I’m pleased to have a piece in the June 2019 issue of the online journal Haibun Today, selected by Melissa Allen—the first I’ve appeared in HT. It’s based on an incident that happened 15 years ago. Which makes me think I really ought to be a bit more assiduous in editing my old drafts for publication… Anyway, go read “At the Museum” (and click through to the rest of the issue).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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:
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:
we take turns touching
the electric fence
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.
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.
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.
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).