A new direction for Woodrat Photohaiku

as for me the mossy side of the trunk

My long-running photo blog has gone through a couple of re-inventions over the years as my interests have shifted. On New Year’s Day, I decided it was time to re-invent it once again, and start featuring photo haiga (A.K.A. shahai), since I’d already starting incorporating haiku text into images on Instagram. In a way, this isn’t new territory for me: back in 2008-2009 I edited a short-lived journal called Postal Poems that tried (and mostly failed) to get poets to create haiga-like images incorporating text (mostly micropoetry, but not necessarily haiku). And I’ve been incorporating haiku into videopoems for years, usually as text-on-screen.

The difference now is I have a somewhat more sophisticated idea of what haiku is or could be. For decades I was hampered by too much formal education, convinced I knew what haiku was by scattershot reading of mostly mediocre translations in the course of obtaining a comp lit degree focusing on Japanese and Chinese, which included a year abroad in the Kansai region of Japan. The latter did leave me with a healthy aversion toward Japonisme in all its manifestations, important to my growing realization that preserving the possibility of at least occasional originality in a tradition-bound art-form paradoxically requires an openness to the avant garde. As I noted this morning in a tweet reply to the Norway-based poet and blogger Ren Powell, my first real introduction to so-called gendai (modern) haiku was the Haikunaut issue of Cordite in 2009. From there I discovered Roadrunner/R’r journal and the 2011 anthology Haiku 21 from Modern Haiku journal, and it was off to the races.

But for some reason I persisted in keeping text off of the photos at Woodrat Photohaiku, even as the accompanying haiku themselves slowly improved. I’m nothing if not a creature of habit. I think it was mostly the cumulative effect of seeing other haijin posting photo haiga on social media, especially Instagram, that finally broke down my resistance. And I discovered that a photo editing app I’d been using for several years, Snapseed, had an easy-to-use text tool, allowing me to make and post haiga directly from my camera (allegedly also a phone). I could even copy and paste the text directly from the Notes app, a nearly frictionless haiga composition process for the digital age.

I’ll still be using what I deem to be the first line/semantic unit of the haiku as a post title, with the remainder of the text below the image, for continuity’s sake with the archive and to help those using assistive technology. But I’ve also begun appending additional thoughts to some of the posts, which represents another radical change for the blog: process notes, interesting out-takes, notes on potentially obscure details of the content, etc. And having text both beside as well as within the image allows me to present it in contrasting ways, which I like because sometimes a haiku can have quite different effects depending on how it’s arranged, in one line or several, and I feel readers should be able to choose which they like the best.

This may seem like much ado about nothing, considering how few actual readers the blog has, but to me, its small readership is one of the things I most enjoy about it. It makes it feel more like a sandbox where i can indulge my inner child and don’t have to take things too seriously. For a writer, that’s one of the real, unsung pleasures of blogging in general.

Introducing Estado Fallido (Failed State), a film by Eduardo Yagüe

screenshot from Estado Fallido showing a woman examining her face in the mirror

So today I put the finishing touches on my book of haibun Failed State and uploaded it to the print-on-demand service I’m using (Blurb, which is ironic because I didn’t solicit anyone for blurbs). But it won’t be available for general purchase until I get a softcover copy and can proof it, so probably not till the end of December or early January.

In the meantime, there’s a fabulous new film adaptation incorporating several haiku from the book. Eduardo Yagüe, a filmmaker friend from Spain, has just released his appropriately dark and disturbing interpretation. He included some process notes in his email which I’ll paste in below. Rebeca Minguito is the actor, and the music is by Hinterheim.


Watch on Vimeo

[Scroll down for the Spanish original.]
This project has been with me for a long time and for me it is very special. I always liked the title a lot and I wanted to bring it over to my own domain: “What would happen if the failed state were a person, what would it be like?” Then your haikus became the memories of the protagonist, in a kind of delusional inner monologue.

The production was lengthy and I had to cancel the recording several times, change the script, the location, the actors, the expectations. Until I found Rebeca, who lent me her house to record in, and she herself was a brave actress to investigate everything I proposed to her through your texts. Then came the pandemic and confinement and we had to wait again, and in the end (in the final shot) it was noticed. Somehow the entire failed state of the world in which we have lived this year appeared.

I know it is a hard video, difficult to watch, in a rather harsh mode. I hope it does honor to your poems, which I find extraordinary. I wish your book a long and successful track record.

Este proyecto me ha acompañado mucho tiempo y para mí es muy especial. El título siempre me gustó mucho y quise llevarlo a mi terreno: “¿qué pasaría si el estado fallido fuera una persona, cómo sería?” Entonces tus haikus se convirtieron en los recuerdos de la protagonista, en una especie de delirante monólogo interior.

La producción fue larga y tuve que cancelar la grabación varias veces, cambiar el guion, la localización, los actores, las expectativas. Hasta que encontré a Rebeca que me prestó su casa para grabar y ella misma fue una actriz valiente para investigar todo lo que le proponía a través de tus textos. Luego vino la pandemia y el confinamiento y hubo que esperar de nuevo, y al final (en el plano final) se notó. Apareció de algún modo todo el estado fallido mundial en el que hemos vivido este año.

