We shape the world and the world shapes us.
Start simple. Start in your own front yard. Start
in the street where you take your kids to school.
If weeds are a species of movement that roots
in chaos and feeds on imbalance, then which is
the greatest non-native, invasive, destructive
lifeform? That Knapweed here, that Scotch Thistle
there, or that man with the Monsanto spray gun
knocking at your door?
[Please join my campaign to end the mindless
spraying of wayside weeds! Somebody please
do the numbers on one sheet of paper: how
much herbicide is used, what kind, where, by
whom, at what price and who profits. On one
sheet of paper.]
Sometimes I wish changing our perception of the world
were as simple as putting on a different pair of glasses.
Ah:—Sudden clarity. More depth of field. A wider angle of view.
It would be nice if it were that easy.
I’m afraid I’m more of a philosopher with a camera than
a real photographer. Compared to all my experience in music,
I have to admit that I do not have much technique. But at
least I know enough to keep things simple. Like the great
alpinist and designer Yvon Chouinard says, “It’s easy to
make things complicated. What’s hard is to keep things
The central miniature below is about that problem of the
difference between complexity—which is always a part of
natural simplicity, which is always good and experienced
as diversity, richness—and mere complicatedness.
Complicatedness is, in this view, unnecessary difficulty,
difficulty which serves no purpose, which wastes vital
energy. This kind of complicatedness, it seems to me, has
become a key and salient feature of contemporary existence.
I learned more than I’d be willing to admit about
complicatedness or unnecessary difficulty as the leader and
conductor of a contemporary music ensemble. The more difficult
the music was the better.*
And then, after finishing a piece by a well-known American
composer at a concert in Amsterdam, I, as conductors do,
motioned to the orchestra members to stand, and turned to face
the audience. At that very moment—I can still see and hear the
scene in my mind’s eye as if it were happening right here,
right now—I had something of an epiphany. I just thought:
This is all wrong. This is all fake. This isn’t what doing
real music is all about. This isn’t what I should be giving
energy to, doing with my life.”
That’s when I set out to the mountains and decided to stop
performing for the most part. To my mind, there’s nothing
really that’s gone wrong with musical culture in the West
that is specific to music itself. The problem space, it
seems to me, is a general one. Like the kind and quality of
glasses we have on as a culture. And I feel strongly that
one of the things we need to see more clearly is why we do not
yet understand this crucial difference between true, vibrantly
alive complexity, and just more stupid, boring and amazingly
wasteful an destructive:—complicatedness.
* It’s really a kind of cult of collusion which, while it
is now losing its energy, still enjoys considerable prestige,
especially in Europe. Just this week, critics and performers
are trying to make something of Schönberg’s Moses und Aron—
I would run away from the sound of this music now faster
than I would a rancher out on a 4-wheeler spraying thistles with
gallons of toxic Roundup—while in Amsterdam an entire festival
is devoted to the Russian composer, Galina Oustvolskaia, about
as interesting and refreshing for me as dealing with the fallout
from a certain reactor that exploded in the Ukranine in 1986.
It does not bother me if people are in some confused way
still interested in this music. What does bother me a great
deal, however, is when it is described to the young as being
important somehow, something which one must master, give
one’s energy to, which I think is just utter rubbish. Why?
because in my view it corrupts perhaps irreversibly one’s
sense of wholeness and natural, resonate, sound.
PAGE & MINIATURE AT
Poetry, like music, is movement. A movement of sound
and meaning. What we call form is the outward envelope
or shape of this movement, which carries the sound
and the meaning like a wave carries water.
In perception shaped by the current metaphysical and
cultural bias, both Music and Poetry are dominated by
the sense of sight. I visualize this as a very limited,
dark, bandwidth drawn about the eyes, almost like a pair
of blinders. This means, generally, that we as a culture
pay more attention to how the flow of sounds we call music
and poetry is written down, than how it actually sounds as
Thinking of form as movement can be liberating, I think. One
of the many species of movement I’m keenly interested in is
a poetry with a longer, narrative, matter of fact, consistently
understated, composed of short phrases always articulated by
pauses of almost equal duration. It is a kind of movement I
first encountered in the work of the late Harold Pinter. For
me, it works with meaning which is too ugly, too brutal, too
appalling for words.
Too appalling for words. Yes. Like the current US
government’s enthusiastic use of drones.
