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Poetry Corner’s Poet Spotlight: Paul Nelson

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A headshot of Poet Laureate James Rodgers
James Rodgers | photo from James Rodgers

Hello Poetry Lovers.  This month’s Poetry Spotlight is Paul Nelson, who led the local Auburn poetry group when I started getting involved in the poetry scene here, lots and lots of years ago.  For Paul’s and my sake, I won’t say how many.  While he left Auburn and moved further north, I am still involved, and the group is still running strong, though with far fewer meetings in this time of Covid.

While I have not always agreed with Paul, (and how many folks are out there that we always do?) his passion, love and support of poetry cannot be argued.  Here’s some information, and a few poems from Paul.

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Poet & interviewer Paul E. Nelson founded the Cascadia Poetics LAB (formerly SPLAB (Seattle Poetics LAB)) & the Cascadia Poetry Festival. Since 1993, SPLAB has produced hundreds of poetry events & 700 hours of interview programming with legendary poets & whole systems activists including Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Joanne Kyger, Robin Blaser, Diane di Prima, Daphne Marlatt, Nate Mackey, George Bowering, Barry McKinnon, José Kozer, Brenda Hillman & many others.

Paul’s books include A Time Before Slaughter/Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia (2020) American Prophets (interviews 1994-2012) (2018) American Sentences (2015, 2021) A Time Before Slaughter (2009) and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (2013). Co-Editor of Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia (2015), 56 Days of August: Poetry Postcards (2017) and Samthology: A Tribute to Sam Hamill (2019) Make it True meets Medusario (2019), he’s presented poetry/poetics in London, Brussels, Nanaimo, Qinghai & Beijing, China, has had work translated into Spanish, Chinese & Portuguese & writes an American Sentence every day.

Awarded a residency at The Lake, from the Morris Graves Foundation in Loleta, CA, he’s published work in Philosophy and Global Affairs, Golden Handcuffs Review, Zen Monster, Hambone, and elsewhere. Winner of the 2014 Robin Blaser Award from The Capilano Review, he serves as Literary Executor for the late poet Sam Hamill, is engaged in a 20 year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia and lives in Rainier Beach, in the Cascadia bioregion’s Cedar River watershed.

A photo of Paul Nelson, an older male with olive skin and a white goatee wearing a fedora, white shirt and open black fleece vest looks to the side.
Poet Paul Nelson | courtesy photo

Paul Nelson Poetry

Frida One and Too 

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Frida smiles and winks at the camera. Frida
after surrealism  after two abortions after  1925
streetcar
accident and iconic unibrow Arreguin sees as blackbird wings
I think   after Diego and machismo in black yellow red tan dress I
am
not
sick   she says shot by her lover in color never wincing as far as
I can see  conditioning an image eternal for sainthood. I
am not sick – 35 operations – 2 abortions surrounded by skulls, penthidine, morphene,
               not sick, says she
broken.

Frida Too 

Frida, let your hair down.
Frida, don’t look at me like that.
Frida, leave Diego. Do not walk, bolt.
Frida, won’t you steal the masculine hat of the accident
you called Diego and bury it behind Casa Azul?
Frida in living color.
Frida, festooned in Mexican reds
& blacks & tans, golds, yellows
y rosados y blanco rosas.
Frida, why was surrealism
a Mexican breakfast
while the feet of the wounded
table bleed and you paint
tendrils on your 1940
image and only the skull
smiles?

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Frida, who let the spider
monkey loose to carry on
& live carnal dreams
alongside deer, turtle doves,
parrots – una familia
sustituta con el elefante
y la paloma, Diego y tu?

Dime Frida, de que color
es la flor
en que tus cenizas
esparcidas en la selva
se convirtieron?

Frida, tell me, what is the color
of the flower
your jungle scattered ashes
became?

From Sonetos de Cascadia 

Sonetos De Cascadia 16-March-2020  

“Being

—no heaven is, no
earth, and the
memory of both extinguished
but for the one
ashtree-believing-nuthatch—,”

– Paul Celan

COVID-19 Sonnet 

Earth Closed. Which was the sky’s wish the birds, trees, unspoken mammal wish as if heterotrophs had a vote (& shd) & then do when they conspire to halt “human progress” for a few weeks, lighten the air, unclog the cities, add a dash of the duende to the stew we call life without sports without eating out within no closer than six feet of the average human germ-spewing capability. Earth closed. As a reset button as in what’s in it besides ratrace for you as in how might you act in prison but still cooking your own meals as in get to enjoy, really enjoy brown rice. Earth first. Finally. We had it coming, we stable geniuses knowing humans have all the answers, all the technology, all the gear except for face masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper & ventilators. Duendification of life resynchronizes us with the nuthatch and redwing, the coot raft and seagulls and there is no panic buying by the lake, there is no hoarding (except for squirrel) there’s nothing but these last three days of winter and a slight sense of the new normal in late capitalism. 

From Flexible Mind

FLEXIBLE MIND
(for Rob Lewis)
is rooted
in a place.

Most any
place.

THE SECRETARY
of
TRANSPIRATION

knows:

“Water begets water,
soil is the womb,
and vegetation is
the midwife”

before he plants
a future cloud
in the ground
of his bioregion.

Flexible
as water.

Savvy as the crows
ruin lawns
with  beaks
hunting
European chafer

beetle grubs.

Crow sushi.

Wily mind
flexible
as
a
CROW.

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