Cascadian Zen

by Paul E Nelson, Founding Director, Cascadia Poetics Lab

This piece was originally published in Cascadia Spoke, a community publication dedicated to raising awareness of the Cascadia movement and bioregionalism.

What is the nature of the bioregion known as Cascadia? How is this insight expressed by the people who live, work, practice, and play here? Is there a connection between Zen practice, broadly construed, and the Cascadia bioregion? If so, what is it? Who have been the teachers in the relatively short time that Zen has been known in this bioregion? What role does water play here, more so than in other bioregions, and what implications does that have for the people who live here and for their practice?

It is these questions, and other questions brought on by these, that we seek to explore in the work Cascadian Zen, a two volume anthology edited by Tetsuzen Jason Wirth, Paul E Nelson, Adelia Mac William, and with Theresa Whitehall, to be published in Spring 2023 by the Cascadia Poetics Lab. The volumes will feature poetry, essays, artwork, and interviews, bringing together writings and translations that explore expressions of Zen within the Cascadia bioregion.

The idea for this project grew out of many iterations of the Cascadia Poetry Festival hosted annually by the Seattle Poetics Lab (SPLAB, now Cascadia Poetics Lab). The collection will be wide-ranging in geographic scope, potentially collecting works from Willits, Kelowna and Prince George to Port Townsend, Anacortes, Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland.

According to Jason Wirth, the book is organized via “baskets”:

Basket One, The Buddha Way, includes poets whose work, or at least some of their poems, aligns explicitly with Buddhist themes. Most of the poets have Buddhist practices. By “Cascadian Zen”, of course, we mean just any intentional practice of being here. It does not mean it has to be necessarily any kind of Buddhist practice, but it includes Buddhist practices under Zen, and so you see those sorts of things in the first basket.

The Second basket, Empty Bowl, is a reference to the press founded in the 1970s with a bioregional mission here in Washington State. Empty Bowl has gone through several editorships. Basket Two features poets in the region who all know one another and all know the press. Most of them have published in Empty Bowl Press, but even if they haven’t, they are aware of it and sympathetic to its general sense of things. We just use Empty Bowl to name a specific region of poetic tradition and sensibility.

Basket Three is titled Original Mind and this is going to be for the “beginner’s mind”. There’s a Zen beginner’s mind, but there’s also just the primal mind, the original mind’s wisdom and sense of its powers. These pieces are loosely rooted in that sense of the powers of thinking.

Basket Four is Borders Without Binaries, part of our general mapping idea. You can speak of limits or borders, but a binary would be “A” stops here and “B” begins there. So render them porous to wiggle free from all of these colonial mapping techniques and rethink space beyond mapping borders. Again, these are all somewhat loose, but in that cluster of mind world concerns.

Basket Five is Wilson’s Bowl, which is a specific item/place just to the north of here. This is a self-contained unit that Paul and Adelia put together around this particular carving in stone where indigenous people would make food and perhaps use it for ceremonies. It’s a very ritualistic space, with a huge iconography and poetic sensibility and history around it.

Basket Six is Issei Zen, curated by art historian Barbara Johns. It begins with a poem from Paul’s serial poem, “A Time Before Slaughter,” but goes on with Issei poetry and art, which is crucial to the notion of Cascadian Zen.

The final basket, Basket Seven, is Storm Clouds. This reflects the understanding that not all here is peaceful and harmonious. This is a region with its scars, painful history, massacres, unfinished business, and trauma. These things are not just things in the past that we’re acknowledging, but also a potentially troubled future, gathering storm clouds—these are going to be the things that we have to deal with.

The final section’s not so much a basket, but a postface, done by David McCloskey who did the map. He wrote two pieces for us, both very interesting, and they’re just kind of our regional manifestos from the great map maker himself.

Liked it? Take a second to support Quinn Collard on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!