weren’t the sound of the cold calling through the sun and the sun answering. They told me about reality. I think they thought I knew what this stuff was. But I am not sure.p1460999

In return they were very helpful. They told me that my languages, English and German, were not languages of the world but were very useful systems of social codes and abstractions.p1470015

They were even more helpful. They told me that mathematics was true, that cold-hardened steel was true, but that spirit was not one thing or another and so not “true” because it could not be cold or hardened.

p1420296

They told me that Beauty was not a measuring device for the presence of life in a land and its people, or in a people and its land (if it’s useful to say one thing twice) but a pleasurable response designed by a force called evolution to create babies, which, to reason, which they understood, was a clever product of randomness and an elegant expression of it.

p1420343

In their world, there were no men of the rushes. But there were reasonable things.

p1470008

Where they saw wetlands, that could clean water for their cities of asphalt, steel, concrete and glass, I saw bows, arched, and water fields, and arched with them, and was arched, but it did not matter.p1410980

I did not see grazing grounds, or a lump of rock circling the earth, and that was that. They told me they did. Sometimes I suspected that they were looking at words, but I didn’t know that for sure. They did say that what I saw was “poetry,” though.p1410981

I saw the sky. I knew that much. Written in the earth.p1410989

I saw the geese were the moon flying. Written in me.p1410986

Who could I speak to of this? I live in a country in which such talk is called romance. It is not a complement. It is something to be corrected. It is also called poetry in this country. It is something to be corrected.

p1420290

There are people in this country who are called people in authority: professors, city planners, property developers; it is all the same. They come from other countries to this one. They correct me. They don’t say, “We call this a wetland.” They say it is one. When I say, your city is in the middle of my valley, and I wish it would go away, they are shocked at what they call my naiveté. I think they think I live in books, but I’m not sure.p1420291

They use the word ‘we’. I don’t. I’m sorry about that. It has caused confusion.p1420292

We the rushes, I should have said, and not cared that they don’t think they have a language for the earth that accepts its personhood. I should have said, we the children of the moon, meaning the eye of a bird in the night, and if they insisted on a stone then a stone thrown into a pool, rippling.p1420293

I kept silent. I am sorry about that.

p1410997

I did not know myself. I was deferent, as I learned from the water and the land, bending with the wind and the rain.p1420043

It’s not that I didn’t feel the energy within this body and world I am. It’s not that the rushes didn’t hold the answers to every question in the world. It did not matter.p1470001

I was well trained, and believed them when they said these things were all separate, and only the seeing of them had form, and this seeing was less than theirs and was called “poetry,” which I didn’t feel they liked much.

p1470044

I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. I, of course, wanted to live among them. Some of them I even loved. Some I still do, more than myself.p1470009

Some of them, though, told me that the stuff in the image below (for example) was Nature. They told me about the seriousness of literary committees, and that there was one way of doing things, and it could be taught, and they would run the committee now, because I was talking about rushes and land and they were busy people and needed to talk about important things. Serious things. Things they could say to each other, not to rushes. I suspect they didn’t know how to talk to rushes, but I’m not sure.
p1420639

Of course they needed to talk to each other. They were young. I was too much a child of my ancestors and not enough a child of their books. I was a knot of tangled threads.

p1470017

By their pride, they taught me how to untangle that. They tried to teach me that poetry was a thing made of words, set in metres and rhythms, and even that these things could be fixed, and that poetry was not snow geese and not the waiting for snow geese and not houses made of the body by plucking its hair the way a musician plucks the strings of a lute. They taught me that men — a kind of puppet that a soul can operate in the way a robin operates an apple tree — speak this way, and that women had other things to talk about. I’m happy for them, and though at times I have wished they would have said what that was, what they needed to say, one of my friends, a woman and a philosopher, has kindly explained to me that this kind of talk is just the puppet talking and it should just be ignored. I was excited. This sounded smart and new.
p1470003

