Saturday, November 4, 2023

Paul E. Nelson : Barry McKinnon in ICU



                            in maple leaf dropping season.

                                Multiple organ failure         

                                as the body cancels itself

                                and you Barry with it. You won’t

                 need a spleen where you're going.


                         “The imagined real place”

                           where there is no beer

                                               & no nothing

                                      to try & drink away.


                        You wanted to tell us something

                              something of your live off

                                  potatoes genetics & prairie

                             ignorance of blunt men &

                                                         plump wives.


How now yr not consumed by age

                                 but rage maybe —

                      a cancel  culture  casualty.


You killed him! You killed him.

in your rancid prairie poncho,

hijo de puta! we might say if we unleash

                        the Rexroth in us..


                       Another maple leaf falls

                       & you watch it writhe

                       & twist in the no October


                                          Barry you were

                                just a boy

                                          back then hearing

                            your dad’s drunk threat to

                                         “burn the

                                  god damn house down”


              & how what paternal words shape a

                         maple leaf’s descent. How death’s

                 no vale but a folding in space without wind.


           Fred and love at 1 cent a mile

                  & Barry (you) as one other fall


                        No more Hemet winters

                        no more four day beer benders


            just watch a master poet’s life

                   at it whizzes past your eyelids

                   better than you remembered it.


                        Trading 8ths in Calgary

                           w/ Joni Mitchell

                                   (nee Anderson) in the room

                           the Depression Coffeehouse w/ her

                                                     capo & guitar.


                                    Laughing at the Creeley

                                       gig in PG, yes was you

                                                 got him there, you


                        who plopped poetry into the

                               pulp mills & sawdust,

                                    log trucks & chokecherries

                                  somehow not knowing

                                    how your days’d end

                                           in the ICU, heart, spleen, 

                                              liver, guts all with ENOUGH

                                       of this bitter illusion.

                          In the unknown somewhere



                                we take the rain / our future



                  Without you dear truth teacher.

                                      Dear canceled poet.


                  Larry said poetry: “is the mind

                  already in the afterlife.” Of course

                            you beat us there.




Paul E Nelson



Casa del Colibrí









Poet & interviewer Paul E. Nelson is the son of a labor activist father and Cuban immigrant mother. Born on Chicago’s west side in 1961, he’s lived in King County since 1988 where he founded the Cascadia Poetics LAB & the Cascadia Poetry Festival. Since 1993, CPL has produced hundreds of poetry events & 700 hours of interview programming with legendary poets, indigenous leaders & whole systems activists. Paul’s books include Haibun de la Serna, A Time Before Slaughter/Pig War: & Other Songs of Cascadia, American Prophets (interviews 1994-2012), American Sentences, A Time Before Slaughter and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies. Co-Editor of Cascadian Zen Volume I: bioregional writings on Cascadia here and Now, Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia, 56 Days of August: Poetry Postcards, Samthology: A Tribute to Sam Hamill, Make it True meets Medusario (Spanish y English) he serves as Literary Executor for the late poet Sam Hamill and lives in Rainier Beach, in the Cascadia bioregion’s Cedar River watershed.

See at 2015 interview he did with Barry McKinnon here. See rob mclennan's obituary for McKinnon here.


CM Sears : Lost, Hurt, or in Transit Beautiful, by Rohan Chhetri

Lost, Hurt, or in Transit Beautiful, Rohan Chhetri
Tupelo Press, 2021




Rohan Chhetri’s new poetry book Lost, Hurt, or in Transit Beautiful is a daring and innovative collection, and winner of the Kundiman Prize. Dually published in India by Harper Collins, and in the United States by Tupelo Press. In the poems, the realms of unified body and mind are poetically painted as alive, resilient, and powerful. This text is full of somatic wisdom, searing pain, and haunting memories. Chhetri is a Nepali Indian poet residing in Houston, US and this collection was initially published in 2021.

