Howard W. Robertson

At the source

The stone dwelling

The Ki of the Universe

Biography

Howard W. Robertson is a poet and fiction writer who lives in Eugene, Oregon. He has published a short novel: PECULIAR PIONEER (Publication Studio, 2013); and nine books of poems: ODES TO THE KI OF THE UNIVERSE, 2nd rev. ed. (Publication Studio, 2013); ODE TO CERTAIN INTERSTATES (Publication Studio, 2013); THE GREEN FORCE OF SPRING (Publication Studio, 2013); ODES TO THE KI OF THE UNIVERSE (Publication Studio, 2012); TWO ODES OF QUIDDITY AND NIL (Publication Studio, 2010); THE GAIAN ODES (Evening Street Press, 2009); THE BRICOLAGE OF KOTEGAESHI (The Backwaters Press, 2007); ODE TO CERTAIN INTERSTATES AND OTHER POEMS (Clear Cut Press, 2003); and TO THE FIERCE GUARD IN THE ASSYRIAN SALOON (Ahsahta Press, 1987). He was the 2010 Henry Art Gallery Poet-in-Residence and the winner of the 2009 Sinclair Poetry Prize, the 2007 Jack Straw Author Award, the 2006 Elizabeth R. Curry Prize for Poetry, and the 2003 Robinson Jeffers Prize for Poetry. His poems have been published in many literary journals, including most recently in YELLOW MEDICINE REVIEW, SNOW MONKEY, SLAB, SQUARE LAKE, HIPFISH, NEST, LITERAL LATTE, NIMROD, FIREWEED, and ERGO. His poetry has been anthologized in LITERAL LATTE: THE ANTHOLOGY (iUniverse, 2008); WHERE WE LIVE NOW (www.suddenly.org, 2008); the JACK STRAW WRITERS ANTHOLOGY (Jack Straw Productions, 2007); THE CLEAR CUT FUTURE (Clear Cut Press, 2003); THE EMILY DICKINSON AWARDS ANTHOLOGY (Universities West Press, 2002); and the AHSAHTA ANTHOLOGY: POETRY OF THE AMERICAN WEST (Ahsahta Press, 1996). He has been among the winners of various other poetry awards, including ATLANTA REVIEW'S International Merit Award, the Bumbershoot Award, the Emily Dickinson Award, the Robert Frost Foundation Award, the Grassic Short Novel Prize, the Intown Award, the Literal Latté Award, the Pablo Neruda Award, and the Pacifica Award. His long ecological ode titled "The clay slide by the Kalapuya" can be seen on the SNOW MONKEY website. Videos of his poems are on YouTube at "HWR2005". Texts for each video can be found at the blog Odes to Gaia (odestogaia.blogspot.com).

Poetry with Robertson acquires its archaic meaning: a made thing, ποίημα, which is to say that he defines the poem very broadly. Each of his poems is an ode, a fiction, an essay, an abstract painting, and a jazz recording. His poetry is a mimesis of the streaming of Being through Nonbeing. It flows continuously, pausing at times but rarely stopping. Line-breaks never halt the fluent forward progress and his poetry affirms with Aristotle that truth is most universally told through a blend of ficta and facta. Each poem is an essay of existential discovery, an enterprising foray into the discursive wilderness. Each portrays visually the drift and swirl of the things themselves and the interconnected chiaroscuro of shadowy everydayness and shimmering intensity. His work is based on the belief that reality never fails, nor does the phenomenal revelatory streaming of its representation in authentic poetry. His major influences are Heidegger, Whitman, Pushkin, Bashō, Cervantes, Montaigne, and Ovid.

Robertson read his poems at Tsunami Books in Eugene, Oregon, on April 20, 2013, as part of the Third Saturday Reading Series. A video of this reading is available on YouTube at "Howard Robertson - Third Saturday Readers Series - Tsunami Books - 4/​20/​2013" . At this reading, he prefaced his poems with the following statement: "The poems I'm writing now are written within an idea, a big idea, which is that our culture needs to rethink its entire relationship to the biosphere, to Gaia, and that our poetry should share in this rethinking and refeeling. All the old themes of love and death, beauty and truth, need to be refelt in terms of Gaia and of the history of the Universe."

Howard W. Robertson participated in a sustainability reading at Tsunami Books on April 5, 2014, together with international sustainability superstar Margaret Robertson, author of SUSTAINABILITY PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE. Videos of this reading are available on YouTube at "Sustainability Prose & Poems pt 1 - 4/​5/​2014 - Tsunami Books" and "Sustainability Prose & Poems pt 2 - 4/​5/​2014 - Tsunami Books". During this reading, he stated the following: "People say to me, 'Howard, you're not a bacteriologist,' and I say, 'That's true, but fortunately, bacteriologists have written excellent books for the non-scientist, and one bacteriologist, the author of A FIELD GUIDE TO BACTERIA, Betsey Dexter Dyer, has told me that everything in my "Scholar's rocks: An ode about bacteria" is exactly correct. She also said it was a brilliant poem, which was nice."

