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.

Ice Mountain makes the Banff Mountain Book Competition longlist!

Banff Mountain Book Competition screenshot

Just received word from Beth at Phoenicia Publishing that Ice Mountain has made the 2017 Banff Mountain Book Competition longlist, one of three titles in the Mountain Fiction & Poetry category, and the only book of poetry on the entire list. It’s an honor for the press and for me… and, I have to say, for the Appalachians, which don’t always rate too highly in people’s estimations of mountain-ness, being more ridgy than peaky, as well as being inhabited by one of the most mocked groups of people in the country. So, yay for us! Here’s the text of the announcement from the Banff website:

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival celebrates mountain literature and film, bringing together filmmakers, writers, publishers, editors, photographers, athletes, adventurers, and – of course – readers. Featuring film screenings, guest speakers, readings, seminars and book signings, the Festival offers a wide spectrum of experiences for the mountain film and book-loving audience.

As a key program of The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, the Book Competition is an internationally recognized literary competition that celebrates mountain literature in all its forms. Over $16,000 in cash is awarded annually with 8 awards selected by an international jury of writers, adventurers and editors. The shortlist of category award winners eligible for the Grand Prize is announced in October every year. In 2017, the Grand Prize will be announced on Thursday, November 2 at The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and category awards will be presented to winning authors.

The Mountain Fiction & Poetry category “Includes fiction and poetry books with a focus on mountain topics. Creative narratives about climbing and mountaineering, exploration and mountain culture are acceptable.” The other two finalists are In Case I Go by Angie Abdou, Arsenal Pulp Press (2017) and Rising Abruptly: Stories by Gisèle Villeneuve, University of Alberta Press (2016). Congrats to both.

Ice Mountain: now available in album form!

screen capture from Ice Mountain's page on Bandcamp

My book Ice Mountain: An Elegy has been made into an album! I couldn’t be more excited or pleased with the result. You’ll probably recognize the composer’s name from all the videopoems he’s made for my poems over the years (including the video trailer for Ice Mountain): Swoon AKA Marc Neys.

The mythical Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhall is said to have held that the greatest sound in the world is “the music of what happens.” Over the past two decades, I’ve really come to identify with this sentiment, learning to appreciate the happy accidents in natural and human-made soundscapes sometimes as much as, if not more than, composed music. I’d like to think it’s even shaped my writer’s ear.

There’s something of that spirit in this album. Liquid and icy textures, hissing, rustling, crackling, and other aural interventions are interwoven with piano notes and long-held orchestral chords, all adding up to a music as spare and minimalist as the poetry itself: Marc’s own selection of a few of his favorite poems from the book.

The poetry is presented in four distinct voices, and though it doesn’t dominate the other music, you don’t have to strain to understand the words. Sometimes layered and repeated, these readings are the work of me, both my parents and the precocious young daughter of a friend (who kind of steals the show, in my opinion). Bookended by two instrumental tracks, Ice Mountain allows an attentive listener to experience something of the stark grandeur of an Appalachian winter and early spring. And for many of you in the northern hemisphere, a blast of Arctic chill might be just what you need right now.

The album is only available in digital form, via Bandcamp: listen and download here. Marc is asking a paltry €6 — roughly the cost of two fancy cups of coffee these days — and if you’ve already purchased a copy of the book, take a photo of yourself with the book and email it to Marc (swoonbildos [at] gmail [dot] com) and he’ll send you a copy for free!

Ice Mountain makes its way into the world

Ice Mountain the book in the hand of Matt Swayne from Instagram
photo by Matt Swayne on Instagram
I’ve been terribly remiss in updating this blog with news about my new book of poetry, Ice Mountain: An Elegy. Nevertheless, the book has been getting around: popping up on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and making its way into musical compositions and poetry films in places as far-flung as Belgium and Australia. (OK, pretty much just those two places. But still, that’s a lot better than me: I’ve barely left the mountain in the past four months.)

I tend to blog about such things at Via Negativa, and/or link them on Facebook, and be done with it, forgetting that I have this dandy author’s website as well. In short, like most poets, I suck at promotion. So, for example, I blogged about Marc Neys’ video trailer for the book, for which I supplied most of the footage, and Marc the music and selection of lines — a cento of his own creation. Check it out:

The next thing that happened was this terrific review of the book from poet, rabbi, and fellow Phoenicia author Rachel Barenblat:

The natural world and the manmade world are always in uncomfortable proximity here … Dave resists easy binaries. There is a kind of beauty in the salt-bleached highway that “almost shines.” But our human needs for progress come at the cost of animal lives, and this collection never lets us forget that.

Read the rest.

Further surprises awaited. The Australian multimedia artist and singer Marie Craven made two videos based on entries in Ice Mountain, one for 25 January and one for 7 March. The second included her own musical adaptation, collaborating with the composer Paul Dementio. The preceding link goes to a post at Via Negativa, but I’ll embed the videos here as well:

*

In February and March I gave local readings from the book and was pleased by the warm response of both audiences: one a nature club, the other a more literary bookstore crowd. I also recorded an interview with a local radio station (98.7 FM — The Freq) as part of an author week feature they ran in cooperation with State College’s Schlow Library. Jason Crane, the interviewer, had read the book and asked great questions — no surprise since he’s been interviewing people for radio and podcasts for many years. Listen here, or via the following embedded player:

The Morning Mixtape: Dave Bonta

The Morning Mixtape: Poet Dave Bonta talks about Ice Mountain, his new book of poems. This wide-ranging conversation also covers renewable energy, being specific about nature, and much more. NOTE: This online version contains an additional 6 minutes of conversation not found in the radio version. Author Week is sponsored by Schlow Centre Region Library and Centre County Reads.

