Monthly Archives: September 2013

the net that held the sky in my window

The ash tree drops the few dry leaves it bore in May,
stands naked by mid-July.
When each day’s evil news drains into the next,
a monotonous overflow,
has a tree’s dying lost the right to be mourned?
No–life’s indivisible.  And this tree,
rooted beyond my fence, has been,
branch and curved twig, in leaf or bare, the net
that held the sky in my window.
Trunk in deep shade, its lofting crown
offers to each day’s 
pale glow after the sun
is almost down, an answering gold–
the last light
held and caressed.
–Denise Levertov, from Breathing the Water

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The Wilderness, Gary Snyder

There’s a useful section at the end of Gary Snyder’s 1975 Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection Turtle Island called “Plain Talk,” in which Snyder expresses profound reverence towards nature, and insights on how all the elements of earth are alive, magical, and responsible for human existence.

Snyder addresses the dire global problems that are becoming increasingly worse because of human carelessness towards the earth, in practical terms.  In his essay “Four Changes,” originally distributed as a pamphlet, Snyder maps out what he believes are the four most necessary human changes needed for the survival of the planet, and gives practical solutions for how to act on these current problems.  The essay addresses: Population, Pollution, Consumption, and Transformation.  Snyder argues that there needs to be large scale cultural transformation in order to change the environmental problems that have been growing exponentially due to the over-population of humans, sanctioned polluting of the earth, over-consumption of resources, and negligent disposal of resources.

Another important section of “Plain Talk,” is the essay, “The Wilderness,” where Snyder discusses the very real need to represent the plants, animals, air, water and soil in government, and in all human decision-making.  Natural beings are our life-giving mothers, and it’s necessary to protect and defend them as we would our own bodies.

Gary Snyder says:

“I don’t like Western culture because I think it has much in it that is inherently wrong and that is at the root of the environmental crisis that is not recent; it is very ancient; it has been building up for a millennium.  There are many things in Western culture that are admirable.  But a culture that alienates itself from the very ground of its own being—from the wilderness outside (that is to say, wild nature, the wild, self-contained, self-informing ecosystems) and from that other wilderness within—is doomed to a very destructive behavior, ultimately perhaps self-destructive behavior.”

The actions of many in today’s global capitalist society disregard the air, soil and water as being inanimate—when in fact these elements create human life.  To disregard nature is to exist without feeling what it’s like to be truly alive, for the body is the earth, and requires air, water, soil and sun to survive.  It is self-destructive to destroy our earth.  Though the plants, air and water may not speak our language, they have a sophisticated language of their own, and carry molecules that connect all life.

Snyder points out that it’s natural for a poet—the deep feeler, sensitive receptor artist—to feel akin to nature and defend the earth:

“You would not think a poet would get involved in these things.  But the voice that speaks to me as a poet, what Westerners have called the Muse, is the voice of nature herself, whom the ancient poets called the great goddess, the Magna Mater.  I regard that voice as a very real entity.  At the root of the problem where our civilization goes wrong is the mistaken belief that nature is something less than authentic, that nature is not as alive as man is, or as intelligent, that in a sense it is dead, and that animals are of so low an order of intelligence and feeling, we need not take their feelings into account.”

The poetic muse is the earth goddess: the animals, wind, birds, rivers, oceans, lakes, mountains, flowers, trees.

Gary Snyder offers solutions within “The Wilderness,” which look to primitive cultures and life ways, where historically people have opened themselves up to the representing other life forms through art.

“What we must find a way to do, then, is incorporate the other people—what the Sioux Indians called the creeping people, and the standing people, and the flying people, and the swimming people—into the councils of government.  This isn’t as difficult as you might think.  If we don’t do it, they will revolt against us.  They will submit non-negotiable demands about our stay on earth.  We are beginning to get non-negotiable demands right now from the air, the water, the soil.”

Melting icecaps, flooding, tsunamis, fires and major storms are the non-negotiable demands from the earth.  A reciprocal relationship between us and the planet must be nurtured and respected for our own health and sustenance, and in order for human life to be sustained.

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Nez Perce protest tar sands shipment trespassing on their lands

Here’s a segment of an interview with tribal councilman Brooklyn Baptiste regarding the blockade that defends the earth from greed,

“We were not consulted, we did not give consent; these MegaLoads are humongous. They block all traffic, they create adverse economic impacts for us, long term environmental impacts, and safety issues. Additionally, we do not support Tarsands Oil development; we (Nez Perce Tribal Council) have a resolution in place supporting our 1st Nations relatives on the other side of this colonial border who are suffering because of Tarsands Oil extraction. It’s total destruction. We all felt we had to take a stand; they need to listen. Something has to change. We all got charged with disorderly conduct but that direct action is effective. Just think if everyone did that when it was time. As leaders, elected or not, we need to be able to meet our ancestors in the spirit world and hold our heads up strong and answer them when they ask if we did all we could do to protect the people and the land. This is about our inherent sovereignty. We are sovereign because of this land, this water, the animals. What is sovereignty without them? We’re all waking up.”

To read more from the interview and story go here.

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Review: Nurses Who Love English by Paula Marie Coomer


Paula Marie Coomer is a nurse and writer who uses poems as balm.  Her latest collection of poetry Nurses Who Love English gives a diverse coalescence of lyric story and song: a soundtrack to a personal history that traces American landscapes of ghosts, rivers, mountains, healers, wanderers and the divine.  The language in these poems feels authentic, giving the sense of passing through forest roads and being let into secrets near campfires, in fields and in diners.

The poems range stylistically from couplets to syllabics to found poems, all containing imagery of earth, dream, memory, presence and desire.  Coomer’s use of the prose poem is notably musical and enchanting:

“He carves us pitch for better spark and hotter kindling to knit old times with folks he doesn’t even know.  The fire keeps you and I tippling Glenlivet and telling serendipity tales long after he drives into the October dim.

Brook trout with strawberry bellies, fins dipped white-edged, trimmed like frosting, leave Strawberry Lake by the scores to spawn, thick enough to walk across the fingers of the delta.  I think it’s a miracle and accuse you: you led us here because humans need to see miracles now and again.”  – from“Strawberry Lake’s Photo Album”

One of the most compelling aspects of Coomer’s poetry is the surprising and spiritual glimpses into human relationships.

Nurses Who Love English offers current social commentary, like in “Polar Bear SOS,” which gives stark and realistic visions of polar bears drowning in the melting polar icecap, and in “A New Poetry,” where the luck of a few people is juxtaposed with the destruction of others, and the raven’s song has the final say.  While using art to imitate the life of now, Nurses Who Love English keeps hold of a well-rooted foundation capable of transforming the heartbreak of loss and war with beauty and love.

The book showcases other types of transformation as well.  In “On Leaving Home” the narrator describes boldly breaking free of her Indiana homeland at a young age, and how the place “never said, daughter, why don’t you/come on home, now, you hear?   It just let me/go.  It let me take my satchel and book bag/and follow the creek out of the woods, down/and out of my holler.”  Here the narrator recognizes the need to spread her wings in order to survive, yet she is pulled by a telepathic message from her Aunt Imogene, “Smart girls don’t drill holes in the water bucket.”  The poem ends.  Such unsentimental telling is a Paula Marie Coomer signature, seen also in the Americana traveling poem that comprises her chapbook Road.

Coomer’s poems show us how to meld into our surroundings, which in turn become us, and give us the wisdom to love trees, sip water straight from the well, and listen to birds give blessings, “Safe journey earth daughter.”

Review by Lisa Panepinto

Originally published at:

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johnny appleseed, joe strummer

if you’re after getting the honey, hey
then you don’t killing all the bees

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