In my view, anyone with any sense of history instantly
associates drones with the deadly V2 rockets developed by
Werner von Braun and built in the underground hell of
Penemunde. Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow was the
first to focus on this theme in literature. But his self-
consciously overly complicated work evoked nothing like the
horror I experienced upon watching a Dutch documentary,
produced by the VPRO and Andere Tijden, which lets
survivors of the rocket hell-factories, also in a
remarkably point-of-fact, unemotional style, tell their
Unlike Aristotle, I do not believe that war can ever be
justified. This is especially so in the current era. So
I do not believe in, nor do I wish to participate in, any
kind of glorification of it. At the same time, the instrument
of violence which is the drone takes the violent use of force
to a completely new level. It is the cowards instrument of
choice. What does he have to loose? Nothing. It is the
instrument of clean death so sought after in an age which
prefers not to get dirty. But from the compassionate angel’s
point of view, it is obvious that the US dominance in this
first chapter of easy-chair video-game warfare shall not
last for long. That is, if we citizens of the blue planet
of peace simply sit back as obsequious drones ourselves,
and allow it to continue. For higher still, I’m quite sure
goddess Nemesis will eventually restore balance and truth,
and call to account, as she always has, those who in their
hubris now terrorize the skies of lands they have never set
foot in, in lands they have never seen.
POME & PAGE at:
The problem is not how to give
children the gift poetry.
The problem is how not to
take poetry away from them.
We shape the world and the world shapes us.
Music is movement. Music is a movement of sound and
energy which moves us from head to toe, from the most
overt emotions to the most hidden and subtle spiritual
realms. When Music is good and beautiful in every sense,
this movement of our being is also good and beautiful.
When Music is bad, this movement of our being—and this
with just a few repetitions—is bad.
But how are we to know?
This is somehow the wrong question.
The real problem is that, once we become fragmented in
the deepest sense from the world of nature, we loose our
roots, our bearings, our natural sense of limit and right
proportion. Our aesthetic anchors no longer hold; our
aesthetic compass no longer points to true north. It is
in this state that we can easily be led astray, and can
be conditioned to move to, and to like, just about anything.
(1) To love the plants is to know them. To know the
plants is to make them your friend. To make the plants
your friend is to surround yourself with teachers as old
and wise as the Earth itself.
(2) Just as no one wanted to cloud the skies with the
smoky haze of accumulated car exhaust, or wanted streams
to run muddy with plastic bags and human waste, no one
wanted the world to become a noisy place. But noisy it is,
all the same.
And, now that noise has become a part of practically
every landscape—even the most isolated and highest
mountain ranges have jets roaring above them—how shall
we ever know what the deeper, more subtle effects of noise
on the human psyche really are? Or on Nature as a
whole? For the question has in a way become: where are
the untouched control groups to be found? And where are
we to find even a single researcher who has not been to
some extent profoundly conditioned—even while still in
the womb—by a sea of surrounding noise?
My guess is that noise works on the mind something
like a slowly contracting air-tight room. As the noise levels
increase, the walls of the room close in and the pressure builds.
Finally, one finds one’s face pushed up against the wall, until
one can no longer hear oneself talk, or even think. An ur-scream
of almost unbearable angst would almost
certainly be the result.
The privitization of Necessity? Once the flow
of information is in corporate hands, the damming
of Freedom can’t be much further down stream
The privitization of Necessity? Once the flow of water
is in corporate hands, the damming of Freedom cannot
be much further down stream.
Where we place poetry on our metaphysical map of
the world, is, I think, one of those questions which is
of central cultural importance. Of course, explicitly,
such a map does not exist, but none the less, it is
there, tacitly, implied by what we think, say and do.
After an absence from North America of more than
seven years, when I came here again recently I was struck
by a number of things to which most locals would give
no mind. But for me they were very telling. For example,
it seemed obvious to me that the environmental movement
had failed terribly in not only reducing the number and
types of big polluting cars, but that things had in my eyes
actually gotten worse. I couldn’t get over the new popularity
of big jeeplike luxury vehicles that have ‘get -out -of -
my-way-or-I’ll -run-over-you’ written all over them. Second,
I was struck by the lawns—those monocultural, ecologically
unsound, sacred cows of a Disneyland-like suburbia, were not
only as ubiquitous as ever, but now husbanded by veritable
small-scale armies of pesticide companies with euphemistic
names like “Black Diamond” and “Lawn Art”. And lastly, to round
off my little short list of shocking nouveau americana, there was
and is, of course, the ever-present pop can. I grew-up
in the North American sixties when aluminum cans were just
being introduced and were as high-tech and modern as moon travel.