Posted by 98.7 The FREQ on Thursday, March 30, 2017

 

So while I may not have been doing a proper author tour, the book has definitely been getting out there. I’m grateful for the many positive comments and mini reviews on social media, and the publisher seems happy with sales figures so far. More Ice Mountain-related things are in the works, including an album of ambient/electronic music based on the book and at least one reading in London this summer, so stay tuned!

Proof

Holding a copy of Ice Mountain against the trees

Holding a copy of Ice Mountain against the treesLike yeast, a book is proofed, in the older sense of proof/prove meaning to test. But for many authors, having a published book is proof (in the modern sense) that one is a Real Writer. When I was younger, I too might’ve felt that way. Instead, what I’m feeling now is simple pleasure at a well-made thing.

It also means, of course, that publication is imminent, and very soon I shall be endeavoring to sell physical copies in meat-space. What a concept! There will, however, be a PDF version as well for those who are decluttering, living out of their suitcases, or simply don’t like the way books gather dust (which is roughly how my late Nanna felt about books). Here’s the link to order. And here’s an excerpt.

I am also extremely pleased with the videopoem my friend Marc Neys made, based on a collage of lines from the book. He intended it as a video trailer for Ice Mountain, but it’s really a stand-alone short film. I blogged about our collaboration recently at Via Negativa.

Ice Mountain now available for preorder

cover of Ice Mountain
Publication of Ice Mountain is less than two months away! It now has a page on the publisher’s website, where you can admire Beth Adams’ beautiful cover illustration, read the book description and the blurbs kindly provided by two good friends, poet Todd Davis and environmental activist extraordinaire Laura Jackson, and even go crazy and order the book at the lower pre-publication price. But if, like me, you’re the discriminating sort of buyer who likes to sample first, here’s an excerpt from the book.


11 February

the crest of Ice Mountain
once harbored a rare scrub barrens
ancient trees made wayward by the wind

as I start up the ridge my tired knees
make quiet popping noises
with every step

Sancho I say to myself
those windmills aren’t giants
they’re flowers for the dead


12 February

the squirrel’s tracks end
in a smudge of blood on the snow
one tuft of fur

and the long furrow
its dangling tail drew
beside the fox’s footprints

in the field a bulldozer
lowers its blade
to a white and heavy harvest


13 February

the spruce grove
at the top of the hollow
harbors a north-woods chill

seated on a runner sled
I hurtle down
into the sunlit field

my shadow like a witching rod
stretched out before me
alive to every swell and swale


14 February

it snowed all night
I dreamt an opossum slept between us
with its death-head grin

by first light
the old dog statue in the yard
is buried up to its neck

let’s get a bowl of fresh snow
not to eat but just to admire
like cut flowers


15 February

a cottontail has squeezed
through a ring of fencing
to browse on dogwood sprouts

the snow squeaks under my boots
as I loom up
and it forgets how to escape

the small animal
beating against its cage
like a panicked heart

*

(UPDATE) Here’s the video trailer by Marc Neys AKA Swoon:

*

Beth’s print for the cover is titled Porcupine Tree, and it’s based on an actual tree up on the ridge that’s long been home — and food — for a series of porcupines, an animal with which I feel a certain affinity. Here’s how it looked ten years ago:

porcupine tree

“Anatomy” made into a short film by Marie Craven

I’ve long admired the videopoetry of Marie Craven, so I was delighted the other day when she unveiled a new film she’d made with one of my Pepys erasure project poems:


Marie has just written a bit about her process in a blog post, where she says (in part):

A track called ‘Red Blood‘, from Adi Carter, is the music here. I’ve known Adi online since 2007 and we’ve collaborated many times musically in the past. His music has also featured on two other video poems I’ve put together: ‘Sometimes the Water‘ and ‘Transmission‘. For the visuals in the ‘Anatomy’ video, I went to the albums of Double-M, at Flickr, where many vintage images are available on a Creative Commons remix licence. I selected a group of illustrations on human anatomy by Elisa Schorn circa 1900. They are ‘animated’ in the video roughly 10 frames at a time, in rhythm with the music. I decided to present the poem as a stream of single words on the screen, in a slower rhythmic flow than the images. This resolves into a full presentation of the written piece at the end, with its original formatting, as on the page. So pleased to have made this one, and especially that both Dave and Adi are happy with it too.

There have been some interesting reactions on Facebook and at Via Negativa. I liked this comment from Jean Morris:

So cool – I love this! Gorgeous graphics, and one word at a time seems so right for an erasure poem, referencing the writing process, whilst not fragmenting the poem.

And this observation by Dylan Tweney encapsulated my reaction as well:

This video is a fantastic experience. Something really strange happens as I try to concentrate on the words while also attempting to take in the anatomical paintings flashing behind them. The anatomies become very surreal and weird in my peripheral vision somehow. Meanwhile each word takes on a strange weight and an unusual resonance. I love it!

As I said at Via Negativa, I feel that this is one of the best things that can happen to a poet — way more exciting than merely placing a poem in a magazine somewhere. Anatomy went straight into my Plummer’s Hollow Poet channel on Vimeo (which also includes Marie’s earlier native land remix of a linked-verse videopoem I’d made).