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

Ambitions: Selected Poems from Vimeo

 

Vimeo recently made their albums embeddable, with a dropdown playlist, so I’ve pulled together a collection of videos made for/with my poetry over the years, both by myself and others. The UI is better on Vimeo itself, I think.

The ability to rearrange quickly by drag-and-drop is a killer function. (I wish OpenOffice Writer would let me do that with my manuscripts!) I’m grateful to Marc Neys, Marie Craven and James Brush for classing up the collection with their video art. Some of my own videos are pretty basic, and included more for the text than for the overall success of the poetry video.

This could probably be trimmed down a little more; I think it probably tests the patience of even the most poetry-mad viewer to try to watch all 36 videos in one sitting. But there’s a whole related discussion about the ideal length of print collections, too, isn’t there? Sometimes I’m in the camp of those who think that a chapbook/pamphlet is the best length: something that can be read in under an hour. Perhaps the same rule should apply to videopoetry album run-times.

New videopoem by Marie Craven

Failed State. That’s the working title of my book-length manuscript of prose + micropoetry, which draws equally upon my lived experience, dreams, and nightmares. In the last category, I have a section of seven untitled found texts from the CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train right-wing counter-insurgency interrogators throughout Latin America during the last and most brutal phase of the Cold War. I extract a haiku-length erasure poem or two from each text and place them below it, haibun-style. Back in March, an online journal called The Other Bunny, which specializes in experimental haibun, published a selection of these under the title “Human Resources.” Then the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven surprised me with this damn-near perfect video version. I strongly recommend expanding it to full screen and using good headphones:

Marie describes it on Vimeo as “A video about mind control and hidden meanings.”

The original text here is sections of a CIA document from the 1980s, concerning mind control techniques. […] The video is made up substantially of this text on screen, overlaid on a delirious blend of movie images from the Prelinger Archives. I chose to ‘mash up’ two different films for this background. The first, and most visually recognisable, is ‘Duck and Cover’, a famous documentary film from the 1950s containing advice on how to take cover in the event of a nuclear blast. The second film is ‘Destination Earth’, an anti-communist animation also produced in the 1950s. Both films were ‘doubled up’, making four superimposed layers, sped up considerably, with some parts appearing in forward motion, others in reverse, and some images rotating so that they appear at odd angles throughout the piece. The rapid melee of images is designed to express the hallucinatory effect of mental confusion engendered by mind control. The music is a psychedelic piece by The Night Programme (aka Paul Foster), with whom I’ve collaborated musically for over a decade, all via the net (he’s in Wales, I’m in Australia). The track is entitled ‘Cxx2’, from his album, ‘Backup 010318’. In a contemporary sense, the poem and video seem timely in this era of rampant fake news and unabashed propaganda.

Human Resources is Marie’s fifth videopoem based on my poetry. This is the sort of collaboration the web was built for, I think, and it’s always deeply gratifying to me as a writer to have been able to inspire an artist of Marie’s caliber.

Reblogged from Via Negativa.

Three new videopoems

still from "El Otro"

A videopoetry commission in January, which I don’t think I’m free to write about yet, nudged me back into making video remixes for Moving Poems, prompted also by the deaths of two prominent Latin American poets, neither of whose work had ever appeared on the site: Nicanor Parra and Claribel Alegría. I’ve posted each of the following three videos to Moving Poems now, together with process notes, so I’ll link to my posts there for anyone who wants to read more about what went into them.

1. El hombre imaginario (The Imaginary Man) by Nicanor Parra

2. I Am a Mirror (Soy Espejo) by Claribel Alegría

3. El Otro / The Other by Rosario Castellanos

I’m not sure whether I’ll keep going or not, but I do enjoy the challenge of making bilingual videopoems (though “I Am a Mirror,” the most experimental of these, does not include the original text).

Book news, new and belated

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, but I’ve finally made dedicated pages for each of my published poetry collections: Ice Mountain, Breakdown: Banjo Poems, and Odes to Tools. (Twelve Simple Songs already had a page.) They’re available in a drop-down menu from the main Books page link, as well as being linked within that page.

Why hadn’t I done this earlier? I guess I wasn’t convinced it was something website visitors would be looking for. Wouldn’t one page for all of them, linking to the book’s pages on the publishers’ websites, be enough? But publishers tend not to update their pages with links to reviews, much less include videos, musical adaptations, and all the other fun stuff that’s happened as a result of licensing my work for remix under the Creative Commons. Plus, it’s useful for me to keep track of everything. I’d completely forgotten, for example, just how enthusiastically my blogger friends (and a few strangers) reviewed Odes to Tools, for example, culminating in Nicelle Davis’s use of the poems to kick off her Living Poetry Project, handing them out to construction workers in her hometown. And I hadn’t remembered just how damn many videos I’d cranked out in support of Breakdown: twelve! And while technically and conceptually they’re not up to the level of the videopoems I make now, I find I still like them pretty well. So they’re all on that book’s page now.

As for Ice Mountain, I’ve simply never gotten around to blogging much of the news about it. For example, back in December, James Brush made a videopoem for “26 January”.

The footage is an artist’s conception of Pluto, an icy world, apparently lifeless, that resonated for me with the sense of loss and environmental themes that undergird much of Ice Mountain.

