Wild Whispers + upcoming videopoetry screenings

Last year around this time, I was honored to be asked to contribute the closing piece to a unique film poetry project conceived and directed by UK poet Chaucer Cameron, Wild Whispers. Although it was a little intimidating to be part of a line-up that included some truly brilliant filmmakers and poets, I stuck with what I knew, minimalism and erasure poetry. Erasure seemed like an appropriate tool, since the project was all about translation and textual mutability.

Wild Whispers is an international film poetry project that started with one poem and led to 15 versions in 12 languages and 12 poetry films.

The films, in different languages, were all ‘whispered’ from the previous one. The project traveled from England to India, Australia, Taiwan, France, South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden, Wales and the USA, creating poetry films in English, Malayalam, Chinese, French, Afrikaans, Dutch, American Sign Language, Navajo, Spanish, and Welsh.

The call-out to poets, translators and poetry filmmakers to be involved in Wild Whispers has resulted in something quite moving and extraordinary.

The film sequence debuted at the Swindon Poetry Festival in October, where attendees were furnished with a chapbook containing texts, bios, and artist statements. I didn’t want to post about the project until most of the films were up on the web. Read about how it started, then watch the films. (Here’s mine.)

Crawling-Through the Wreckage Poster

In other videopoetry news, Marie Craven’s adaptation of my CIA erasure haibun, Human Resources, will be included in a curated program at Filmhuis Cavia in Amsterdam on December 16, programmed by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster. Filmhuis Cavia, according to its Twitter profile, was “founded in 1983 by a squatters movement” and “brings you counterculture cinema and showcases films you aren’t likely to see anywhere else.” Marie wrote, “I am really pleased that the video will be screened in such a context, in a program called ‘Crawling Through the Wreckage’, about artists responding to the trauma of the 21st century.” It does sound pretty awesome:

An evening of Surrealism, animation, political videoart, and handmade experimental short films (often incorporating archival materials) made in response to turn of the century trauma and shock! Highlighting punk, no budget, eco/feminist, lgbtq+, post-structuralist, hand-painted, hand-processed, etched and scratched films, agit-prop, personal films; détournements, and 3D animation; from Dadaism to one-of–a-kind surrealist dream cine-poems.

Featuring imploding blasts of eye-opening film/video art by international artists including Kasumi, Francesca Fini, Marie Craven, Gina Kamentsky, Indecline, Rhayne Vermette, Bill Domonkos, Jon Behrens, Sylvia Toy, Larry Wang, Jennifer Sharpe, Beth Holmes, Janie Geiser, Karissa Hahn, Wheeler Winston Dixon, Christina Raia, Charles Pieper, Sarah Brown, Donna Kuhn, Kim Balouch, Edward Ramsay-Morin, Eduardo Cuadrado, Isabel Chiara, Marco Coraggio and more.

Southern California Poetry Festival poster

Finally, I guess I should mention that my video adaptation of César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” made with the help of my friends Jean Morris, Natalie d’Arbeloff and Eduardo Yagüe, will be included in a screening of poetry films at the third annual Southern California Poetry Festival on November 17th, alongside proper poetry films from the likes of Motionpoems and Blank Verse Films. If you’re able to get to Venice, California this weekend, I’d love to hear how the screening goes. (Here’s the schedule.)

Ambitions: Selected Poems from Vimeo

 

Vimeo recently made their albums embeddable, with a dropdown playlist, so I’ve pulled together a collection of videos made for/with my poetry over the years, both by myself and others. The UI is better on Vimeo itself, I think.

The ability to rearrange quickly by drag-and-drop is a killer function. (I wish OpenOffice Writer would let me do that with my manuscripts!) I’m grateful to Marc Neys, Marie Craven and James Brush for classing up the collection with their video art. Some of my own videos are pretty basic, and included more for the text than for the overall success of the poetry video.

This could probably be trimmed down a little more; I think it probably tests the patience of even the most poetry-mad viewer to try to watch all 36 videos in one sitting. But there’s a whole related discussion about the ideal length of print collections, too, isn’t there? Sometimes I’m in the camp of those who think that a chapbook/pamphlet is the best length: something that can be read in under an hour. Perhaps the same rule should apply to videopoetry album run-times.

New videopoem by Marie Craven

Failed State. That’s the working title of my book-length manuscript of prose + micropoetry, which draws equally upon my lived experience, dreams, and nightmares. In the last category, I have a section of seven untitled found texts from the CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train right-wing counter-insurgency interrogators throughout Latin America during the last and most brutal phase of the Cold War. I extract a haiku-length erasure poem or two from each text and place them below it, haibun-style. Back in March, an online journal called The Other Bunny, which specializes in experimental haibun, published a selection of these under the title “Human Resources.” Then the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven surprised me with this damn-near perfect video version. I strongly recommend expanding it to full screen and using good headphones:

Marie describes it on Vimeo as “A video about mind control and hidden meanings.”

