Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Caroline Goodwin : Process Note #8 : Snaketime/Collage

The 'process notes' pieces were originally solicited by Maw Shein Win as addendum to her teaching particular poems and poetry collections for various workshops and classes. These poems and process note by Caroline Goodwin was part of her curriculum for her Poetry Workshop at University of San Francisco in their MFA Program for Fall semester of 2022. https://www.usfca.edu/arts-sciences/programs/graduate/writing-mfa



In the fall of 2020, I took an online poetry workshop with bilingual performance poet Rhys Trimble, who is based in North Wales, UK. The course was called “Poetry and Eclogue: Ritual Ecopoetics”, at The Poetry School. Other students were collaging and making more “concrete” poems than I’d ever written, so I thought I’d try my hand. Soon my washer and dryer were covered with all manner of paper scraps, scissors, beads, bark, feathers, shells, twigs, etc. I could work on these “poems” throughout the days, in between teaching, carpooling, cooking, parenting, (you know) and I could keep a part of myself connected to each project for a sustained period of time, until it felt finished. I was so happy!

I invented a set of seven formal constraints for myself: each piece had to contain an image of my late husband Nick (1957 - 2016), my favorite image of myself as a girl in Alaska “frog-hunting” at a lake north of Anchorage, a scrap of Nick’s original handwriting, some scientific language or formula, glass seed beads, a line from a poem by a deceased poet, and a line from a poem by a living colleague. In the process of making the collages, I envisioned the white space (death) and considered the ways in which poems can illuminate that boundary between the living and the dead. I thought about ways to continue integrating the sudden loss of my beloved husband through making, and how collaging, like poeming (to me), is a way to move energy around. I was happy with the results.

Alongside these visual pieces, I was building the manuscript that was to become Matanuska, (Aquifer Press, Wales, UK, 2022). Obsessed with the worldwide COVID-19 death count, published on worldometer.com, I decided to incorporate these numbers into poem titles. Early on, when I heard the news about the pandemic: eventually it will be beyond anything we can imagine, I thought no way. Why are they being so dramatic? And yet I knew that each moment's death count, and its specific time and date, were unique and would never be repeated. I decided to write a death-count poem every 24 hours until things stabilized and the count did not increase in a 24-hour period. Ha.

Like the visual art, I implemented a few formal constraints: each poem would be 17 lines long, because I wanted them to look like sonnets, but not be sonnets. I like odd numbers, and 15 lines was too close to the Elizabethan form, while 19 felt cheesy (COVID-19). I would repeat, three times throughout each poem, a bit of text from Discovering Wild Plants: Alaska, Western Canada, The Pacific Northwest by Janice J. Schofield, which was one of Nick's textbooks from his undergraduate studies. I would open this book randomly and, if the plant hadn't yet been in a poem, that was the plant of the day. If it had, and only if it had, I could move to a different page. I was obligated to choose something from that page to repeat in the poem, and in between these three lines I placed found text from a variety of sources such as I Mention the Garden for Clarity by Canadian poet Vivian Marple, Bitch Dust by Welsh poet Steven Hitchins, and New Ways of Letting Go by Austin-based musician Michael Zapruder, among others. I was consistently pleased with the ways in which these found texts fit together in the 17 lines, making their unique echoes and rhythms.

17 Vaccinium ovalifolium Whortleberry 01-22-20 0900 PST

the fresh, cleaned fish, rabbit, or duck
and under my feet green ice, the ice
holding its own array of paper birch seeds
and they are like stars in their shapes and
in their assorted romantic arrangements and
they are: lady birch, gray birch, Kenai birch
under the soles of my feet of my bootprint
the fresh, cleaned fish, rabbit, or duck
whose habitat varies from the bogs and tundra
to the lowlands and subalpine meadows, whose
jawbones gleamed in the rushes, the palms
of my hands, the extremities where the pelt
and the sinew, the woodstove and snowshoe,
and they are like pools shining or holding
the white sky before us and they are like
my skin, the very cells, the marrow and helix,
the fresh, cleaned fish, rabbit, or duck


