About “Written on Water”
Note: this book includes a bonus CD!
The Allegheny River is the easternmost west flowing river in the United States and was a major thoroughfare for early settlers. This anthology looks at the Allegheny historically, and as both a recreation area and a spiritual area today. The poems and prose pieces detail the full flow of the river, beginning near Port Allegany, PA; crossing the state line into New York; dropping back into Pennsylvania through small towns and forests; and merging with the Monongahela at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. When it was dammed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, the Seneca Reservation lands (a mile on each side of the river) were flooded and the residents displaced. The land given by treaty to the Senecas by George Washington for as long as the grass is green and the sky is blue is now under mud and water. The Kinzua Dam protects Pittsburgh from flooding according to the Corps. You’ll read laments, you’ll read celebrations. You’ll hear chants, songs, and poems on the enclosed CD, performed by Pete Seeger, Peter LaFarge, Jerome Rothenberg, Maggie Anderson, the Senecas, and more. This print and audio anthology documents the river that was, the river that is, the river of the mind, and the river of the spirit.
The full list of contributors can be found at the bottom of this page
Praise for Written on Water:
If a river is a poem, and I think that it is, the Allegheny is a special one, for all the reasons captured in this collection of fine work. The writers here explore the kinds of life and sustenance a river provides, physical and spiritual. They capture the tensions and connections between the human and natural worlds where they meet in moving water. The range of voices here is wide, and surprising, like a river surprises—fast, slow, high, low, changing from day to day. Like a poem, a river sometimes seems random, but it takes us on a journey, as this book does. More than anything, these poems capture the magic, the mystery and beauty, the plain rightness of rivers. – Jim Daniels
Written on Water contains a Bonus CD. Some of the items on the CD are audio versions of texts in the book, others are studio and live recordings of performances related to the Allegheny.
1. “Easternmost West-Flowing River” poem and music written and performed by Judith Kerman.
2. “Old Man Beaver’s Blessing Song” written and performed by Jerome Rothenberg.
3. “He’s Here” poem and music written and performed by Jim Kacian.*
4. “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow” written and performed by Peter LaFarge.
5. “You Cannot Step Twice into the Same Stream” written and performed by Francine Sterle.*
6. “Hand in Hand” – Seneca Dance Songs, performed by the Allegany Valley Singers.
7. “Breaking Up Ice in the Allegheny” performed by Mike Seeger
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8. “Conewango Time” poem and music written by Ron Ellis
9. “The Invention of Pittsburgh” written and performed by Maggie Anderson.*
10. “A Place with Promise” written and performed by Maggie Anderson.*
11. “Where the Old Allegheny and the Monongahela Flow” performed by Pete Seeger.
12. “A Bodhisattva Undoes Hell” written and performed by Jerome Rothenberg.
* Texts for items with asterisks are included in the book.
A page linking to the lyrics (where known) of the pieces on the CD which are not in the book itself: Written On Water Bonus CD – Lyrics
The Invention of Pittsburgh – Maggie Anderson
That was the year I drove around all the time
talking about poems. I’d eat my lunch in the car
between one public high school and another.
I was so exhausted, preoccupied with gearshifts
and poetry workshops. I forgot to pay
my income taxes and wandered around acting like
I was really earning what they were paying me.
That was the year Ed kept telling me
to eat more squid and, being accommodating,
I tried. I had to eat squid, gelatinous chalk dust,
in every Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia;
in New Hampshire, broiled squid, a double order,
no garnish, no rice. And once in Vermont,
I was so overwhelmed by the multifoliate
deciduous trees that I ordered a squid sandwich
in a health food restaurant on Lake Bomoseen
that came to me on whole wheat bread with sprouts.
Then I was in Eugene, on a Saturday in February,
about four o’clock. I asked for a bowl of squid
in a little restaurant on Polk Street
but what I got looked exactly like Pittsburgh,
or the Pittsburgh I suddenly knew that I,
a forty-year-old poet sitting in Oregon,
was about to invent from whimsy and weariness.
There were thirty bridges, and thirty highways
followed the rivers. Neighborhoods laced
the hillsides, through detours and freeway
construction around the inclines and concrete tubes,
circuiting the long walls of old mines buried under
the gray Carnegie libraries and the universities,
the closed mills and the steaming slag piles,
the orthodox churches on the North Side
where they bless the cabbages at Easter.
This is what the lonely imagination finds in
squid: the aftertaste of scallops, the texture
of cheap perfume, bright yellow leaves
on the sycamores in the parking lot
off Forbes, kids recumbent with radios
on the lawns of the robber barons’ mansions,
intricate lingerie wadded up in a hotel sink
on the Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh,
the tough, sweet city of the workers.
Full list of Contributors
Allegheny Valley Singers of the Seneca Nation*
Bonnie Lee Culver
R. Virgil Ellis
Robert E. McDonough
Jill Alane Moore
Martin Willits Jr
* These contributors have items on the bonus CD