Howard W. Robertson read from his novel PECULIAR PIONEER at the inaugural reading of the Lane Writers Reading Series in Eugene, Oregon, on September 28, 2014. An article about this reading and about his novel appeared on page 31 of the EUGENE WEEKLY on September 25, 2014: "Wagon Wheels and Woodstock," by Anna V. Smith.

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Life:
Robertson was born on September 19, 1947, in Eugene, Oregon. He descends from Oregon pioneers on his father's side and is part-Cherokee on his mother's side, which are the two poles of his soul. He was the 1965 Future First Citizen of Springfield, Oregon. He married Margaret Collins on August 10, 1991, and has two daughters, two sons, two grandsons, and a granddaughter. He received a B.A. in Russian and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Oregon and an M.S. in Library Science from the University of Southern California. He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Phi Beta Kappa. He served as the Slavic Bibliographer at the University of Oregon Library during 1975-1993 and was the Director of the University of Oregon's Russian and East European Studies Center. He is a past President of the Lane Literary Guild. He has been a full-time poet since 1993.

Robertson was a long-haul truck driver in the American West during 1994-1995. He was a 2007 Jack Straw Writer with Jack Straw Productions in Seattle, Washington. Biographical information about Howard W. Robertson is included in an interview by American Book Award winner Matt Briggs, available in a podcast on the Jack Straw Productions website. Howard W. Robertson was the Poet-in-Residence at the Henry Art Gallery on the University of Washington campus in Seattle during April 2010.

Eric Alan interviewed Howard W. Robertson on NPR-Living Large on April 18, 2013. This interview can be heard by clicking on "NPR-Living Large interview" in Quick Links on the right of this page. During the interview, Robertson made the following comment: "I've always felt that there's Spirit in the Earth and Sky and that all the creatures around us, all the other living creatures, are our relatives. I've always had that feeling."

The brief bio in TO THE FIERCE GUARD IN THE ASSYRIAN SALOON (1987) reads: "Howard W. Robertson is a poet, novelist, librarian, and father. Three of his great-great-grandfathers arrived in Eugene City, Oregon, in 1853, two by covered wagon and the other by undetermined means. Mr. Robertson was born in Eugene in 1947 and by some pleasant oversight of destiny has ended up living most of his adult life there. He began writing poetry at the age of seventeen while teaching himself to type, though that was the first and last time he has ever successfully composed on a typewriter. Over the years, he has made many apparently foolish decisions motivated by the need to find his own poetic voice. Receiving two degrees from the University of Oregon and one from USC has failed to open his eyes to the palpably misguided nature of his existence; he persists in believing he is following a straight course of steady development as a writer. Visits to Mexico, Western Europe, and the Soviet Union, and time spent in Colorado and Southern California, have been important experiences for him, but the Oregon experience remains central to his work. His poems are not actually his but rather those of Lee Douglas, who resides in New Geneva, Oregon, together with a number of personages about whom Mr. Robertson and he write. The essential theme of their work is that living is a beautiful and terrible mystery that is best faced with humor, endurance, and love."

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Poetic Manifesto:
AUTOPOIC ART

This is the poetics of ποίημα, of the made thing in the most primordial and universal sense. These poems are written for the Spirit of the Universe. The poet crawls down subterranean passageways to a profound cavern where he daubs images of the Cosmos with earthen colors. These images there in that sacred space can be heard as strange song.

Each poem is an ode, a fiction, an essay, an abstract painting, and a jazz recording.

