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.
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.