Sunday, 17 of December of 2017

Report: Watershed Environmental Poetry 2017

By Dennis Fritzinger

This year’s Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival kicked off with a guided walk along Strawberry Creek, the Creek that runs through Cal campus and was the original reason for Cal being sited on this spot.

I got to the meeting spot just past ten, a few minutes late but in time to hear most of what our first stop had to offer. Then hiking around, crossing the creek at one point (no easy task in my sandals), hiking down to look at a pool with urban fish in it, discussing the effort to clean out invasive ivy and Himalayan Blackberry, and chatting with my fellow hikers as we walked along. This went on until it was almost noon, which is when the Watershed Main Event was supposed to start, the Main Event being the rest of the day with featured poets, kid poets, music by the Watershed Band, and so forth. Since it costs to put on this event each year, fundraising buckets were passed around so the audience could contribute.

All this went on for hours as the sun slowly marched across the sky and we heard poet after poet, many of whom were new to me, and I ran up to give them a Warrior Poet card when they got off stage. That way I got to introduce myself to the poets and share the Armed With Visions site with them.

Besides Robert Haas, on the program were Malcolm Margolin, whose classic The Ohlone Way is still in print, Maxine Hong Kingston, author of Woman Warrior, who treated us to a first-time reading of her haiku, Camille Dungy, Kim Shuck, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Alison Luterman, Tess Taylor, Tiffany Higgins and Rafael Jesus Gonzales.. The day had breadth and variety as well as depth, and seemed, when five o’clock rolled around, to end too soon. Sunny but not too hot, the weather was near perfect and we even got a little bit of a cooling breeze.

The kid poets I mentioned were introduced by John Oliver Simon, director of California Poets in the Schools. There were banners, poetry displays, a sound system, and a large canopy with chairs set up to help you avoid the sun. Some didn’t bother with the canopy and just stretched out in the grass.

It’s always a pleasure to hear poetry with a purpose, not just the expressions of ego of its author. The insights of the poets, came from all directions, so I never felt like I was hearing the same thing being repeated over and over. The kid poets were delightful with their enthusiasm and sense of playfulness. California Poets in the Schools is a great program and deserves our support.

I’ll end with a comment by Kenn Fong, who joined me for this once-a-year event:

“I work in convention hospitality, and recently I attended an Artificial Intelligence conference.

One of the keynoters said that when we communicate, we get 55% of the information non-verbally. We get another 35% aurally. The remaining 9% (allowing for fractions above), is from the actual words itself.

This is why events such as Watershed are so important to us. It’s also why, in this modern age of video communication, tech leaders and workers fly thousands of miles to conferences where I work. The experience of seeing someone one on one with whom you have only shared emails or phone or video calls is a powerful one. I’m not a “woo-woo” type of guy, but just being in the same space with someone has some sort of intangible but real value.

So much of my time is spent with individuals who display no use for (and probably have no experience with) contemplative matters. That it’s important for me to nurture that side of me at least once a year.”

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Watershed Environmental Poetry 2017

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Leaves From an Australian Forest Protest by Ron Fletcher

Book Review by Dennis Fritzinger

Our friends Down Under are endlessly inventive. Not only have they given us John Seed, they brought Middle Earth to the Nullica Forest. In the pages of this book we find Bilbo (Baggins), but also elves, blue fairies and the like. (Granted, Tolkien didn’t write about blue fairies, but when you meet them you’ll know what they are.)

This is a book of poems. It covers a whole campaign, at least its author’s involvement in it. The only parallel I can think of is Grasshopper’s coverage of Red Cloud Thunder, though it was spotty by comparison and didn’t invoke Middle Earth’s language at any time.

Middle Earth in Australia? Isn’t it supposed to be in New Zealand? Isn’t that where they shot the movie? True enough, but the greenies put it in Nullica Forest this time, and that’s where we find it.

Technically speaking, the poems her are formal verse — that is, they rhyme. Rhyme, as we know, is a powerful tool for creating memories. Even unexceptional poems may have a line or two that is memorable thanks to its rhyming. The book, also, is organized like a diary. We are introduced to the author first, and then important actors in the story. Even the title harks back to an earlier piece of Australia by a similar name.

Opening the covers of the book we quickly meet a cast of familiar characters and problems — familiar to anyone who has taken part in a forest campaign, that is. There are moments of heartache, moments of triumph, and a good deal of humor throughout. The book is about the same length as one of the childhood classics we read when we were kids, so it’s easy to get through.

Into the Sky

When spirits are thrown down from on high
Lift them straight back into the sky,
For a phoenix is born from within our loss,
Hold onto your faith but don’t carry a cross.
For we have the strength, at the end of the day,
And the power within us, to walk our own way;
In the depths of despair we will never lose hope,
No matter how high or how steep the slope.
So if blown by the storm or oppressed by the man
Dust yourself off and make a new plan,
Keep treading the path that makes you feel whole,
Though rocky and steep, it is good for the soul.

