Soul & Landscape

Brigand Brewer continues his investigation of Cascadian poets, this time looking at the spiritual in the landscape. Most people referenced in the text are teachers or students taking Cascadia College’s Innovative Cascadian Poetry course.

Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is a good starting place to understand the relationship between a poem and its landscape. Within the monomyth – poetic or otherwise – a  hero (m/f) undertakes a single supernatural and archetypal journey into the landscape; the landscape being home to innumerable heroes, and some unimaginable number of archetypal journeys.

Lew Welch
Lew Welch (1926-1971?)

With respect to Lew Welch’s poem, Wobbly Rock, I appreciated Joe Chiveney’s reference to Gunter Nitschke’s explanation that the garden of Ryōan-ji does not symbolize. Finally, we have an artifact representing the non-symbolic. The qualities incarnated include materiality, location, abstraction, multiplicity, composition and functionality. Like a fiery orator rousing a crowd to rebellion, this Zen temple garden at Kyoto incites the visitor to meditation.

Greg Bem questions the concept of value. I am tempted to reference Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windemere’s Fan” where Darlington defines a cynic as ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.‘ Perhaps we are all cynics unable – in this material world – to appreciate the beautiful and orderly chaos that sustains our biological existence. Perhaps, a spiritual realm encountered after death will reveal a fuller meaning of the experiences that constitute a life.

Michelle Schaefer interprets “I have travelled, I have made a circuit….. When I was a boy” as an acknowledgement of the past as sacred. Then she goes on to add that every moment is sacred, as shown in  “and now all rocks are different and all the spaces in between. Which includes about everything. The instant after it’s made.”

I appreciated Brent Schaeffer’s classification of the poems being discussed.

Soudough Mountain Lookout

Philip Whalen
Philip Whalen (1923-2002)

Mengyu Li presents two of the key lines in Philip Whalen’s Sourdough Mountain Lookout:

BUDDHA: “All the constituents of being are
Transitory: Work out your salvation with diligence.””

The confluence between the passivity of meditating at the garden of Ryōan-ji and the world of restrained action at the Sourdough Mountain lookout is that everyone, in fact – every organic life form, is marching irrevocably, one day at a time, towards its ultimate death. Buddha suggests that our salvation, perhaps more understandably our status or situation after death, is dependent on our actions while we live. It will be too late to regret or to repent for our mistakes after we have left this organic world!

Carol Blackbird Edson notes that she experiences “a resonance of a changing consciousness” in the poems and commentaries selected. My understanding is that she regards the poems, despite their temporal and cultural limitations, as maps to explore the Cascadia bioregion, allowing the reader to enter into deeper relationships with primal nature found therein, and to gain a better understanding of themselves. I’m not quite sure how primal nature differs from other forms of nature, but that is one of my limitations.

Michelle Schaefer comments, “… our bodies are as sacred as our surroundings and they interact together.” I’d like to respond to this by bringing up the Baha’i concept that the essence of human identity is a rational and immortal soul, with the body being a temple temporarily housing the human spirit.

Brent Schaeffer adds to an understanding of the poem with, “Whalen’s exploration of ‘sacred’ is the folkloric/bildungsroman idea of returning to where you are, but seeing it different again for the first time. That only after touching the sacred can we see that our ‘mundane’ has always been sacred.”

Things to do …

Gary Snyder
Gary Snyder (1930- ) photo: Beth Nakamura, 2011

We have all had an opportunity to write our own “Things to do …” poem. One non-poetic of Gary Snyder’s poem is that it provides a template that anyone can follow. The real advantage of this form is that it allows a juxtaposition of events that break with chronology. Michelle Schaefer comments on the line, “Do pushups. Sew up jeans. Get divorced” I am not sure that I agree with her that these represent sacred moments, even if I do admit that they provide insight into human vulnerabilities.


