The Colorado Poet, #26, Spring 2014

Interview: Art Goodtimes

Looking South to Lone Cone: The Cloud Acre Poems (Western Eye Press, 2013)

Bob King: Art, I want to talk about your latest book, Looking South to Lone Cone: the Cloud Acre Poems, the last phrase the name you’ve given to your mountain property. It’s divided into three sections, a brief introductory one, then a tour through the four seasons, and an ending section, or conclusion, “”In the Clouds.” Did this organization come easily or did you spend some time wondering about this or that regarding the order of the poems?

Art Goodtimes: My publisher, Lito Tejada-Flores, is a good friend, and had been asking me for a book of poetry for his Western Eye Press out of Sedona, Arizona, for some time. But I was dealing with my wife’s health issues in 2012 (Mary passed in November).

Art GoodtimesPlus, I enjoy a full life. I had a re-election campaign for a fifth term as Colorado’s only Green Party county commissioner (I won). The downturn had dried up property taxes and San Miguel County was facing drastic cutbacks. My youngest daughter Sara was heading off to college, and my youngest son Gregorio to high school. I grow 50+ varieties of heirloom potatoes each summer, serve as poetry editor of Fungi magazine in Wisconsin, write a weekly op-ed column for the Telluride Watch (“Up Bear Creek”) and a monthly one for the Four Corners Free Press (Cortez). I co-host a Talking Gourds Poetry Club monthly reading series in Telluride and perform regionally doing poetry readings with friends. Not to mention various political and non-profit boards and commissions.

I didn’t have time to put a book together. But I had been collecting a bunch of poems in a file folder on my computer under this title, Looking South to Lone Cone. It was only a sampling of poems I’d written about my acre homestead at the headwaters of Maverick Draw just outside of Norwood. Nevertheless, I sent the batch of them off to Lito, and said if he wanted a book, to see if he could shape one. Which is what he did, focused mostly around the seasons. I reviewed various drafts, but Lito was really responsible for turning my congery into a chapbook.

BK: “Where Are We?”—your final poem in the book—starts by situating your home, Cloud Acre, near Maverick Draw, as you’ve just said, on Wright’s Mesa and so on. You go on in the poem to situate it with other travelers and end with the Athapascan migration that first inhabited this country. I also notice these names are not infrequent in other poems. You speak of driving to Norwood, for example, when you could as easily say “town”. So there’s a kind of poetic insistence on place names. What’s the strength of these names, these locations, for you?

AG: Well, my poetic sensibility has been shaped by my times and by growing up in the Bay Area on the West Coast. “No idea but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams. And I come from the Pound/Williams/Snyder lineage with big doses of Lew Welch, Marge Piercy, Pablo Neruda, Ernesto Cardenal, Reg Saner, Jack Mueller, Judyth Hill, Joan Logghe, Mike Adams, Phil Woods, Wendy Videlock, Danny Rosen, David Feela, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, and Dolores LaChapelle. I met George and Mary Oppen hiking on Mt. Tamalpais, and have always treasured his koan: “…Ultimately the air / is bare sunlight where must be found / the lyric valuables…” Names are like Snyder’s rip-rap—a series of stones that form a path towards an idea. And, linguistically, English is a naming language, as opposed to most indigenous tongues (Ute, Navajo, Pomo etc.) which are verbal languages. Actions carry the ideas. For English speakers, names do.

Plus, my time as a Vista volunteer on the Crow Reservation in Montana during the Sixties taught me the importance of place. Of place names. And of lineages. Crow folks could name their ancestors going back hundreds of years, as can most indigenous traditionals. And in native stories, specific places are integral to the embedded meaning of the myths (c.f. Keith Basso’s Wisdom Sits In Places).

When I found Colorado in the Eighties, I became a student and friend of Dolores La Chapelle, whose seminal work, Sacred Land Sacred Sex Rapture of the Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life (Finn Hill Arts, Silverton, 1988) cites bardic poetry as one of her seven pathways to get Industrial Growth Society humans back in touch with the natural world. “Find a sacred place and stay there,” she told us. The bard serves the social function of speaking for place, for all the human and more-than-human world around us (see Heidegger’s umwelt).

This chapbook…means to emphasize the importance and influence of place, as well as its co-evolutionary aspect in our lives.

This chapbook, and perhaps somewhat shamelessly in the final poem that I wrote after Lito had assembled the collection, means to emphasize the importance and influence of place, as well as its co-evolutionary aspect in our lives. Dolores would never say, “I discovered” something. She would insist that “Nature afforded one the opportunity to see.”