In the first section of the book, Katabasis, meaning,“military retreat,” the reader swiftly encounters the complex and troubled geo-political landscape that foregrounds the book. The first poem, King’s Feedery, recalls a land history of unrest, agitated by militaristic bids for power. A birds eye view is established in the very first line: “After the rape & the bloodbath, the savage king/ & his men retired to a long shed…” but the poem quickly zooms in, pulling a reader’s focus inwards, to the bodies of the soldiers and the villagers: “One by one, they scrubbed blood off their fingers & faces & sat down to devour a feast of rice and goat served by the villagers.” This kind of dramatic zooming movement pulls the reader assertively into the world of the poem.
           The second section of the book, Locus Amoenus, opens with the lyric and sensorily-rich Bordersong. Here, the collective past is invoked through the lens of innervated memory.

Sensorial integration serves this poem elegantly: “We lived downwind of a bakery,/ butter sesame roasted black cumin/….and then moves into an everyday experience of the mosque; it is near the “tall house” and is personified as standing “downwind of a peaceful kingdom’s border.” The spatial direction “downwind” is more specific and enlivened than the neutrality of compass points, North or South, etc. The scented reference of “downwind” is repeated, emphasizing humanity and a neighborhood reference. Together these wrap a reader in the close feeling of living within this village. In Chhetri’s satisfying poetic landscape, every component of human life, individual and corporate, the fabric of embodied society, is intimately connected. The food descriptions point to the land, and to crops of the fields. The fields are described in a way that moves towards topography. The topography is underfoot custom, relationship and religion. Religious faith and spiritual practice is connected to, or in opposition with “officiality,” borders, governments, and courts of law. Throughout the collection, the complicated and historic displacement of Nepali Indians and their communities explodes in vivid detail. The poet’s extreme juxtaposition further establishes rhythmic and thematic integrity that pulls the reader through a tenuous literary landscape.

 Reading across the boundaries of intersectionality, even a small twist in word order makes a significant impact. The poet’s movements, every contortion or unexpected twist of syntax resounds like a brass temple bell’s reverberation. The poem continues its movement, continually referencing the specificity of  place: “We lived downwind of a temple…” and keeps the implicated connection to the sense of smell. This line is the fourth, but not final repetition, and it is here that the poem begins to speak to violence, death and destruction. Fragmentation and inversion of the language troubles the waters, and shifts the poem into deeper terrain: “Downwind of a cremation ghat, incense of another kind: cloying, rot-sweet, / burning flesh masked in clarified butter woodsmoke hunger/ all synonyms for the Lord’s true name.” Spiritual and philosophical themes are called to mind by the honorific title “the Rimpoche.” This title can be translated as “precious one” and is used to describe a spiritual leader in buddhism, specifically, Tibetan buddhism.  In this poem, we learn that this leader made a gift of betel nuts to chaotic rebels. The next lines move away from incense and meditation: “cannibals in lieu of their blood-/ rimmed thirst & craving of gnawbone” into the bloodied world of revolution and rot. The poet’s impressive control of image and sonic patterning infuses every poem.

Displacement is a discernible theme throughout this difficult, but very worthwhile, book of poetry. This reader remained actively engaged, and found empathy for this pained community, especially for the children who live in families who do not leave their ancestral homelands. These folks endure and stay: either refusing to emigrate, or unable to do so. These reasons for staying put could be material, spiritual, or psychological. Emigration is a huge risk to take, and staying put may be the safer choice for some. Furthermore, in today’s geo-political climates, the end result of emigrating is very uncertain. In Chhetri’s beautiful poetry book, many people stay behind on conflict-soaked land, and cope with fallout from the “the putrid summer of the old revolution.”

Even the ideological contrast of an old (read: unfinished, incompleted) and revolution (read: according to Merriam Webster Dictionary as radical, sudden or complete change) approach paradox effectively. The image of putrid summer calls to mind waste, plunder and a two-week old strike by sanitation workers in the middle of July heat. Chhetri’s poems, through word choice, enjambment and syntactical force, applauds cognitive dissonance, and constructs significant resonance. A slow burn, this book was on my nightstand for several weeks.

Later sections of the book continue the meditation on conflicts between people-groups, the impact on “the child” and the inner child, long left behind. The poetic perspective is both personal and global, and poetic images move to places as varied as LA, Dhaka in Bangladesh,  and the mighty Raidāk River that winds through Indian, Bangladesh and Bhutan. The thematic and sonic presence of the river is a vital component of the poem Raidāk River, Thimphu. Chhetri’s conjuring of the enlivened landscape in its most elemental form, is arresting and thought-provoking.