Sé que es un vídeo duro, difícil de ver, en cierto modo áspero. Espero que haga honor a tus poemas, que me parecen extraordinarios. Le deseo a tu libro una larga trayectoria de éxitos.

New page for “Crossing the Pond”

Crossing the Pond title screen

Crossing the Pond title screen

The half-hour film I made with 33 of my videohaiku from 2019 now has its own page here, thanks to the Internet Archive, which unlike my Vimeo Plus account, doesn’t limit the size of uploads, so I’m able to embed it from there. Previously, I could only share the link to Google Drive, which doesn’t have an embedding option. And YouTube requires extra verification measures to upload files of that size, doubtless to try and limit illegal uploads of full-length movies.

This was the first time I’ve used the Internet Archive to host video, but I suspect it won’t be the last. It’s a bit geekier than other video hosting platforms, but the degree of control over metadata is impressive, and the upload and conversion process wasn’t clunky at all. (I don’t know why I thought it might be.) Pretty impressive for a nonprofit. Other appealing features include the total lack of advertising on the site and the ability to attach a variety of Creative Commons licenses. Also, they automatically generate a torrent file — how cool is that?!

Anyway, here’s the new page. I’ve included a transcript of the haiku and links to each of the four seasonal sequences from which it’s derived, which allowed me to remove those pages from the navigation menu and simplify things, so all in all, I think it’s a wrap.

In other videopoetry news, it appears the haibun series that I’m still calling “Pandemic Season” will continue for a while longer. I had thought it might be done in September, but no. After my hiatus making a renku video in October, I’m right back into haibun — so much so that I’m pushing myself to finish up and publish my collection of earlier, more experimental haibun, Failed State, so I will have a clearer picture of where I’m going with this new collection. Funny how that works.

Videohaiku and haibun at the International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia

International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia banner

International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia banner

UPDATE (10/20/20): Here’s the full list of films for The Art of Videohaiku.

The folks behind the Weimar Poetry Film Award and the bilingual Poetry Film Magazine have launched an ambitious new festival, the International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia, October 22-25. I’m pleased to have a minor role in its maiden launch—which, due to the pandemic, will be happening online: a program called The Art of Videohaiku.

Video haikus are small-format poetry films in which the form of the haiku is visually interpreted and adapted. During a workshop with the filmmaker Ana María Vallejo, the genre was explored artistically. In addition to the workshop results, the program shows video haikus and haibuns by the US-American artist and poet Dave Bonta.

They’ve chosen six of my videopoems, three videohaiku from last year’s Summer in the UK series, and three haibun videos from this year’s Pandemic Season series. Ana told me, “I wanted to have these two ‘realities’ before and after corona.”

videohaiku workshop banner

They’ll also be screening the films made by the four students who took Ana’s weekend-long workshop last month. I had recorded a brief lecture for them (below). According to Ana, they found my haiku-writing and video-making practice inspirational, which is highly gratifying if also a little worrying.

The whole program looks wonderful — check it out. I’m especially interested in the focus on African videopoetry and the “Women in Resistance” screening. One 10-Euro ticket ($11.71 USD) gives you access to all the programs, and three weeks in which to watch them.


Watch on Vimeo.

Two new pages for Pandemic Season, Pepys erasure project

still from the haibun video Public Relations

still from the haibun video Public Relations

This feels like one of those essays that school teachers used to require on the first day back: What Did I Do On Summer Vacation? Because I’ve been on vacation from this blog since last spring, it seems. Damn.

Well, mainly I moped, like everyone else in this goddamned covidious shitstorm. But I did make a lot of videopoems, as well as continue to plug along with (almost) daily erasure poems. So today I was all set to create a new page for the Videopoetry section of the website on my just-concluded (I think) video haibun collection Pandemic Season, only to find that I’d already done so back in July. Oops. Since it embeds the whole Vimeo showcase for the collection, which is 24 videopoems long, that will do for now. Currently I’m giving it a rest so I can go back and look at it with fresh eyes in a couple of months, and decide whether I want to mess with any of the films, make a book out of them, or just let it be. For now, the series archive at Via Negativa is probably a better way to engage with the collection, since there’s a transcript of each as well as extensive process notes.

I didn’t get to be a complete slacker today, though. Seven years after starting the Pepys Diary erasure project at VN, it finally occurred to me that maybe that deserved its own page here. Among other things, it gave me an excuse to highlight a few videopoems made with texts from the project. Check it out.

(I initially created a project page, experimenting with a custom content type designed for use in a portfolio-style site, because I still tell myself that one day I’m going to re-design this website to foreground a portfolio of projects, rather than continuing to pigeon-hole work by medium, print vs. video. But that seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Bizarrely, though, the project page auto-posted to Twitter, while the page-page did not. All of which is way more geekiness than either reader of this blog probably cares about. Sorry.)

