Old stone wall,
the house
at Indian Beach.
Village women,
another lifetime,
their voices,
and the drums.

There’s an old stone wall near Indian Beach at Neck Point Park in Nanaimo. It’s one of the few things that remains of the house that once stood on the property.

When I refer to the old stone wall in “Fragments,” my poem excerpted above, it’s that special place with its view of Shack Island, Washington’s Mt Baker, and the coastal mountains of the mainland, ancient memories of village women, “their voices and the drums”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe spiritual aspects of ceremonies and of this ancient place, generational identities and even sexual orientation blend together for me here in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Memories of travel, words from other poets, all define who I am here and help me describe “a poet’s Nanaimo”.

The land here – the river, estuary, harbour, island and ocean – is the basis of the traditions of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (The Great People). This land is also the source of their inspiration. The Snuneymuxw have lived here for over 5000 years.

Their winter village was Departure Bay where ferries now come and go. The Snuneymuxw know their village as Stlilup. Towards the present downtown, are sites of other ancient villages including along the banks of the Millstone River where the Howard Johnson Hotel is now located. And there were original village sites in the Nanaimo harbour, on the Nanaimo River and at False Narrows on Gabriola Island.

Robert Bringhurst, in his poem, “Stopping By,” writes:

Wherever we let the land belong
is called What Happened Here Before,
because what happened here before
is that the land learned how to be
what it became. That is to say,
it learned how to learn, day after day,
to belong where it is. That is the story
of each place that is a place and every
thing that is a thing. It is the only way
a being can become what being is.
It is the story of the riverbeds, the gravels,
bedrocks, mosses, Douglas firs,
the northern toads and black-tailed deer.

When he refers to “What Happened Here Before,” Robert is naming a poem by Gary Snyder whose poems and prose “explore many cultural and bio-regional dimensions of the whole West Coast.”  (Quote from Cascadia: The Life and Breath of the World edited by Frank Stewart and Trevor Carolan.)

Robert Bringhurst, poet, typographer, translator, cultural historian and linguist, is one of the presenters coming to the Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo April 30 to May 3, 2015. He’ll be on a panel with David McCloskey and Harold Rhenisch entitled “Where Geography, Culture and Language Intersect” at Vancouver Island University (VIU) Bldg 355, Room 203 on Saturday, May 2 from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACascadia is described as “a life-place or bioregion, with its own distinctive character and context. Water is the voice of this place.” David McCloskey, Professor Emeritus of Ecological Studies at Seattle University and considered “the Father of Cascadia” for his extensive mapping of the bioregion will give the opening lecture at VIU (same location as above)  on Friday May 1 at 10:15 a.m.

Brenda Hillman, international winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2014, is another of the Cascadia Poetry Festival’s presenters. In their summary, the Griffin Prize judges said Brenda, in her book,  Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, “evokes fire as metaphor and as event to chart subtle changes of seasons” and she “gathers factual data, earthly rhythms, chants to the dead, journal entries and lyric fragments in the service of a radical animism.”

Radical animism. Now there’s something to which to aspire. As Brenda points out, that radical animism is meant to go beyond the page as it does with so many of the poet presenters coming to Nanaimo.

In her “Ecopoetic Manifesto: A Draft for Angie,” Brenda writes under the letter “F”: — &though powerless to halt the destruction of bioregions, the poem can be brought away from the computer. The poet can accompany acts of resistance so the planet won’t die of the human.”

Brenda Hillman is a professor of creative writing and holds the Olivia Filippi Chair in Poetry at St. Mary’s College, in Moraga, California.   She will be co-presenting a writing workshop with Barry McKinnon and George Stanley at VIU, Bldg 355, Room 103 on Saturday, May 2 from 2:15 to 5:15 p.m.

Stephen Collis is an example of someone who has taken on those acts of resistance.  He’s a poet and professor of contemporary literature at Simon Fraser University. Stephen will be on a panel called “Rewilding Poetry (Eco-Poetry in Cascadia)” at VIU on Sunday, May 3 from 9:30 to 11 a.m.  Nanaimo’s own Kim Goldberg will be hosting the panel.

In a recent interview Stephen said “We are at a point in history when people have to stand up for what they believe, and stand up to defend their local environments, and the global environment too.”  He was a spokesperson for the protestors who successfully disrupted survey work for a proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia.

In the spring issue of BC Bookworld: “A lawyer for Kinder Morgan read some of Stephen’s writing into the public record. It was a prose piece called ‘The Last Barrel of Oil on Burnaby Mountain’ from one of his blog posts.”

The blog, introduced in court as evidence of Stephen’s guilt as “someone intending to blockade their pipeline, and encouraging others to do so as well,” was called a poem. Stephen thought the literary structure led the judge to “re-brand” his blog as a poem. But what about that “radical animism?” Perhaps that’s what did it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “Living in a wild place, where every leaf is its own poem, brought healing process and poetry together” for Christine Lowther of Tofino. She writes: “They became one fierce beast, and then they became a book.”

As well as experiencing the healing nature of writing, Chris Lowther has been a life long activist. Her first blockade was in the Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island. In her latest book, Born Out of This (Caitlin Press, 2014), Chris quotes the late Catherine Lebredt writing about Clayoquot Sound where Chris now lives: “There are times when the fragility of this beautiful place really hits me in the face.”

Chris will be part of the Make It True presentation at VIU on Friday, May 1 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. That’s the title of the anthology being launched at the festival, published by Leaf Press. Chris will also be reading at The After Party at the Globe Bar & Grill from 10 p.m. onward. I’ll be reading there too along with twenty-nine other poets from around Cascadia.

Many voices are being added to those ancient voices and the sound of the drums. To read about the festival including the small press fair, the poets and to see the schedule, you can visit the website: www.cascadiapoetryfestival.org. Buy your Gold Passes there for $25 ($10 for students) or visit Iron Oxide Art Supplies in Nanaimo to purchase a Gold Pass that covers the whole four days of events (excluding workshops).  All of the photos in this blog were taken at Neck Point in Nanaimo. Our own special slice of Cascadia.