Videohaiku feature at Atticus Review + REELpoetry festival gig

Some of my videohaiku, along with an artist’s statement, comprise the latest biweekly feature in the Mixed Media section of Atticus Review: Five Trains / Sea Levels. I’m honored to appear in one of the web’s two or three best homes for videopoetry in English, edited by Matt Mullins, himself a stand-out practitioner of the craft. I’d been reluctant to submit since I know Matt pretty well—I didn’t want to either presume on our friendship, or put him in the awkward spot of having to say no. (I’m told that’s not the way most poets operate, but whatever. Ambition is poison.) But when Matt solicited work, I sure wasn’t going to refuse!

That was several months ago; they have a long queue. Fortunately, my turn came up just in time to promote a program I’m giving as part of the 2020 REELpoetry festival in Houston, which takes place on the weekend of January 24-26. On Sunday, in lieu of a reading I’ll be showing a bunch of my videohaiku, and expanding on some of the thoughts in the Atticus Review essay.

The REELpoetry folks also have me giving the keynote address (gulp!) on Saturday, and I’ll be helping to kick things off on Friday night with a screening called Poesía sin fronteras / Poetry Without Borders focusing on Latin American poetry films, especially those that grew out of the online “Poetry from the Other Americas” group translation project back in 2015-16. Here’s a trailer:


Watch on Vimeo

I’m also on the five-judge panel, and I can tell you that the competition films range all the way from great to spectacular. So why not spend a weekend watching poetry films in Houston, Texas? I’ll be the guy with the big, dark circles under his eyes from weeks of sleep deprivation.

Failing up: More texts from Failed State make their way into the world

Oops, I’ve forgotten about this website again! I apologize to both of my subscribers.

To be honest, I think my major creative accomplishment of the summer has been learning how to make no-knead, whole grain sourdough bread that is not at all brick-like. But since this is a writer’s blog, I do feel obliged to periodically make note my publications and other similar accomplishments. Why this is important, I’m not entirely sure (unlike with bread baking, where the rewards are obvious and life-sustaining). So. Um, let’s see. I had a haiku appear in an actual print publication called hedgerow, their spring issue, which turned out to be a rather nice anthology, including some genuinely fine English-language haiku that I was pleased to share space with. The haiku of mine that the editor chose happens to be the one that closes my manuscript Failed State:

fresh snow
the child fills the trailer
of her toy truck

Another couple of haiku appeared online in NOON: journal of the short poem, both in Issue 15 (pp. 34-35 if you’re in a hurry). Again, good company, and yes, both haiku are also from Failed State, written this spring as replacements for earlier, weaker haiku. I was especially pleased with the second one—

above the mall
the rest of the mountain’s
unrest

—which caps a haibun titled “Economic Growth”. (Environmentalist friends from the Altoona area may recognize the reference to the ill-advised Logan Town Centre, which despite its name ignored the many serviceable brownfields areas in the actual town center to take advantage of a ridiculous tax break and carve out a steep, seep area on the side of Brush Mountain. Which hasn’t actually collapsed onto Barnes & Noble and Bed Bath & Beyond quite yet, but a big scary crack has opened up in the slope just above.)

Also worth mentioning is a haiku I wrote for a senryu contest sponsored by a publication called Sonic Boom. It’s true that I tend to turn my nose up at contests, but they can be a great spur to creativity, and such was the case this time, as it not only yielded another replacement for a haiku in Failed State, but it was also accepted for publication since it landed on both judges’ shortlists, apparently. You can find it here (PDF) on page 22. A memory from childhood.

Also, Marie Craven’s videopoem based on some of my erasure haibun appeared in Rochford Street Review, Lori Ersolmaz’s Triptych filmpoem from Failed State was screened at the Oaxaca Filmfest, and In West Virginia by Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, based on my haibun of the same title, has appeared in six festivals, including the Buffalo International Film Festival, the Lisbon Film Rendezvous, the Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition, and the Green Screen Environmental Film Festival in Trinidad and Tobago.

New videopoetry collection: Summer in the UK

still from "cows on the common"

I’ve just completed Summer in the UK, my third online anthology of videohaiku. Go watch! Or read on for a little bit of background.

Much as I love my Pennsylvania mountaintop, I’m not as fond of our humid and increasingly hot summers; the cooler and drier maritime climate of the UK, where my partner lives, is far more to my liking. Regardless, summer is my least favorite season, and I often find it difficult to get in the mood for creative work. For most of July I fell off the videopoetry wagon altogether. But with a rush of catch-up videopoeming and a generous definition of summer (early June to the autumn equinox), I think I now have just enough to make a satisfying collection of haiku videos, if not quite as coherent a sequence as I put together for winter or spring. The high point, I think, is a nine-verse renku (linked verse) sequence called “Sea Levels” based on a low-tide visit to the submerged forest off the Welsh coast at Borth. Other locations in the collection include Aberystwyth, Hebden Bridge, Brill in Buckinghamshire, and various places in London, including Kew Gardens and the British Museum. To preserve a sense of seasonal progression, the videos are presented in the order in which the footage was shot rather than the order of composition.