Already some twenty years ago, when I was working as a gardener
in Berkeley, California, I had a sudden epiphany while tending one
of my over-watered non-native gardens. It was this: that the
environmental movement will have demonstrated that a fundamental
change in our awareness of the natural world is possible only when
and if the pop can is not just recycled, but rather totally eliminated.
Well, this hasn’t come to pass. But for me it remains nonetheless
a powerful symbol of the fact that, despite all the important
changes which have taken place in dealing with pollution, basically
anti-ecological and outmoded ways of thinking
have by and large survived unscathed.
So, at least we can be sure that, on the physical map of
the world, big cars, carpet-like lawns and loud-colored cans
still loom larger than life. My conjecture is that this does not
bode well for poetry’s meta-physical position on the same
map. At the same time, I tell myself that it is possible not to
be influenced by all the surrounding chaos and simply say
that poetry—even if it does not at present–should and does
occupy a central place in our collective cultural being. This is
so because poetry, it seems to me, is where the energy of
essence is both divined and given manifest form. Perhaps one
could say that if we don’t give poetry its proper role, then
something cheap and destructive, something like lawns or
pop cans, will indeed move in like noxious alien weeds in a
pristine landscape and take its place.
The seven new translations of Dutch poems I’ve brought
together here relate to this theme in different ways. Willem
Jan Otten’s In the Margin gives us the nice
image of poetry-as-bike-trip in the land of cars. Indeed, that
does ring very true. Anton Ent’s two little pieces have taken
this bike out into the beautifully lush and
green Dutch countryside and now help us see the world around
us with new eyes and ears. J. Slauerhoff’s famous poem,
Homeless One, takes a more contrarian approach , setting up
camp right inside the poem itself. And Remco Campert, as always,
offers here refreshingly straightforward and simple musings
about the poet as happy outsider who wanders about like a lost
Socrates pondering the strangeness as well as the significance
of what he sees. And lastly, as a coda and as way of marking the
special time of May in Dutch culture, the time when the horrors
and suffering of World War II are remembered, we have Nijhoff’s
ode to an unknown soldier. Here the poet is alone again, crying
out to the world that this place, where he stands, where an
anonymous soldier lies buried, seems to be the only place
left still true to the spirit of the Netherlands. Thanks to all those
who heroically came to liberate the Lowlands and the whole
of Europe more than half a century ago, this did not come
| r2c, Slow R-ivers. Straight R-oads. Deep C-lay. Is my website
for new Dutch poetry in english translation. The above piece
is an into for a set of four poems, at:
I’m presently composing a new collection of texts
and poems with a working title of, WITNESS TREE.
One of my main themes has become what I see as the
deeper, more subtle implications of non-violence.
As always, I’m struggling to find the right words and
expressions. For more than 20 years, I’ve been saying
to myself that Nature knows no conflict, no contradiction,
no waste. And then I go on to say that, therefore, the
religious or spiritual life—for me they are one and
the same—begins first with the central intention of
ending conflict, contradiction and waste in one’s life.
In all their overt and explicit, and not so overt and
Many of my close naturalist friends say, “Wait a minute
Cliff. I get the part that there’s no waste in Nature.
Yes. But conflict? Conflict is everywhere!”
Well, that depends on how carefully we define ‘conflict.’
I do not mean a wolf pack taking down an elk. I mean
specifically the idea of violence amplified by orders
of magnitude in what I call the thought patterns of
the human brutish brain. Something like a twenty year
war. Or like the contemporary Palestine/Israeli conflict.
This kind of sustained violence is unique to our species.
Why? Because the rest of Nature simply cannot afford to
waste such unimaginable amounts of energy on utterly
rigid and dogmatic and meaningless destruction. Such
destruction can only be sustained for a relatively
brief periods of time by taking down vast swathes of
the natural world with it.
So I’m calling this way of the brutish brain once it
is stuck in violence the way of force. Now the remarkable
thing is, that when looked at from the widest possible
perspective, the way of force, of power, of control,
is the key featured of Western culture. It is in my
view everywhere. It permeates not just the power
politics of American Empire, which is obvious to any
one not living in the US. No. It is also the defining
feature of our relationship to the Earth itself. It
conditions our approach to agriculture, to forestry, to
animal husbandry, to so-called water management, to
so-called weed control. And then and perhaps even more
tragically it conditions our approach to teaching, education
and the young. And the Arts are in no way exempt, either.