In Wobbly Rock, Welch refers to the Pacific Ocean with the lines:

“I like playing that game
Standing on a high rock looking way out over it all:

“I think I’ll call it the Pacific”

Wind water
Wave rock
Sea sand

Thankfully, Welch makes no mention of the Atlantic, which is a foreign intrusion into Cascadia. In contrast, Whalen makes no mention of the Pacific, in Sourdough Mountain Lookout, but does mention the Atlantic, with these lines:

“Everything else they hauled across Atlantic
Scattered and lost in the buffalo plains
Among these trees and mountains “

Oceans are important in terms of our sense of identity. One can regard a continent in its uninhabited state as a succession of barriers, inhibiting movement. An ocean is a flat surface, encouraging movement. Admittedly, storms happen, and there is a need for some form of propulsion. Oceans connect people. The connections may be good (trade?) or bad (war), but mostly somewhere in between.

I have difficulty using the word Pacific in creative works. It invokes a feeling of alienation. Originating with Ferdinand Magellan, who first used it in 1520, finding calm waters after rounding Cape Horn in a storm.

Teresa Lea Schulze brings up the point that, “We are shaped by what is around us…. Humans may think they are unique, but we are connected to all around us. Poems and poetry strip away the ‘over word usage’ and uses the minimal amount to convey the largest picture…” One of the most effective ways we have of conveying the largest picture is to use names. Yet, the name Pacific is presenting a false image – peacefulness. Peaceful is not the essence of this vast ocean, as can be attested by countless sailors. Cascadians have managed to find an appropriate name for the Salish Sea. I hope they will also find an appropriate name for the Ocean that touches their shore.

Markers of Time

Mount Saint Helens
Louwala-Clough (Mount Saint Helens)

As seen in the poems studied this week, places are sacred or, at the very least, have a spiritual component. Just as places in the Cascadian bioregion function as markers of place, so too do events function of markers of time. As the world experienced on 18 May 1980, with the explosion of Louwala-Clough (Mount Saint Helens), Cascadia is an active participant in the Ring of Fire. This event was one of the most important regional time markers. A larger eruption 500 years earlier (1480) was another time marker.

I’d like to thank all of the people who posted before me. They have given many ideas to reflect on.


Fake Authenticity

Real authenticity requires too many virtues.
It need continuous maintenance.
Time costs money,
and I haven’t found a store
that sells virtues
at a discount.

Fake authenticity requires only a vice or two,
and comes with automatic upgrades
included in the price.
Stores selling fake authenticity
are found everywhere
at an affordable full price.

I’ve lost track of my version number.
Fortunately, Google knows.
Version 271 is available today
at a variety of prices.
There are not many choices
for fake sustainability.

I opt for fake pseudo-sustainability
that comes in two versions
and a variety of colours.
Which should I choose?
A Zenbook with contrasting Zenfone
or a Macbook Air with matching iPhone?

A Prison Diary

verdal fengsel
The School at Verdal Prison

Four social classes: Prison staff, Inmates, Externals (teachers, nurses, doctors), Visitors.
Day shift: Five guards, five administrators.
Sixty inmates (fifty-four men, six women).
Two teachers, a cleaner and a nurse (two on Mondays).

Four buildings surrounding a square.
Behind:  the pallet workshop.
To the right: the cafeteria with offices (above).
To the left: the warden’s house, now the women’s residence and school.
Built in the 1950s as a civil defence camp.
Shared in the 1960s as a winter prison,
for speeders and drunk drivers.
Now, it is a year round prison
for crimes involving violence, vice and drug addiction.

The gate:
A student, hired as a temporary guard uses his card and pin code,
the gate magically opens.
A teacher, at the prison for an eternity, presses a button and waits
I answer what they already know, “It’s Brock from the school.”
“Welcome, Brock.” And the gate opens by remote control.
Driving in, I park beside the nurse’s car.

The guardroom (part 1):
Using my card and pin code I enter building 2.
The card works here, but not at the gate.
Social distinctions.
The guards assign me an alarm and a key
mostly the pink one, seldom the green.
I leave through the entrance used by the inmates.

