Thursday, 23 of November of 2017

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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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