leaves and twigs

CECILIA VICUÑA / SPRING EQUINOX INTERVIEW (3/20/2001)
ecopoetics, volume 1, pp 112-126

DIstilling two thoughts from this interview, or maybe three, about the practice of poetry, and the uses of poetry.

Exchange of energy.

CV: You have to have an exchange of energy. If this exchange of energy is interrupted, it’s like interrupting a song, you see. It’s interrupting a flow of sound, and this flow of sound has to be harmonious, it has to be a mutual benefit. The first acknowledgement is that we don’t know what this energy is or how to name it, so we pick a name, and this name has to be pleasing to both, for the exchange to take place. And the idea that you can use a plant, without giving anything in return, destroys the music from the start.

Precarios. Poem as gesture, a making that doesn’t necessarily use words.

I was on a beach the way most Chilean girls might be on a beach playing, and suddenly, I could feel the presence of this infinite beauty, of the colors and sounds of the place. I felt all this was a language, and that I needed to participate in that language by responding. This could be my place in the world—to respond to that beauty, to say: I am part of you too, here I am. And the way of doing that was to pick up the debris that was lying horizontally on the beach and make it stand up vertically. That gesture, for me was the beginning of weaving, which is to cross the vertical and the horizontal—standing whatever stick or stone, whatever bit of plastic debris, or whatever twig, broken twig, I could make to stand—became language, it became like a word, and then the waves would instantly come and erase it. And so this language would stand up and fall, and be part again of the rhythm. So then, if you substitute the twigs for words or if you substitute them with whatever object that you find in the street, or the seeds themselves, each one is like a syllable in this language. But they are never fixed, because they are always in the process of flowing into something else.

And poetry as transformation of emotions. I think of this as “chewing” or “digestion” but she calls it “prayer.”

JS: How do you deal with the pain of witnessing what’s happening at the moment, in particular the tone right now, with the current administration? In your writing, where does pain sit?
CV: It’s the key of everything, pain is the key of everything…. I don’t think any writer ever could have written if it weren’t for that pain that is burning inside. And it’s the necessity of transforming that pain that pushes you to write. I think this is the energy of prayer; prayer is transformation of energy. So there is a commonality between prayer and poetry, in the transformation of this pain. When you come to a river that’s dying, when you come to a forest that’s dying, our emotion is the same as that of the animal—the animal that’s dying. You go to the forest and you perceive the sadness even in the leaves. There is a commonality of sadness that is now joining the world.

She says “I think without poetry we’re completely doomed.” I’m uneasy about such a big claim for poetry, unless your definition of poetry is also very big. Even then, even with the big definition poetry, we are completely doomed. But in the face of that, it is charmingly human to seek an exchange of energy, to make a small thing out of twigs.

unraveling

CECILIA VICUÑA, coTTon shirT
ecopoetics vol 1, page 111

Illuminating this poem are these words from the interview that follows:

JS: I was amazed to learn in reading Unraveling Words and the Weaving of Water (Graywolf Press, 1992) that cotton—I had never thought of this —that of course it’s the seed parachute, the seed transporter. I had never made that connection.
CV: Exactly, and for example, in this cotton mother poem, where I tell the story of how the people, the Kogi, think of cotton, they say the t-shirts that you buy in the shop are dead, you know, because the people who wove them didn’t think while they were weaving them, so they are dead, and they are cold. Instead, the cloth that they wear from the cotton they grow, is warm, and it’s warm because it has two sides: the inside is alive and the outside is dead.

Opening eyes to what around me is “alive” and what is “dead.” I certainly don’t think of my clothing as alive. Some of my food is alive.

Practically, it is tedious to shop. But seeking an article of clothing that is alive… that could be a different story.

In this way, poetry can inform your ways of life. But the pieces have to fall into place. If I read “coTTon shirT” without context, I would not have been able to follow this thread.

Related website: craftivist collective

Time to brush up on my crochet skills.

display your privates to flax

CECILIA VICUÑA / TR. ROSA ALCALA
D e a t h o f t h e p o l l i n a t o r s

ecopoetics, volume 1, page 107

I’ve been hovering around Cecilia V’s work for a few weeks, but just watching not engaging.

Online I’ve found:
Cecilia V’s facebook page
www.ceciliavicuna.org
video – installation “Water Cry”
video – Kon Kón, una película de Cecilia Vicuña El Ciudadano TV / Chile
story – + Poesía, – Policía, or, The true tale of how Cecilia saved me from the overlong arm of the law
video about a magazine – El Corno Emplumado – a story from the sixties

After all this texture, sound, color, motion, narrative –

black and white text on the page seems so limited.

But I returned to the (virtual) page this morning to try again to link in. It’s a way to participate in the solemnity.

In Europe, women
displayed their privates
to flax

At the sight of vulvas
the plants grew
with great velocity

I enjoyed these stanzas the most.

One to bring in Europe. The puzzle of what is “indigenous.” I am indigenous to Europe if you go back far enough. I am concerned about the stance of children of colonists – what is there for us to do or say?

Second to bring in women. Feminism was at one time my lens through which I saw everything. I have strayed from that, with a sensation of defeat and exhaustion. This bit brought back a taste of it.