55,203 Lupinus nootkatensis Quaker’s Bonnets 04-03-20 0844 PDT

seeds were once used as money
or as trade beads or cause and effect,
a small bone whistle in the mouth,
a golden egg, a snow goose, a field
of violet stalks rising to meet me,
to soothe or to mend, good eating,
what I wouldn’t say or give to
what I wouldn’t lay at the feet
and a fact and a fable and a way
seeds were once used as money
burning in the throat, if I offered
it all if I performed the elaborate
rite if that green myth if the coin
resting on the eye if the twenty
snowy mountains, hillocks, creeks,
honey, ivory spindles, luxuriant, sweet
seeds were once used as money


149,860 Typha domingus Cattail 04-17-20 0847 PDT

as well as in ceremonial rites for adolescent girls.
as well the rhizome and rootstalk, the heart. Bedding
down the grey day contained. The emblems around
the neck like a collar. Flabellum of the pelican
feather, painted eye. In the diocese of mice, arch-
provision, portmanteau. In the straw. In the hissing
weeds. Who after my love came into the snowmelt
the marshland the silt and pond, glacial. As well
the spirit-journey. Whose child carried herself thusly
as well as in ceremonial rites for adolescent girls.
What the wortcunner, sword swallower, copper
shield, sentinel, soothsayer, hearth and broom.
I did serve that dish to the unsuspecting. As well
the beneficence of the bird tribe and in the copse,
a thrashing. At the rivermouth, at daybreak, the slick
water cools. Those the flower spikes, swordlike, blue,
uncurled, as well as in ceremonial rites for adolescent girls.


399,112 Eleaegnus commutata Wolf Willow 06-06-20 0745 PDT

resting on the shores of the Matanuska River
on a balmy summer evening, on a rain charm
the likes of which, issuing from heaven, sliding
past and sliding past, creatures of light or of
love, the blood-braid, the back of my hand, heart
song, heart boat calling you up and these the
night leaves the slip of sun, clothespin, bowl
of slivers in the fireweed, as far as the eye as
far as the candlewick or magpie, if you go
resting on the shores of the Matanuska River
take your map and lightning bolt, take your life
now pedal to the metal, now cut and weld, now
rot and rust and how the sky splits, the plot twists
the earth at your back, at your snowlight, your
granite opulence, your citizenship and shadow
flecks of mica now shapeshifting into sisters
resting on the shores of the Matanuska River

I was also happy to have some of my collage work featured in my second poetry collection from Big Yes Press in Arroyo Grande, CA. This book is called Madrigals after the blind street musician Moondog’s early album of the same name. Moondog, when he played his handmade instruments, called it "playing snaketime” because once a ballet dancer had heard his “slippery, pulsing five or seven beats to a measure”; she said it sounded “snakey”.


If you show up
today I will open
the door, put on
the kettle. Familiar

as the net-vein willow,
catkin fur
we use for
wicks. At night

I can hear
the roots
beneath the floor. Girl
who sits humming
on the back porch,

tapping her hands
into fins.
If under
the lichens the weevils
are moving,
if under my
palms the water


A faraway flapping.
A trap door,
wind. The ways
in which the river
speaks. Open it up,
you’ll see. You’ll let it in.

Collaging, poeming, and trusting Spirit to guide my process: all of these feel like a continuing journey, one that sustains and heals. To me, it's that exciting combination of intention and synchronicity that always makes it worthwhile to show up at the page. I hope it's the deep connection with other poets and artists that shines through.




Caroline Goodwin moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Sitka, Alaska in 1999 to attend Stanford as a Wallace Stegner Fellow in poetry. Her recent books are Old Snow, White Sun (JackLeg Press, Washington, DC), Madrigals (Big Yes Press, Arroyo Grande, CA), and Matanuska (Aquifer Press, Wales, UK). She teaches at California College of the Arts, Stanford Continuing Studies, and UC Berkeley Extension; from 2014-16 she served as the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, where she lives on the coast with Jimi Hendrix the Pug. http://www.carolinegoodw.com/

Maw Shein Win’s most recent poetry book is Storage Unit for the Spirit House (Omnidawn) nominated for the Northern California Book Award in Poetry, longlisted for the PEN America Open Book Award, and shortlisted for CALIBA's Golden Poppy Award for Poetry. Win's previous collections include Invisible Gifts (Manic D Press) and chapbooks Ruins of a glittering palace (SPA) and Score and Bone (Nomadic Press). She is the inaugural poet laureate of El Cerrito and often collaborates with visual artists, musicians, and other writers. mawsheinwin.com

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