It’s always fun to see what other people consider my best works. The blog from the folks who put on the annual videopoetry festival in Athens, Ινστιτούτο [Πειραματικών Τεχνών], has just shared an interesting selection of my videopoems, including one with found text from old TV commercials, one for a poem by Emily Dickinson and another for a poem by Amy Miller, and a couple of tongue-in-cheek videopoems in the vein of Dickinson’s “I’m nobody. Who are you?” Check it out.
Sometimes I get depressed by the behavior of my fellow U.S. poets: our obsession with hierarchy and prestige, our endless preening, our myopic focus on print publication, our willingness to perpetuate a system of gatekeepers in a world of nearly universal access (at least in the global north) to abundant free content abounding with self-publishing tools; the disconnect between our generally progressive social/political values and our stodgy conservatism when it comes to the form and content of poetry itself. Then I see things like this brief summary of the power of blogging from my friend R’ Rachel Barenblat, and I remember that there are in fact lots of good poets who are writing the poems they need to write and forging their own paths. Rachel has published two full-length collections drawn largely from her popular (and not poetry-centered) blog and has another on the way, not to mention several chapbooks. More importantly, she has a readership, and it’s not just other poets (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And she’s figured out a way to make poetry, blogging, and motherhood support rather than conflict with her career. I admire the hell out of that.
Velveteen Rabbi: On being a blogging rabbi
In some ways it’s less intimidating to translate the great and famous than the under-translated and little-known, because you know that your versions aren’t going to be the only ones out there by a long shot, so monolingual readers will be better equipped to take them with the requisite grain of salt. Anyway, here are my best efforts at five favorite Vallejo poems: “Pain without explanation: five poems by César Vallejo.” It’s the latest post in an ongoing series at Via Negativa called Poetry from the Other Americas, in which I’ve been joined by Natalie d’Arbeloff, Jean Morris, and Dale Favier so far, with other translators signalling an interest in contributing as well. It’s one of the most exciting collaborations I’ve been involved in for some time, and it’s also breathing new life into Via Negativa as a group blog, with poets responding to the translations and to each other in such a manner that I’ve upgraded the description of the site: “Via Negativa is a unique experiment in daily, poetic conversation with the living and the dead.” I hope that isn’t too grandiloquent! (After consultation with Luisa, we agreed it would be best to keep “purveyors of fine poetry since 2003” as the main description.)
In other Via Negativa news, we’ve updated and expanded the Recommend Sites page, which the stats suggest does attract a steady trickle of visitors. As I wrote at the bottom of the page, despite the near-disappearance of blogrolls, for a site like Via Negativa where most posts are original creative work rather than commentary and therefore contain few outgoing links, it’s as important as ever to maintain a list of some of our favorite places on the web—especially those that aren’t as well-known as they should be. But for the first time we’ve expanded it beyond just a blogroll to include other daily poetry sites and a small but diverse list of favorite online magazines. (There would be a lot more literary magazines in this latter category if I didn’t get so irritated by the way most of them continue to ape the look and reading experience of print journals.)
My apologies to everyone who signed up for an email subscription to this site and is accustomed to getting maybe a dozen emails a year. As you’ve no doubt just been surprised and/or irritated to discover, I’ve begun archiving my Facebook links and Twitter posts in a bid to gain more control over my social media content. I was so proud of myself for getting that set up correctly, all siloed off from the main index page, I completely forgot that I’ve been encouraging people to subscribe to everything by email with a sidebar widget. But then when I did remember last night, I was thinking I probably only had three or four subscribers anyway. Imagine my surprise to see that there were 37!
My guess is that most of you signed up for the brewing-related posts. If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to unsubscribe from the emails and add the RSS feed for the brewing category to your favorite feed reader. (Beer geeks all do feed readers, right?) If there’s enough interest, however, I would be willing to set up an email newsletter via Feedburner or Mailchimp for the brewing posts. Please leave a comment (or, you know, email) if you’d be interested in that.
I was sitting outside enjoying the fine, early-summer weather the night before last when I spotted a solitary light flashing in the treetops like a small, lost satellite: the first firefly. I watched as it drifted slowly through the darkness, advertizing its presence to an otherwise empty yard. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t posted an update here about my literary accomplishments, such as they are, for a very long time. Oops.
Often what happens, I think, is that I brag about a publication on Facebook and/or Twitter, then later on think that I’ve written about it here when in fact I haven’t. That was certainly the case with the inclusion of one of my poems in an art gallery exhibition at the University of Southern Maine, Secrets of the Sea, and the accompanying chapbook, Poems For Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea. The Lewiston-Auburn College Atrium Art Gallery did not post a copy of the chapbook to their website, for some reason, but they did send PDFs (as well as the printed version) to all the contributors. Since it was produced to distribute for free, I can’t see why they’d object to my sharing it here: Poems for Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea [PDF].
Of the other poets in that collection, I was most pleased to be sharing space with Elizabeth Bradfield, an excellent poet whose strong grasp of science and natural history shines through her work. Bradfield is the publisher of Broadsided Press, which pairs artists and poets for monthly, free-to-print-and-distribute broadsides, “putting literature and art on the streets”—a great model. For their annual haiku year-in-review broadside in January, Bradfield asked poets to submit via open postings to Twitter. At last, a barrier to entry so low that even a writer as monumentally lazy as me couldn’t think of a reason not to submit! And as luck would have it, two of my haiku made the cut. Check it out.