Sexuality present in the poem. Linked with the solemnity of death.

AMCULT327!

Cecilia Vicuña: Student Archives

Don’t we need more of this? More models of people engaging with a poet’s work. I will spend some time on this site.

This section of the Cecilia Vicuna Archive chronicles the individual efforts of five University of Michigan students.

It documents their semester-long search for literary and visual works by Cecilia Vicuna.

Each student focuses on a different aspect of Cecilia Vicuna’s work in order to give future students five unique perspectives on the influence and performance of her work.

hopelessly muddled

JONATHAN SKINNER / WHY ECOPOETICS?
ecopoetics volume 1

I’m getting a little tired of ecopoetics, volume 1. I’ve been living with it a long time. I’m eager to move on to CECILIA VICUÑA, and then volume 2, but I am stalled on Jonathan Skinner’s essay.

Why stalled? It is a cerebral challenge. It is a thought piece. I swirl in thoughts when engaged only in that part of the body. I strive too hard to achieve brilliance and inescapably true conclusions. I want to weave together the thought strands of the whole world into one pinnacle flag that will declare me the winner.

Heh. Not possible, is it.

I thought about composing this piece as a letter, a response. I got tired. I let it gestate too long in my head. It got rotten.

A component: I am very tired of the way everyone in contemporary poetry has to engage with “Language” writing and the issue of accessibility or difficulty. I don’t even want to say anything about this. I want to just let it evolve. Time will tell. Or I may say “Time is on my side.”

A component: Reading “On Whitman” at the same time I was hanging with this essay. Whitman I would call “accessible.” (There it is again.) He also took walks. The thought occurred to me: “Has Whitman ruined poetry for everyone to follow him?” The answer cannot be Yes. But we certainly cannot write in that exalted, optimistic, spiritually engaged mode anymore – or can we? Is it time for the poetry of the apocalypse? Whitman wrote through the Civil War years. It must have seem’d that it was over. Yet he dug in and claimed a poetry of tremendous energy, emotion, and optimism.

A question: Can Whitman’s poetry and Jonathan Skinner’s essay co-exist in the same mental space?

A thought: Ecopoetry could be written by a person sitting in a room, a person who never leaves the house.

A skepticism: I’m not sure I buy the idea of a cross-species poetics.

That’s all I have to say right now. To let Skinner have his say:

All of these directions may complicate, enrich or hopelessly muddle the writing of poetry at the start of a new millenium; they may mistake the very meaning of the human; certainly there is no guarantee of success. (106)

“my hedon eden”

ELENI SIKELIANOS / FROM THE CALIFORNIA POEM
ecopoetics volume 1, page 99

I’m stuck on writing about this excerpt.

It’s from a book-length poem. I feel like I should look at the whole book. It has pictures and graphs. I almost ordered it, but I held back for a minute which became an hour which became a day which became a week or more.

I’m stuck wondering about “The Montana Poem.” A much more elusive project.

Poets like to talk about “place.” Even I like to talk about “place.” I’m uneasy about this “place.” Thoreau’s “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” comes to mind. Beware of all thoughts that tell you everything would be better in a different place. A nicer, more wild, cleaner, more beautiful, less populated, higher elevation, lower cost-of-living place nearer to the mountains and the sea with more animals and fewer neighbors and less traffic.

On the other hand, Thoreau went to Walden Pond.

Flying into Montana and spending a week driving around it and then flying out – very disorienting. No more disorienting than living in California for two years. Or being becalmed in Connecticut for decades. Wanting to be somewhere else is a craving I’m trying to give up.

La Vida Loca-loca-loca-loca-local. My localifornia.

enjoy your cup of tea

ANDREW SCHELLING / A BIOREGIONAL POETRY CLASS AT NAROPA
ecopoetics 1

I could swim around in Andrew Schelling’s essay for quite awhile. Let me just take a couple of quotes out of context to wrap this up.

Topic: the different styles of Basho, Buson, and Issa, sometimes referred to by Japanese critics as exemplifying religion, art, and life, respectively.

Interesting classifications for poetry. Where would your poetry fit? religion, art, or life? Makes me want to read Issa.

…Jerome Rothenberg’s thesis in Technicians of the Sacred, that the shaman (tribal individual charged with redressing individual & social imbalance) stands as the archaic figure behind the poet. Song or poem as ritual device—gift from spirit world, not poet’s ‘voice’—hence found text. The poem a central element in the medicaments, to restore a condition of health to the individual or social body? Can the poet today redress social imbalance with a poem?

I like the connection between poet and shaman. It infuses poetry with more of the magical effectiveness that I want to be there. I want poetry to go beyond art form to practice that works. At the same time, I’m filled with doubt and want to answer the questions in that paragraph “No.” However – who cares if the answer is Yes or No? we do what we do with what we have.

The essay closes with a list of
DISCUSSION TOPICS / BIOREGIONAL POETRY
(FOR PERFORMANCE)

I’m not sure what is meant by “For Performance,” but putting that aside, this is quite a list. I like lists. I like making wildly proliferative lists like this. It might be an interesting exercise to write a list in response, with each of these items triggering a companion in my list. Maybe a post for another day.