I shall have much to say about this. But force in, say,
Music. What could I mean? Oh, it is everywhere. Especially
in the amplification of the ‘me,’ of ego-energy in the
West. Adding 16 first violins to a part. It is the
controlling formative metaphor of the 120 db electric
guitar. Making the virtuoso contortions of the soloist
the center of attention, instead of some other more
important spiritual content. And finally commercialization
when Music becomes a mere means to some financial end.
In stark contrast to the way of force, is the way of flow.
This is the way of the Compassionate mind. It is the way
of not forcing movement of Yoga. It is the way of no
unnecessary tension of Alexander Technique. (Just these
two principles lead straight to radically new way of
thinking about and doing music.) It is the way the sees
militant non-violence as the first ethical principle in
all relationship. And finally, it is the way of following
the Sun, of turning our back forever on the Dark Age of
fossil fuels and, again as ethical ‘must’ or imperative,
committing ourselves wholly and completely to natural,
non-destructive, renewable and sustainable sources of
It is starkly simple, this way of thinking. I like that.
Like mountain granite. Like the complementarity of granite
and clear mountain water. The way of force I call also the
Trinity Path, after that instant of the very first nuclear
bomb test in July of 1945. And the way of flow I call the
Earthrise Path, after the famous Apollo mission photograph.
Crystal clear. Something a child would instantly understand.
To one I say ‘no.’ To the other I say ‘yes.’ Regardless
of the consequences. Not seeking any other reward or end. But
simply because it is, in my view, the right thing to do
[see new page at:
Wealth, because it has so much to lose,
always resists the facts of necessary change;
Poverty, because it has so little to lose,
moves more readily with the truth of reality.
In all spiritual Revolution, it is better
to be on the side of the poor.
KNOTS IN THE FLOW OF LIFE—The false way
of force, of power, of control
Force fades because it eventually breaks
what it is trying to force;
Power fades because it comes to depend
on energy from without, and thereby becomes
empty from within;
Control fades because it eventually breaks
what it tries to control.
So the false circle of contradiction comes
round necessarily in collapse. Dams, blocks,
knots in the flow of life, we either of our
own volition remove, or the intelligence
of Nature itself will take them down for us.
We shape the world and the world shapes us.
A Culture estranged from Nature makes necessarily—
totally unawares—strange Culture.
Once we as human beings, both individually and
collectively, have become thoroughly fragmented
from the world of Nature, it follows necessarily that
the world of Culture we create—which we then come
to think of, and experience, as being largely
independent and autonomous of the natural
environment—will be rife with both unsustainable
contradictions as well as highly questionable norms,
values and standards. This will be the explicit,
visible, cultural world. Underlying this will be an
invisible implicit realm of tacet assumptions and
arguments which will be necessary, even though
they will be largely unconscious, in order to sustain
what is inherently utterly unsustainable:—namely,
The most fundamental of these contradictions
will be the facts of fragmentation and
estrangement itself. They will also be the most
difficult to see, understand, and yes:—
We citizens of a-rhythmic 24/7 PLANET HI-TECH &
CAR-CULTURE, by and large, do not know the world of snow.
Mountain Spring is a world unto itself; It is witnessed by
few. Springs and streams disappear under two or three meters
of snow, continuing their life and flow deep under the
snowpack. (If you listen closely, you can still hear
the water moving under the layer of whiteness.) Come
April, however, the streams and creeks begin very,
very slowly to re-emerge.
Slow change does not feature prominently on the worldmap
of cultures running on sugar and fat. But not so fast.
Slow change is not just some straight line the highway
engineer draws from Bend to Burns; it is a highly
non-linear world, with myriad invisible thresholds
which can suddenly flip, like a light switch, from
one state to another. One morning, unexpectedly, the
whole snowpack collapses, and there is one’s happy
meadow stream again, open to the clear air of bright
sunlight and the cold nights of distant stars.
The prose poem below, THE WINTER MOOR, moves about
freely in this enchanted world of deep snow. It’s a
poem about natural form, about the forms which emerge
out of movement. And it’s about the miracle of natural
sound. We think of sound, by and large, in an abstract
way, extracted, as it were, from its natural organic
spatio-temporal context. But this is to ignore how sound
resonates out into the world, like the waves that spread
out on a quiet pond. This is where I’ll stop for now,
but the sound? It in some way keeps going—who is to
say—perhaps without end.
| FOR photo & poem, go to Photoweek Northwest page
We shape the world and the world shapes us.