— Ron Fletcher

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Report: Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival is Alive and Well

This year’s Watershed had great weather — warm sun, cool wind. The featured poets were awesome, especially Jane Hirshfield, who really rocked.

That said, my favorite part was the Creek Walk along Strawberry Creek starting at 10 AM. We got a great presentation by Tim Pine, campus biologist and eco ninja. I learned a lot. We also heard great poems by the Creek Walk poets. Their billing wasn’t as high on the announcement, but the poems they read were totally in tune with the spirit of the day: Stand Up For The Earth.

During the program later several poets gave a shout-out to the Standing Rock People opposing the Pipeline and that was great. Whoever you are, wherever you are, stand up for the Earth!


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Paul Kingsnorth – How Land Feels

“…as we reached the top of the ridge, a break in the trees opened up and we saw miles of unbroken green mountains rolling away before us to the horizon. It was a breathtaking sight. As I watched, our four guides lined up along the ridge and, facing the mountains, they sang. They sang a song to the forest whose words I didn’t understand, but whose meaning was clear enough. It was a song of thanks; of belonging.


To the Lani, I learned later, the forest lived. This was no metaphor. The place itself, in which their people had lived for millennia, was not an inanimate “environment”, a mere backdrop for human activity. It was part of that activity. It was a great being, and to live as part of it was to be in a constant exchange with it. And so they sang to it; sometimes, it sang back.

When European minds experience this kind of thing, they are never quite sure what to do with it. It’s been so long since we had a sense that we dwelled in a living landscape that we don’t have the words to frame what we see. Too often, we go in one of two directions, either sentimentalising the experience or dismissing it as superstition.”

Read the entire article here:

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Love Affair With Deep Ecology

My favorite slam poet, Sierra DeMulder, posted a quote today about falling in love… It’s likely she wasn’t referring to deep ecology and how our planet’s living system are being treated by most humans, but-none-the-less her brilliance with words helps me better understand my relationship with our natural world, especially ancient forests. –DeaneTR


I loved you head over
handles like my first bicycle
accident — before the
mouthful of gravel and blood,
I swore we were flying.
Sierra Demulder


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Rick Bass On The Passing Of Jim Harrison

To see full version of this article, go here.

I was visiting my youngest daughter in the Texas Hill Country when a friend emailed the news. All weekend — before I’d heard, and then after — I’d encountered a profusion of wildlife. That morning, I walked right up on a foraging raccoon and, a short while later, an opossum, then a blue heron. At dusk, a band of wild hogs, the black piglets no larger than footballs, the boar with curved tusks several inches long. Everything I saw was always just a few steps away. It was like a damned Disney movie.


Sitting with my daughter in the shade of the boulders above the creek that next afternoon, we watched as a giant aoudad — an exotic species of wild sheep that prosper now in the rockiest reaches of the Hill Country — came clattering down through the rocks to within 20 yards of us. It was a gnarly old ram with curved horns, a long beard, and the wild yellow eyes of a goat.

He never saw us. He walked right on, his hoofs clopping the granite.

That evening, as coyotes were beginning to yip at the base of Hudson Mountain, I went for a short walk in that last hour of light, when the sun is gone and the world is seen only in silhouette. I was drinking a beer on Burned-Off Hill and thinking, in that crepuscular hour, of Jim.

It’s an ancient, easy ceremony, but I did it anyway: poured a splash of my beer onto the stony ground in remembrance of Jim — a taste, a gulp, for the earth he had loved so much. In that moment, a hawk came flying low and straight at me. It passed right above me, almost close enough to touch, and on into the darkness. Not an owl, but a large hawk, just like the ones that populate Jim’s poems and fiction. The hair on my arms and neck prickled. You don’t see hawks at night. Another three beats of darkness fell, another four beats.

I emptied the rest of my can, just in case he was thirsty — he probably was — and then walked on back down off the hill.

To see full version of this article, go here.

Click to see Armed With Visions multi-media presentation of Jim Harrison’s Alien

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Globe As Dewdrop


“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”

–John Muir

Thank you Steve Toth for sharing this quote with us:

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“Poets and prose writers both make metaphors. Meta, the prefix, means something large, an overarching meaning.

A metaphor connects, it opens vistas; it allows people to see what they have previously missed.

In this, metaphors have great power, and poets and prose writers have great influence over language, which, after all, directs us.

We cannot go to places we have no words for.”
–Dennis Fritzinger

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Report: Watershed 20 – Stand Up For The Earth!

By Dennis Fritzinger

20 years ago the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival landed with a splash in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The brainchild of Robert Hass, then-U.S. Poet Laureate, it got its name from the Gary Snyder essay “Coming into the Watershed” in the Book: A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds


Noon. Richard Silberg gives opening greeting, followed by an invocation by Kim Shuck.

