3 Questions for Scott Starbuck

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

Organic is the word I would use to describe a poetic line. Some lines, as with editor Robert Hass’ “versions” of Basho, Issa, and Buson, are short to place emphasis on nature element, season, or satori commonly found in haiku. At the opposite end of the spectrum,  Whitman gets music, momentum, political oratory, King James Bible-like parallel structures, and opera-like power out of long lines, according to Voices and Visions.  When considering one’s own lines, it is best to learn from these masters.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?

The breath, pulse, and heart-beat music of the body sometimes helps revision when my poems are read aloud.  However, many times while writing I am so far away from my body that I forget I have one.  Hunger, need for sleep, and other human limitations completely dissolve, and I think this allows me to see some things I otherwise could not.  It takes many years of this practice to peel off some onion skins to get to the truth-or-beauty core.  Many times I have thought I was at the core, only to find out moments or even years later I was far from it.  The social, political, religious, psychological, and self-imposed disguises are so clever. 

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

I dislike the stress that comes from realizing my respect for wild animals, places, and human spirits means I have to say things in poems that many people don’t want to hear.  But who will speak if poets don’t? I recall Norman Brown wrote something like, “For the truth of politics we must look to the poets, not to the politicians.”

For example, I was recently working on an activist poem for my new book Congress of Fish about the danger of poets being co-opted.  In the poem I asked, “but who will speak for drowned  polar bears/ sighted from Arctic helicopters/ if poets are co-opted?”  The idea came from the AWP 2014 Conference in Seattle when Marybeth Holleman reported on the “first-ever recorded” helicopter observations of four drowned adult polar bears due to extreme ice melt.  Cubs have been dying for years due to the same reason.  Bruce Barcott reported on July 19, 2011 on Guardian Environment Network, “Biologists studying polar bears off the coast of Alaska have found that when cubs are forced to go on marathon swims with their mothers due to loss of sea ice, nearly half of them don’t survive the journey.”

Let me be specific about why poets must speak.  Poets need to exercise freedom to speak because governments are trying to silence honest scientists.   Like Galileo before him, Charles Monnett, the scientist who saw the four drowned adult polar bears, was punished by authorities merely for reporting what he saw.  Becky Bohrer reported September 28, 2012 in a Huff Post Green article, “Scientist Who Saw Drowned Polar Bears Reprimanded ” < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/28/drowned-polar-bear-scientist_n_1924730.html >, “The official, Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of BOEM [U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management], said in a memo that an inspector general’s investigation contained findings that Monnett had improperly disclosed internal government documents [ . . . .]” and  “called Monnett’s ‘misconduct very serious,’ and said any future misconduct may lead to more severe discipline, including removal from federal service.”  The BOEM idea, it seems, was to protect oil company leases instead of polar bears.

Cut to December 4, 2013, when Becky Bohrer reported for the Associated Press on Yahoo News, “Drowned polar bear scientist gets $100k settlement,” . The article noted, “Following the investigation, BOEM ultimately found no evidence of scientific misconduct. But Monnett was reprimanded for improper release of emails that were later used by an appeals court to strike down an Arctic oil and gas exploration plan approved by BOEM. [ . . . .] Monnett, in a release, said the agency tried to silence and discredit him ‘and send a chilling message to other scientists at a key time when permits for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic were being considered. They failed on the first two goals, but I believe that what they did to me did make others afraid to speak up, even internally.’ [paragraph break] He said he could not, in good conscience, ‘work for an agency that promotes dishonesty, punishes those who actually stand up for scientific integrity, and that cannot tolerate scientific work not pre-shaped to serve its agenda.'” 

Sometimes while on my way to hiking and poeming in the Pacific Northwest, I see this sign by a bridge, “YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK” and in my mind I add “SILENCING HONEST SCIENTISTS.”  I can be meaner, and will be.
Prior to AWP 2014, I was looking for a place to send a new manuscript, and saw The National Poetry Series was accepting support from Exxon. Thinking of the thousand plus oil-soaked otters from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,
I thought this was exactly like God asking Satan if he could spare some change for the cause.  The history of oil companies in the United States speaks volumes .

Last night I watched American Experience: We Shall Remain: Disc 2 about the Trail of Tears.  Images came to mind of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe currently fighting the Keystone XL pipeline, partly out of concern about oil contamination of the Ogllala Aquifer.  In the Trail of Tears documentary I saw President Andrew Jackson betray the trust of the Cherokee Nation, and even refuse to honor U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s finding that the state of Georgia’s attempt to forcibly remove Cherokee people was unconstitutional.  Jackson’s reply was “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it! … Build a fire under them. When it gets hot enough, they’ll go.”  According to the documentary, it was the only time in U. S. history, a president refused a ruling from The U. S. Supreme Court.  Land was at stake so basic human rights were denied, the U. S. Constitution was ignored, and ethnic cleansing resulted.  PBS Online noted “over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died” on the winter march though other reports put the number of dead much higher.   Today, March 24, 2014, is the The 175th anniversary of the end of the Trail of Tears, and what have we learned?  Ask the Rosebud Sioux.

Seven Things I Saw Near Borrego Desert
Turkey vulture reminded me of Congress.
Waterless river – poverty.
Discarded pack of Winstons – lies.
Kumeyaay pictograph suns, humans,
and weaving – hope.
One-legged man fighting
steep trail with a walker – myself.
Cougar attack sign – failed love.
Swainson’s hawk carrying a snake
reminded how spirit wins
over flesh every time
and eventually flies you home.

A 2013 Artsmith Fellow on Orcas Island < http://orcasartsmith.blogspot.com/2013/02/artsmith-artist-spotlight-scott-starbuck.html >,
Scott T. Starbuck feels destruction of Earth’s ecosystems is closely related to spiritual illness and widespread urban destruction of human consciousness.  His newest book The Other History <   http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-History-Scott-Starbuck/dp/1938853415  > was recently published by FutureCycle Press. His blog post on eco-poetry writing, “The Godfather Box,” is at South 85 < http://south85journal.com/2014/02/the-godfather-box/ >.  He lives on Whidbey Island and in San Diego, and blogs about environmental issues, fishing, and poetry in the Pacific Northwest at http://riverseek.blogspot.com/

4 thoughts on “3 Questions for Scott Starbuck

  1. Terrific interview. And those bears — what a thought: drowned in a world changing so quickly. Daughter-in-law is an atmospheric physicist who did her research on Ellesmere Island among the tiny Peary caribou and wolves and saw the changes over the past decade. Thank you for such thoughtful observations about poetry and action…

    • Thanks. I recently heard from an Alaskan poet about the conflict between another scientist and that scientist’s funding agency. It’s Galileo vs the Roman Inquisition all over again. A few days ago, I turned on my computer and there was a giant ad about why the Keystone XL Pipeline is a great thing. As I said above, I’m on the side of the Rosebud Sioux, not the Keystone XL Pipeline. I recall Custer’s misguided attempt against the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne. I think now, as then, the wind is on the side of the Sioux.

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