The original text here is sections of a CIA document from the 1980s, concerning mind control techniques. […] The video is made up substantially of this text on screen, overlaid on a delirious blend of movie images from the Prelinger Archives. I chose to ‘mash up’ two different films for this background. The first, and most visually recognisable, is ‘Duck and Cover’, a famous documentary film from the 1950s containing advice on how to take cover in the event of a nuclear blast. The second film is ‘Destination Earth’, an anti-communist animation also produced in the 1950s. Both films were ‘doubled up’, making four superimposed layers, sped up considerably, with some parts appearing in forward motion, others in reverse, and some images rotating so that they appear at odd angles throughout the piece. The rapid melee of images is designed to express the hallucinatory effect of mental confusion engendered by mind control. The music is a psychedelic piece by The Night Programme (aka Paul Foster), with whom I’ve collaborated musically for over a decade, all via the net (he’s in Wales, I’m in Australia). The track is entitled ‘Cxx2’, from his album, ‘Backup 010318’. In a contemporary sense, the poem and video seem timely in this era of rampant fake news and unabashed propaganda.

Human Resources is Marie’s fifth videopoem based on my poetry. This is the sort of collaboration the web was built for, I think, and it’s always deeply gratifying to me as a writer to have been able to inspire an artist of Marie’s caliber.

Reblogged from Via Negativa.

Glowing new review of Ice Mountain on WPSU

WPSU Ice Mountain review

I couldn’t be more pleased with a new review of Ice Mountain on our local NPR affiliate WPSU, which serves a huge chunk of central and northern Pennsylvania. Not only is it a favorable review, but it’s also very comprehensive and deftly put together. I particularly liked this bit:

“Ice Mountain” as a collection trades indignation for intimacy. Its poems are awake to the complexities of a nature whose rhythms both govern and respond to human presence. The experience in these poems is a lived experience: one that draws from a deep well of knowledge about the local ecosystem without shying away from the often imperfect ways humans participate in that system.

I don’t know the reviewer, Talley V. Kayser, but according to her Penn State webpage, she’s “been teaching at the intersection of literary studies and adventure education since 2007. […] Talley’s research interests include environmental literature, environmental justice, and new materialist theory.” This appears to be her first review for WPSU’s bi-weekly BookMark program. I heard it live over the air, but kudos to BookMark for promptly uploading both an MP3 and a full transcript to the web. Check it out.

Three new videopoems

still from "El Otro"

A videopoetry commission in January, which I don’t think I’m free to write about yet, nudged me back into making video remixes for Moving Poems, prompted also by the deaths of two prominent Latin American poets, neither of whose work had ever appeared on the site: Nicanor Parra and Claribel Alegría. I’ve posted each of the following three videos to Moving Poems now, together with process notes, so I’ll link to my posts there for anyone who wants to read more about what went into them.

1. El hombre imaginario (The Imaginary Man) by Nicanor Parra

2. I Am a Mirror (Soy Espejo) by Claribel Alegría

3. El Otro / The Other by Rosario Castellanos

I’m not sure whether I’ll keep going or not, but I do enjoy the challenge of making bilingual videopoems (though “I Am a Mirror,” the most experimental of these, does not include the original text).

Book news, new and belated

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, but I’ve finally made dedicated pages for each of my published poetry collections: Ice Mountain, Breakdown: Banjo Poems, and Odes to Tools. (Twelve Simple Songs already had a page.) They’re available in a drop-down menu from the main Books page link, as well as being linked within that page.

Why hadn’t I done this earlier? I guess I wasn’t convinced it was something website visitors would be looking for. Wouldn’t one page for all of them, linking to the book’s pages on the publishers’ websites, be enough? But publishers tend not to update their pages with links to reviews, much less include videos, musical adaptations, and all the other fun stuff that’s happened as a result of licensing my work for remix under the Creative Commons. Plus, it’s useful for me to keep track of everything. I’d completely forgotten, for example, just how enthusiastically my blogger friends (and a few strangers) reviewed Odes to Tools, for example, culminating in Nicelle Davis’s use of the poems to kick off her Living Poetry Project, handing them out to construction workers in her hometown. And I hadn’t remembered just how damn many videos I’d cranked out in support of Breakdown: twelve! And while technically and conceptually they’re not up to the level of the videopoems I make now, I find I still like them pretty well. So they’re all on that book’s page now.

