Wild Whispers + upcoming videopoetry screenings

Last year around this time, I was honored to be asked to contribute the closing piece to a unique film poetry project conceived and directed by UK poet Chaucer Cameron, Wild Whispers. Although it was a little intimidating to be part of a line-up that included some truly brilliant filmmakers and poets, I stuck with what I knew, minimalism and erasure poetry. Erasure seemed like an appropriate tool, since the project was all about translation and textual mutability.

Wild Whispers is an international film poetry project that started with one poem and led to 15 versions in 12 languages and 12 poetry films.

The films, in different languages, were all ‘whispered’ from the previous one. The project traveled from England to India, Australia, Taiwan, France, South Africa, the Netherlands, Sweden, Wales and the USA, creating poetry films in English, Malayalam, Chinese, French, Afrikaans, Dutch, American Sign Language, Navajo, Spanish, and Welsh.

The call-out to poets, translators and poetry filmmakers to be involved in Wild Whispers has resulted in something quite moving and extraordinary.

The film sequence debuted at the Swindon Poetry Festival in October, where attendees were furnished with a chapbook containing texts, bios, and artist statements. I didn’t want to post about the project until most of the films were up on the web. Read about how it started, then watch the films. (Here’s mine.)

Crawling-Through the Wreckage Poster

In other videopoetry news, Marie Craven’s adaptation of my CIA erasure haibun, Human Resources, will be included in a curated program at Filmhuis Cavia in Amsterdam on December 16, programmed by Gwendolyn Audrey Foster. Filmhuis Cavia, according to its Twitter profile, was “founded in 1983 by a squatters movement” and “brings you counterculture cinema and showcases films you aren’t likely to see anywhere else.” Marie wrote, “I am really pleased that the video will be screened in such a context, in a program called ‘Crawling Through the Wreckage’, about artists responding to the trauma of the 21st century.” It does sound pretty awesome:

An evening of Surrealism, animation, political videoart, and handmade experimental short films (often incorporating archival materials) made in response to turn of the century trauma and shock! Highlighting punk, no budget, eco/feminist, lgbtq+, post-structuralist, hand-painted, hand-processed, etched and scratched films, agit-prop, personal films; détournements, and 3D animation; from Dadaism to one-of–a-kind surrealist dream cine-poems.

Featuring imploding blasts of eye-opening film/video art by international artists including Kasumi, Francesca Fini, Marie Craven, Gina Kamentsky, Indecline, Rhayne Vermette, Bill Domonkos, Jon Behrens, Sylvia Toy, Larry Wang, Jennifer Sharpe, Beth Holmes, Janie Geiser, Karissa Hahn, Wheeler Winston Dixon, Christina Raia, Charles Pieper, Sarah Brown, Donna Kuhn, Kim Balouch, Edward Ramsay-Morin, Eduardo Cuadrado, Isabel Chiara, Marco Coraggio and more.

Southern California Poetry Festival poster

Finally, I guess I should mention that my video adaptation of César Vallejo’s poem “Piedra negra sobre una piedra blanca,” made with the help of my friends Jean Morris, Natalie d’Arbeloff and Eduardo Yagüe, will be included in a screening of poetry films at the third annual Southern California Poetry Festival on November 17th, alongside proper poetry films from the likes of Motionpoems and Blank Verse Films. If you’re able to get to Venice, California this weekend, I’d love to hear how the screening goes. (Here’s the schedule.)

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).

In which I use the word “gestalt” and manage to sound like I know what I’m talking about in two different conversations about poetry film

Last May, I was honored to serve on the jury for the second Weimar Poetry Film Award, along with Nigerian-German artist and filmmaker Ebele Okoye and German writer Stefan Petermann. All three of us, along with other poets and filmmakers in attendance, were interviewed during the course of the festival, and the resulting video, released on 23 December, serves as a sort of précis for poetry film in general:

Then in July (or was it early August?) Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron of the poetry-film production company Elephant’s Footprint, who edit the journal Poetry Film Live, met me in London for a several-hour-long conversation about poetry film and videopoetry. Just today, Helen released an 11-minute segment, in which I fear I am given the lion’s share of the screen time. (It’s not like I dominate conversations in real life! OK, maybe I do.)

Wow, my hands sure move around a lot while I talk! I had the same reaction to Ebele’s delightful silent film of our jury proceedings in Weimar. Some people who watched this thought we were on the verge of fisticuffs, but I can assure you it was a highly civilized — if somewhat frenetic — proceeding.

Videopoems screened at Cinema Poetica and Filmpoem festivals

I rarely send work out, so it seemed like an odd coincidence that two of my videopoems were screened on the same day—October 28—at poetry film festivals more than 4600 miles apart. First, my minimalist video remix of a poem by Sarah J. Sloat, Grassland, was shown at the Filmpoem Festival in Lewes, U.K. Then in Oregon, a video I made with one of my own texts, Falling, was one of three finalists at Cinema Poetica, sponsored by the Timberline Review as part of the Ashland Literary Arts Festival. They even sent along one of those de rigueur laurel-wreath things:

finalist, Cinema Poetica 2017

So, yay! and also LOL. Best of all, as far as I’m concerned: both videos are online and can be watched by all and sundry almost anywhere in the world. Here they are.

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A bit of unrelated housekeeping news: davebonta.com is now more secure (you may have noticed the https prefix), which means that anyone leaving me a contact message need not worry about their data being stolen. It also means that if I ever want to sell books or merchandise directly through the site, I can. And! Google search has begun to punish sites without https, so I may see my traffic double from 10 to maybe as many as 20 visitors a day! So I’d say it was totally worth spending half the weekend figuring out how to do that, and then moving the site from one of my shared webhosting accounts to the other so I could do it for free. Yes, I probably have way too much time on my hands.