Two haiku in Issue 20.1 of tinywords

scrseenshot from tinywords

scrseenshot from tinywords

I’m pleased to have not one, but two haiku in the currently serializing Issue 20.1 of tinywords, “climate strike…” and “steel band…” Both began life as the texts of videohaiku (here and here); “climate strike” was shortened following a suggestion by the editors.

I’m especially happy to be a part of tinywords‘ 20th anniversary year. As a web publisher myself, I know what’s involved in making it to that milestone — qarrtsiluni lasted all of seven years, and Moving Poems has only been around since 2009. Also, from a tech and usability standpoint, tinywords is one of the (sadly) very few online literary magazines that is doing nearly everything right, in my view. Here’s some of what Kathe L. Palka and Peter Newton wrote in the intro to the issue:

Here we are, nearly twenty years after Dylan Tweney started publishing tiny poems, one per day, like a daily vitamin for wordsmiths.

Dylan comments: “When I started tinywords in November 2000, I was bored, wanted to explore the possibilities of text messaging, and craved more poetry in my daily life. I never thought my little project to fuse these three impulses would grow so big or last so long. And I’m continually amazed by and grateful for the work that Peter and Kathe have done since taking over editorship of this site that I think of as ‘the world’s biggest, tiniest poetry magazine.’”

T I N Y W O R D S has grown over the years and now, as issue 20.1 begins, nearly 1,000 poets have seen their work appear in its pages. Today, almost 7,000 folks subscribe to and read T I N Y W O R D S each day, either through our email subscription list or via Twitter. We also get about 10,000 visitors per month on the website.

A remarkable achievement.

Pandemic Blues: a playlist

Listen on Spotify or Listen on YouTube (which includes two tracks not on Spotify)

Fred McDowellA blues playlist for the Covid-19 pandemic is an idea only slightly less obvious than a metal playlist, though the results are likely to be considerably more popular. There’s no shortage of blues songs about being home alone, or about sickness, hard times and death. I used a very broad definition of blues here, including some jazz, gospel and R&B. And I grouped the songs thematically, so listeners may experience a bit of whiplash as it goes from sad to rollicking or vice versa. The one Sahelian track, “Djam Leelii” by Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck, concerns the plight of refugees, so it’s only tangentially related but it’s such a great song with such deep blues feeling, I couldn’t leave it out. A similar logic dictated my inclusion of Geeshie Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues.”

Enjoy.

Crossing the Pond and three other videopoems featured at HaikuLife 2020

HaikuLife 2020 banner

HaikuLife 2020 banner

The Haiku Foundation’s Jim Kacian, a poet whose own haiku and haiku videos I admire, was kind enough to select four of my videos for their annual online HaikuLife Haiku Film Festival, which debuted this morning as part of International Haiku Poetry Day. Here’s the link.

It would probably seem churlish to offer criticism, so I’ll just say that this festival is clearly designed by someone with an archivist’s mindset, and as the son of an academic reference librarian, I couldn’t be more pleased to have my videos added to the Haiku Foundation’s digital library and uploaded to their own servers. More usability-minded librarians might give them a hard time over the number of clicks it takes to get to the content, however. And as is to be expected with independently hosted videos, they don’t scale down well for people on slow internet connections, so I will have to wait until I get back to London later this year to watch the other films in the festival myself, unless the local public libraries and coffee shops with good WiFi reopen in the meantime.

The main film of mine in the festival is Crossing the Pond, archived here. It’s a selection of 30 of the best videohaiku from the 80 I made last year, pulled together for a program at the REELpoetry festival in Houston back in January. If you’re on crappy internet, it’s probably easier to watch it on Google Drive (it was too big for my Vimeo account). Here are the other three links, accompanied by embeds of my own uploads to Vimeo:

Pandemic Time

Sea Levels

Self-Quarantine

Do check out the other videos in the festival if you can.

I’m not sure anyone has referred to me as an auteur before. I am feeling an inexplicable urge to don a beret and smoke Gauloises cigarettes.

Reading poems on “A Brief Chat” podcast

A Brief Chat header

I was honored to be the inaugural weekly poet on my friend Jason Crane’s mercifully brief podcast. (Seriously, who the hell has time for hours of podcast listening a day?) I chose some older pieces that I thought might play well with a general audience: poems about religion, science, sex, war, and news consumption. If you have hearing issues, or just like to read along, here’s the text of the poems [PDF].

If you’re interested in contributing poems for a future episode of A Brief Chat, Jason says you can simply send an email to jason@abriefchat.com – and include a sample of your work, obviously.

Listen here (or wherever you get your podcasts). For archival purposes, I’ve also downloaded and embedded the audio below. (Please note that all my poetry is released under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone is free to remix as long as I’m acknowledged as the original author and the resulting remix isn’t placed under a more restrictive license. Contact me if you’d like a higher quality, WAV version of any of these poems.)

Thanks, Jason!