BK: In some of your other work there’s a strong sense of the political, of urban and industrial sites. In “Post Y2K E-clipse” you speak of “Wright’s Mesa’s keyboards still caught/ / in the predator claws of globalism” and go on to summon up “the shy ways of the Old Ones / reflected in the night sky / re-turning us on / like a universal switch.” Are these poems an escape from the exigencies of the contemporary political/ industrial world or is ‘escape’ the wrong word?

AG: Escape is an interesting word. As a deep ecologist, I always look for the deep meaning in a word. Its etymology provides strong clues. As do its connotations and associations. Literally, “out of capture” or “out from under a cloak” from the original Latin through Old Northern French and Anglo-Norman (remember the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D.?). And connotatively there’s this buried sense of stealth and even deceit in the word.

So, no, I am a full participant in the 21st Century of what some would call the Christian Era. I do not want to “escape” back to some idyllic Rousseauian past. Although, to be fair, some would see LaChapelle’s insistence on outlining the suicidal problems of our society and by seeking answers in Taoism and Indigenous cultures (returning to what Snyder has called “Paleolithic values”) as an escape.

Ours is a time to look backwards as well as forwards.

But ours is a time to look backwards as well as forwards. As a bioregionalist and follower of Peter Berg’s Planet Drum Foundation, I came to Colorado and settled in an old existing ramshackle home, rather than building a new one, as a conscious act of “reinhabitation.” Living with less new and lots of recycled old is intentional on my part—as an act of voluntary simplicity. And as a political statement about the kind of society I want to reinvent. These are things I choose to do.

By the same token, I want to find my way back to a sense of nature to recapture (not avoid capturing) the sense of harmony and balance we see in some select cultures around the world at certain times in their cyclic run. I believe our current post-modern Industrial Growth Society, as the Norwegian philosopher Kvaloy calls it, is koyaanisqatsi (“life out of balance”—a Hopi term and title of an excellent film on the matter by New Mexico’s Reggio Godfrey).
Finally, as a Green, my work is to give future focus to environmental wisdom, grassroots democracy and social justice. I am rooted in my place. I work for change. There is no escape.

BK: You have one poem entitled “After Basho” though you don’t mention him or Buddhism anywhere else. Maybe this is getting off track but what’s your take on a poet who lived in another culture almost four centuries ago and his relevance to us?

AG: Well, I’m not a Buddhist, although of course I admire that tradition and have drawn inspirations from it. I’ve always thought Naropa Institute’s School of Disembodied Poetics was the opposite view of what I seek, which is an embodied presence in the world. As a European transplant by ancestry but a Turtle Islander by birth, I find my spirituality in the natural world. In things. From the miracle of creation in a grain of sand or a leaf of grass, to the blazing hallucination of a rainbow or the Northern Lights.

Dolores, my teacher, wasn’t a Buddhist either. She had an aversion for any of the wisdom traditions of the last eight thousand years. We needed to go deeper, she’d tell us. To discover Snyder’s Paleolithic values. And she gave preference to direct experience of the natural world, not some sublimation of material things in an otherworldly no thing. Still, she did have a soft spot for what she called “Mountain Buddhists.”

Personally, I am most fascinated in this elder part of my life with the Chinese and Japanese mountain poets—those who took up monastic life or “escaped” from their culture to travel widely or spent their lives rooted in remote backcountry cabins writing bardic poetry.

BK: You seem to love the “centered” format for your poems. What does that form gain for you in writing or working with a poem?

AG: It arose from my work as a journalist, where I wanted to set off poetry from prose by giving it a different look. Now it’s my style. I like the way it looks. And it distinguishes the work from column left text – our prose bias.

BK: The first poem, “Piles,” seems like a kind of artist’s statement to me. You speak of the “piles” of stuff around you, “mismatched pieces / that stitched / together / make a whole.” Big ideas, you write, pile up and then spill and once again you’re “forced to refashion / what was fielded / unformed / & frame it. Refine it / Find for it some final figure.” Do you see this as an artist’s statement? What function do you want it to have as the first poem?

AG: Quite right. The first poems in a book can often set the tone for the reader on what is to be expected. As a pre-school teacher in my younger life, I studied epistemology and, notably, Vygotsky’s On Language and Thought. As he explains in his book, congeries are ‘heaps” of disparate objects, in groupings together linked by chance and the magical thinking of a child’s perception. That concept deeply influenced me. It’s kind of how I see myself operating as a poet. Letting Duchamp’s chance operations infuse my bardic practice.

It’s also my chaotic style of living that looks incredibly messy but allows one the opportunity serendipitously to discover incredible connections as unrelated objects come, by chance, to one’s attention. As Gregory Bateson says about what we know, and I would extend to poetic learning as well, “Knowledge is the pattern that connects.”