Caught in the spell of young professors of literature, one of whom even said, despite my protests, that all men hate the earth and want to destroy it, I forgot myself and tried to argue, and when I failed at that, predictably, forgot myself again and stopped writing poems for the world, even though I had had elders who taught me the old ways, even though they only cloaked them in the words of literary men, for their own protection.
p1470029

They could not protect me from my misunderstanding.

p1470016

I did not tell the important literary people, who know how things get done in their world that I cannot see, who know the traditions of how to train people, which looks like the training of horses to me, that the boat of my ribs is the lute, that I am singing with old Vaïnomoïnen, the smith of the Milky Way, here on the star road, as my people have sung since men found iron and struck it with a hammer instead of making war.p1470028

I am sorry. I should have told them. I should have said, “I do not want to make war.” I should have said, “I would like it if we loved each other.” Well, the last time I said “I do not want to make war” was the day, thirty years ago, on which I learned that many people, who call themselves poets, and I presume they know what they’re saying, want war. They delight in it, they told me.

p1420298

I am repeatedly told that as a man who speaks the words of his ancestors, I am of their kind. A tribe, they call it. No.

p1420011

I did not tell them about the mind that was a spark from the anvil of the world.

p1420318

I should have, right then. I did not tell them about the darkness that is light, the matter that is time, in the little time I have in the world before I am the world again, without time. I didn’t expect that they would understand something that is beyond understanding, and so I was silent, partly out of deference and partly to protect myself, lest I be torn from the world into words and when I turned around again there would be no world at all.p1470026

I was afraid of that, and in my fear I failed them and myself.

p1420127

But I am not sad. Sure, they would not have listened. They would not have heard. How could they? We did not share a language. But, even so, some things are not said for people. They are said for the rushes and the wind.

p1470010

I should have forgiven them easily and at once. These were, after all, people like myself, who understood war too well, whose ancestors had been driven, as mine, into its throat and had been swallowed alive, as my people were.

p1420295

After all, this land was captured by countries across the sea, not by love but by violence, and if I grew up in that violence and read it as love, and if they grew up in that violence and read it as my own, why should I be bitter? I am not.

p1470024

I am joyful. I catch the sun. I am not sad because of that. I shake my stems in the wind. It is a small gesture, I know, but it follows the winds of time, just so. Just so.

p1470023

I have found myself at last, just so. I am weaving the sun and the earth together, not because they are not already there, but because I love them.p1470030

Because I hear them speaking.
p1470031

This speech is not in words.

p1470046

(Well, unless you will accept that these are words, which is generous and bold of you.)

p1470047

Is that too much to ask? I don’t know.

p1470050

I don’t know how it is among you.

 

p1420294

I think sometimes you do.

p1420126

I think of the children, often. I think of the poets among the children. Those who have not found their voice in the world yet. Those few who run their fingers along a blade of a sound and feel the foundations of a house, the stretch of a thought, the music of a heart lifting as a snow goose on its way to the Siberia, where it speaks the language of ice with all that is.

p1470039

With all that it is possible to be.

p1470040

These are the wings.

p1420005

Listeners, please, if you think I am making a poem, then I have not used my words well. Here, this is a poem:p1470041

Please read it again and again and again. Don’t look to me. I am just a rush speaking the wind. I am just the wind, speaking a rush. I do not mean poetry by that. That is something we were all taught.p1470042

That term is something I have lost. I don’t need to go looking for it.  I do not need to put one word on top of another word on top of another word until they make an image of the world.

p1410983

Nothing’s lost, but things are found. I am already here.
p1470043

I have always been here. I don’t need science to do this for me, either. That was for people trying to escape a war, and that’s a fine thing.

p1420290

There was a time I was a child in a school. I was being taught that one form of literature, science, is true in the world, and all others are entertainments, which can be studied by science and then, observed and classified, would be true, as they had not been before. I was not taught about the smith who sailed the boat of his ribs down the Milky Way. I found him on my own. I walked outside. I breathed.p1470045

