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August, 2003

August 2003 3:15 Notes

It's just before 10AM on the last day of August 2003. The morning light shining though my bedroom window blinds, through the blinds of the room I also use as my studio, has a different quality about it. It is softer and feels more poignant, more urgent than the light of ten days ago or even last week. Summer is ending and Mars will never be as bright as it was this month for another 60,000 years. I know summer officially has until September 23rd, as my birthday is on the 22nd, but school starts next week, Labor Day is tomorrow and so for our culture, Summer ends tomorrow.

What does this have to do with writing every August day at 3:15AM (preferably) and hoping something w/ energy, distinction and heart shines through its form to awaken me and perhaps a few who might read it later or hear it being read at SPLAB! or Red Sky or any of the other poetry venues I frequent? Long question, but the answer is this: This experiment brings out the best of who I am and want to be. Doing this experiment, even though I cannot wake every day at 3:15AM, is one practice that allows me to really call myself a writer. So many people write some poems, get a feature or two at a local reading series (if they have even a modicum of talent) and move on to something else when the shine wears off. Writing poetry to me is something much larger and perhaps more intense. (I am told I am a very intense individual, but channeled properly, this is a gift.) Added to my daily American Sentence writing habit, and my journal practice, the 3:15 experiment keeps the pen to paper and strengthens these writing muscles so that I am able to use poetry for its highest purpose. For me it is a wake-up call and this August provided a huge one.

First though, I want to thank the people who helped spice the stew that became this August. Danika Dinsmore, whose idea this was ten years ago, deserves so much credit for having the vision and the tenacity to keep this going year after year. I am glad I don't have to organize this thing and am grateful she does. Tod McCoy gets a good share of credit too for designing such beautiful websites so we may go back in time and relive the ghosts of August past. I've left so much crap behind and this year will be no exception.

I was engrossed in Jerome Rothenberg's A Book of Witness: Spells and Gris Gris and used some of his quotes to set up my own spontaneous outings on a few days out of the month. I had also read: Japanese Death Poems before the month started and have much admiration for that tradition of dying as consciously as possible and leaving a nugget for people of the future. Editor Yoel Hoffman did a marvelous job with the collection and to him I give thanks. Other poets from whom I copped a line or two to guide my ramblings include: Michael McClure (of course), Wanda Coleman, Eileen Myles, Chiboku & Ingo (two dead Japanese poets), Rilke, Jack Spicer, William Carlos Williams, Andre Breton, Adrian Castro, John Balaban, Joanne Kyger, Ralph Blum (author of The Book of Runes), Denise Levertov, J.C. Cooper (auhor of An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Symbols), Federico Garcia Lorca, Dan Raphael, Walt Whitman, Ed Sanders and his Gravy of Evil among other things, and Andrei Codrescu, Sheri-D Wilson, Ted Berrigan and Judith Roche, the last three connected with the Bumbershoot bout in one way or another.

For the first ten days this year I was actually able to write at 3:15AM, but soon had to make it the 6:15 experiment or even the 8:15. My process again this year was to take a line from one of these poets, write it down one word at a time on the left margin of the page and then, at the appointed hour, wake to write a new poem using their starter phrase as a sort of spine, or jumping off point. It helps give me some structure to work with and writing it down BEFORE going to sleep helped to maintain a little more spontaneity. Again, like every August, the lesson is that one cannot be inspired every day, but by writing everyday we increase our chances of bumping into the muse (or perhaps activating the duende) and having two or three poems worth posting at the end of the month. I have decided to post all of my poems this year and you can see how much shit one has to wade through before finding that diamond. Letters 5, 13 & 24 stand out for me at this moment, but I've yet to type up all the poems and others are likely to emerge. (I would appreciate any feedback on other poems you like and why you like them if you have bothered to read this far.)

Finally, both Letter 24 and the Invocation for August Obstacles that precedes it, shed light on the awakening this August 2003 brought to me. My thanks to Christopher Hansard, my Tibetan Dur Bon retreat friends Margarita Rada-Ortiz and Beth Jones, Robbi Hart, David Thomson, Catherine Kier, Tori TwoRainbows and most of all Carolyn Graye for helping me learn this lesson, something which has been dogging me for years and which I've not totally put behind me. I am grateful to you all for this lesson and you have my profound thanks.

May the August 3:15 experiment continue in the best way. Its importance for me grows every year. Ashe!

Paul Nelson
Slaughter, WA
908 I Street N.E. #4

© 2003 by the respective poets