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Cascadia Poetry Festival Day One – Knowing Home

How is it that we have not seen this before? Asks David McClosky as he reveals the new map of Cascadia this fine morning in Nanaimo the first of May, 2015.  One hopes he says, that "a portrait of home" becomes home.


McClosky's first attempt at a map of Cascadia was a hand drawn in 1988.  His new map of Cascadia is composed in layers because "that is how the world works." In its unveiling he emphasized that "we want relationships on all levels of habitation" and that is the subversiveness of looking at a place based on bioregion.

  IMG_8668Wait, what the hell does any of this have to do with poetry? Poetry is an essential way to rethink and be as bioregion, rejecting the flat box of fake boundaries drawn on a flat map of lattitude and longitude squares. The box of the map prevents connection with the earth because it abstracts from the only things that are real (geology, hydrology, ecosystems) and thus bioregional thinking is one of the most subversive acts of this age (as it is not above political boundaries it simply does not even acknowledge them because they are not there), and a bioregional poetic not only emerges from this thought but must pre-date and help the science find a way to talk without box we've built it in.


So what? In the beginning and the end of it all the poets will sing the place. So why not enlist the poets to see the place first and write its songs? Not out of nationalism, but out of the land beneath their feet and the people and animals and plants and water that inhabit that land. This is a peace conference that does not need a treaty – because we already agree that the land, flora and fauna are shared and the human "we" are just one tiny part of the ecosystem that has parts bigger and older than us that will continue when our words on paper have biodegraded beyond memory.


In 2012 I helped Paul Nelson with the logistics of the first Cascadia Poetry Festival in Seattle because I knew there was something to this connection with place and poetics, and I would be damned if somehow the next seminal event in the poetry of our time passed me by when I knew it was happening in my own community. My whole-hearted participation came not from a place of ego but from a place of true contribution to the ethos. How could I not? Just as David McClosky could not stop himself from mapping watersheds, and mountains, and weather patterns.


This third expression of the festival is a beautiful canvas of humanity surrounded by the natural beauty of a place closely nestled in nature despite human intervention (Nanaimo being a land of coal and  and railroads originally). Seattle is so city now it is harder to see human as part of nature and ecosystem there (even though it is in a huge way). Nanaimo brings this aspect to the front because we are looking right at it.  


To coin my 1990's liberal arts education it is a "paradigm shift" from nature being a tool of humanity to humanity being one small but hugely impactful part of nature. The geology beneath our feet will do what it does despite us, and the ice caps and ice fields are leaving us to who knows what type of future – but until we starting talking about what really is happening we are "transcendental space people with abstract categories in a decontextualized land" completely oblivious to the world around us.


So how do we get there?  For McClosky and his map – the formula is this- 1. Start with the landscape. 2. Go to earth forces below. 3. Then add the sky and clouds above (taking account for winds,weather and climates). 4. That make the rivers and hydrology. 5. Then identify the flora and fauna. 6. And you see the ecosystem. 7. Ecosystems placed in a bounded region are a bioregion – and therein lies Cascadia.  This weekend we are attempting to live that poetics and hopefully we will bring the scientists with us.



We integrate ourselves as bioregionalists and sing its song through every gathering. Each word a sound that echos in the canyons of the curved map we walk upon.


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