As before, I’ve given the collection its own permanent page here (linked in the drop-down menu under Videopoetry if you’re viewing this on a proper computer), in addition to a showcase on Vimeo and a playlist on YouTube. The individual videos have also been shared on my Instagram and Twitter accounts (but not Facebook, because I have no truck with that hell site). If anyone would like to share this collection, first of all, thank you! And I think that YouTube will actually give you embed code. I’m happy to share the Vimeo embed code on request. Or of course you could simply share the link to my page.

A new videopoetry collection: Pennsylvania Spring

still from "spring woods at dusk"

Spring may not quite be over yet in Pennsylvania, but it is for me, since I’ve just made my annual eastern migration across the Atlantic to spend the summer and much of the fall with my partner Rachel in the UK. And I’d accumulated 24 spring-themed videohaiku—two more videos than in Winter Trees—so it was time to see whether they worked as a sequence, and I’ve decided that they do. Voilà: Pennsylvania Spring.

As I noted on Via Negativa just now, all but one of the videos was shot on an iPhone without any advance planning, just capturing things of visual interest and letting them prompt haiku a day or more later. The exception, “coal country spring”, uses old home movie footage that came to me in a similar serendipitous fashion: via @HomeMoviesBot on Twitter. As with Winter Trees, I feel that these are best experienced as they unfold, scroll-like, in the video series (which Vimeo now calls a showcase—previously album—and YouTube calls a playlist), in part because the visuals and audio are meant to add an extra dimension to the haiku, as with any videopoem. I am composing as much with video editing software as with the pen, and some of the haiku fall a little flat on the page. But I do include a transcription for the visually impaired. Go read/watch.

Introducing my first videopoetry collection: Winter Trees

still from the video "winter trees"

Single-author videopoetry collections are a relative rarity, but I’ve been inspired by such stand-out examples as the multi-filmmaker Book of Hours collaborative poetry film project coordinated by poet Lucy English, and the Twelve Moons collaboration between poet Erica Goss and filmmaker-composer Marc Neys. While my own approach to videopoetry is a bit more basic than most of the filmmakers in these projects, the connection of both anthologies to the changing seasons definitely helped shape how I envisioned my own, inaugural collection, a chapbook-length sequence of 22 videohaiku called Winter Trees.

The link takes you to a new, dedicated page on this site, accessible via a drop-down from the main Videopoetry tab in the navigation menu. I also posted process notes at Via Negativa. As I remarked when I shared the link on Twitter, videopoetry collections are essentially unpublishable, so I saw no reason not to simply release this myself. Eventually I’ll probably combine all 22 videos into one, 20-minute film, but for now, I think the embedded Vimeo album (or YouTube playlist) provides a viewing experience that serves the collection pretty well.

Seasonality is of course a key feature in the haiku tradition; most classic haiku/hokku anthologies have been organized by season since the 17th century. Proper linked verse sequences, on the other hand, take a montage approach, with ever-shifting times, settings, and moods, and reproducing that experience in a videopoem sequence is a challenge I don’t feel I’m quite up to yet (and which in any case might work better as multi-author compositions).

But I do feel that haiku are especially well suited to the videopoetry medium. Haiku and videopoetry both rely heavily on the juxtaposition of images for their effect. Further, the modern haiku master Paul Miller (AKA paul m.) writes, “Ogiwara Seisensui is reported to have described haiku as a circle: one half to be completed by the poet, the other half by the reader.” Which reminds of something the leading theorist of videopoetry, Tom Konyves, has written:

What is specific to a hybrid form like videopoetry is not what is specific to its elements… text, image and sound tend to arrive complete-in-themselves, self-sufficient, if you will. For the hybrid form, the specificity, I would suggest, is in the collaborative properties (a more accurate term may be synergistic properties) of the individual elements. In other words, not all texts (a good example would be most previously published poems), not all images (obviously) or soundtracks embody collaborative or synergistic potential. This collaborative property implies an incompleteness, indicating the presence of accommodating spaces in each of the elements. [emphasis added]

A further argument for marrying haiku and videopoetry is the long history of combining images and haiku: haiga, a genre which has been exported to the West as well. See the haiga gallery at Wales Haiku Journal (scroll down) for some particularly inspired modern examples.

But most important, to me, is the way that the video/film medium can give haiku what they often lack on the page: necessary time and space. It’s not unusual for printed collections to isolate just one or two haiku on a page, surrounding them with white space in an effort to slow the reader down. It’s been said that haiku are the perfect form of poetry for our distracted, sound-bite-dominated society, but actually I feel the opposite is true. Even when I am away from all digital distractions, reading haiku alone on the front porch of my home in the woods, I still often have to keep admonishing myself to read more slowly. How slowly? Maybe something like half a minute to a minute per haiku… about the length of a short video.

