Wednesday, 17 of January of 2018

Tag » poet

Why A Warrior Poets Society?

by Dennis Fritzinger

In Marge Piercy’s utopia in Woman On The Edge of Time, she posits small communities where, when decisions are made, there’s a member who puts on a mask —Oak mask, Trout mask, Owl mask— and speaks for the speechless. Gary Snyder suggests that’s what poets do, that’s one of poetry’s functions.

Poets, by being able to speak for nature, have a guiding mission within the environmental movement. But too often as poets we have been undercut by long-winded explainers who say they have the most credible information. But what of having someone around to actually help us understand how studying ecology leads to studying poetry?

Well, I say it’s time for poets to stand up! & get organized—reclaim their rightful place in the earth by putting the Earth First! (or any other) community as bards, seers, and interpreters of the wild.

Poets have earned the right to be called activists. Moreover, poetry is a right brain activity that circumvents blockades put up by the left, “rational” brain, the household of what Bly calls “The Old Position”.

Prior to Descartes, according to Bly, Western literature reflected a people whose sensibility was not divided, a people who did not separate themselves from nature or from those elements in their own individual natures that they could not explain rationally, such as intuition, superstition, and spirituality. He cited the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf as an example, showing that when the poet describes the monster Grendel, he does so without having to explain its existence and without doubting that his audience will believe in such a creature; the Beowulf poet had complete “faith in nighttime events.” This proximity to the darker side of the human psyche, this lack of separation from nature, was destroyed, said Bly, when Descartes declared in 1619, “I think, therefore I am.” 51dfa27cea97a8e5bd82e538324820712ddb3d112161ad31f2cf9eeef12da4c8
After Descartes, Western literature would forever divide the autonomous self from nature. As Bly described it in his preface to News of the Universe: What I’ve called the Old Position puts human reason, and so human beings, in the superior position. . . . Consciousness is human, and involves reason. A serious gap exists between us and the rest of nature. Nature is to be watched, pitied, and taken care of if it behaves. In such language the body is exiled, the soul evaporated, the mind given executive power. Bly’s Reference to “The Old Position”

If you want to gauge the importance of poets to the Earth First! movement, check out Ecowarriors (Rik Scarce), The Real Work (Gary Snyder), Simple in Means, Rich in Ends (Bill Devall).

If you want to gauge the importance of poets to the environmental movement as a whole, check out Tongues in Trees (Kim Taplin), Imagining the Earth (John Elder), News of the Universe (Robert Bly), and the intro to The Forgotten Language (Christopher Merrill).

I think poetry can make a contribution to the Earth First! “narrative”—perhaps an even bigger contribution than the poets themselves realize. Or as John Seed, says:

“What we find in one of the processes in the Council of All Beings is a deep mourning, where we start to grieve the loss of things that are being lost from the Earth, our favorite little piece of nature that’s now covered by a freeway or whatever it is, and people begin to weep and howl and wail about what’s being lost.

We’re so afraid that we’re going to be crushed by these feelings, we’ve been led to believe that we’ll be crushed by them, but certainly in this context of a supportive group of people who are encouraging each other to do things, the opposite is always the case. “

How Does A Warrior Poem Differ From A Nature Poem?

by Dennis Fritzinger

Someone said the poet’s role in an age of ecological catastrophe is to grieve. Just the knowledge of the changes the planet is going through produces pain and suffering in the poet and that’s how grieving or pain and suffering makes it into the poem, often in subtle, but sometimes not-so-subtle ways.

GreenManAnother thing that might happen is the poet puts on a mask and becomes a part of earth that is being diminished or even destroyed. The poet can give that “Other” a voice, much like in the Council of All Beings. The poet’s metamorphosis can produce a poem that couldn’t happen in the poet’s normal voice. It’s the difference between poetry and polemic.

In fact I often say that it’s a poet’s responsibility — the warrior poet’s job — to give a voice to the voiceless. Speak up! for nature, by letting nature speak up for itself.

Then there’s the grief part. What we feel in our personal lives, and that requires knowledge, can produce feelings of grief, even strong feelings of grief. These then can appear in the poems we write, either as a walk-on part or center stage. An entire poem may be a ritual of grieving. But, as I said, knowledge is necessary — you have to follow what’s going on (I read a lot) or be able to see it with your own eyes and think about it with your own brain.

So it’s important to process the information that comes to you. So important. Yet hard to do, there’s so much of it. And making sense of it–the processing–isn’t always easy. Being poets, we are language workers. Each of us has developed, or in process of developing, our own unique voice or way of saying things, which is all tangled up with our way of seeing things of course. And then there’s what we see and think about.