Next Richard announces the Open Mic. Brilliant poetry. The poets at the Open Mic. The Creek Walk Poets.

Jazz accompanied Chris Olander, who is much practiced at reading to jazz and performed in a clear, measured voice.

Poetry in the Schools Reading (many children, 1st-3rd grade) followed by Poetry Out Loud (a 10th grader) who delivered a practiced recital, followed by John Oliver Simon to cap it off.

Next: Jazz.

Then Tribute to Mark Baldridge:
Kirk Lumpkin “Your Muse Meets Coyote”
Gerald Fleming “The Background Man” about Mark
Maya Khosla reads poem by Patty Trimble written for Mark

Next, Kirk Lumpkin introduces water fountain, Farmer’s Market, T-Shirts, Book Signing Table, and Novella Carpenter, who owns Ghost Town Farm (an urban farm) and has written many books, including Farm City and Gone Feral

Richard Silberg introduces Francisco X. Alarcon, who then reads from several of his books, one of whose titles translates from the Spanish as “Borderless Butterflies”.

Next up, also introduced by Richard, is Simon Ortiz from Acoma (that we know as New Mexico).

After Simon, Kirk Lumpkin introduces River Village (the exhibitors) by name.

Back on stage, Richard Silberg introduces Jane Mead, this year’s Broadside poet. (Each year The Flash puts out a High-Quality, frameable Poetry Broadside). Jane starts with a poem I believe was titled “Money”, though the title doesn’t do just to the poem until you hear it. “The Mule Deer on the Hillside” was next, followed by more poems. Jane read, in a tremulous voice, strong poems with short lines.


Jane finishes and I go backstage to give her my card, while Richard introduces the next poet. On the way I bump into Bob Hass and we exchange greetings. After meeting Jane and giving her my card, I return to my seat in time to hear C.S. Griscombe finish his set. Once again I jump up then go backstage to hand a card to him, and return to my seat in time to hear the next poet, also introduced by Richard.

The poet is John Shoptaw.

John reads to us from his book Times Beach. “Girdled”, “Dry Song”, “Least Concerned”, “Boxing Match” (about a chained bear), and a poem about the pangolin. John is a very concerned, very committed environmental poet, as these poems attest.

Kirk Lumpkin comes on stage next to welcome Genny Lim, but first introduces the jazz trio we have been listening to off and on, the Barry Finnerty Trio.

Genny starts with a Buddhist prayer she wrote, then performs her poem “Ode to the Pacific” to jazz accompaniment. Following that she does “Tomorrow is Now”, a blues poem/song, also to jazz accompaniment. My mind wanders and I think about Bob in his trademark wide-brimmed hat. We chatted briefly. Genny closes her set with a poem about visiting Machu Picchu.

Kirk returns to the stage to introduce Malcolm Margolin, publisher of Heyday Books and longtime Berkeley resident and all-around good guy. In his quiet voice (but loud enough to hear over the mic) Malcolm tells us what Berkeley was like during the Pleistocene, then later when the Ohlone settled, then when he (Malcolm) rattled into town during the height of the Summer of Love, and finally, most briefly, today.

Next we hear more jazz.


After Malcolm & more jazz, Richard introduces Brenda Hillman. Brenda reads first from “Practical Water”, one of a series of books each named after one of the four elements. Brenda has a musical voice, her poems flowing like water down a steep hillside into a rocky ravine, each following its own path. Her next poem is from the Fire book. “In High Desert Under the Drones”, a poem about protesting drones is read, and a poem inspired by Monsanto’s Terminator Seeds, followed by 3-4 more to finish up.

Which gets us to the final poet of the day, Robert Hass. Bob is introduced by Richard as “The Festival’s daddy” and explains what he means by that, then hands the mic over to Bob and we’re on our way.

Festival goers are sitting under the tent facing the stage or at the Pegasus book table getting autographed books or at 16 Rivers Press or the Ecology Center booth or Poetry Flash or Matrix or HeyDay tables. The day has been warm and sunny, not overly hot (last year it was a scorcher). One year it rained and drove the whole Festival inside the nearby Berkeley City College. The Farmer’s Market has long packed up and gone.

Bob, if you don’t know his style, is very playful and erudite and tends to write in long lines full of cultural and biological allusions. Today he first read a poem with the refrain “In the dream” as in “In the dream he was a hawk with a drop of blood on its beak.” Next he read a poem “For the young poets on the smoking terrace” and “Poem not in elegy in a season of elegies,” all new, all (in Bob’s words) “slightly rough”. He ended with a long poem from a notebook about protesting the drones.

When he finished, Bob gave a shout-out to Mark Baldridge in tribute to the work he did getting Watershed together and keeping it going. Joyce Jenkins, Richard, Kirk, and others who knew Mark came up on stage at that moment in show of strength, as the Jazz Trio behind them started up its final number to end the day.

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