New videopoem by Marc Neys

I’m quite taken with this new videopoem, based on one of my own recent poems, that my friend Marc surprised me with yesterday. It happened in the usual way: I write a poem in an afternoon, Marc spots it on my blog or in social media, a lightbulb goes off, and he spends another afternoon composing a new film, music and all. Two solitary older guys in different parts of the world living for that absorption into the creative zone.

The text of the poem is on Via Negativa.

The Bearable Lightness of Walking

crow tracks beside tire tracks in the snow

I started the year with a new, more woods-worthy laptop. My five-year-old Acer had begun to fail, which was hugely disappointing but I used the opportunity to get something a bit more portable. Over the past year I’ve done more and more writing in the woods, but generally on my phone (bought last year at this time), which works fine for poems and free-form zuihitsu-type essays of the sort I blogged last April, but not so well for, say, erasure poems, where one does need to be able to see a wider screen. I’m also not one to watch and share videos from a phone, and the finer details of administering a website are  vastly easier on a larger-screened device. It would be nice, I thought, in warmer weather to be able to bring along a wifi hotspot and do all my web work at stopping points on my daily walks (benches, stones piled against trees, that sort of thing). I’m not keen on touch-screens, so rather than a tablet I got a notebook-style computer with a 13-inch screen weighing less than two pounds.

Staying light isn’t only a concern for backpackers. Freely wandering in a literal sense tends to free up the mind as well, and first and foremost, I think, it has to be fun. When I am in the zone, noticing things, snapping photos and jotting down ideas, it helps that I’m not sweating profusely and gasping for breath. So the ultralight shoes I wear, for example, make walking an altogether more enjoyable experience, a fact that was brought home to me two months ago when I bought a heavy pair of work boots and took them for a walk to break them in. Going up any kind of hill became an unexpected chore, and I ended up not enjoying the hike nearly as much as I usually do, even though this is exactly the sort of footwear I used to live in, back when I didn’t spend at least four hours outdoors every day.

Since I always forget to post here, you don’t have to scroll very far to find a post from last March which ended up seeming a bit prophetic about all the “walking poems” I ended up writing in the ensuing months.

come to think of it my feet were born first

i had gone to extreme lengths not to leave home

but is that why i think best on my feet

What is a walking poem? More than just a poem based on a hike, it aims

To engage readers the way walking engages the heart, lungs, and mind. In-breath, out-breath. Gathering impressions, gathering wool.

Or so I wrote at Via Negativa last October. Click through for more.

Pepys Erasure Project

In other big news which I am late in sharing, I made it to the end of Pepys’ Diary on May 30, having used every entry in at least one erasure, compiled a PDF of the final year (see here for download links to all the PDFs), then took the next seven months off to write the aforementioned walking poems. On January 1 I rejoined the folks reading Pepys together online, though possibly just for a couple of years. I feel I owe it to the project to come up with better erasures for the first 500 or so diary entries, before I really knew what I was doing.

That is of course all going on over at Via Negativa. If you’d like to follow along, pick up a free subscription via the form in the sidebar there.

Poetry Month approaches!

One final note: My previously announced reading at the Frenchtown Bookshop in New Jersey, hosted by Vasiliki Katsarou, has been re-scheduled for April Fools Day, which suits me to a T. Here’s the announcement.

A hand holds up the cover of "Walking Unever Ground:  Selected Haiku of Bill Pauly" in a late-autumn forest
my walking companion a couple of weeks ago in the Seven Mountains (northeast of here)

On Mastodon

screenshot of my Mastodon profile

I joined Mastodon this week, sensing like a lot of people that Twitter was in a death spiral. Here’s my profile.

I’d noticed about a week ago that the official Twitter app for iOS removed the functionality that let me toggle between different accounts. Which made me reflect further on how dependent I’ve become on a platform I have never really liked, and only went along with because I could never get more than a handful of people to try open-source alternatives back in the day. I chose the instance I did because of their long history with the Fediverse, as it’s called. (Because you don’t even need to be on Mastodon to interact with users there. Other options abound.)

For those who find the whole concept of a federated social media experience hard to grasp, think about email, and how you can communicate with someone on Yahoo Mail if you’re on Gmail or whatever. That’s how social media was supposed to be from the beginning. I once had a long conversation with the life partner of Twitter’s original lead developer. He left when they turned their back on the then-mostly-theoretical concept of federation with other microblogging platforms.

Somewhat to my own surprise I find I’m actually enjoying Mastodon, because the UI and the way everything works is so well thought-out, it makes the case against corporate overlordship better than any manifesto could.