Many of the poems are concerned with fragmentary experiences and somatic or “felt” complications of oppression. There is a movement from “the collective to the individual,” and a close focus on the Nepali-language speakers of West Bengal, as the struggle to carve out autonomous space and self-governance continues. According to the poet’s notes, which I accessed from Rohan Chhetri’s website, “the 100-year revolution continues, as Nepali speakers seek an autonomous state.” Chhetri further explains that the battle for sovereignty is rooted in language rights and cultural expression, as residents “demand self-determination.” Language is a most embodied expression of living, communicating, and articulating collective meaning and individuated content.

The second portion of Chhetri’s 2021 book, winner of the prestigious Kundiman Poetry Prize,  continues to alternate between novel and dynamic forms. For example, National Grief  is composed in tercets, and the elegiac form is explored, then abandoned, in Restoration Elegy. The epigraph for Restoration Elegy, is a line from Agha Shahid Ali and this reference ties the two poets together in subtle correspondence. The epigraph reads “Is history deaf there, across the oceans?” This question is answered by the continued deep and wide movement of the poems, in which the past continues to morph and influence the present.

The epigraph grounds the elegy. Abandoning elegiac form in favor of its own inner logic, this poem comprises two mixed-media halves, both of which reference a river, creatures such as pelicans, gulls, family of deer, coyote,  and fawns, and multiple lines about children who interact with nature, and live in complicated towns. The children and animals pace and inhibit their own environs.  In Part One, the poem closes with an emphasis on human grief, loss and longing: “Once, you saw a mute girl say grace over dinner in a language/ so heavy with hands, her face closed in a busy silence.” Part Two of the poem emphasizes the animals, particularly a tender and vulnerable fawn. The deer family invades the human landscape, marked by “its singular desire to bring to surface / every lost map of your grandfather's revolution.” The deer, usually the hungry and rather desperate interlopers in  human denizens, are alert to the suffering of people in a completely unique and flipped way. These deers are poised to be responsive and sensitive, as they are strangers in human neighborhoods, and “not used to the animal hunger  which invades the body of the predator; the body of the human.
          In an August 14, 2021 interview with Editor Kristina Darling and poet Rohan Chhetri, he notes:

My book is shot through with echoes, some more overt than others, of poets from Homer to Forrest Gander, the Indian anglophone poets, poets from the Nepali poetic tradition, and in a more embodied way many other vernacular and oral poetic traditions that have come by way of prayer or song throughout my childhood.”

Periodically, the lost child surfaces, making the readers’ awareness of who is speaking, and who is knowing, even more sophisticated.  The themes and vibrant language, coupled with the formal fluidity and multi-modal explorations of time and identity are compelling. Additionally, the precious interrogations of body, self, tribe and memory are the reasons you will want to return to this fierce book of poetry over and over again.

 This is a collection which demands multiple readings, and periodic revisiting. The poetic range of In Transitis astonishing, and the emotional and intellectual weight of this haunting living text deserves a wide international audience.




CM Sears is an essayist, poet, fiction writer, and interdisciplinary artist. Their poetry has been presented, produced or published by Tupelo Press' 30 x 30 Program (Massachusetts), Arts by the People's Intonation Program (New Jersey) and South Bend Museum of Art (Indiana) and in Juste Milieu Literary Magazine Issue # 16, (Detroit) among other places. Prose publications of their work can be found in the American Book Review, The Hare’s Paw Literary Journal, Iselle Magazine, the Sad Girl’s Club Lit, and elsewhere. CM’s performance texts and scores/scripts have been presented by the DLEctricity Festival (Detroit)  the Hot Prospects Festival (Brooklyn) and by Wonderfool Productions / (Ann Arbor) and by the Glastonbury Festival of the Performing Arts ( England).  CM has a long international performance career integrating costume, dance, fibers, media and movement. Cm's essay on Muriel Rukeyser and Martha Graham is forthcoming in 2024 in the book, Revisiting Modernist Texts (by Lexington Books, USA/ India.)

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