The Minotaur terrorizing the labyrinth of the Internet
is not so much the commercialization of Eros into mere
pornography, or the corruption of news into more
entertainment. Nor is it the horror of the potential
theft of one’s identity, or even the threat of all-out
cyberwar. No. The beast at the heart of the Web—
devouring whole the minds of countless youths and maids—
is the endless chain of clicked upon distraction leading
Clearly, the thread which leads out of this maze is
not more technology, or the imposition of more blocks
and controls. Certainly, it is something more like awareness,
or the timeless practice of meditation. Here, there is observation
of the fact of distraction. One simply looks both ways, both
outwardly (what) and inwardly (why), all at once,
and one click at a time.
More than two thousand years ago, Aristotle (384 - 322 bce),
in his classic NICHMACHEAN ETHICS, states uncharacteristically
as if it were self-evident and not in need of logical demonstration,
that we prepare for, and wage war in order to achieve peace,
and for no other reason. I disagree. War and Peace are not
contraries, not opposites; they are in my view utterly
unrelated, in the same way that what we think of as ‘evil’
and ‘good’ are also unrelated and not opposites.
The metaphysics behind these thoughts is important. For, if
we believe that war is inevitable, and that we therefore must
prepare for it, then the thought itself becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy and hence one of the primary causes of all the future wars
that this way of thinking sees as inevitable, and so on. And on,
Projecting evil out into the world as an actual independent
force out to do us in, say as the Lucifer of Dante’s Inferno,
also leads, in my view, to equally imbalanced ways of thinking.
This might be easier to see if we think for a moment on music.
Now, we performers make mistakes. It happens all the time,
and to the best of us. Now imagine that if we, every time we
erred——that is, strayed from the good, the right, the beautiful——
simply said, “Lucifer made me do it!” That would not get
us very far, would it? Because we would be looking for the
source of our mistakes——in other words, the ‘evil’ that has
befallen us——somewhere outside of ourselves, which is, of
Well, my contention is that with War and Peace it is no different.
In other words, war is not a means to peace; it is simply a mistake.
A very grave mistake, indeed, one which has become in a way the
world’s most serious fatal habit or illness. After all, it is clearly
irrational in the extreme to devote half of the world’s resources
to the slaughter of one another in greater and greater numbers
and by ever-more scientific and efficient means.
This, I think, is clearly an ethical problem. Not a religious one.
And not a political one. Why? Because it is a problem of the heart,
of compassion. And, in my view, as an ethical problem it even trumps
climate change because the waste generated by the machinery
of war is itself a primary cause of anthropogenic climate change,
AND, is at the same time totally unproductive!
[Somebody please do the numbers here because I have no doubt that
they are surely horrifying.]
And the economy? Unpayable mountains of debt? Well, “it’s the war,
stupid.” Preparations for war in even a healthy economy will tend to
drive that economy towards collapse, because war preparations are by
far the greatest destroyer of wealth, even when your industries still
produce more than just weapons, and even when you have not borrowed
your way into a debt so deep in order to finance those war preparations
that it will take generations of hard work to clean up the mess.
So, why is this not a theme of political debates? Because, as
the brilliant Marilyn Warring says in Terre Nash’s documentary,
Sex, Lies and Global Economies (1998), “The cost of a single
new nuclear submarine equals the annual education budget of 23
developing countries with 160 million school-age children.
This is war. War is marketable. War pays, literally.”
Imagine a handy little device you could put in your
pocket, one that condenses and stores, instead of
an entire library’s worth of information, an entire
household’s worth of kilowatts. Energy solely from
the Sun. Is this possible? Why not?
If the whole of Shakespeare can be condensed
to the head of a pin, so can the whole of Einstein.
The only thing missing, it seems to me, is a clear
perception of necessity.
Necessity, here, means two things. There’s both
a logical side of it, and an ethical side, a kind of
ethical ‘must’ or imperative that we change
directions. Once we see with absolute inner
clarity that the current fossil fuel path—what
I have called elsewhere “the Trinity Path”—
is taking us straight into a new dark age of
shortages, pollution, climate chaos, and resource
wars, we will see that we have no
alternative but to resolutely change course,
and follow the way of the Sun, “the Earthrise Path.”
What are we waiting for?
What could be more beautiful than that?
Zinc from China,
Cadmium from Japan.
Atrazine from the Basel.
Mercury from Seattle,
Lead from Detroit.
Snow cocktail of the High Wallowas,
pure spring water mixed with crushed snow,
these drifts that linger into the lazy heat of July.
Clear. Cool. Refreshing.
I drink to your health, friend.
For better or worse, we’re in this together,
married to the oneness of the world.