Please, forgive me for reminding you here of what might sound strange to you. Breath means the world to me. This is not poetry, I should add. It is the world speaking. What goes by that name today — poetry — is a dark magic, but it is not the world, or me, or speech, or, I suspect, you, and the words it uses are not the words of my language, or, most likely, yours. They look the same, yes. These words I write here, and you read, though, are not the words of my language. If you sense any poetry here, perhaps I have managed to move myself just enough out of the way that you can feel the rushes brushing against your cheek, and … can you smell them, too?

p1470084

I can. They smell of dry water. It’s hard to explain. But why shouldn’t it be. Explanation is a game of words and this is not words or a game. This is the world.p1470085

I love the body of you.

p1420290

Don’t you? My brothers and sisters, the wind has been waking into the sound of rushes. That’s all. It has taken some time.p1420293

It has been growing into itself to find you. I was born knowing this. I have been remembering before it is so late that I am no I at all.

p1420011

I apologize for the delay. I was born to people who made a hammer out of the language of my ancestors, that spoke the sound of a goose’s wing, that came from the lungs, and because I loved them I believed them. That is the right way to enter the world.
p1420297

But now I am the elder. I can let those old stories go.

p1420351

I can let them go to Siberia.

p1420352I can follow them.

p1420345

I am the elder to no-one’s children, not even my own. I know that. I write for the rushes, as I always have, because that is what they have heard as they have written me. I dare not stop. Do you?p1420344

Whatever children may follow, they might have need of the language of the earth. They might find each other on its paths. I don’t know. I pray they will. I know only that night is coming. The machines are coming for us. They will live in our place. We the rushes will be the silent dead.

p1420036

 

Young men write language for the machines now, while young women write the story of their bodies and measure the world to strip it of language and cast it naked on the sand for the sun to write upon. I do not profess to understand. It has to do with dreams, I think, but the young women aren’t saying. Many of them are quite angry, although they have difficulty saying about what. I understand. It’s a hard journey, life. It’s hard waking.
p1420343

I hope the young men find them there, though. I hope the young women will have them, in their wordlessness. I hope there’s enough wordlessness to go around. It’s awkward, but it can’t be helped. There is no other way to see in the dark. I hope we will protect them.

p1420342

The machines are merciless.

p1420340

I speak out of turn, perhaps, but I do so because love is merciful.

p1420338

I know it is an indulgence on my part, but what else? Every child must learn the old ways by touch alone, by breath and blood and bone, by skin and lip and teeth and tongue.

p1420339

Only that way will they learn of us and live, and we will live on through them.

Do the Rich Have All the Fun?

p1420726You tell me. That’s their houses up above, and some beautiful ice drifting in. Below, is Okanagan Lake the next day after the wind did its thing all night long.

p1420773

I have no answer to the question, but these nests do manage to privatize public water, wind and sun, don’t they. I wonder if that makes the nesters happy. With any luck they’ll be down there composing poems and music for the ice right now.

 

Poetry and Water

Does anything that touches water bend it?
p1410976

Or does the water bend to receive it?
p1410975

Is water subject to gravity?p1410974

Or does it make an empty space under a willow tree, for the leaves to fill?p1410973 Is that what we drink? The emptiness that is fullness?p1410964

If water fills what is empty, might it not simultaneously empty what is full? This tide flat in Borgarfjörður, Iceland, at dusk (2:30 pm in November), for example?

p1400031

Does it have a double spirit?

p1390251

Hraunfosser, Iceland

Is that what we bring to it, or is it the gift it gave to us and which we give back?

p1410989

What if looking into water really is looking into the mind?

p1410977

Are not words only pools, cupped mouths, that can fill with it, or empty with it?

p1390341

Borgarfjörður

Yes, this is a choice, to place before words, or after, or, like water, between: where they simultaneously are and are not.

p1410972

There are also rushes.