I certainly understand the reluctance to learn how to use and navigate a new social media network, especially since it isn’t just one site, and you have to go to some extra effort to find interesting people to follow, and to reconnect with contacts from other social media platforms. I felt this reluctance so strongly, I avoided joining Mastodon for years. But without the distorting influence of the need to make money—each Mastodon instance apparently gets by on regular donations from users who can afford it—it’s possible to have a fully social social media platform, actually serving people in our intertwined communities, not investors. There’s no algorithm, y’all!

And one of the cool effects of that is the standardization of best practices, such as content warnings and descriptions of images for the visually impaired. It’s so easy, I’ve been converted from indifference verging on hostility to the very concept of content warnings to full acceptance, because when it’s just a routine click of a button to add a content description, why would you not, if you know (for example) that some people prefer not to see politics in their feed. So more sensitive or traumatized users have the option of minimizing posts by default, so that if there’s anything with a content warning/description, they’ll just see that description, and can decide whether or not to click to expand, while those of us who are coarse, insensitive bastards can opt to see full content every time. Problem more or less solved.

I’ve taken to using content warnings for poetry too, because a poem that doesn’t challenge people in some way isn’t much of a poem in my opinion. Plus I have friends who just don’t like or get poetry, and that’s perfectly fine. If I do post a poem with rape allusions or something like that, I’ll endeavor to post additional, more explicit CWs… as long as they don’t mute the impact in some way. But having that as a built-in feature makes it much more likely that I’ll be mindful of it. Well done, tech geeks. Long live open source software!

Upcoming readings: November 20 and February 4

head shots of Hedy Habra, Neil Aitken, and Dave Bonta

head shots of Hedy Habra, Neil Aitken, and Dave Bonta
I’ve been invited to participate in the monthly online reading for the Verse-Virtual community. I’ll be appearing on screens everywhere (I assume) through the magic of Zoom alongside Hedy Habra and Neil Aitken on Sunday, November 20, 2022 from 6:00-8:00 PM EST. Register here.

I plan on reading a few new poems, warts and all. Also

If you are a member of the Verse-Virtual Facebook Group or have published in the journal, you may sign up for the limited open mic here:

as they say on Facebook.

I’ve also been invited to an in-person event for the first time in a year! I’ll be reading (and probably screening videopoems) in a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey on February 4 — Lord willing and the creek don’t rise — as part of the Frenchtown Bookshop reading series organized by Vasiliki Katsarou. More about that later.

56th birthday playlist

For the second year in a row, I’ve indulged myself by pulling together a YouTube playlist of songs that speak to where I am in the world, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I made it purely for myself and didn’t really intend to share, but in the shower this morning I thought of a few specific people who might be interested in this mix of folk, metal and country, and posting it here seemed the simplest way to do that, given that I try to avoid the whole birthday hoopla on social media. And I suppose a few people who only follow me for my poetry might be interested in what sort of emotional terrain I’ve been inhabiting lately.

Last year’s playlist had a lot of tunes I loved (I mean, was it even possible to have a greater opening track than Gojira’s “Born in Winter“?) but they didn’t necessarily work well together. This year I conceived of it more as a (long) album, with pieces that spoke to each other, while trying to avoid repetitiveness and monotony. I tried to keep it positive and focused on healing rather than just wallowing in sadness. Like last year, purely by chance, there’s one band from Ukraine (Jinjer; Stoned Jesus), and not by chance at all, there’s another Gojira track. This playlist isn’t as metal, but if anything, I think, it’s heavier. Intriguingly, there are nearly as many female vocalists and lyricists as male, which wasn’t intentional but may suggest which gender sings more authentically about emotional turmoil. (Shout-out to Johnny Cash and Trent Reznor for the exception to the rule here.)

Here’s the playlist, which I’ll also list separately below (because when YouTube removes a video for a copyright claim, it never tells you what was removed).

Song links go to lyrics:

1. Oceans of Slumber – Winter
Progressive metal from Houston. This is the title track of their first full-length from 2016. Vocalist Cammie Gilbert’s bluesy style is a rarity in metal, but it all works so well.

2. Venom Prison – Pain of Oizys
Welsh death metal superstars. From their just-released album Erebos. “The song is about … finding strength in suffering and not giving up.”

3. Wardruna – Lyfjaberg (Healing-mountain)
Neo-pagan Norwegian folk. Somehow not at all cheesy, which is a bit of a feat.

4. Mean Mary – Dark Woods
You know I had to include some banjo! Also, Mean Mary is a total freaking genius as a musician and a lyricist. I’ve never heard anything of hers that wasn’t great.

5. Stoned Jesus – I’m the Mountain
Stoner metal from Kyiv. “Mirror, mirror, show me now / What will I become and how / For now I’m just a mountain / I’m a mountain”.