This poetry is a mimesis of the streaming of Being through Nonbeing. Consequently, it flows continuously, pausing at times but rarely stopping. It differs from other free verse in that the line-breaks never halt the fluent forward movement. Line-breaks work here to shape the visual text, to place each word in a spatial relationship to every other as well as to the circumambient blankness: stones in the zen garden, though as with expressions of satori, often this relationship to space is purposely unpretentious, possibly misleading the reader into assuming that the asymmetrical placement of verbal boulders in sandy silence is unintentional, that the perfectly natural is not exactly right. Paradoxically, line-breaks exist in these poems so that one may deny their existence so far as the phonic flow goes: they become creek-bed and banks for the ceaseless stream. In practical terms, this means the line-breaks are for looking at but do not directly affect the utterance of the text, do not correspond to halts in rhythm or any other kind of breath-unit. The syntactical and various other grammatical elements of the English language are utilized in these poems to mimic the invisible connections that form and impel universal reality. Each passage is technically an inventive sentence, not run on but often transgressively long, that has transcended its own limitations to become something beyond convention, quite other and liberatingly liminal. These odes rush torrentially from the watershed of Neruda, of Whitman, of the English Romantics, of Ronsard, and ultimately from the ancient flowsongs of Horace and Pindar. From the former of these archaic two primarily derives the intimacy and personal nature of these rheodes; from the latter's triadic external structure authentically develops the essential inner dynamic. Strophe-antistrophe-epode metamorphose methodologically into everydayness-arcana-insight, and an organically individualized lyric surges forth from this subtle kinetic triangulation. This poetry also differs from free verse in that it is written in iambic or trochaic myriameter, depending on where the starting point is considered to be. The pulsation of its poetic progression mimics the wave-motion of all forms of electromagnetic radiation throughout the entire Universe or, on a much smaller scale, the contemporary flow of digital data around the terrestrial globe. Anapestic, amphibrachic, or dactylic myriameter is sometimes also used to mimic the longer wave-lengths of energy radiating everywhere in the Universe at all times. The poem is one long line from start to finish: hence myriameter, myriad metric feet without cease.

This poetry affirms with Aristotle that universal truth is best told through ficta, while facta only conjure a particular and therefore quite limited verity. Any inspired poet will change details of a poem to bring out the maximum truth and beauty possible; every great poem is fundamentally fictitious, no matter how many facts from the author's life it includes. These odes are honest fictions, albeit radically autobiographical ones. Their narrator, Lee Douglas, resides in the small Oregon city of New Geneva at the heart of Campbell County, whose southern border abuts Lane County, northern edge adjoins Benton and Linn Counties, eastern reach matches the ridgeline of the Cascade Mountains, and western boundary bathes in the Pacific Ocean. The other European languages most relevant to the history of this invented county are frequently included in the poems for purposes of mythopoeic resonance: French, Spanish, Russian, German, Latin, and Greek. The fictional technique in this poetics is never psychological stream-of-consciousness; rather, it is mystical stream-of-cosmos. The narrative self becomes an individual center in the collective process of culturally creating finite forms of immanent meaning from the limitless flow of transcendent Spirit through the endless Universe.

Que sçay-je? These poems are attempts in Montaigne's original sense of essais; they explore along the fractal epistemological frontiers of the known. Each poem ventures with Emersonian boldness down winding intuitive pathways of the soul. The intentional result of such an endeavor invariably is an essay of existential discovery, an enterprising foray into the discursive wilderness.

This poetry is literally visionary; it portrays visually the drift and swirl of the things themselves and of the interstitial emptiness between them. It depicts the dazzle of the light and the darkness of every passing moment, the temporal chiaroscuro of shadowy everydayness and of shimmering intensity, of extended stretches of verbal coruscation alternating with dark pools of semiotic mundaneness. Words and fragmentary phrases gather vaguely around a particular theme, are absorbed into the brilliant obscurity of the unconscious, then emerge into sharp black shape on the bright white page. The text centers itself without left or right justification and thus streams forward with no hardened edge to its braided riverine flux as it meanders off across the symbolic void. Each poem is as rigorously made as an acrylic or oil by Pollock, Tobey, or Klee. Every single word is scrutinized compulsively a minimum of a hundred times, every punctuation decision is obsessively reviewed, yet when at last declaimed the whole flows freely and easily as if effortlessly spontaneous.

Reality never fails, nor does the phenomenal revelatory streaming of its representation in these poems. Like the holiness of Trane or the freedom of Bird or the coolness of Miles, the mimetic expressiveness of this roiling writing connects spiritually with the mutable ontic current of the irrepressible world. The unification of divine mind and cosmic body in the universal omphalos breathes forth the sacred sound of the audibly authentic and unexpectedly harmonious, which is the energetic jazz of this unfettered poetry.

Ουκ εστιν προφητης ατιμος ει μη εν τη πατριδι, Matthew 13:57. These poems are composed with the profound sense that they are somehow already recognized throughout the unimaginable vastness of the teeming pluriverse, even if not yet amply appreciated by humans hereabouts on our diminutive planet Earth. Perhaps this rash inkling constitutes Quixotic madness, or maybe all innovators feel similarly when they abandon fear and open themselves up without reserve to the infinite spiraling influx of the Divine.

The rheode and the ki-spiral are the two pragmatic embodiments of these poems. The rheode is a peripatetically continuous flowsong that wanders and returns through paratactic and hypotactic means. The ki-spiral is a helical structure whose kinetic axis is a single lavishly simple sentence around which a kaleidoscopic array of unexpected connections is organized. The ki-spiral is in fact a type of rheode, sharing with it all the foregoing wild aspirations and rash intentions.