The school:
If the classroom is dark, I turn off the building alarm.
If the lights are on, I know S has been cleaning, and turned the alarm off.
My tasks:
Empty the dishwasher, make coffee and boil water for tea.
LB arrives. Today she will select inmates for the forklift-driving course.
We sit near the entrance, drinking coffee.
At 8:30, five of the six inmates arrive at the school. Usually, one is sick.
LB and I welcome them by their first names.
(The guards use their building, cell and bed numbers)
Most go to their PCs, log in, and read online news.
Some drink coffee, others tea, each year a few drink nothing hot.
Some want to sit down and chat.
Some want to avoid the teachers.
At 9:00, school begins.
LB goes upstairs to her office and calls in potential fork-lift participants, one by one.
In the classroom, each student works alone on his or her studies.
One is eager, but most are not.
Some days I teach some math.
Most of the day I listen.
At 11:45, lunch.
The students go to the cafeteria, and sit at their fixed places for a head count and lunch.
LB and I sit downstairs, eating, drinking water and chatting.
At 12:30, school begins again.
At 13:00, a documentary screens.
The latest was about the Klondike Gold Rush.
Before that, it was about women pop-art painters.
At 14:30, the school day is over (for the students)
I make notes on each student’s work.
I load the dishwasher and turn it on.
I turn on the building alarm and lock the school building.

The guardroom (part 2):
I turn in my key and alarm.
I wait for the guard to let me out of building 2.
I drive to the gate, and wait for the guards to notice me
The gate opens.
I am a free man.

TISH – Vancouver’s poetry magazine 1961 – 1966

Cascadia logo

Brigand Brewer is undertaking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) in Innovative Cascadian Poetry, at Cascadia College in Bothell, Washington – under the guidance of Jared Leising. Naturally, he is using a nom de plume in the course.

This week’s assignment was to discuss Vancouver’s TISH poetry magazine, which had its heyday in the early 1960s.

As always, one must begin with a sense of place, followed almost immediately with a sense of history. One of the challenges faced by TISH and other Cascadian poets (as well as other creative persons) is that San Francisco has been, is and probably always will be the capital not only of North and Central California, but also of Cascadia, despite the bioregion having three great cities of its own – Portland, Seattle and (this week’s subject) Vancouver. I am not quite sure what one can do about San Francisco’s cultural dominance, except to note that it extends further north than south, because of competition from Los Angeles. When one asks about poems/ artefacts and their connection with TISH aesthetics, it strikes me that it is resonating with greater San Francisco. Yet, the original source of inspiration to TISH was undoubtedly Black Mountain College. Its closure in 1957, and the movement of many of its most influential poets to San Francisco, reinforced San Francisco’s status.

Why couldn’t poets at the University of British Columbia find their aesthetic inspiration from Canadian sources? As I write this I am trying to find my own inspiration from a watercolour in my living room, painted in 1909. It is of someone in a dugout canoe, a deserted beach and the mouth of the Capilano River between North and West Vancouver, with the Lions (mountains) in the background. What did those early settlers seek in a wilderness? It has always been easier to travel north and south, both inside and outside of British Columbia than eastwards. British Columbia only joined Canada because of the promise of a railway, and in many ways, its attachment to eastern Canada was originally only as thick as the railway line, and some nonsense about The Empire. It is thicker now because of several highways leading into Alberta, but the thickness measures in meters, rather than hundreds of kilometers. The empire is dead, and its replacement, the commonwealth, is dying. My maternal grandfather from northeast England knew he wanted to immigrate to Cascadia, although I am also sure he never knew its proper name. In 1910, he endured a sea journey from Liverpool, followed by a rail journey from Montreal. Arriving in the Promised Land, he flipped a coin to decide if he should stay in Vancouver or travel onward to Seattle.