A lot of this flows out of our daily life. If we are lucky enough to have pursued a path in science, we’re half-way there already. But it doesn’t have to be science, it could be farming, or working as a forest ranger, or having any number of passions that involve the outdoors–surfing and rock-climbing, to name a few. Get the body involved, and the head will follow. Then the words will come.


That still leaves the question of where the line is between a nature poem and a warrior poem, since they both deal with nature. On one side of the divide there’s just nature in all its fecundity and beauty, nature as it would be if it was left alone by us. On the other side, there’s the human presence–everything we’ve done to alter the earth. That’s the raw material.

And we, as human beings, as poets, find it necessary at times to protest our own specie’s behavior. That’s when we express our grief, our anger, our outrage in our poetry. Or celebrate it, if for instance we have just joined together to take out a dam or cut a fishing net off a trapped whale.

At the very least we need to bear witness, like the Quakers. Warrior poetry is also a poetry of bearing witness.

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Walkin’ Jim – Evangelist for Wilderness


Early days of Armed with Visions website was everpresent with Walkin’ Jim


Poems of a poet who has walked as far as John Muir:
Rock Dream, Bull River Woods, Bat Cave, and Joshua Tree.

walkin_jim_coloby Dennis Fritzinger

I first met Walkin’ Jim Stoltz at an Earth First! Rendezvous. A very tall, lean, lanky man with incredible musical talent, I had never heard of him before. Then, Earth First! was a magnet with a vision that drew incredible musical and other talents to it.

Walkin’ Jim was exceptional in many ways. An accomplished guitarist and songwriter with a twinkle in his eye, he had a singing voice that was like no other’s — deep, raspy, colorful, it was quite unlike his speaking voice. It reminded me of the canyons he sang about; there was a quality of wildness in it, a quality of the wilderness itself.

Jim would go on these many mile hikes and hike for hundreds, maybe thousands, of miles across the U.S. — through canyons, over mountains, across prairies — following rivers, daring mountain passes, surviving heat and snow and encounters with large animals, and he took it all in — he took every bit of it in. Jim was a minstrel for wilderness, an evangelist, and his songs, filled with stories and sounds, reflect that, and continue to inspire us to this day.

“In his lifetime, he accomplished numerous long-distance treks including the complete lengths of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, an east-to-west cross-continent hike, the entire U.S. Continental Divide, trips from Yellowstone to the Yukon, and many others. In total, he hiked more than 28,000 miles of long-distance trips.” –

Jim hiked more in a year than I have in my lifetime, and went more places than I ever dreamed of. As he was hiking a trail somewhere, a song would come to him and he’d sit down under a tree or on a rock and write it down. Or maybe he’d be sitting in the tent he put up at the end of a long day, and amid the preparation for dinner and sleep, he’d pick up his guitar and Jim_in_treestrum a few chords and suddenly a new song would start to materialize in his head and in the air around him. The trees, birds, and little animals that live in rocks got quite a few free concerts from Jim!

Of course Walkin’ Jim wasn’t always out there somewhere walking. Like a latter-day John Muir he would return to home base now and then. John Muir we associate with Yosemite, but home base for Muir was in the Bay Area. It was there he wrote his books and articles that became so influential. Jim’s base was with his family in Montana. That’s where he returned to rest up, to organize his latest songs and poems and share them first with friends and relatives, and to replenish. It was also where the schedule for his many singing tours began, complete with slide show and many slides. Thanks to the magic of photography, he could show his audience he wasn’t just making it up.

An evangelist has to evangelize, and to do that you have to entertain. Even more than a John Muir, Jim was a latter-day kokopelli traveling America’s heartland, though with a guitar instead of a flute. I make this comparison because kokopelli always has a backpack, though it’s hard to tell from the drawings if he was as tall.

Jim was able to entertain because he was a superb storyteller. Humorous, he had the sort of voice that could keep you rapt in attention, just as you would be if you were hearing it at a campfire. Jim had the ability to turn a large concert hall into an intimate space, much like a campfire. The slides and the songs would transport you, and he’d always throw in an appeal to write a letter in support of some place or critter somewhere that needed help. That’s the evangelist side of the entertainer.

When we lost Jim we lost a powerful presence, a powerful voice for the wilderness, and I lost a good friend.

The Kid for the Wild Scholarship is a tribute to the memory and vision of Walkin’ Jim Stoltz and his “kid for the wild” spirit.

BC Wild Bears And Their Defenders

     A poet in our warriorpoet online community is a tour guide of giant grizzly habitat in the wild’s of British Columbia. His name is Kiff Archer and you can read about the tours he offers here:

Sadly, trophy hunters are severely eliminating the hope of the Grizzly’s future by falsifying scientific data, as well as ignoring economic data that show eco-tours that peacefully visit bears generate way more revenue than trophy hunts that kill bears.