What I did this summer, Part 2: Poetry videos galore!

[See Part 1] Since I was spending the summer in London where the wifi is blindingly fast compared to Plummer’s Hollow, it would’ve seemed like a waste not to make at least a few videopoems, as I noted in a post at Via Negativa on July 31. I ended up making seven main videopoems, plus two, just-for-fun experimental extras. Three were remixes of old home movies in the public domain (which involved also taking advantage of the lightning-fast download speed to grab clips from the Internet Archive), and the rest were from short videos that I shot on my hand-me-down iPhone 4S and edited on my laptop (using Magix Movie Edit Pro and Audacity). Here they all are in order, with brief descriptions mostly cribbed from posts I wrote at the time.

My first videopoem of the season, one of those two experimental ones I mentioned (though they’re all experimental, really), is a whopping six seconds long. I happened to be filming tendrils of wisteria waving at the top of the back-garden elder tree while Rachel was on the phone to her dad, and I thought this snippet of her conversation worked great as a fragment of found poetic text:

Purely cosmetic! You don’t actually have to be able to see at all.

It’s also just a fun challenge to find something that will work when played on a loop at Instagram.

Next up was this remix, which (as I noted on Moving Poems) matched poet Sarah J. Sloat‘s evocation of travel in the tropics to a beautifully decayed old home movie in a sort of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage. The soundtrack was courtesy of the bird-sound library xeno-canto, from recordist Rodrigo Dela Rosa in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. The footage had been lightly edited from a single movie at the International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM). (And then I added three more paragraphs of process notes which you can read there, if you’re interested.) I remain really proud of this effort, though I’m not sure it quite measures up to my earlier remix of a Sarah Sloat poem, Grassland. (Which was screened at the MIX 2017: Writing Digital conference this summer at Bath Spa University. Yay me.)

And that remix was so much fun, I had to make another:

Ornithology recycled an old text of my own to accompany some marvelous footage from another old home movie of unknown provenance. A birder struggling through quicksand becomes a metaphor for our mostly fruitless efforts at transcendence, as I wrote when I posted it on Facebook. I was gratified to see some my birder friends like and share it.

A road trip to the Flag Fen Archaeology Park near Peterborough and the John Clare cottage not far away led to this attempt to imagine the fens as someone in the Bronze Age might’ve seen them. It got the fewest views of any of my major efforts this summer, which I think speaks to the somewhat obscure subject matter for anyone not up on British archeology. The first lines came to me in a dream as I was sleeping in a room at the Bluebird Inn, next door to Clare’s cottage. I woke up to write them down, and in the morning we stopped along the road to shoot the extra footage with which the video concludes, so for once this video was kind of almost planned out — without going so far as to storyboard it or anything crazy like that. The first part of the video shows a section of the 3000-year-old preserved causeway at Flag Fen where bronze swords and other items were ritually deposited in the mud in a place which archaeologists believe was favored for its liminality — part land, part water. The John Clare poem quoted at the end is “Autumn,” which concludes:

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

OK, so that was all maybe a bit too high-concept there.

Next came my most ambitious remix and found-text experiment of the summer. With all the nuclear brinkmanship from the Trump and Kim regimes, not to mention the US establishment’s apparent desire to return to some kind of Cold War with Russia, I somehow got the idea of remixing the audio from a 1930s film about the forest products industry with atomic test films and a US government propaganda film about nuclear war from the 1950s. Fun! The result may or may not be lyrical, but it fits the broader definition of videopoetry, I think. Also, male omniscient narrator voice-overs from the mid-20th century just have the most awesomely portentous quality, don’t they? I’d wanted to do something like this for years.

Another found-text quickie. This time, the text took the form of large letters from an outdoor installation at Tate Modern. Despite the jokey title/text inEPT, my managing to hold the phone camera as still as I did for half a minute demonstrated a rather surprising degree of eptness, I thought.

Like Ornithology, Falling recycles an old text, delivered via voice-over. This one went through multiple edits as I prepared it for entry to a couple of contests (which right there demonstrates the value of contests, I suppose). My biggest innovation was adding a brief introduction — the sort of thing I might say at a live reading. Despite the poor resolution of that (I hadn’t realized that the selfie setting on an iPhone shoots at lower quality, and my attempts to redo it with Rachel filming fell flat), I think it’s an attractive approach and one I plan to come back to. As for the clips and audio for the poetry portion, here’s what I wrote at Via Negativa. I hadn’t meant for the video to seem quite as topical as it ended up being, what with monster hurricanes and Trump’s rescinding of DACA in the news.

A quick, silent videopoem made with text-on-screen from what was at the time my most recent erasure poem based on an entry from Pepys’ Diary. I’m indebted to a friend, Rachel Shaw, for commenting on the footage I used — a shot of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, which I’d posted to Facebook as-is — that it was “weirdly beautiful with the sound off. Like anemones and seaweeds waving in the current.” Her comment was much in my mind as I wrote the erasure poem, which lo and behold turned out to be just the right length for a half-minute video.

My last videopoem of the summer was also my first since coming back, and thus helped me reacquaint myself with the somewhat more, um, deliberate pace of things here in DSL land. A recent poem by my Via Negativa co-blogger Luisa A. Igloria seemed like a good match for a video I shot on my iPhone through the dusty window of a Greyhound bus as I was leaving Newark, New Jersey on my way home. The light was wonderful and evocative, as were the murals on the wall below the train tracks. And I learned how to do new things with semi-animated text — a fun conclusion to a season of experimentation, discovery and occasional break-throughs.

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:

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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.

“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).