As noted in the Canadian Encyclopedia’s article on TISH, “Most controversial among TISH poetics was the conviction that poets can co-author their poems with the local physical and cultural environments in which they write, as well as with the language itself, and must be alert to explore such interactions. In this they were working from both New England poet Charles Olson’s influential essay, “Projective Verse,” and its suggestion that place and history offer cultural fields of force which can energize one’s writing with “secrets objects share,” and Robert Duncan’s belief that the images, rhythms and sounds of one’s own lines can point the way to unanticipated subsequent lines and subject matter.”

I try to enter the mindscape of the original TISH poets about 1960, fifty-six years ago. Help comes from the Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver, as well as online resources.

British Columbia has not always been a cultural mecca. It’s economic history has always been focused on resource extraction. First, fur trapping, then the Fraser goldfields, followed by more mining, including coal on Vancouver Island, and more valuable minerals in the Slocan Valley. There are rich soils for farming in the Fraser Valley, and less fertile land suitable for ranching in the interior. Irrigation has allowed fruit farming in the Okanogan Valley. The sea permitted harvesting of vast fisheries resources. Forests have also been major resources to exploit.

From its first settlement to at least the 1950s, British Columbia was racist. The Canadian Pacific Railway used Chinese labour, but Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants in 1885. Sikhs faced extreme difficulties in exercising their rights as British Subjects, most famously in the Komagata Maru incident of 1914. Internment and restrictions were placed on 20 881 Japanese Canadians from 1942 to 1949.

Yet, it has also been a home for the religiously oppressed. Between 1908 and 1912, about 8 000 Doukhobors moved to the British Columbia interior. They were pacifists, living communally, with little regard for materialism or education. In 1953, children of Sons of Freedom Doukhobors were forcibly interned in the same New Denver residential school that previously served Japanese internees. The Sons of Freedom retaliated with arson, and nude protest marches. At Argenta, a Quaker meeting was established in the 1950s by three families who had been school teachers in California. They refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the United States, and lost their jobs then moved to Canada.

In 1958 British Columbia celebrated its Centenary of the mainland colony of British Columbia. Century Sam reinforced a mining heritage. This was also a time when the transportation infrastructure began to expand, with the Trans-Canada and Hope-Princeton highways opening up the interior, and British Columbia Ferries improving connections between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Notorious Ripple Rock was blown up in the largest non-nuclear explosion to that time. Located near Campbell River, it had sunk more than 100 ships and taken more than 100 lives.

After the depression of 1929 and throughout much of the 1930s, modern life was kickstarted with the return of veterans from World War II. Time to conceive the boomers. But to begin with those modern times had their challenges. Housing, then as now, was a scarcity.

Personally, I regard the start of Cascadia’s modern era with the opening of Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. In particular, I remember taking the high speed elevators in the Space Needle, as well as travelling on the Alweg monorail. Then, there was some house of tomorrow, with its electronic wizardry. During this period most North Americans were caught up in the Space Race, and the cold war. By October, Modernity had descended into fear. With the Cuban Missile Crisis, and America’s nuclear Naval Submarine Base Bangor, housing a fleet of nuclear submarines. There were real fears that we would end up like the citizens of Hiroshima in a holocaust of radiation sickness outside a bomb shelter, or dying of starvation inside. With the assassination of president Kennedy in 1963, the modern age came to an end, after 580 days.

To end this summary of the TISH timeline, I will conclude with some approximate dates for the start of my own personal Post Modern era. The Vietnam War caused enduring pain. As Canadians, we were not directly involved with it. Indirectly, we befriended draft dodgers and deserters. In 1964, LSD came to the attention of the world. A child had eaten a sugar cube containing this unknown substance. We were curious and our chemistry teacher spent one hour giving us detailed information about it. A kilometer away from my house, at the Hollywood Hospital in New Westminster, “Acid” Al (Cappy) Hubbard, was becoming the Johnny Appleseed of LSD. Read all about it.