As for Ice Mountain, I’ve simply never gotten around to blogging much of the news about it. For example, back in December, James Brush made a videopoem for “26 January”.

The footage is an artist’s conception of Pluto, an icy world, apparently lifeless, that resonated for me with the sense of loss and environmental themes that undergird much of Ice Mountain.

Go check it out. Earlier, Phil Coleman had reviewed had reviewed the book for the Spring 2017 issue of the Sylvanian [PDF], the magazine of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club (which took a while to appear on the web), and Kathleen Kirk wrote a great review for the online journal Escape Into Life. Verse Daily posted an excerpt, “20 March.” The book was given away in a free drawing at the Montreal-based Passage des Perles blog. On Goodreads, fantasy/sci-fi author Jordan R. Murray gave it a glowing review.

One of the best reviews was by blogger Ama Bolton at barleybooks, reprinted on the Bath Writers & Artists Group website.

Dave Bonta has, it seems, an instinct for getting to the heart of things without fuss, for choosing words and creating metaphors that are just right, never showy, and for making a point subtly, without jargon. This collection shows him to be a nature-poet in the great American tradition. Even a brief wander through his places on the Internet will confirm that he’s more than that.

Many (most?) of my Serious Writer friends don’t like the idea of sharing first drafts of their work with all and sundry, and I’ll admit there’s a part of me that yearns to erase or at least seriously spruce up my past, as well. But this is a wonderfully perceptive and sympathetic review of Ice Mountain by a long-time reader of Via Negativa who not only remembered the original drafts, but went back and compared them to get a sense of what I’d changed. So that feels like a bit of vindication for my “let it all hang out” approach. Thank you, Ama Bolton!

So you can see why it was well past time to create a dedicated page for all this. All the videos are there, and I embedded Marc Neys’ Ice Mountain album from Bandcamp, as well.

One final piece of Ice Mountain-related news is that I’m posting snapshots of the poems each morning to Instagram on the same date as they were written, accompanied by hopefully interesting (if occasionally prolix) commentary. I’ve heard from people who’ve already read the book that they’re enjoying this closer, slower look, so I hope to keep doing it straight through till the end in mid-May. Follow along if you like.

Brewing, writing, thinking

the poet Li Bai raising his glass

There’s no logical reason why my homebrew recipes should clutter up a site otherwise focused on my writing; I just can’t handle the thought of starting yet another blog. But it occurred to me the other day, while I was sparging a bunch of malt with my jerry-rigged lauter tun for yet another strange brew (a sort of Belgian dubbel with Mexican piloncillo sugar and tamarind pods), that actually I’ve approached both avocations in a similar manner. For one thing, I’m profoundly out of step with most other practitioners of each craft, and in somewhat similar ways. And while I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a master of either brewing or poetry, I’ve followed a slow-learning approach to both, focusing as much on the process as on the product, to the almost complete neglect of monetization or careerism.

How much am I out of step? Consider the average American homebrewer: obsessed with learning to brew to style, stressing technological sophistication and reproducible results. I respect the skill involved in this approach but would very quickly get bored if I tried to adhere to it myself. I’m into making up new styles of beer and using herbs and fruit I can collect myself. I think the whole focus of craft brewing on preordained styles is profoundly misguided, serving the interests of marketers but not drinkers and stifling creativity. And my lack of interest in hops has placed me well outside the brewing mainstream until very recently.

Brewers have been active on the internet since before the debut of the web, and there’s now a welter of different forums and social media platforms where brewers and fans of craft beer can compare notes. I’m active in none of them — in part because I don’t have the time, but also because I have no interest in arguing with hobbyists about some of their core motivations.

For the same reason, I’ve avoided some of the most active communities of online poets. In some, poets are fiercely committed to mastering traditional verse forms in the same way that brewers obsess over how to reproduce traditional kinds of beer. I’m a free verse guy; I have as little interest in writing sonnets as I do in learning to dance a minuet. Just as in my brewing, I want to make up my own styles, dammit!

In other online communities of poets, the focus is on submitting work and sharing writing tips, which is a bit more useful but still somewhat alien to my own practice, in which online self-publishing is the norm. I feel closest to online poets who are all about sharing their favorite books and poets, but I get impatient with those who are all over whoever the currently fashionable poets happen to be, especially considering how much truly mind-blowing poetry is available in translation. The poetry world feels at times as myopic and provincial as the craft beer world, with its almost complete indifference to beers from outside the Western European tradition.