Growing an Old Language New Together

A language is not a string of beads on a wire that you hook around your neck, fiddle with, mumble along with, and presto, you have a smart phone. An indigenous language is rich, complex, dynamic and strange. It contains the nuances of this image:

tall

English is such a language. It is a form of poetry, wit, delight and play. However, if you are a human needing to communicate across languages, then the thing for you is Globish. Don’t take it from me. Take it from the BBC:

Globish — a distilled form of English, stripped down to 1,500 words and simple but standard grammar. “It’s not a language, it’s a tool,” he says. Since launching Globish in 2004 he’s sold more than 200,000 Globish text books in 18 languages.

 

“If you can communicate efficiently with limited, simple language you save time, avoid misinterpretation and you don’t have errors in communication,” Nerriere says.

 

Source: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20161028-native-english-speakers-are-the-worlds-worst-communicators

You also don’t have this.

haw2

These are cultural choices. For an English speaker, Globish requires mental surgery. You have to hack away at your mind and your earth with a rock, against a long tradition of cultural, linguistic and environmental development that stretches back at least 2000 years. In the Okanagan, in the North American west, for example, language means a choice between being colonial or one of the people and the land. Globish is vital, but it doesn’t address that issue. It is not this:

p1270451

The end of human effort today s enriched communication between humans and the earth, all together, in the deepest, most dynamic method possible. That is the task before us who still live on and with this earth: to put the earth back into the language, before we are only left with colonial experience. We owe new speakers of English the respect of giving them the ability to find this and include it in their global discussions:

p1270969

To “meaning”, “understanding,” “intention” and “communication”  another real need can be added: poetry. English and Globish are separate languages, with separate purposes. There is much we, as native English speakers, can do to make bridges with the native Earth speakers in other languages, to bring their intimate knowledge to the conversation. At the moment, Globish can’t do that. It can only grow from such effort.

p1230361

 

We can only grow from such effort. Let us begin.

What Changes are Happening in the Earth?

That’s what a Secwepemc man asked me on an evening like this, with this view in front of us. What is the earth doing?
p1230241

He didn’t mean, what are people doing to her, but how is she responding? What changes do I see? What will she do? “You’re not a white man,” he said to me, “so I’m asking you.” Look at me, I said. My hair is white, my beard is white, my skin is white…I’m about as white as anyone could get! We laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “but look at me.” He looked Secwepemc. “I’m a white man, he said, I have white ancestors, I’m a Mormon, so I’m asking you.”

p1230214

And that’s what it’s like to sit down on an evening with Coyote the Trickster. I’ll say this much: as long as people turn away from the earth, the earth will replace them; as long as they turn towards her, she will turn towards them. That’s not the same as care. She might want to make us lean. “The animals and plants are early this year, months early,” my trickster said.”Is Earth changing the seasons?” It was the middle of August. The frogs are out, I said.

p1230087

They’re over a month early, I said.

p1230136

“The caribou are coming back,” a young Secwepemc man with him said. Well, that’s good, I said, realizing as I said it that no, it wasn’t. It was neither good nor bad. It was what was happening on the earth, and what the earth was doing. It was what we were watching. It was the story we were in: the time the caribou came back to the southern plateau. It is not the story of the why of it. That was the story I was being asked, not, I think, because anyone on that esker thought I had an answer, but because maybe I had seen something, some part of the story.