Go check it out. Earlier, Phil Coleman had reviewed had reviewed the book for the Spring 2017 issue of the Sylvanian [PDF], the magazine of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club (which took a while to appear on the web), and Kathleen Kirk wrote a great review for the online journal Escape Into Life. Verse Daily posted an excerpt, “20 March.” The book was given away in a free drawing at the Montreal-based Passage des Perles blog. On Goodreads, fantasy/sci-fi author Jordan R. Murray gave it a glowing review.

One of the best reviews was by blogger Ama Bolton at barleybooks, reprinted on the Bath Writers & Artists Group website.

Dave Bonta has, it seems, an instinct for getting to the heart of things without fuss, for choosing words and creating metaphors that are just right, never showy, and for making a point subtly, without jargon. This collection shows him to be a nature-poet in the great American tradition. Even a brief wander through his places on the Internet will confirm that he’s more than that.

Many (most?) of my Serious Writer friends don’t like the idea of sharing first drafts of their work with all and sundry, and I’ll admit there’s a part of me that yearns to erase or at least seriously spruce up my past, as well. But this is a wonderfully perceptive and sympathetic review of Ice Mountain by a long-time reader of Via Negativa who not only remembered the original drafts, but went back and compared them to get a sense of what I’d changed. So that feels like a bit of vindication for my “let it all hang out” approach. Thank you, Ama Bolton!

So you can see why it was well past time to create a dedicated page for all this. All the videos are there, and I embedded Marc Neys’ Ice Mountain album from Bandcamp, as well.

One final piece of Ice Mountain-related news is that I’m posting snapshots of the poems each morning to Instagram on the same date as they were written, accompanied by hopefully interesting (if occasionally prolix) commentary. I’ve heard from people who’ve already read the book that they’re enjoying this closer, slower look, so I hope to keep doing it straight through till the end in mid-May. Follow along if you like.

Ten years of The Morning Porch

Detail of Paper Garden by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

My daily microblog The Morning Porch is ten years old today. Aside from times when I haven’t been at home — notably the three summers and one winter I’ve spent in the UK — I’ve managed to come up with something to say, in 140 or fewer characters, about the view from my front porch every bloody morning for the past ten years, no matter how boring or repetitive it ended up being. (Just this week, for example, I used variations on the word “shimmer” two days in a row. Yikes!) That the posts turn out lyrical as often as they do still strikes me as something of a minor miracle.

I want to thank everyone who’s followed along over the years, whether on Twitter, via email, on Facebook, or even by bookmarking and reading the website itself (so old-school!). I’m grateful to Clive Hicks-Jenkins for letting me use a portion of one of his paintings, Paper Garden, as a header image, and to the late, great film critic Roger Ebert for regularly re-tweeting my posts back in the day, which still accounts for the bulk of my alleged followers on Twitter (I imagine many of them are inactive now).

I’m especially grateful to Luisa A. Igloria for taking seriously my invitation (via Creative Commons license) to build upon my entries and use them as writing prompts; she’s not the only good poet to do so, but she’s been the most prolific, and it led of course to her becoming my co-author at Via Negativa in early 2011. Without the example of her energy and dedication to a poem-a-day practice, Via Negativa might have petered out like so many other literary blogs in recent years, and I probably wouldn’t have found the ambition to embark on daily erasures of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. So dailiness has bred more dailiness.

I was planning to write more to mark this milestone, but I injured my left index finger last night and typing is difficult, so — appropriately, perhaps — I’m forced to be brief. See the Morning Porch’s About page for a thumbnail history of the site and examples of what people have said about it over the years, and if that’s not enough, here’s what I wrote on the fifth blog-birthday. What I like most about the project now is the cumulative effect of reading so many years’ worth of observations for each day, accessible in the sidebar of the site with the help of a handy WordPress plugin. What sort of a day, for example, is the fifth of November? (Aside from being Guy Fawkes Day, of course.)

  • November 5, 2007
    Venus and the fourth-quarter moon stand close together, shining through the treetops as I drink my coffee.
  • November 5, 2008
    Under gray skies, barely a breath of wind and the woods are alive with the commotion of falling leaves. I will cut my hair.
  • November 5, 2009
    I hear the grunting of a buck in rut, but see only a grown fawn chasing a doe. As they pass below the porch, I hear the bleat in his voice.
  • November 5, 2010
    The wind rustles in the crown of one red oak; all the others are still. A train whistle. The light patches in the clouds fade to blue.
  • November 5, 2011
    A hard frost softens the edges of leaves and blades of grass. The witch hazel blossoms beside the house have curled into woolly fists.
  • November 5, 2012
    A thin spot in the clouds close enough to the sun to turn yellow like a bruise. A turkey vulture circles. The usual clamor of small birds.
  • November 5, 2013
    Overcast and cold. Wind hissing in the dry goldenrod and rattling the half-bare crowns of the oaks. A distant crow.
  • November 5, 2014
    An inversion layer brings freight train and traffic noise to mix with rustling leaves, crow scold-calls, a chipmunk’s metronome. My music.
  • November 5, 2015
    Warm morning after a cold night, and the oaks are shedding leaves: a dry sound as they hit lower branches, like the ticking of many clocks.
  • November 5, 2016
    A bright blue morning. The wail of sirens somewhere to the east—until the wind shifts and I hear nothing but the whispering of oaks.
  • November 5, 2017
    Fog and rain. The stream runs brown, as if to match the woods and meadow. The pink flamingo in my garden is looking distinctly out of place.