What do the artefacts reveal? Beginning with the TISH editorial, one can immediately see that this is no Century 21 journal. Nor does it retreat to the delicate world of William Morris’ Arts and Crafts Movement. Instead, one descends into a mimeograph underground. One wonders if the editors would have preferred to write disposable poems, printed on toilet paper, if it was technically possible. They confess to an obsession with sound, which doesn’t always come through on the videos of Marlatt, Bowering and Wah.

Acknowledging a liking for puns, one wonders what sort of movement the editors share with other people? The term bowel, comes to mind, and is reinforced with “coins dropped in its slot” and “TISH will be always on the bum.”

Arendt Oak Speser wrote one of the discussion postings that awakened interest: “I’m always struck with the difference between poets that listen and those that don’t. And sometimes good poets stop listening; I tend not to like the poems that come after that.” I wondered if he was trying to convey something similar to Greg Bem: “… none of the video recordings really resonated with me, …” then continues in another posting a quotation from Richardson dismissing Canada as an entity for poetic composition. Perhaps that is the ultimate fate of TISH. It fails to resonate with its intended audience.

Unlike Joe Chiveney, I never felt that Cascadia with its densest green, was a place to escape to. Even short distances take time, when mountain passes determine every east-west route. I am more inclined to agree with him that authenticity is important. However, I expected him to add that people lacking real authenticity, should at least try to project fake authenticity. I am not certain that everyone has the capability of being truly authentic. Rather, they purchase the latest iPhones and Teslas, and pretend that consumption is living. Perhaps I am being too, critical. I am forgetting Joe’s advice that people “who live in wood houses should not be throwing matches”.

If I comment on Teresa Lea Schulze, I have to agree with her that traditional poems, Blake as an example in my case, take me to a harmonious realm, where I feel secure. I am not sure that I like the world TISH inhabits. I am not sure that I am capable of using the vocabulary they use. At the same time, I am not certain that TISH are true revolutionaries. Brendan McBreen’s reference to Matsuo Bashō was most appropriate, in stressing that poets are not followers, but seekers.

I would like to thank Carol Blackbird Edison for pointing out Daphne Marlett’s use of water as a unifying Cascadian force, and her vision of the rainstorm as a drumming call. I also agree with her that a sense of “soul” was something that was lacking during the early TISH period. However, I am uncertain if the TISH poets provided any of the impetus that encouraged many to seek alternative spiritual understandings. I am not sure that they were leaders promoting an understanding of First Nation cultures, or that they were instrumental in encouraging feminism, or reducing the rampant racism of the time. Regardless, I am very happy that we are celebrating ethnic diversity.

Perhaps the most revealing note I have read this week comes from a Wikipedia article about Jamie Reid.   Some time around 1969 Reid “joined the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) and stopped writing for 25 years in favour of political activism “because [he] didn’t have a way of working the language of politics into the language of poetry.” Relevance in a time of austerity is possibly the challenge poets face in our current age, and think particularly of the works of Thomas Piketty, “Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century” and Robert J Gordon, “The Rise and Fall of American Growth” and their concern for growing inequality, and the massive wealth extraction undertaken mercilessly by the elite.



I used to write poetry. Was it at Lester Pearson Senior Secondary  School, or was it Vincent Massey Junior Secondary School? Some of my poems were even published. To find out when and where will undoubtedly involve offline research.

Currently, I am undertaking an exploration of my soul, in yet another MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). Innovative Cascadia Poetry, offered by Cascadia College in Bothell, Washington, through the Canvas Network.

Looking for, a personal publishing platform, memory failed me. I thought Cargo was called Canvas. Reaching the Canvas network I realized my mistake, but spent a few minutes looking at the free courses on offer.

We all know that just a few minutes of innocent diversion can have serious consequences, and so it happened once again. Another enrollment in yet another course.


The past is such a haze.
I cannot remember
which are the true memories.

False memories are overrunning my mind.
Which are the deliberate lies?
Which are the innocent distortions?

It all would have been so much easier
If I had recorded it all:
video, audio, photos and words.

Film, tape, paper and hard drives
are more reliable than brain cells
with their endless mindstorms.