Two-time PLAYA resident Scott T. Starbuck liked to start his days in residency fishing and “pausing to write on logs or boulders along rivers and creeks.” In this way, during a 2015 PLAYA stay, he completed one of his books of wonderful, watery poems, Lost Salmon (MoonPath Press, 2016). He’s written prolifically on fish, water, climate, and rivers, and he’s done so beautifully. His Hawk on Wire: Ecopoems was selected from over 1,500 entries as a 2018 Montaigne Medal Finalist at Eric Hoffer Awards for “the most thought-provoking books.” Also written during a PLAYA residency, specifically a 2016 climate change residency, Hawk on Wire was also a July 2017 “Editor’s Pick” at Newpages.com along with The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury and featured at Yale Climate Connections. His soon-to-be released Carbonfish Blues (Fomite, 2018) features cover and interior art by Guy Denning whose works of activism, refugees, human vulnerability, and realism are known throughout Europe.
Regarding his forthcoming book, Starbuck said, “Carbonfish Blues is about the war planetary life is losing to oil companies, and an appeal to all to help reverse this before Mother evicts us. My poems report local and global scenes of climate breakdown most affecting the silenced least responsible. Thomas Jefferson’s warning about the injustice of slavery resonates in words and images: ‘I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.’ I wrote about my friends with ‘organic carrot cupcakes / and Dry-Erase pens’ fighting big oil and imagining ‘The night before the stone in his forehead, Goliath had a terrible dream.’”
Scott, what led you to PLAYA?
My first residency in November of 2015 was inspired by beautiful photos and an engaging video on the PLAYA website, and my desire for deep listening in a remote setting alongside other writers, artists, and wild creatures. The global RISE FOR CLIMATE march on September 8, 2018, reminded me of my one-man march at PLAYA.
November 28, 2015 – One-Man Climate March at PLAYA, Oregon
Quail didn’t know what I was doing
and avoided my gaze.
A hawk ignored.
Cougar and coyote probably eyed me
All beings in my community
counted on me
though none knew
as I marched in solidarity
This Playa is what remains
of an ancient lake
and Indian tribes
where I dreamed a warning
in Martian hieroglyphs:
Our red planet was
a bright water-blue planet.
Nothing more to say.
My second residency in July 2016 responded to a call for “Art, Science and Community Collaboration,” focusing on place and climate change.
Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?
Completing my book of climate change poems, Hawk on Wire, was the goal, and I finished it by the end of my second residency. Time alone fishing, a field trip to Paisley Caves, and great conversations with activist creatives inspired many poems in the book.
How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?
PLAYA has a voice you can’t hear anywhere else. It reminds me of a quote in the film In Pursuit of Silence by Greg Hindy, a 2013 Yale graduate who walked about 9,000 miles in silence across the U.S., communicating only on sheets of paper. Hindy wrote, “Silence is something to explore, not explain.” Similarly, Robert Bly’s poem “Surprised by Evening” ends with these lines “But, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise, / And our skin shall see far off, as it does underwater.” That is PLAYA, too; however, I did my best to explain over thawing ice sculptures in nearby Chewaucan River. I wrote about lateral lines on redband trout: “as one long red sunset / after a bad storm, // Buddhist monks / pushing children / on swings.” In my summer residency, behind my cabin I wrote,
Staring at PLAYA Pond Thinking of Impermanence
When you hold someone or something dying,
you move through layers of grief and acceptance,
grief again, acceptance, a space-time dragonfly
on a farm pond near a rope swing
as Giant Bass of Death leaps, bites, swallows,
splashing artfully invisible as whole scene
of fading planets, lovers, parents
rings in shadow of spirit angler working the water.
Now, upon reflection, I will say for most people that PLAYA will meet you where you’re at and take you where you most need to go.
Describe a typical day at PLAYA.
The day would start with fishing and pausing to write on logs or boulders along rivers and creeks. Later, in the lodge, afternoon or evening conversations would enhance the day’s thoughts with magical synchronicity in presence of others who knew how to listen deeply to themselves, the place, and each other.
What were some highlights for you?
Highlights included the beauty of the place, support for alone time, great staff, amazing food, field trips to film or Native petroglyphs, interesting writers, artists, scientists, and locals. It was a place to create, share, laugh, reflect, and explore. I want to go back.
Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.