To make matters worse, I don’t have much patience for canon-making, the pursuit of prestige, or the economics of scarcity which, for example, keeps poets from even sharing their own poems on Facebook out of fear that they’ll be rendered ineligible for publication elsewhere. Only here and there, on obscure blogs and eccentric video channels, have I met other poets — and other homebrewers — with compatible views and approaches.

I am also, as mentioned above, a bit of a slow learner. Had I enrolled in an MFA program or gone to brewing school, I could’ve learned more than I know now in just a couple of years. But without the life experience accumulated over decades — including the acquisition of lots of other arcane, seemingly unrelated facts and insights — how much would such knowledge really have been worth? How much pleasure would there have been in doing something I’d been taught by others instead of working it out on my own? (Maybe a lot, but I’m stubborn that way.)

I would argue further that because I’ve preferred to learn these skills on my own, I’ve enjoyed the freedom to focus on aspects of them in which few people are expert — and in the process to make some original contributions. For example, while I’m not the first person to have brewed with the native North American herb called sweetfern, there was so little reliable information about it online or in print that I’ve had to work out my own recipes, two of which I’ve shared here so far. Some of my other herbal beer recipes are probably as good as, or better than, anything else out there as well.

In a similar fashion, I’ve been able to make a real contribution to modern online poetry by focusing on videopoetry, though there it’s less my own creative output than my publication of the Moving Poems website that’s really had an impact. One of the other focuses of my writing these days is on something that used to seem equally arcane: erasure poetry. Even now that it’s becoming more mainstream, my erasure poems are still well outside the norm for the genre, which tends to favor more fragmentary work. I’m not saying that my Pepys diary erasure project always yields brilliant results, simply that my insistence on making whole poems that can stand on their own, and doing that with even the briefest, least promising of Pepys’s diary entries, helps demonstrate that this sculptural process of composition is more than a mere novelty: it’s a constrained form of free verse as creatively rewarding as translation, at least.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you’ve probably run across Samuel Beckett’s famous “fail better” quote.* I’m pretty sure that the experience of having homebrews repeatedly fail to taste as I’d imagined they might, and continuing to brew anyway until I got it right, was essential preparation for my Pepys project, which I knew from the outset would take at least nine and a half years (the duration of the diary) to complete. For the first two and a half years or so I had to be content with only occasional successes, until finally something clicked and I hit my groove (if that isn’t too much of a mixed metaphor). Five years in, I’m sufficiently satisfied with the quality of the poems to start making free ebook compilations.

Speaking of free: There are two more things that homebrewing and writing poetry have in common. First, I’ll never get rich from either one, because it’s illegal to sell homebrew — unless one gets a license and turns pro — while poetry is simply a very difficult sell — unless it can be worked into an advertisement or turned into a pop song. And finally, both are consumed for reasons quite apart from the need for hydration, nutrition, or communication. They’re intoxicating! And as a brewer or poet, there’s always that tantalizing possibility of hitting on just the right combination of herbs or words that will allow a glimpse of whole new worlds.
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*A later passage from the same work, Worstward Ho, expresses some of my own feelings about the need for concision that have led me to pursue erasure poetry and other short forms: “With leastening words say least best worse. For want of worser worse. Unlessenable least best worse.”

In which I use the word “gestalt” and manage to sound like I know what I’m talking about in two different conversations about poetry film

Last May, I was honored to serve on the jury for the second Weimar Poetry Film Award, along with Nigerian-German artist and filmmaker Ebele Okoye and German writer Stefan Petermann. All three of us, along with other poets and filmmakers in attendance, were interviewed during the course of the festival, and the resulting video, released on 23 December, serves as a sort of précis for poetry film in general:

Then in July (or was it early August?) Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron of the poetry-film production company Elephant’s Footprint, who edit the journal Poetry Film Live, met me in London for a several-hour-long conversation about poetry film and videopoetry. Just today, Helen released an 11-minute segment, in which I fear I am given the lion’s share of the screen time. (It’s not like I dominate conversations in real life! OK, maybe I do.)

Wow, my hands sure move around a lot while I talk! I had the same reaction to Ebele’s delightful silent film of our jury proceedings in Weimar. Some people who watched this thought we were on the verge of fisticuffs, but I can assure you it was a highly civilized — if somewhat frenetic — proceeding.

Ten years of The Morning Porch

Detail of Paper Garden by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

My daily microblog The Morning Porch is ten years old today. Aside from times when I haven’t been at home — notably the three summers and one winter I’ve spent in the UK — I’ve managed to come up with something to say, in 140 or fewer characters, about the view from my front porch every bloody morning for the past ten years, no matter how boring or repetitive it ended up being. (Just this week, for example, I used variations on the word “shimmer” two days in a row. Yikes!) That the posts turn out lyrical as often as they do still strikes me as something of a minor miracle.

