Monday, August 20, 2012

Jonas Lamb: Dispatches from Wrangell Mountains Center Poetry Workshop

1.      Orientation-
finding A way, not THE way
to the end of the road,
to McCarthy
and then
the way beyond

bridges, backpacks, wagons
bears, soap berries, bears, black ones

moving across
a river running upstream
unrivering, returning to ice

meat, groceries
false promise where faded sign paint meets gray wood
meet the old hardware store
wares and unawares for sale
meet woodstoves and sheep skulls,
meet the outdoor shower and mccarthy creek
meet Bertha the hot water boiler,
feel free to feed her, wood
meet the poets
collectively a non sequitur,
collecting and discarding
image, thought and
sensory space surrounded by circles
of attention

to summarize dickinson,
my business is circumference

            arriving doesn't mark
            journey's end
            go in
            through copper,
            up chitina and kennecott
            go out even as going in
            so many bridges suspended
            banks and worlds and minds
            connections and disconnections
            arrivals and departures
            opening ceremonies, ritual
            spring floods  

2.      Dan Beachy-Quick, our soft spoken guide for the workshop welcomes us and leads us to contemplate accuracy's paradox and to work toward poetic forms which are not a direct reflection of the natural world but rather an exploration of the strangeness inherent in the growing space between what we seek to describe through a process of apprehension rather than definition.  When Dan's voice stops speaking and the spell is momentarily severed I am aware  of a seismic shift in what I am seeing in the backlit light of the room.  This isn't going to be like other workshops, this is going to be a journey through terra incognita, the terrain of exploration. 

3.      “However the star knot is the chief thing...I shall study it further”--G.M Hopkins.  Despite Beachy-Quick's frequent references to Keats, he admits following our discussion of “Oaks” from Hopkins' Diary, that to have these words tattooed upon his body would perhaps aptly do justice to the magical language of poetic inquiry that Hopkins attained in his observations, his explorations into the laws of things.

4.      As poets, we seek to do with language that which Thoreau does with fire in an excerpt from his journal (31-May-1850) written 6 years after the event.  “That way went the flames with wild delight, and we felt that we had no control over the demonic creature to which we had given birth.  We had kindled many fires in the woods before, burning a clear space in the grass, without ever kindling such a fire as this.” 

5.      Community Word Jam at the Old Hardware Store, Patt Garrett, who earlier in the day guided us through time, trains, mines and whores at the McCarthy-Kennicott Museum asks the audience if we want a story about mothers or puppies?  Hands are raised, it's too close to count so Pat lets her grand-daughter in attendance choose.  It's a story about the puppies and their owner a  terrifying, abusive, pot-dealing man that lived next door in Barrow one winter long ago.  It's not the fuzzy puppy story we'd expected.  Expectations are distractions.  Winter in Alaska is a harsh story for all involved, even puppies. Susanna Mishler shared a workshop piece from the Kenyon Review Writer's Workshop which lowered a bucket, hand over hand over rope, into a deep well, drawing out darkness and “sweet abandon”.  Nabil Kashyap's reading from his “My City Year” column, shattered the room with laughter. Laughter requiring one to take a deep breath, tell yourself, 'it's not that funny' even though you find even your dishonesty humorous and laugh harder yet in the face of it.  A town made of poems, stories and songs, a few guitars and a big red cello.  A rapid fire spoken-word song by Mickey Kenny again shifted the shape of the once sunlit room, now darkening.  Words filling the room even after the light had faded from it.  An unplugged event in the truest of senses. 

6.       At the lake shore, the poets, a small, contemplative army, armed with ink, eyes, tendrils. Across the water, glacier in gravel veneer and above, Fireweed Mountain.   This near shore, seed heads of dryas octopetala, little Einsteins, grow wings and are moths and are poems of a place. One poet, squinting so much glacier, so much glare cannot see mountain but only a mountain shape hole between sky, between lake.  Rockfall, from glacier to lake, so many small songs, mountain, rock, carving and uplift.  Poet hears mountain but yet still does not see it, instead noticing tiny caterpillars on boot laces.  Larva on lace, how many life cycles roll through this meadow each summer?  On fingertip now, caterpillar, head lowered in prayer to dryas, abdomen raised in peaked arch, tail grounded, or at least fleshed.  Seeing now, that which was so obvious as to be unseeable, fireweed mountain framed in the arc of caterpillar body.    

7.      After so much stimulation and sun, this southeast Alaskan inevitably reacted.  To what exactly is still unclear, but following a day of ambling on the Root Glacier, imagination and mind roots coursing through the unseen sub-glacial watershed of wonder, I was forced to bid farewell to this dear place, the non sequitur of poets, to a place to be placed beyond place and head back to the world and a steroid shot at the Glenallen Clinic. 

strangeness now systemic
blood-coursed through body, through earth
veining and rooting through dark
gathering strength
rising bloom, rash of pox
            (read more of this poem, Veining and Rooting)

McCarthy and the Wrangell Mountain Center offer a unique, uncharted environment in which to immerse yourself in writing and exploration. Don't miss the 3rd Annual Poetry Workshop next year. What I found really different about this workshop was the single instructor/guide model and am grateful to have had the chance to work with Beachy-Quick as well as with the non sequiturs.     

Jonas Lamb is a librarian and poet living in Juneau.  His work has been featured in The Kent Collector, Tidal Echoes and several journals that have since ceased publication as a result of publishing his work (Quirk, Raw Ether). He is a strong believer in the 'parenting is poetry' mantra and is writing two young boy-poems called Finn and Oscar Wilde. Read more at 

Partial Reading List:

Celan, Paul.  “The Meridian” from Collected Prose trans. by R. Waldrop
Christenson, Inger. “apricot trees exist” from Alphabet
Evans, K.L.  “Preface” from Whale!
Hejinian, Lynn.  “Strangeness” from The Language of Inquiry
Hopkins, Gerard Manley.  “40: (Carrion Comfort)” and “41: 'No worst, there is none.  Pitched past pitch of grief”” from Poems (1918).
Hopkins, G.M.  “Oaks” from Gerard Manley Hopkins' Diary (1867).
Mandelstam, Osip.  “He who finds a horseshoe” from Osip Mandelstam: Selected Poems trans. by W.S Merwin.
Thoreau, H.D.  “31-May-1850: I once set fire to the woods” and “20-May-??: Annuals, which perish root and all” from Thoreau's Journal. 


Deb Vanasse said...

Beautiful post! Thanks for the reading list, too, and hope you've recovered from "the pox."

susigf said...

Yes, Jonas -- thanks. "unrivering, returning to ice" -- nice!

jonaslamb said...

Deb and Susi-

Thanks for reading and yes recovered, rerivered. Turns out it was sun poisoning, I think only people from Southeast AK can really get poisoned by sun. It was a great experience, not the poisoning, maybe I'll see you there in a year to come. J