P1210067

Well, if you cross the road, I said, it’s a jungle of bear trails over that way. Spooky! Pacing back and forth through the trees, this way and that. They perked up. So I had seen something. He gave me permission to take pictures, but not of him. “My face would break your camera,” he said. I laughed. I told him I didn’t want his picture. “Good,” he said, “because it would break your camera. Blow it up.” He made an exploding gesture with his hands. I laughed, then I walked up the esker to see what I could see.

p1230205

It’s not dark yet. That’s what it’s like to meet Sen’klip the Trickster, father of all the people in this country. It’s not about pictures. It’s about finding the story that is there. There are no clues. There are no maps. There are no directions. Or they are everywhere.

p1230683

This knowledge is in complete contrast to contemporary Canadian poetry, which is a moral art, seeking to change identity politics within an unchanging world facilitated by technology and paid for by it, in order to tame technology and harness it to the soul. It is a creative act, meaning one that recombines manufactured objects and ideas into new forms according to the will. I was in Okanagan Falls yesterday. At sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ, the syilx were welcoming the red fish home. Across the river, white folks were listening to an aging man dressed as a black Elvis and his wife singing electrified country tunes at a deafening volume, even though the invitation to cross the river was open to everyone. White folks weren’t going. It’s like going to Palouse Falls, the heart (and this not a metaphor) of the entire Plateau …

palousse2

… among Americans on holiday, with the capacity to appreciate natural beauty but lacking  anywhere else to go or do except to wander wordlessly and in genuine awe.

palousse

Nature can be like that. Is that the earth’s doing? Is she rewarding attention? Is she turning from the lack of it? Yes, of course. Both at once. It’s not that she’s a trickster planet, because tricksters are tricksters and earth is earth, but tricksters do come from her, as do people to whom she does not reveal the ancient stories in this rock down by the falls, and those to whom she does.

palousse4

And the thing is, I’m not telling those stories. The only terms North American culture has for them today is fiction or fantasy, and they are not that. Silence can be respect. That’s why meeting Sen’klip from time to time does one’s heart good. Eight years ago, on the pilgrim’s path to the East, I left my self at Point Alpha, on the old Iron Curtain, and a cherry tree came back. This summer, Sen’klip taught that tree to talk using silence. He led it to the earth, and then he let it go on there, and when it turned around all other paths were closed. Here, let that be said again in North American lingo: This summer, Sen’klip taught me to talk using silence. He led me to the earth, and then he let me go on there, and when I turned around all other paths were closed. The thing is, that second statement is wrong. It has no poetry in it and there’s no way forward from it, except back to town and a community of I’s talking through the reflections off the edges of words, in shadow effects and nuances. I’m going here.

p1260182

At some point, the question “What is the earth doing?” is the question “What am I doing?” I’m going out for a walk. What about you?

 

Ancestral Memory and Poetry

People write poetry for many reasons. Any that is written is not poetry, though, but an incantation that allows for poetry, a force within the universe, to appear. People cannot be taught to bring these appearances forth in the world, because people are not in conscious control of a process that is, ultimately, not human. People can, however, be led to moments in which the possibility of appearance is possible. The rest is up to purity of heart. Not very modern thinking, is it. No. Here’s a moment of possibility:

rivergallagherfish

That’s the Okanagan Nation fishery on the Okanagan River below a cliff that is an ancient story and which records the history of a war between the Syilx and Secwepemc people that ended with an agreement to share this land in the grasslands inland from the North East Pacific Shore. This is my home. Here is a cliff face in South Iceland. Geologists will point out, rightfully, that it is an ancient seashore cliff (that runs for a couple hundred kilometres) lifted away from the sea by tectonic forces. This image was taken from a point on the old seabed, for example. That kind of thing. It also has a stile and a beautiful woman who I love and who (I am blessed) loves me, walking through grass almost as tall as she is. This is a moment of my ancestral memory. It forms the foundation of my book The Art of Haying. It’s not, after all, a cliff. This is me. Iceland Day 3 to 5 065It is also, if you have eyes to see, a troll, with two gaping eyes, a pug nose, and a broad, frog-like mouth, with water spilling off the top of its head and forming a farmyard spring. You can see the farmyard rhubarb patch to the right of the image, just above the green lump, which is the ruins of an old turf house. What I’m doing here is showing you how an image of the earth is seen when ancestral memory and contemporary thought are one. I am not asking you to agree with this, disprove this, argue it, or abstract it in any way because it is incontrovertible. Still, if you’re used to setting this kind of material deep within a form of romantic consciousness called the unconscious, subconscious, memory, fantasy, imagery, emotion, creative imagination, or any of the modern terms that separate your identity from it, a bit of a guide might prove interesting. You’re seeing a few things. The troll, for instance. A large-green headed ram below the troll’s right eye. An ewe’s skull, teeth bared, below his chin. Another below that. A scatter of human heads, all formed of stone, on the ledge above the bottom section of the falls, and a baby troll peering out of the steeply-angled green hill just to the left and behind the stile. What’s more, the troll has one eye open and one closed. It is Oðin, the Norse cultural hero who plucked out one eye at the well at the centre of the world as payment for receiving wisdom. There is much more, plus a beautiful woman walking through it. The image, framed by the boundaries of the technology of the camera, is called art, because it brings these correspondences into relief, but, hopefully, I have pointed out successfully that these images and correspondences are in the world, exactly in the way that modern humans, such as you or I, are trained to read or parse poetry. On that foundation, let me point out that when a man is one with his mind and with the earth, he looks out at the earth and sees himself. What that means is that walking through this landscape, I am walking through my thoughts, which is, of course, exactly the process of writing a poem. There are a few things, though, which the poetry of the world is not: fantasy, for instance, emotional confession, too, literary dialogue, for another. It’s not a portrait of my feelings, an exploration of my thoughts, or the opening of a social dialogue. It is not an installation or a performance. It is not art. And yet it is poetry. This is poetry:

P1080198Ancestral Watcher at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ.

This is poetry:

P1140209

nm∋lqaytkw at Chopaka

This is my home mountain and my home river.

Look at it this way: on a foundation of geology, weather and biological evolution, on a field of societal evolution and history, on a journey of personal presence and breath, in a unified consciousness, this is an image of my self, which reveals itself to me as I walk through it. Some nut has built a concrete water diversion structure in it, which is the way of modern, non-unified consciousness, but make no mistake: it is inside me. I have to accommodate that. That’s where I live, in a space in which every breath, every thought, everything I see and walk through, is poetry, which is not, I feel I should stress, not something I make, something that can be studied in a university department of literature, taught in a department of creative writing, or something anyone else can make. This is not something I made. It is vital to remove the traditions of book thinking from images like this. Book thinking? Yes. If you see a landscape in the following image and if you see a narrative in it:…

buckHanford Reach

… it is book intelligence you are viewing it with. Behind that green flood bar, just to the right of this image, the plutonium for the Trinity Test and the Nagasaki bomb was manufactured, as well as most of the plutonium for the Cold War. Does that stag look like he is swimming home? He isn’t. He is home. So am I. This is my poetry. Anyone can find Facebook on their own, god help them. To find their ancestral, non-human intelligence, the thing that makes them human, a guide helps. Here’s mine:

17Robin Skelton

He was the earth, standing up and walking. He was the sea. And I? I am here to tend an ancient fire

P1000865I used to think that this fire could be kept burning in books, but that was before I realized that literature was a game of artifice and I was not speaking of artifice. I still passionately work with poetry, edit books of poetry, review them, write poetry, and walk through it daily, but I do so from the ancient context I hinted at above, because the work is to keep the world alive, all of it, or die. In my recent book of ghazals, Two Minds, the Sufic force of unified nature, the Sufic Green Man, Khdr, fills the body and mind emptied of self, the lost traveller or lover all-in-a-tangle, with the world, so that the world is there at the core of the soul’s movement through the world, not the technologically-created, abstract, book-based, Enlightenment self, as beautiful a piece of engineering as it is. We can be more.

twomindsWe are more.
monolithAncestors at Extreme Low Tide, Discovery Passage, Facing Cape Mudge …

… where their descendants live.

This is what I have learned during 58 years on this earth. It is not what I was taught. It is more. This is my standard for poetry. It must be alive. After all, I am a man of the earth. I am memory. I am keeping the fire.