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.

Killing is My Business: another Marc Neys film from Failed State

still from Killing is My Business

Watch on Vimeo

“I’m a sucker for dream poems,” Marc Neys told me when he sent along his latest video adaptation of a haibun from Failed State. The mix of imagery here, all of it drawn from the online cache of anonymous home movies known as The International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories, is especially dreamlike, I think. And as an poet, there are few reactions to one’s work that are more gratifying than a brand-new creation from a brilliant artist.

Marc opted for text-on-screen rather than voiceover for the entirety of the text, and wisely left out the footnote that I included in the printed version. Let me paste in the complete text below:

Killing is My Business

I dreamed I drove a sprayer truck along the berm of a road in prayerful silence. The staghorn sumac leaves in their autumnal red turned brown behind me and my rubber gloves shone like the udders of a cow, all for the sake of the crown vetch and its hateful pink.* I dreamed of skinning feral cats and selling their meat at auction: Fresh mutton, I hollered. They were slick with the fat of tanagers.

curled leaf—
you can tell I’m asleep
when I start to twitch

*Originally a foreign infestor from Europe, now a cultivar developed at my alma mater Penn State as a gift to the interstate highway system. Its wire-tough tangles smother all competition and hide the scars of erosion, which it does nothing to prevent. It swallows our litter better than the sea.

Rewilding: a Marc Neys film from Failed State

still from Rewilding by Marc Neys

Watch on Vimeo

Filmmaker and composer Marc Neys surprised me yesterday with this great new adaptation of one of the haibun from Failed State. He may be semi-retired from making videopoems, but he doesn’t seem to have lost any of his mad skills. His impressionistic style really fits the poem, I think. I was also chuffed to hear the poem read in someone else’s voice. Here’s the text:

The wolves have finally come to me for advice. Avoid making eye contact with saints and ranchers, I say. Stick to the suburbs where no one else goes to hunt. The wolves are tired; their tongues glisten like the neckties of bankers crowded into a London tube carriage at rush hour. In the window of the building opposite, a white cat levitates on a sudden carpet of arms. The headline in the Evening Standard reads, Is Your Child a Psychopath? It’s More Common Than You Think. My love has taken five sharp sticks from her bag and begun to knit me a sock. What big toenails you have, she says.

autumn lake
gang members lower
their voices


Pasting this in just now, I discover a typo, the first I’m aware of in the book: voicies. Nuts! Guess I shouldn’t have blown off Blurb’s typo-finding tool (which seemed tedious because of course it was flagging every word not in its apparently quite limited dictionary). Live and learn.

Speaking of Blurb, some people might’ve noticed the irony that I didn’t in fact include any blurbs on the book. I sort of feel like blurbs are superfluous on physical books of poetry in bookstores or at live events, because people can just leaf through a book and make up their own minds. If sales are mainly or exclusively online, the author and/or publisher can just update the book page(s) with favorable quotes as they come in from readers and reviewers, and I’ve started to do this on Failed State‘s page here. I’ve also added some more of my own video adaptations to the bottom of the page: Killing Time, Ornithology, and Falling, the latter two newly edited to include the haiku. You can also watch all eight videos on Vimeo. (I’ll add the two films by Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg, In West Virginia and Flag Country, when they’re made public. Right now they’re both still making the rounds of festivals.)

New videopoem: “Temblor” from Failed State

still from Temblor

Watch on Vimeo

Let’s say you make a videopoem in response to some intriguing footage, but then years later you change the text: add a few lines, decide it’s really a haibun in disguise, and tack on a haiku which fundamentally reorients it. What to do? Find that original footage and re-make the video, of course!

It’s not as if Failed State needs another video, but this one was kind of obvious. (I’ve actually been working on one for the title poem as well, but I’m not very happy with it so that may never get released.)

Here’s the text:

A voice in my dream said: Don’t be so eager to find yourself. The deer rolls her eye in panic at your approach, birds take flight, the rabbit freezes then bolts.

Consider the possibility that they’re right about you, these creatures who we know to be capable of predicting earthquakes. Stop trying to dot your I’s — broken columns from a Greek temple where no one now remembers the name of the god.

Get lost, because the found are insufferable.

bed-shaking tremor
everyone running out
into the street