Fired up by that success, I submitted to two other publications I admire, and was honored to have my pieces selected for both. “Leave-taking,” a videopoem, appeared in Issue 2 of Gnarled Oak, an online magazine founded last year by the Austin, Texas-based writer James Brush. And one of my Pepys erasure haiku was Autumn Sky Poetry Daily‘s poem for March 19. One of the unique features of that magazine is the inclusion of a note from the editor, Pennsylvania poet Christine Klocek-Lim, after each poem, explaining what she likes about it. For mine, she wrote:
Haiku is one of the most difficult forms of poetry to write because you have very little time to speak. This poem succeeds with that task, and has the added little delight of originating from within another source of words. Erasure poetry is very cool.
Last November, I was honored to have one of my videopoems screened at Videobardo, the long-running videopoetry festival in Buenos Aires, as part of a selection curated by the Canadian videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. Here’s the text of his presentation. I was honored that he chose my video to illustrate what has become a very popular trend in videopoetry: working with a pre-existing text.
In this videopoem, the image of a nest of snakes provides a constrained visual metaphor for each reference to “they” “these” and “them” in Salinas’ reading: “these wild and dishevelled ones” “they beg” “they can’t go on living” “help them” etc. One lasting impression that differentiates a “pure” videopoem from any other “poetry video” is that you will always associate the text you read (or hear) with the image(s) and the soundtrack it was created with. After viewing this work, how can we not help but associate this poem by Pedro Salinas with a nest of garden snakes?
Do read the rest. It’s really very flattering indeed.
Last but not least, I contributed a short essay to a new German website, Poetryfilmkanal: “The Discovery of Fire: One Poet’s Journey into Poetry-Film.” Believe it or not, I was trying to express myself as clearly as I could. (There’s a reason why I mostly stick to poetry.) The website administrators have plans to release annual print and PDF versions of the magazine portion of the website, so my deathless prose about videopoetry and poetry film may find its way into dead-tree media as well.
I think that’s everything; my apologies to anyone I may have overlooked. It’s not that I don’t enjoy placing poems and videos hither and yon, it’s just that I derive most of my satisfaction as a writer from my daily posts at Via Negativa. I’m still beavering away on Pepys Diary erasures, and have yet to miss a single entry. (Last night, I had the quality problem of trying to decide which of three separate erasure poems found in that day’s diary entry was the best.) And I’m excited about a new series at VN called Poetry from the Other Americas, which is giving my translation muscles a much-needed workout. As for fireflies and their lonely writer’s lamps, I just remember that classic haiku of Buson’s:
All this study—
it’s coming out your ass,
When I started blogging erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys on January 1, 2013, it was with the understanding that I would only do the interesting entries, and stop as soon as it got boring. Two years in and I have yet to skip a single entry of the diary—not even the one-sentence ones. It’s become this weird compulsion. Maybe it’s a crutch, a way to avoid having to think up poems on my own? Nah. It’s actually quite a bit more time-consuming. But it’s teaching me a lot about invention and discovery, the observer effect, and the shadow text—which, like a shadow government, thrives on its own irrelevance. Within a few months of beginning the project, I switched to a fully digital style of erasure using HTML. And in the latter half of 2014, I began to use erasure to teach myself how to compose better haiku — one of the most difficult kinds of poetry to get right.
But even now, I’m sure I can stop erasing Pepys anytime I want. I just don’t want to yet.
London, Cornwall, Belgium, Berlin… 2014 was a year of traveling. Somehow or another, people seem to gotten the idea that I know something about videopoetry/poetry film, so I was invited to take part in a panel discussion at the biannual ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin this past October. They paid me and everything. It was nuts! The best part was, Rachel came over from London to join me, and we spent a week exploring Berlin and taking in poetry films from all over the world in a grand old theater, in the company of friends old and new.
The panel was titled “Poetry Films in the Digital World,” and it was surprisingly well attended, by which I mean that every seat (100 or so?) was taken—at least until the one-hour mark, when we took a break and half the audience fled. The thing I liked about it was that it was a real colloquium discussion, not one of those wretched series of Powerpoint presentations that passes for a panel at most American academic conferences. Then again, this was a festival, not a conference. Our job was not just to inform but to entertain, and I did my part as best I could in my usual, hyper-caffeinated, words-tumbling-all-over-each-other fashion. Also, there was simultaneous translation into German and English! It was just like being at the U.N. The two translators took turns, and they seemed equally good. I was in awe.
After the festival was over, Rachel said: “You’ll get more invitations to attend poetry film events around the world, I’m sure, but this is probably the last time you’ll get paid to do it.” I imagine she’s right. Of course, as with all conferences and festivals, a lot of the important stuff happened at the nearby pub. In part as a result of the new connections I made — and the new energy I felt from attending so many screenings — I converted the old Moving Poems forum into (ahem) Moving Poems Magazine, and created a Top Ten Films feature to help newcomers quickly get a feeling for what the genre is all about. (Judging by this post from a Swedish books blog, it’s working: “A great way to explore the material is to start with the top lists,” they write.)
The trick for me, I think, will be to keep the work-load manageable. So far it has been. I feel particularly fortunate to have gotten a new columnist, the artist and animator Cheryl Gross. Yep, we met in Berlin.
I posted two photo-illustrated posts about the trip to Via Negativa: “On Berlin walls” and “Berlin in black-and-white.” I also had a great nature walk right outside the Stockholm airport on the way there, and a very memorable flight home. As for my summer jaunts, I blogged about “Embodied Belgium” as well as a bunch of stuff from the U.K. One of the latter is due to appear in a print publication, I’m told — more about that if/when it arrives.