Autopoic art is alive. Like all life-forms, an autopoic poem has a metabolism, has DNA and a complex chemistry that self-maintains. Like our biosphere, a book of autopoic poems is a living being that breathes with collective life, a spherical autopoiesis that devotedly mimics our beloved and revered mother Gaia.

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Publications:
PECULIAR PIONEER (Publication Studio, 2013)
ODES TO THE KI OF THE UNIVERSE, 2nd rev. ed. (Publication Studio, 2013)
YELLOW MEDICINE REVIEW (Fall 2013, pp. 117-132)
ODE TO CERTAIN INTERSTATES (Publication Studio, 2013)
THE GREEN FORCE OF SPRING (Publication Studio, 2013)
ODES TO THE KI OF THE UNIVERSE (Publication Studio, 2012)
YELLOW MEDICINE REVIEW (Spring 2011, pp. 69-82)
YELLOW MEDICINE REVIEW (Spring 2010, pp. 178-184)
TWO ODES OF QUIDDITY AND NIL (Publication Studio, 2010)
THE GAIAN ODES (Evening Street Press, 2009)
LITERAL LATTE: THE ANTHOLOGY (iUniverse, 2008, pp. 203-208)
WHERE WE LIVE NOW (www.suddenly.org, 2008, pp. 393-400)
SNOW MONKEY (November 2008, webpage)
ROBERT FROST FOUNDATION (May 2008, webpage)
JACK STRAW WRITERS ANTHOLOGY (Jack Straw Productions, 2007, pp. 28-32)
THE BRICOLAGE OF KOTEGAESHI (The Backwaters Press, 2007)
SLAB (issue 1, 2006, pp. 11-12)
SQUARE LAKE (no. 5, spring 2004, pp. 52-53)
ODE TO CERTAIN INTERSTATES AND OTHER POEMS (Clear Cut Press, 2003)
THE CLEAR CUT FUTURE (Clear Cut Press, 2003, pp.90-103)
TOR HOUSE NEWSLETTER (summer 2003, p. 3)
HIPFISH (April 2003, p. 31)
EMILY DICKINSON AWARDS ANTHOLOGY (Universities West Press, 2002, pp. 20-21)
NEST (summer 2001, pp. 129-132)
LITERAL LATTE (v. 4, no. 2, November/​December 1997, p. 16)
NIMROD (v. 41, no. 1, fall/​winter 1997, pp. 113-120)
FIREWEED (v. 8, no. 4, summer 1997, pp. 20-21; v. 7, no. 4, summer 1996, pp. 13-16; v. 7, no. 3, spring 1996, p. 45; v. 4, no. 2, January 1993, p. 33; and v. 1, no. 2, January 1990, pp. 17-20)
THE AHSAHTA ANTHOLOGY: MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY OF THE AMERICAN WEST (Ahsahta Press, 1996, pp. 204-209)
PACIFICA (1996, p. 2; and 1995, pp. 3-4)
INTOWN (v. 5, no.8, August 1995, p. 15)
ERGO! (1993, pp. 74-76)
TO THE FIERCE GUARD IN THE ASSYRIAN SALOON (Ahsahta Press, 1987)
CROTON REVIEW (no. 6, 1983, p. 4)
YET ANOTHER SMALL MAGAZINE (v. 2, no. 1, 1983, p. 5)
YELLOW SILK (no. 6, winter 1983, p. 5)
NEGATIVE CAPABILITY (v. 2, no. 4, fall 1982, p. 84)
PINCHPENNY (v. 3, no. 2, April/​May 1982, pp. 14-15)
ASSEMBLING (no. 11, 1981; no. 8, 1978; and no. 7, 1977)
LAUGHING UNICORN (v. 2, no. 1, 1980, p. 16)
GLASSWORKS (no. 3, 1978, pp. 47-49)
LAUGHING BEAR (no. 6, 1978, pp. 21-27; and no. 2/​3, 1977, pp. 57-59)
INTERSTATE (no. 9, 1977, p. 89).

Selected Works

Fiction
A short novel about racism on the Oregon frontier.
Poetry
Revised edition of this spiritual book based on solid science and the author's experiences in aikido. These poems re-evaluate our moment in time in terms of the Gaian biosphere.
Revised edition of book-length poem inspired by year the poet worked as a long-haul truck driver.
Prize-winning poems from 1987-1994.
This is a spiritual book based on solid science and the author's experiences in aikido. These poems re-evaluate our moment in time in terms of the Gaian biosphere.
"I like very much the sweep of time in these poems." --Margaret Krausse
"These poems breathe with the cosmos, exhaling the beauty of daily life." --Tamara Pinkas
"Truly remarkable. Tremendous breadth. Superb!" --Matthew Stadler
“Gorgeous, an intoxicating blend.” --Santa Cruz Metroactive
“Beautiful mystery.” --Ahsahta Press