Watch on Vimeo
“I’m a sucker for dream poems,” Marc Neys told me when he sent along his latest video adaptation of a haibun from Failed State. The mix of imagery here, all of it drawn from the online cache of anonymous home movies known as The International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories, is especially dreamlike, I think. And as an poet, there are few reactions to one’s work that are more gratifying than a brand-new creation from a brilliant artist.
Marc opted for text-on-screen rather than voiceover for the entirety of the text, and wisely left out the footnote that I included in the printed version. Let me paste in the complete text below:
Killing is My Business
I dreamed I drove a sprayer truck along the berm of a road in prayerful silence. The staghorn sumac leaves in their autumnal red turned brown behind me and my rubber gloves shone like the udders of a cow, all for the sake of the crown vetch and its hateful pink.* I dreamed of skinning feral cats and selling their meat at auction: Fresh mutton, I hollered. They were slick with the fat of tanagers.
you can tell I’m asleep
when I start to twitch
*Originally a foreign infestor from Europe, now a cultivar developed at my alma mater Penn State as a gift to the interstate highway system. Its wire-tough tangles smother all competition and hide the scars of erosion, which it does nothing to prevent. It swallows our litter better than the sea.
Watch on Vimeo
Filmmaker and composer Marc Neys surprised me yesterday with this great new adaptation of one of the haibun from Failed State. He may be semi-retired from making videopoems, but he doesn’t seem to have lost any of his mad skills. His impressionistic style really fits the poem, I think. I was also chuffed to hear the poem read in someone else’s voice. Here’s the text:
The wolves have finally come to me for advice. Avoid making eye contact with saints and ranchers, I say. Stick to the suburbs where no one else goes to hunt. The wolves are tired; their tongues glisten like the neckties of bankers crowded into a London tube carriage at rush hour. In the window of the building opposite, a white cat levitates on a sudden carpet of arms. The headline in the Evening Standard reads, Is Your Child a Psychopath? It’s More Common Than You Think. My love has taken five sharp sticks from her bag and begun to knit me a sock. What big toenails you have, she says.
gang members lower
Pasting this in just now, I discover a typo, the first I’m aware of in the book: voicies. Nuts! Guess I shouldn’t have blown off Blurb’s typo-finding tool (which seemed tedious because of course it was flagging every word not in its apparently quite limited dictionary). Live and learn.
Speaking of Blurb, some people might’ve noticed the irony that I didn’t in fact include any blurbs on the book. I sort of feel like blurbs are superfluous on physical books of poetry in bookstores or at live events, because people can just leaf through a book and make up their own minds. If sales are mainly or exclusively online, the author and/or publisher can just update the book page(s) with favorable quotes as they come in from readers and reviewers, and I’ve started to do this on Failed State‘s page here. I’ve also added some more of my own video adaptations to the bottom of the page: Killing Time, Ornithology, and Falling, the latter two newly edited to include the haiku. You can also watch all eight videos on Vimeo. (I’ll add the two films by Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg, In West Virginia and Flag Country, when they’re made public. Right now they’re both still making the rounds of festivals.)
Watch on Vimeo
Let’s say you make a videopoem in response to some intriguing footage, but then years later you change the text: add a few lines, decide it’s really a haibun in disguise, and tack on a haiku which fundamentally reorients it. What to do? Find that original footage and re-make the video, of course!
It’s not as if Failed State needs another video, but this one was kind of obvious. (I’ve actually been working on one for the title poem as well, but I’m not very happy with it so that may never get released.)
Here’s the text:
A voice in my dream said: Don’t be so eager to find yourself. The deer rolls her eye in panic at your approach, birds take flight, the rabbit freezes then bolts.
Consider the possibility that they’re right about you, these creatures who we know to be capable of predicting earthquakes. Stop trying to dot your I’s — broken columns from a Greek temple where no one now remembers the name of the god.
Get lost, because the found are insufferable.
everyone running out
into the street
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.
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.
Watch on Vimeo.
In contrast to my usual single-haiku or haibun approaches to video micropoetry, this more ambitious effort incorporates cell-phone footage and lines or stanzas I’ve been working on all month. Basically, it’s a one-person, modern, 12-verse renku in video form. I’ve been surprised and flattered by some very kind reactions to it from people I admire.
See Via Negativa for the text and process notes.
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.)
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:
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.
For those who aren’t at the REELpoetry festival in Houston this weekend — and for those who are and want more information — I’ve put all the films plus the text of my introductory remarks, links to and thoughts from the other filmmakers, etc. into a permanent page at Moving Poems Magazine. Check it out.
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.