Why I Am A Poet or Pop! Goes The Weasel

I was recently on a panel where I was asked the usual question–how did you become a poet? The unvarnished truth is, I have no idea. But that doesn’t float socially. So I have answers ready, hopefully informative about creative process or at least charming.
However, I have been thinking about “Pop Goes The Weasel.” I’ve always loved it. I often sing it. Was my love for it as a child a sigh that I was going to be a poet? Or did it inspire me, in some mysterious way?

All around the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel;
The monkey thought ’twas all in fun,
Pop! goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread,
A penny for a needle—
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.

I loved much of Mother Goose, and old rhymes, particularly this next one. In it, disobeying one’s mother, gypsies, travel, and rhymed quatrains all conspired to whisper “freedom” in my listening ear. Something I care about more than poetry, I think. And something poetry must encourage.

My Mother said, I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood;
The wood was dark, the grass was green
Along came Sally with a tambourine.

I went to sea – no ship to get across,
I paid ten shillings for a blind white horse.
I up on his back and was off on a crack,
Sally tell my mother that I’ll never come back.

京都 高桐院 | Kyoto Kotoin 2014.03.27.


This gallery contains 9 photos.

Originally posted on 文写真 | Photo essays on everyday life…:
先日、あるグループ展に写真を出展することができたので、観光を兼ねて京都・奈良まで出かけてきた。貴重な休みを有効に使おうと意気込んではいたものの、それほど準備できないまま休みに突入。あまり計画的に動くのも嫌だったので、能を鑑賞することだけ予定に入れて、それ以外は自由に散策してきた。 初日はあいにくの雨で、まあ、こういう時ぐらいしか雨の日にカメラを持って外に出ないしなと思い、片手でもシャッターが切れる小さなコンパクトカメラを手に大徳寺を訪問した。広い境内は人もまばらで、松の木の香りが立ち籠めていた。高桐院を訪れるのが主な目的だったので、大徳寺のことは全然詳しくないのだけれど、豊臣秀吉はここで織田信長の葬儀を営んだとか。高桐院は細川忠興により建立された塔頭(脇寺)で、細川忠興と妻ガラシャの墓石がある。非公開だが息子の忠隆(長岡無休)や森鴎外の著作で有名な興津弥五右衛門などの墓もあるそう。それを聞くだけでも、色々な歴史的背景が想像され、個人的にはかなり興味深い訪問となった。後日、偶然にもこの大徳寺と縁のある寺を訪れることができたのだが、とりあえず、今日はこの辺まで。。。 春雨の松の香深き古寺歩き君巡り来る夢見月かな

Maelstrom Project by Doug Bootes

IMG_2577Don’t Shoot the Messenger- The Maelstrom Project
By Doug Bootes
I stand over the Rio Grande rift, feeling my legs being incrementally pulled apart with the continent, paintings on one side, words on the other, me in between, disappearing into both.
Poems, paintings. I began with a concept, maelstrom, a general reference to the undertow created by the insidious disparity of wealth and power in our free society and its devastating consumption of millions of lives, of generation after generation. Not an easy topic, not a well-articulated idea even. No, I didn’t want to respond to myself with a poem interpreting what’s depicted on canvas. No, I didn’t want to paste, paint, scribble or scratch words onto the canvas, no more than I want to decorate the words on the page in illuminated text or illustrate the stanzas.
So for three months I painted and wrote, separate, but parallel in context; whatever came to mind when I repeated the word, maelstrom. Liberated from the confines of form, the project took on a life of its own, a space where I can breathe deep and reach out in all directions, a space I can’t possibly fill.
Ten paintings and twenty poems. A collection of thoughts arranged around the idea that true beauty and character thrives in the vast southern underbelly of America stretching from Florida to California along interstates, on street corners, in alleys, in human beings pushed to the curb of consciousness, the people behind the card board signs with complex stories and lives that led them to the periphery of our vision.
Upon closer investigation, their environmental and socio-political backdrops are equally layered with neglect and ignorance of undiagnosed ills, decay and abuse. In words and paint I depict despair in the context of the freedom that comes from survival, from overcoming, from the liberating knowledge that we all bear the same light within us, no matter how deeply hidden. Chaos juxtaposed with transcendence; to only depict one or the other is incomplete, perhaps even irresponsible.
In the beginning, an exploration of society ills, in the end, an exploration of my own pale reflection.
In days when publicly funded police gun down the mentally ill and addicted as preferential treatment, when politicians speak endlessly of change which only occurs in their pockets and bank accounts, its time to realize that if we continue ignoring the problems staring us in the face begging for change, if we don’t join them in the streets to challenge the status quo, we doom all of our children to dwell in their chaos.

See, feel, contemplate. What I’ve ended up with are ten paintings and twenty poems encompassing humor, tenacity and resourcefulness.

Conceived on the winter solstice of 2013, the first installment of the Maelstrom project includes ten paintings and twenty poems interfacing each other. The ten paintings were done in a progressive succession of twenty six steps, each step photographed after its completion. The resulting two hundred and sixty images were then combined with thirty five detail images to compile a slide show documenting the process from the first scratch of charcoal on the canvasses to the last wash.
The twenty one minute slide show will be projected onto a screen during the reading of the poems, first forward, then backward after a brief intermission. A chapbook of the poems and images of the paintings will be released during a reception in Santa Fe prior to the opening of the show in New York featuring several of the original paintings.

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/