Poetry. “This collection of poems is hard-hitting and no-holds-barred, filled with poems of wit and satire, politics and ecology. When my conscience goes south for the winter, I turn to the fearless Charles Potts, a moralist with a sense of humor. If he had an 800 number I’d call him every day!” – Ronald Koertge.
“A true avatar of the wild and prophetic side of poetry. One of his most striking collections.” -Mike Finley, Future Shoes
Amazon for several more of Potts’ books
Charles Potts (born August 28, 1943) is an American counter-culture poet. He is sometimes referred to as a projectivist poet and was mentored by Edward Dorn. Raised in rural Mackay, Idaho, Potts left Pocatello, Idaho and Idaho State University in the mid 60s and set out for Seattle, Mexico, and ultimately the location where he rose to literary prominence: the counter cultural hotbed of Berkeley, California. There, he founded the Litmus literary magazine and the Litmus publishing company, which published his friend Charles Bukowski’s book Poems written before jumping out of an 8 story window. Potts gives an account of his time as a revolutionary hippie in the Berkeley poetry scene, and a psychotic breakdown he suffered there, in his two-part memoir Valga Krusa. In the 80’s, Potts moved to Walla Walla, Washington where he founded The Temple bookstore, Tsunami publishing, and The Temple Literary Magazine.
Potts’ biography is also on record in the Marquis publications, Who’s Who in America, 1977, Who’s Who in the West, 1996, Who’s Who in the World, 1996, and Who’s Who in Finance and Industry, 1998. Potts, better known as a poet, also won Manuscript’s International’s First Place Novel Award for Creative Excellence in 1991, for the Novel Loading Las Vegas. He was given a Distinguished Professional Achievement Award by the Alumni Association and the College of Arts and Sciences at Idaho State University in 1994. He has a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington Poets Association in 2008. Potts’ collected works, letters, and publishing materials were housed in the archives of Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier Library in Logan, Utah in 2011.
-from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Potts, which includes his complete bibliography.
Mike Finley –
I met Charles Potts in 1970. I was living in Minneapolis and was starting a writing workshop, so I took the unusual tack of tacking postcard notices around in the West Bank neighborhood. No one locally ever contacted me about the postcards. But a visitor to Minneapolis, in the visage of a bona fide bearded beat poet from the west, who was passing through Minnesota in his microbus on a poetry tour of America, found himself, as poets do, standing and copying a stranger’s phone number from a telephone pole. Charles Potts called and asked to visit me. We huddled as equals, drank iced tea, sized up one another’s poetics, and agreed to stay in touch.
We have been friends ever since. Good friends. I sometimes feel Charlie knows what is in my heart better, and respects it more, than I myself do. Charles was vastly more advanced than I was. He, even in his twenties, knew who he was, knew how the world worked, and knew what he wanted to do. I’m still working on all three. Talking to him, and corresponding later, I felt I was communing directly with the wild prophetic side of American poetry.
Most poetry I read in the early 70s was elliptical as all get-out, dreamy, posey, and mainly about the self’s deep interest in itself. Charlie was doing something nearly the opposite. You could feel the gravel under his poems — they were roughcut, fearless, and unfailingly straight about what they wanted to say. You didn’t wonder what psychic level Charlie was writing from (8? 13? lingerie and notions?) any more than you’d wonder what level a gun pointed at your darkest suspicions and prejudices was on. Even when his poems were funny they were dead-on serious, like Lenny Bruce on a good night. I had to be reminded he was a youngest, not an oldest child, because of that quality of gravitas.
Anyway, on to the poems in Nature Lovers. Charlie wrote these poems in 1989, under the influence of his study in the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming, and readings in the microstructure of cognition. The title is a tip-off to Charlie’s ragged irony — because it is impossible for humans to truly love nature, because we are helplessly separated from it by language and consciousness — the makings of poetry itself. “I go way back with writers who identify themselves with nature,” he writes in an afterword. “Wordsworth, for the mystifying and mystical unity to be fond there; Menzu (Mencius) for his insistence that the entire state has to operate in obeisance to natural law; and Lucretius, who said poets should never lose the power to irritate.”
Each poem is a meditation, or an editorial cartoon, about some aspect of nature. Listen to the fussy cadence and the caustic syllogistics, and tell me you don’t hear the unmistakable ring of Menzu in the following:
“He died of natural causes.”
How many times have you relaxed while reading
That sanguine phrase and paused to wonder:
What causes would not be natural?
Car wrecks, overdoses, the fall of Flight DC 10?
Mechanical, pharmaceutical, aeronautical?
If everything is by definition natural,
What’s left to experiment on?
Pig out on Haagen Dazs ice cream diet?
Fall down my one-time publisher’s nomenclature,
The Empty Elevator Shaft?
Will you pass on a drug bust or a cardiac arrest?
You ask too many questions.
See death of a naturalist,
Watch Hermes put Argus to sleep
With an interminable story.
Bored him to death, naturally.
Maybe that is not a “great” poem, but it is great discourse, and poor, loathed poetry desperately needs this sense of engagement, this sense of mental acuity.
But Charlie Potts’s poetry is. His oeuvre is immense and intelligent and so keen. Besides some twenty books of poems, he has written harrowing memoirs about going crazy in the 60s, plus a terrific polemic about U.S. politics, How the South Finally Won the Civil War. Plus, he is a noted publisher and editor. His own presses: Litmus, Inc. in the 60s and 70s, and Tsunami, publisher of the great multilingual magazine published on rag paper, The Temple¸ and Pacific Northwestern Spiritual Poetry, one of the most remarkable anthologies of recent decades.
This little book is one of his most striking collections. In it he achieves what every political poet should ache to do, yet so few try — graft the confusion of the heart to the evidence of our senses. This is no-nonsense poetry from a visionary who long ago stripped the gears off common sense. His best work swirls the spirits of Ginsberg and Ken Kesey and Phil Ochs at their best, and more anciently, the poets Walt Whitman and William Blake, the pamphleteer Tom Paine, and the mountain man Jim Bridger.
Here’s a poem which achieves the same kind of connection, with a more gripping lyricism:
The Stream of Consciousness
The stream of consciousness flows
Effortlessly forward like an unfed brain,
Given nothing new to think about,
Merely rotates in space, the same sounds,
Pictures, and sensations in predictable order.
Who will muddy up this stream,
Then purge and purify the cluttered tableau
Of the extraneous features preventing you
From actualizing your ideal self,
The way you always wanted to look and sound?
The quicksand of the collective unconsciousness
Will tempt you many times
With its lurid renditions of quackery images
Stories in the millennia of Christian denial,
Hallucinated forward at the speed of pain.
Down a lazy river to the polluted sea
The flotsam jettisons thoughtlessly along,
Contributory to a natural disaster.
Throw yourself onto the banks to stimulate
Your freeflowing sense of contrary motion.
Let it work on you. Here is a poem about nothing less than the significance and substance of thought — everything that means meaning to us. He simultaneously reveres the gift and potential of consciousness, while despairing of our ability to leverage it into truth. Like eschatological Emmett Kellys, the best most of us manage is to sweep the spotlight of our own desire into the ashcan as we depart. The language is unflinchingly ambitious, but never pompous or “poetic.” In fact, it’s fun — “flotsam jettisons,” indeed. Here’s a living, thinking head, giving you its best peek at the dynamic that makes us what we are. Hey, poetry isn’t supposed to be important.
We think we love nature, says Charles Potts, but nature doesn’t love us back. In fact, you’d be smart to keep a close eye on it, because one of these days, nature’s going to get you.