Most recently a huge area where bears were free from hunters has been opened up for killing. A month ago Kiff wrote:

Two Weeks Til Killing Sprees.

Protecting Bears lives.
Hearts just like ours.
Regardless of whys.
Their final hours.

Chilco Bears about to die.
Can’t help feeling inside.
Trophy killing guys.
Sauntering sunshine crimes.

The whole world cries.
For ancients eyes.
Those close by.
and from cities fly.

Old memories abound.
Bear caves underground.
Leaving scents behind.
Great Bears friends arrive.


To learn more: “There is strong opposition from many indigenous groups, which have renewed calls for the government to respect tribal laws that ban the hunt on their traditional territories. They are not alone – recent poll data suggests that 80-90% of citizens in the province, including hunters who target other species, oppose the trophy hunt.”

Also: “The government claims that the decision to open the hunt and the kill quotas are ‘science-based’ but as Kyle Artelle writes, science doesn’t get a look in – and the Grizzlies’ are in serious danger.”

Report: This Year’s Watershed Poetry Festival


This year’s Watershed got off to a slow start for me since I was busy gathering stuff to set up on the Poetry Flash table, as well as other things like emergency food, sunscreen etc. It was taking so much time I knew I wouldn’t make the Creek Walk this year, but oh well.

Finally I got everything together and left, shouldering a black daypack and carrying, rolled up, the warrior poets poster I planned to tape to a table edge if it was possible. I also brought a stack of warrior poet cards to leave on the table above the poster and to give out to each of the poets on stage as they finished their set, which I did but more about that later.

I set out across campus and hiked down one of the familiar ways that led to a eucalyptus grove named the Grinnell Natural Study area. The grove has the creek running through it, and as I skirted the Life Sciences building on my way to the west entrance of the campus I noticed a file of people making their way ahead of me. I caught up with them just in time to ask the last person in line if this was the Creek Walk. It was.

So I didn’t miss it after all, at least for a few steps. As the line continued to veer off to the east where the creek emerges from another grove of trees I went west and paralleled its culverted course as it swung through downtown and over, finally, to hide below Martin Luther King Jr. Park. where the Watershed event was being busily gotten ready for with people putting up banners, flags, and folding chairs for the day’s festivities.


I spotted Joyce right away and asked if it would be okay to put a few things out. She said yes and we walked over to the Poetry Flash booth to see what was available. When we got there I wound up taping the poster to a corner under a photo of the redwood whale that was at a couple of Watershed events, and put out a stack of warrior poet cards for people to see and take.

Then I drifted off and found Mark to see if he needed any help setting things up. He said everything was under control so thanks but no thanks. That gave me liberty to wander over to the Farmer’s Market for a look-around, then back to check out the other tables. At one of them the local chapter of had set up and I stopped and chatted with its members and gave one of them a warrior poet card.

I also walked by the Ecology Center booth but didn’t see anyone I knew, so I continued on my way until I finally grabbed a seat in the main viewing area, under a tie-dyed surplus parachute Mark had discovered while visiting a surplus store. The parachute provided good shade and the sound was excellent as I was right in front of the speakers albeit thirty feet away.

SilbergI was up from my seat looking at pictures from past events that were on a pole right behind me when Richard Silberg stepped up to the mic and welcomed everybody to the 18th Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival. That’s when I knew the hands of the clock had finally touched twelve, as Watershed always starts at the crack of noon.

After Richard’s introductory welcome we were treated to music from the Barry Finnerty Trio, a very fine jazz trio that’s been serenading Watershed-goers for years. The program called Richard’s introductory welcome “Stand Up for the Earth!” and this set the tone for everything to come.

After listening to a little jazz Richard came back to the mic and announced the “We Are Nature” open reading and called out six names. Six people who had their names pulled from a hat who wanted to read all came up, one by one, in the order Richard announced them.

This year the open reading had some mighty good poetry in it. Each of the readers was articulate, evocative, and kept to the day’s theme. So anyone who came late and missed this part missed a really good section. And this was just the beginning.

Dennis & ChrisNext David Lukas, free-lance naturalist who led the Creek Walk, took the stage and spoke eloquently and succinctly about the Creek and its history and ecology and relation to the campus. His extemporaneous remarks didn’t last long but served as good background for the next part of the event, which was the readings by the poets who had also gone on the Creek Walk.

Richard, our emcee for the day, introduced the Creek Walk poets one by one, and the first to read was Mary Mackey, who set the bar high with her passionate, well-crafted reading and poems. Mary was followed by John Shoptaw, Barbara Jane Reyes, Tom Wilson, Jennifer Elise Foerster, and finally by performance poet Chris Olander, wearing his warrior poets t-shirt for the occasion.

