Sunday, November 23, 2014

Comments to eco-poets Allison Cobb, Steve Collis & Brian Teare

Dear Allison, Steve, Brian:
Sending this before I head off for another bout of protesting the UHM budget cuts. The conversations have been fascinating. Some thoughts, not intended (in the least) as criticism, but as participation:
--[Allison Cobb's power point on plastics & her research on them highlighted the networks that join us & our plastics.] The emphasis on connections that you all make: as someone interested in how to write about spirit, which inevitably means connections, links, I find myself getting swept up into a kind of negative sublime here. How does one write about spirit-connections without using the words of the world, matter? How can one do it while acknowledging the insufficiency and destructiveness of so many connections, while finding ways to honor those we feel on our meditation pillows?
--Perhaps one way is to value attention over attachment. The meditative poem pauses long enough to notice, but does not stop, does not reach out to take the thing or idea and put it in a sack like plastic rubbish. Plastic is the opposite of meditation. I can imagine a Clark Coolidge-like "The Plastic Text," instead of "Crystal," even as the content would necessarily be different. The notions of "desire" and "grief" and "fear" are all attachments. We can feel desire for plastic as easily as for a flower. It's hard to realize that we need to let go of both flower and plastic, if perhaps in different ways.
--According to Steve's important work, the way those of us are non-indigenous have to connect to the land may be by way of the idea of the commons. But don't we need to separate that out from the fact that rich aristocrats could send their horses across the commons to hunt foxes in 18C England? That that historical period was also fraught with chasms between rich and poor, employer and toiler? That the commons was perhaps not a solution, but another wedge between anger and action? How can we create a commons not attached to bad economics, but to what Steve later called "a basic level of care for all human beings" that our societies ought to provide?
--Is poetry then a rubbish to energy project? Or is analogy itself, Eliot's catalyst, suspect now? I  I switched from poetry to prose poetry at the point at which I found the drive of my poems to be toward abstraction (a gathering of objects toward an idea) rather than as a consideration of the world in front of me. That tension remains in the spaces between the sentences, and I can't seem to live without it.
--I wonder where Allison sees the end point of research into the car part that generated her project, Autobiography of Plastic? If you could find the very hole in the ground, what then? Back to considerations of origins (which we tend to value) over what comes after (which we tend to suspect). As an adoptive mother whose children both know members of their birth families, I understand both the lure of origins and the significance of the families that come after. I honor my children's ancestors, but I am their parent. The adoption of the car part is quite profound, to my mind, because it exists apart from its definite, marked history. It enters the world of the mystery, again miming the spirit, without being part of it.
--So I'd come at this from a spiritual and an adoptive poetics. Adoption need not be appropriation, though many people come at it from that angle. Spirit need not discard the words of this world, though we do need to be suspicious of Emersonian gyres of meaning that fail to address material problems on the ground.
Sorry if this seems redundant. But I needed to think it out a bit this morning. Finding your visits wonderful and various. Just wish they were not in the "deep, dark November" of the semester's soul!

aloha, Susan

PS This has been revised from an email sent to the poets a few days ago.

Friday, November 21, 2014

11/21/2014 Introduction to the eco-poets: Allison Cobb, Brian Teare, Stephen Collis

There's a short film among the 32 about Glenn Gould where the Canadian pianist walks into a truck stop and sits alone at a table. The background noise—conversations between truckers, a waitress taking orders, breaking off a relationship—comes forward like counterpoint from a Bach fugue. Among the scatter, Gould is a gatherer, one who notices. For many of us, this is a rare experience, this act of paying attention (odd mercenary verb). “You missed that,” writes Alexandra Horowitz in her book, On Looking: A Walker's Guide to The Art of Observation. “You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.” Until a few of us walked across a small section of this campus on Tuesday, we had thought the campus pristine. Forty-five minutes after we started, we had filled three black plastic bags full of cups, sandwich containers, straws, bags, styrofoam bits, a blue flag, a pink tassel, one pink rubbah slippah, a sour and dirty melange of objects that washed up on the shores of our campus (as Allison Cobb puts it). What we consume, consumes us.

On Wednesday, a dozen students and faculty sat around this heap of trash; we made fellowship of it, talked about our connections to it. Allison Cobb, who works as a writer for the Environmental Defense Fund in Portland, Oregon, takes walks in her neighborhood and picks up bits of plastic. She takes photographs of plastic, labels bits of it, “desire,” “fear,” “grief.” She does research on her trash, considers her relation to it, thinks about networks of connections between us and our disposables. To some extent, she argues, we are plastic, because we have ingested some of what we threw away; it comes back to us by way of fish and birds, even our beer. We throw plastic away; we don't mourn its loss. Allison, whose book, Greenwood, detailed history and reportage of a Brooklyn cemetery that my grad students loved, will read from her ongoing project, Autobiography of Plastic.

