Videopoems screened at Cinema Poetica and Filmpoem festivals

finalist, Cinema Poetica 2017

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).

Poetry featured in new films by Swoon and Alastair Cook

still from The Grave Dug by Beasts

Among the greatest honors a poet can enjoy is to have his or her words adapted or remixed by other artists. As a guy who’s stumbled into publishing what’s become the most prominent English-language blog on poetry film and videopoetry, it’s perhaps not too surprising that I’ve gotten to know some of the best poetry filmmakers working today, who, knowing that I’m a half-decent poet and that I “copyleft” everything I write under the Creative Commons, occasionally use some of my own texts in their films. This is never something I ask for, not wanting to abuse my power as an editor, but it’s always wonderful when it happens, as it has recently with three new films by two of the most imaginative makers of poetry films out there. I’ve already blogged about the first two, by the Belgian artist Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon, at Via Negativa, so I’ll just embed those films and link to their respective VN posts.

1. Hit the Lights

See “The conversation continues: two videopoems.”

2. The Grave Dug by Beasts

See “The Grave Dug by Beasts: a new videopoem by Swoon.”

3. Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared)

I only contributed 1/20th of the text to this collaborative, ekphrastic magnum opus by Alastair Cook, but I’m chuffed to have my lines rubbing up against the lines of such truly great poets as George Szirtes, John Glenday, Linda France and Andrew Philip. The process involved Alastair sending a snippet of found film to each of us to elicit a brief, free-verse response without seeing any of the other poets’ responses. Alastair came up with the concept and title and did all the weaving together, and is therefore the main poet here in my opinion. Kudos to everyone involved and to Alastair’s Filmpoem project for continuing to grow and flourish.

My lines, for what it’s worth, are these:

We go on civilizing missions into the past:
remaster the sound, restore the color,
and reduce to scenery the land through which we progress.

Alastair edited out a couple of the lines in my original submission to very good effect. As I say, he is the real poet here; the film is a true filmpoem (or videopoem, as we tend to say on this side of the Atlantic), the text and footage forming a unity greater than the sum of their parts.

To watch more films with my poetry in them, check out the Plummer’s Hollow Poet channel on Vimeo. It’s up to 58 videos now (though the majority are ones I’ve made myself).

“Video Poetry by Dave Bonta” at +the Institute [for Experimental Arts]

Ινστιτούτο [Πειραματικών Τεχνών]
It’s always fun to see what other people consider my best works. The blog from the folks who put on the annual videopoetry festival in Athens, Ινστιτούτο [Πειραματικών Τεχνών], has just shared an interesting selection of my videopoems, including one with found text from old TV commercials, one for a poem by Emily Dickinson and another for a poem by Amy Miller, and a couple of tongue-in-cheek videopoems in the vein of Dickinson’s “I’m nobody. Who are you?” Check it out.

Firefly flashes: the latest adventures of a chronically unmotivated writer

I was sitting outside enjoying the fine, early-summer weather the night before last when I spotted a solitary light flashing in the treetops like a small, lost satellite: the first firefly. I watched as it drifted slowly through the darkness, advertizing its presence to an otherwise empty yard. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t posted an update here about my literary accomplishments, such as they are, for a very long time. Oops.

Often what happens, I think, is that I brag about a publication on Facebook and/or Twitter, then later on think that I’ve written about it here when in fact I haven’t. That was certainly the case with the inclusion of one of my poems in an art gallery exhibition at the University of Southern Maine, Secrets of the Sea, and the accompanying chapbook, Poems For Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea. The Lewiston-Auburn College Atrium Art Gallery did not post a copy of the chapbook to their website, for some reason, but they did send PDFs (as well as the printed version) to all the contributors. Since it was produced to distribute for free, I can’t see why they’d object to my sharing it here: Poems for Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea [PDF].

Of the other poets in that collection, I was most pleased to be sharing space with Elizabeth Bradfield, an excellent poet whose strong grasp of science and natural history shines through her work. Bradfield is the publisher of Broadsided Press, which pairs artists and poets for monthly, free-to-print-and-distribute broadsides, “putting literature and art on the streets”—a great model. For their annual haiku year-in-review broadside in January, Bradfield asked poets to submit via open postings to Twitter. At last, a barrier to entry so low that even a writer as monumentally lazy as me couldn’t think of a reason not to submit! And as luck would have it, two of my haiku made the cut. Check it out.

Fired up by that success, I submitted to two other publications I admire, and was honored to have my pieces selected for both. “Leave-taking,” a videopoem, appeared in Issue 2 of Gnarled Oak, an online magazine founded last year by the Austin, Texas-based writer James Brush. And one of my Pepys erasure haiku was Autumn Sky Poetry Daily‘s poem for March 19. One of the unique features of that magazine is the inclusion of a note from the editor, Pennsylvania poet Christine Klocek-Lim, after each poem, explaining what she likes about it. For mine, she wrote:

Haiku is one of the most difficult forms of poetry to write because you have very little time to speak. This poem succeeds with that task, and has the added little delight of originating from within another source of words. Erasure poetry is very cool.

Last November, I was honored to have one of my videopoems screened at Videobardo, the long-running videopoetry festival in Buenos Aires, as part of a selection curated by the Canadian videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. Here’s the text of his presentation. I was honored that he chose my video to illustrate what has become a very popular trend in videopoetry: working with a pre-existing text.