When Chris finished we were treated to readings by the youngest among us, student poets from California Poets in the Schools introduced by Maureen Hurley, and River of Words and Poetry Inside Out winners introduced by John Oliver Simon. This is a traditional part of the program and what helps make Watershed unique, not to mention enjoyable for people of all ages.

After listening to the poems of “the poets of the future” as Richard introduced them, we heard a little more from the Barry Finnity Trio. I decided it was time to revisit the Farmer’s Market and did so while very good strains of jazz were rising in the background.
Dennis & Gary Snyder
Suddenly the strains stopped and I heard a familiar voice. I hurried back from the market to hear Kirk Lumpkin, Ecology Center/Farmer’s Market presenter, speak to the crowd. I regained my seat in time to hear Kirk do a poem then introduce Ozzie Zehner, author of “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism.”

Taking the mic, Ozzie began by saying he wasn’t attempting to overthrow environmentalism, just to question some of the assumptions we have about “clean energy”. Then he launched into an anecdote about his career as a green architect, and read a short section from his book to illustrate his point, which threw cold water on numerous “tekkie” ideas about having our cake and eating it too.

When Ozzie walked offstage our emcee regained the mic and introduced poet Alan Soldofsky, who steered the day’s event back to ecopoetry. Then Alan was followed by Ann Fisher-Wirth, reading from her six-year long project that just got 51jXRJ9LpUL._SY300_published this year, “The Ecopoetry Anthology”. As you can see the Watershed event had a lot of depth this year, and we’re just getting started.

After Ann Fisher Wirth we heard Giovanni Singleton, and then Brian Teare took center stage and read us a number of long, naturalistic poems, most of them set in California. Then we were treated to more jazz followed by Matthew Zapruder, who started with a poem titled “Global Warming”. With the sun beating down as hard as it did for most of the day, no one in attendance needed to be convinced of that, although, of course, scientifically there’s no connection.

Following Matthew we got to listen to Brenda Hillman, whose monumental series of books about Earth, Air and Water has now been completed with one about Fire called “Seasonal Works With Letters On Fire“. Just to hear Brenda read from her latest book was a treat, and she also pointed out that the hat she was wearing was a souvenir from a global warming demo at the White House where she and her husband and the president of the Sierra Club all got arrested. Going to a demo was a good way to get a free hat, she said.

Five sixths of the day was now over and we were ready for the final sixth, which started with Bob Hass taking center stage with special guest Wang Jiaxin. Wang is a poet from China visiting in the U.S. and teaching here. Together they did a reading and translation duet with Wang reading the original and Bob following with the English translation. I don’t remember a similar event at any of the previous Watersheds, so this gave this year’s Watershed a flavor all its own.
Hass & Jiaxin

The poems, in English at least, were imagistic and, at times, funny. They may also have been political in the original, but I wouldn’t know that. After the dual reading, Bob Hass read us a few short poems of his own, giving Richard Silberg enough time to come up and introduce the final reader of the day’s event, Gary Snyder.

Richard always has a personal way of introducing the next poet or reader or music trio, and by the time the poet or reader or trio comes up we feel we know enough about them to get ready to listen to them. Of course everyone there at Watershed already knew something about Gary Snyder or had at least heard about him, so Richard had to come up with something to tell us that we didn’t know. This he did by telling us what he didn’t know about Gary, that Gary had begun his career as a mountain climber, even before he took up poetry. Then he added that Gary was one of the original readers in the Gallery Six Reading that launched the so-called “Beat Generation”, and invited us to “Welcome Gary Snyder” which we did, to thunderous applause.

GGarySnyderary, now in his eighth decade but hardly looking it, stepped up to the mic and immediately put everyone at ease by talking to us just like we were guests in his living room.

After a few anecdotes he said he was going to read us a few poems that had not been published (“at least yet”) and read us “Gnarly”, “Anger, Cattle and Achilles”, “Why California Will Never Be Like Tuscany”, “Starting the Spring Garden and Thinking of Tom Jefferson” and several other poems, ending us with “Five Short Poems for Fixing the System”.

After the first poem (applause from the crowd) Gary said “I should have said this before I started, I’m going to make a rule–no applause after a poem. When I’m finished if you applaud, that’s your business.” It was tough, at times, holding back, but we did the best we could. And at the end, everybody applauded.

Then Bob Hass came back on and invited several of the other poets who had read that day (including Joyce Jenkins, who with Mark Baldridge are the mainstays of Watershed and the reason it goes on each year, who hadn’t read) to end the day by doing a group reading of a poem by Seamus Heaney, who recently passed away. Each read four lines with Bob reading the end of the poem, and with it, ending this year’s Watershed. Except for more great jazz from the Barry Finnerty Trio and getting in line at the book table for signed copies by the poets that had read that day.

–Dennis Fritzinger