Steve Collis comes to us from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he teaches at Simon Fraser University's Burnaby campus. Like Allison, he is obsessed with the materiality of networks: he is currently involved in protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline that runs from northern Alberta's tar sands to Vancouver. Kinder Morgan, a Texas oil company, means to tunnel through Burnaby Mountain on the way. The protests have been so successful that Steve and his colleagues are being sued for $5.6 million dollars in damages by the corporation. In this work, Steve has allied himself with indigenous groups whose land is being desecrated. His own poetry finds connections to the land by way of the commons, land that is shared, rather than parceled out to the highest bidder and then made into a luxury condo in Kakaako. A recent book, DECOMP, co-authored with Jordan Scott, follows on a project of placing Darwin's Origin of Species in different bio-regions of B.C., then picking them up a year later, tracing their natural decomposition.

Brian Teare grew up in Alabama, and has lived in Indiana and California before his current stay in Philadelphia, where he teaches at Temple University. At Temple, he asks his students to research their watershed, find out where the water they drink comes from. In his poetry, he meditates on nature, sex, dying, the big issues. He is author, most recently, of the beautiful book, Companion Grasses. He engages a natural world ruined by human beings in this passage from “Susurrus Stanzas.” Read page 20.

What we consume, consumes us. We desire, fear, grieve over what was once contained by plastic, but stays on this earth as an empty, permanent, impermeable, container. But what we notice perhaps does not. To pay attention is not to consume but to honor and to release, not to say “this is ours,” but to let go of our need to grasp: On your next walk across campus, pick up one of these containers. Spend some time with it. Think about its relationship to you and your friends. Then let it go, in a bin.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An article on the budget mess at UHM & on actions by graduate students on campus this week

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing the Pacific Plastic Patch this November with Allison Cobb, Steve Collis, and Brian Teare

Please come to one of these events, if you're in Honolulu. There are still a few spaces left in the workshop, as well. All of these poets are amazing writers, scholars, activists. Click to enlarge the image.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I MUA MANOA press release, 2 November 2014

MUA MĀNOA PRESS CONFERENCE: 1:15 Monday, November 3, outside Kuykendall Auditorium.
Contact person: Susan M. Schultz:

I MUA MĀNOA will hold a press conference after interim Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman's campus conversation (12-1 p.m., 11/3). At this press conference, I MUA MĀNOA will demand the following:

--That the interim Chancellor and UH administration solve the current budget crisis on its flagship campus in order to avert imminent damage to its departments and student services.

--That $5 million dollars be transferred from the $30M rollover of funds so that Arts & Sciences can operate until the end of the fiscal year.

--That UH administration cut Public Relations personnel before cutting any of the faculty, instructors, or graduate teaching and research assistants (GTAs and GRAs). That they not hire any new PR until a plan for financial sustainability is adopted.

--That UHM administration creatively use available funds to respond to the short-term financial crisis.
Consider utilizing short-term operational expenses tuition funds that have been provided to divisions that have large reserves, such as part of the $20M savings at the Cancer Center. These funds have recently been transferred from the construction bond fund to the Cigarette Tax account at the Cancer Center. Also consider reclaiming a portion of start-up monies that were not spent within 3yrs of hiring from research faculty hired with large start-up packages (those that were awarded $500K-$1M or more).

--That the interim Chancellor take action on administrators against whom multiple complaints have been ruled, and who appear to be contributing to the fiscal crisis.

--That, for the longer term, the interim Chancellor develop a clear vision of budget priorities in collaboration with faculty, and that such vision be shared transparently.

--That the budget process be inclusive of all stakeholders so that faculty, students and staff may propose requests that support the missions of the university.

--That tuition follow students.  Tuition allocations must be related to enrollment so that units can sustainably operate with growing enrollments, and so that successful units can themselves grow. Students should receive increased services for the tuition monies that they pay.

--That a search be launched for a permanent Chancellor. Opening such a search would send a strong message that the BOR wants to invest in the long-term viability of UHM.

The health of UHM is crucial to the rest of the UH system, as well as to the state, because UHM teaches the teachers (public school teachers, community college and other campus instructors); because research is vital to furthering scientific and other work for the good of all; and because the arts are not “elective,” but a crucial part of our cultural lives. Our students deserve better.

I Mua Mānoa (IMM) is a collective of dedicated students, faculty, and staff determined to improve the quality of the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa (UHM). We volunteer our skills, knowledge, and time to develop a shared campus government, which is transparent and ethical in its operations. We strive to develop a positive campus community where the concerns of the students, faculty, and administration are addressed equally and fairly.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A new book(let)

New, in the deciBels series from Vagabond Press in Sydney. Vagabond is an amazing trans-Pacific press. Have a look-see.

I first posted the poems in the booklet on this blog, though I prefer them inside the square brown covers. Some of the poems are also forthcoming in Interim, Golden Handcuffs Review, and elsewhere. Others already appeared in Marsh Hawk Review.