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Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form? Michael McClure died on May 4 and I found out, I believe, May 5 and May 6 at 6:48am, I finished this sonnet which is from a series called Sonetos de Cascadia.
They are “prose sonnets” my friend Matt Trease (Left) (https://www.facebook.com/mjtrease/friends) pointed out. Essentially 14 line prose poems. (Sometimes 15.) Since this series was my current one (at the time) I put the grief I was feeling for this beloved teacher/poet/hermano into the poem knowing I’d have 14 long lines to get it done. Since I compose projectively, there may have been a few tweaks right after composing, when reading it aloud to myself, but minor ones. A comma. Fixing a typo. That kind of fine-tuning. McClure taught me much about this stance toward poem-making and of course I learned a lot about it reading his poems, interviews and essays and most of all the first time I interviewed him.
Click on the Blue link below to learn how to write a prose sonnet
Charles Olson calls Projective Verse “a use of speech at its least carless and least logical.” Denise Levertov called her take on spontaneous composition “Organic Poetry” and said that “form is never more than a revelation of content.” Robin Blaser and Jack Spicer called it “The Practice of Outside.” So, I take the energy of an event or events and let the composition proceed via the sounds of syllables as they occur to me while composing, along with other cues.
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I was at my desk (Below Left), looking at Lake Washington from Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, in the TUX woo kwib watershed in the Cascadia bioregion. Lake Washington is a 19 mile-long lake, created by retreating glaciers, which separates Seattle from the “East Side” suburbs that include Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond, Washington. There are coots, eagles, osprey, beavers, herons, crows, seagulls, hummingbirds, ducks, geese and many other critters who can be spotted from my writing window. A marina is just beyond our deck. The Cascade foothills are visible and, at the time of year Michael died, the sunrises over Mercer Island are rather spectacular. TUX woo kwib is the aboriginal name for the creek that flows into the lake here.
My mornings usually start by 5 and my partner and I have a caffeinated beverage. She has coffee. I have a matcha latté. After that, I write 1,000 words in my journal, do prayers, divination and yoga before breakfast. The space in which I may write a poem is often available in this morning ritual time.
What month and year did you start writing this poem? May 2020. My Mac Pages program, which offers a “Browse All Versions” option says there are no other versions of this document. I usually compose on the Mac via Pages. (Right: View from Paul Nelson's writing space. Credit and copyright granted by Paul Nelson)
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? (And can you share a photograph of your rough drafts with pen markings on it?) One (Left: Paul Nelson in April of 2020. Copyright granted by Paul Nelson)
Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? No. I have found writing projectively that any phrase that makes it into the poem is a necessary one. If a poem does not work, it is because it did not incubate long enough, or the energy which started it was not felt strongly enough and so I will skip over that poem when creating a book, or just cast it aside.
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I think what the readers take from the poem is an experience unique to each reader. I hope they will see my love and appreciation for having known Michael McClure (Right) in this lifetime and that he enriched my life immeasurably, which I have written about many times before. I hope they will also get some sense that death is not an end, but a return to an existence which makes the beloved part of everything and not simply “gone” though they are gone in a way as well. Michael was inspired very much by Hua-yen Buddhism(https://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/eastern-religions/buddhism/hua-yen-buddhism) which suggests “an interdependent co-origination of the universe” and that rings true to me. So, I would hope that some of that reflection is experienced by the readers of the poem.
Which part of the poem was the most emotional of you to write and why? The first line. How to hold grief at bay enough to start writing and yet have enough of the life force of that grief to propel the poem is a tricky balance.
Has this poem been published before? And if so where? I don’t think so. I believe it was rejected by Rattle Magazine for their “Poets Respond” project.
Sonetos De Cascadia 6-May-2020
“THE MOMENT OF EMOTIONAL PASSION
is a flame swirling out of childhood.”
— Michael McClure
Dharma Devotion 77