In this videopoem, the image of a nest of snakes provides a constrained visual metaphor for each reference to “they” “these” and “them” in Salinas’ reading: “these wild and dishevelled ones” “they beg” “they can’t go on living” “help them” etc. One lasting impression that differentiates a “pure” videopoem from any other “poetry video” is that you will always associate the text you read (or hear) with the image(s) and the soundtrack it was created with. After viewing this work, how can we not help but associate this poem by Pedro Salinas with a nest of garden snakes?

Do read the rest. It’s really very flattering indeed.

Another videopoet I admire, Australian artist and musician Marie Craven, remixed one of my videopoems to very good effect. I wrote about both videos in a post at Via Negativa: “Native land.”

Last but not least, I contributed a short essay to a new German website, Poetryfilmkanal: “The Discovery of Fire: One Poet’s Journey into Poetry-Film.” Believe it or not, I was trying to express myself as clearly as I could. (There’s a reason why I mostly stick to poetry.) The website administrators have plans to release annual print and PDF versions of the magazine portion of the website, so my deathless prose about videopoetry and poetry film may find its way into dead-tree media as well.

I think that’s everything; my apologies to anyone I may have overlooked. It’s not that I don’t enjoy placing poems and videos hither and yon, it’s just that I derive most of my satisfaction as a writer from my daily posts at Via Negativa. I’m still beavering away on Pepys Diary erasures, and have yet to miss a single entry. (Last night, I had the quality problem of trying to decide which of three separate erasure poems found in that day’s diary entry was the best.) And I’m excited about a new series at VN called Poetry from the Other Americas, which is giving my translation muscles a much-needed workout. As for fireflies and their lonely writer’s lamps, I just remember that classic haiku of Buson’s:

All this study—
it’s coming out your ass,
oh firefly!

Pepys Diary erasure project enters third year

When I started blogging erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys on January 1, 2013, it was with the understanding that I would only do the interesting entries, and stop as soon as it got boring. Two years in and I have yet to skip a single entry of the diary—not even the one-sentence ones. It’s become this weird compulsion. Maybe it’s a crutch, a way to avoid having to think up poems on my own? Nah. It’s actually quite a bit more time-consuming. But it’s teaching me a lot about invention and discovery, the observer effect, and the shadow text—which, like a shadow government, thrives on its own irrelevance. Within a few months of beginning the project, I switched to a fully digital style of erasure using HTML. And in the latter half of 2014, I began to use erasure to teach myself how to compose better haiku — one of the most difficult kinds of poetry to get right.

What better way to celebrate two years of erasing Pepys than with a videopoem by one of the best in the poetry-film business? My friend Marc Neys, aka Swoon, surprised me with this in late December:

But even now, I’m sure I can stop erasing Pepys anytime I want. I just don’t want to yet.

2014 highlight: ZEBRA in Berlin

Me with the ZEBRA zebra
Me with the ZEBRA zebra (photo by Rachel Rawlins)

London, Cornwall, Belgium, Berlin… 2014 was a year of traveling. Somehow or another, people seem to gotten the idea that I know something about videopoetry/poetry film, so I was invited to take part in a panel discussion at the biannual ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin this past October. They paid me and everything. It was nuts! The best part was, Rachel came over from London to join me, and we spent a week exploring Berlin and taking in poetry films from all over the world in a grand old theater, in the company of friends old and new.

The panel was titled “Poetry Films in the Digital World,” and it was surprisingly well attended, by which I mean that every seat (100 or so?) was taken—at least until the one-hour mark, when we took a break and half the audience fled. The thing I liked about it was that it was a real colloquium discussion, not one of those wretched series of Powerpoint presentations that passes for a panel at most American academic conferences. Then again, this was a festival, not a conference. Our job was not just to inform but to entertain, and I did my part as best I could in my usual, hyper-caffeinated, words-tumbling-all-over-each-other fashion. Also, there was simultaneous translation into German and English! It was just like being at the U.N. The two translators took turns, and they seemed equally good. I was in awe.

ZEBRA colloquium line-up
ZEBRA colloquium line-up: Alice Lyons, Cathy de Haan, Christiane Frohmann, Harald Ofstad Fougner, me, Thomas Wohlfahrt (photo by R.R.)

After the festival was over, Rachel said: “You’ll get more invitations to attend poetry film events around the world, I’m sure, but this is probably the last time you’ll get paid to do it.” I imagine she’s right. Of course, as with all conferences and festivals, a lot of the important stuff happened at the nearby pub. In part as a result of the new connections I made — and the new energy I felt from attending so many screenings — I converted the old Moving Poems forum into (ahem) Moving Poems Magazine, and created a Top Ten Films feature to help newcomers quickly get a feeling for what the genre is all about. (Judging by this post from a Swedish books blog, it’s working: “A great way to explore the material is to start with the top lists,” they write.)

The trick for me, I think, will be to keep the work-load manageable. So far it has been. I feel particularly fortunate to have gotten a new columnist, the artist and animator Cheryl Gross. Yep, we met in Berlin.

I posted two photo-illustrated posts about the trip to Via Negativa: “On Berlin walls” and “Berlin in black-and-white.” I also had a great nature walk right outside the Stockholm airport on the way there, and a very memorable flight home. As for my summer jaunts, I blogged about “Embodied Belgium” as well as a bunch of stuff from the U.K. One of the latter is due to appear in a print publication, I’m told — more about that if/when it arrives.