6. Johnny Cash – Hurt
You would think that the Nine Inch Nails original would be a better fit for this playlist, but I’m sorry, NIN fans, Cash’s version is just heavier, more raw (to say nothing of the excellent, biographical video).

7. Wolves in the Throne Room – Mountain Magick
Cascadian black metal legends. This is off their 2021 album Primordial Arcana. Yes, it’s deeply cheesy, but when you go all-in on the cheese it becomes like Camembert or something: irresistible.

8. Call of Luna – An Offering to the Wild
Swedish post-metal legends. This is off their just-released album The Long Road North.

9. Gojira – In the Forest
Everyone’s favorite biocentric French melodic death metallers. From their very first album in 2001. “I want to live in the forest forever…”

10. Tsunekichi Suzuki – Omoide (Memories)
Japanese alternative folk. Yes, it was used as the theme song for Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories on Netflix, which I loved.

Haibun in Drifting Sands + a new Failed State review

Last month, I was pleased to place a haibun in Drifting Sands: A Journal of Haibun and Tanka Prose. “Another World” is unusually personal for me, and grew out of a much briefer post on Woodrat photohaiku. It appears in Issue 13, which was guest-edited by Adelaide B. Shaw. Thanks to her for the swift acceptance — and for pulling together a great issue which I’m delighted to be a part of.

Then this evening I was thumbing through the reviews at the back of the latest issue (53.1) of Modern Haiku, and look what I found!

Failed State review in Modern Haiku 53.1

This was a surprise, because I sent them a copy of the book last summer and when a note didn’t appear in the fall issue, figured it hadn’t passed muster and forgot about it. This is, I must say, considerably kinder than I expected. Thanks to Contributing Book Review Editor Peter Newton for taking the time, and for being so generous. Modern Haiku reserves full-length reviews for books of or about haiku proper, which is completely understandable. What’s impressive to me is that a journal of its standing still considers self-published collections for review — one indication of just how down-to-earth and DIY the English-language haiku scene still is. Even the major haiku publishers are just one- or two-person operations, I think. So it’s cool that a book like Failed State can be evaluated on its own merits.

Yay, puppies!

four coyote puppies outside a culvert pipe

page from Modern HaikuIt’s been nearly four months since I’ve posted here. What’s been happening? Let’s see. I had a haiku in a new journal called Trash Panda; a short linked-verse sequence in the Poets Respond feature of Rattle online; and a haiku in Modern Haiku 52.3 (Autumn 2021), my first acceptance there. Yesterday, my weekly poetry blog digest at Via Negativa got a nice shout-out on the Planet Poetry podcast. And today, my videopoem collaboration with Luisa Igloria, “Neolog 2021.0,” appeared in Atticus Review.

It feels weird to stop there, with the sort of boring, dry post that I almost never excerpt for the aforementioned blog digest. But in other respects my life has been turned completely upside-down and it’s difficult to write about. I have been toying with the idea of starting a private journal, though after nearly two decades of public blogging, the idea seems a bit bizarre, despite all my work with Pepys’ diary. Mostly what I’ve been doing is going for walks hither and yon. If you want to know about that in (slightly) more detail, you’ll have to follow my photo+haiku blog.

I can share that I have a new personal mantra. Whenever things start seeming too bleak and meaningless, I murmur “Yay, puppies!” as enthusiastically as I can, reminding myself that we still live in a world where puppies and rainbows are possible. Also, not all puppies are dogs. Some of them—the lucky ones?—get to be coyotes, and trot through life avoiding as best they can that violent trickster H. sapiens.

four coyote puppies outside a culvert pipe
photo: Zac Garrett (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Failed State released to public marketplace + new reviews

waiting room

You can now purchase Failed State from your local bookstore—or from Amazon, if that’s your thing. The self-publishing platform I used, Blurb, gives the option of either selling books from their site, or releasing them to distributors and online retailers. The advantage of the former is that the author gets to keep all the profits, but once my initial flurry of sales to friends and social media contacts died down, it made sense to let at least the paperback edition get proper distribution, so that’s what I’ve done. So far, only one additional sale has occurred as a result.

More rewarding have been the responses from readers, such as Julene Tripp Weaver, who wrote a very kind appreciation on Goodreads. It begins,

Don’t miss Dave Bonta’s most recent book, “Failed State,” filled with smart, concise, political haibun and erasure poems. So many of these either burst my heart open or made me bust out laughing.

And blogger James Collins wrote a very thoughtful review at Love During Wartime, which concludes:

This may sound like a frightening journey, but it is worthwhile. Join Dave Bonta in exploring these dreams and confronting these nightmares. In the end, you might find yourself at the center of the world, on a front porch, admiring the woods.

Both reviews are of course linked from the book’s official page here.