Anyway. Do go watch Winter Trees.

New publications and an interview

screenshot of Quail Bell Magazine

I’m delighted to have another haibun in Human/Kind Journal: “Polling Places” appears in Issue 1.2. Both my publications there to date are gathered on a separate author page.

Human/Kind is shaping up to be a really interesting publication, focused on at least two things that really interest me: haiku and related forms, and found poetry. I also like that it provides both PDF and web options, and the editors seem really savvy about social media promotion.

Another journal with both web and PDF/print versions, the Weimar-based PoetryFilm Magazin, also includes a piece of mine in its latest annual issue, my review of the Versogramas documentary.

Finally, I was interviewed about Moving Poems in Quail Bell Magazine last week. Here’s a snippet:

The American poetry business model, such as it is, foregrounds single-author print publications to the virtual exclusion of anything else. When Beyonce’s Lemonade came out, I sort of thought that maybe some prominent poets or poetry publishers would think about releasing video albums, too, but so far that hasn’t happened. But that’s the kind of future I’d like to see: one in which poets feel free to (self-)publish in any and all media, depending on the needs of the product, and one in which poets, filmmakers and musicians regularly get together to collaborate. We might or might not reach larger audiences that way. But I’m here to tell you, it’s a hell of lot less lonely than the poet-in-a-garret model. And it’s so much fun!

Read the rest.

Two years’ worth of Pepys Diary erasure poems available as free ebooks

Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls

As regular readers of Via Negativa know, I’ve been making erasure poems from the online Diary of Samuel Pepys since January 1, 2013, and though I’m currently almost a week behind, I’ve yet to miss an entry. (What’s an erasure poem? Think of it as a poem sculpted from, or discovered within, someone else’s text: one can only use words or parts of words as they appear in the original, and in the order they appear there.)

Pepys himself rarely missed a day in his diary, so in six years this project has generated rather a lot of poetry. Granted, it hasn’t all been brilliant, and I do it as much for the process as for the product. Has it made me a better poet? I believe it has. It’s certainly taught me humility and persistence, and I think I’ve become a more nimble writer of micropoetry as well. But I’ve never regarded the project as a way to generate traditionally publishable work. So starting in 2017, I got the idea of compiling my daily erasures into a single document, which I could then convert into a PDF and release at the end of the year for anyone in search of something a little different to read. So here are the download links:

After the conclusion of the nine-and-a-half-year diary, I hope to go back and compile the first four years into PDFs as well — if I’m not completely burnt out by then.

Haibun published in Human/Kind Journal and Contemporary Haibun Online

Human/Kind Issue 1.1 cover

Haibun is a mix of lyrical prose and haiku, and in recent years I’ve written quite a number of examples, but made little effort to send them out until last fall. That bore fruit this week with the appearance of “Flag Country” in the January 2019 (vol 14 no 4) issue of Contemporary Haibun Online, and “World Bank” in Issue 1.1 of HumanKind, a “journal of topical & contemporary Japanese short forms & art.” That focus on topical content makes HumanKind a particularly good fit for the sort of haibun I’ve been writing, and I like their openness to experimental work, as well. Which is not to say I don’t also appreciate the more traditional CHO; in fact, it’s a real pleasure to place work in a magazine I’ve been regularly reading for so long.

Both haibun are from my manuscript Failed State, which I’ve also been privately circulating to filmmaker and musician friends interested in creative collaborations. I should have some announcements on that front fairly soon.

New work at Wales Haiku Journal and tiny words

tinywords Issue 18.2

I’ve been reading and writing a lot of haiku and haibun in recent months, so I was pleased to place haiku in two very different online magazines. Wales Haiku Journal accepted one of my stranger pieces for its Autumn 2018 issue:

skin walker
the “tear-drop-shaped microconidia”
of my jock itch

It was great to be in such good company. (Helen Buckingham, Wally Swist, Chen-ou Liu…)

And tiny words accepted two of my personal favorites for its Issue 18.2 which is still unfolding at the rate of a haiku a day—one of the reasons I like that magazine so much. Its editors have always embraced the web’s unique features such as easy serialization and comment threads, where readers are encouraged to respond to haiku with haiku of their own. This seems like such a natural fit for the conviviality of haiku culture, which has foregrounded group composition and collaboration since the 17th century.

I’ve been enjoying the famed translator Hiroaki Sato’s new essay collection, On Haiku, but I continue to find that his insistence on translating traditional hokku and haiku as one-line poems in English, while sometimes appropriate, fails to acknowledge the importance of line breaks in slowing modern readers down and drawing attention to the possibility of multiple readings. I fancy that the second of my haiku in tiny words is a good illustration of this:

puberty
we take turns touching
the electric fence