I want to thank everyone who’s followed along over the years, whether on Twitter, via email, on Facebook, or even by bookmarking and reading the website itself (so old-school!). I’m grateful to Clive Hicks-Jenkins for letting me use a portion of one of his paintings, Paper Garden, as a header image, and to the late, great film critic Roger Ebert for regularly re-tweeting my posts back in the day, which still accounts for the bulk of my alleged followers on Twitter (I imagine many of them are inactive now).

I’m especially grateful to Luisa A. Igloria for taking seriously my invitation (via Creative Commons license) to build upon my entries and use them as writing prompts; she’s not the only good poet to do so, but she’s been the most prolific, and it led of course to her becoming my co-author at Via Negativa in early 2011. Without the example of her energy and dedication to a poem-a-day practice, Via Negativa might have petered out like so many other literary blogs in recent years, and I probably wouldn’t have found the ambition to embark on daily erasures of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. So dailiness has bred more dailiness.

I was planning to write more to mark this milestone, but I injured my left index finger last night and typing is difficult, so — appropriately, perhaps — I’m forced to be brief. See the Morning Porch’s About page for a thumbnail history of the site and examples of what people have said about it over the years, and if that’s not enough, here’s what I wrote on the fifth blog-birthday. What I like most about the project now is the cumulative effect of reading so many years’ worth of observations for each day, accessible in the sidebar of the site with the help of a handy WordPress plugin. What sort of a day, for example, is the fifth of November? (Aside from being Guy Fawkes Day, of course.)

  • November 5, 2007
    Venus and the fourth-quarter moon stand close together, shining through the treetops as I drink my coffee.
  • November 5, 2008
    Under gray skies, barely a breath of wind and the woods are alive with the commotion of falling leaves. I will cut my hair.
  • November 5, 2009
    I hear the grunting of a buck in rut, but see only a grown fawn chasing a doe. As they pass below the porch, I hear the bleat in his voice.
  • November 5, 2010
    The wind rustles in the crown of one red oak; all the others are still. A train whistle. The light patches in the clouds fade to blue.
  • November 5, 2011
    A hard frost softens the edges of leaves and blades of grass. The witch hazel blossoms beside the house have curled into woolly fists.
  • November 5, 2012
    A thin spot in the clouds close enough to the sun to turn yellow like a bruise. A turkey vulture circles. The usual clamor of small birds.
  • November 5, 2013
    Overcast and cold. Wind hissing in the dry goldenrod and rattling the half-bare crowns of the oaks. A distant crow.
  • November 5, 2014
    An inversion layer brings freight train and traffic noise to mix with rustling leaves, crow scold-calls, a chipmunk’s metronome. My music.
  • November 5, 2015
    Warm morning after a cold night, and the oaks are shedding leaves: a dry sound as they hit lower branches, like the ticking of many clocks.
  • November 5, 2016
    A bright blue morning. The wail of sirens somewhere to the east—until the wind shifts and I hear nothing but the whispering of oaks.
  • November 5, 2017
    Fog and rain. The stream runs brown, as if to match the woods and meadow. The pink flamingo in my garden is looking distinctly out of place.

Videopoems screened at Cinema Poetica and Filmpoem festivals

I rarely send work out, so it seemed like an odd coincidence that two of my videopoems were screened on the same day—October 28—at poetry film festivals more than 4600 miles apart. First, my minimalist video remix of a poem by Sarah J. Sloat, Grassland, was shown at the Filmpoem Festival in Lewes, U.K. Then in Oregon, a video I made with one of my own texts, Falling, was one of three finalists at Cinema Poetica, sponsored by the Timberline Review as part of the Ashland Literary Arts Festival. They even sent along one of those de rigueur laurel-wreath things:

finalist, Cinema Poetica 2017

So, yay! and also LOL. Best of all, as far as I’m concerned: both videos are online and can be watched by all and sundry almost anywhere in the world. Here they are.

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A bit of unrelated housekeeping news: davebonta.com is now more secure (you may have noticed the https prefix), which means that anyone leaving me a contact message need not worry about their data being stolen. It also means that if I ever want to sell books or merchandise directly through the site, I can. And! Google search has begun to punish sites without https, so I may see my traffic double from 10 to maybe as many as 20 visitors a day! So I’d say it was totally worth spending half the weekend figuring out how to do that, and then moving the site from one of my shared webhosting accounts to the other so I could do it for free. Yes, I probably have way too much time on my hands.