To truly be a good person, you have to have low standards. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say a friend shows you an utterly terrible poem that they have just written. You have to be able to read that terrible poem and, because it was written by someone you care about, focus in on the one thing about it you like, and let that one little bit of radiance suffuse the whole poem, so you can say to your friend with utmost sincerity, this is wonderful.

I am not a good person.

Still moving

Back from the dead! It feels strangely personal like that to me, this undertaking I’ve been involved in for two weeks now after I inadvertently destroyed the web magazine Moving Poems, which had begun the way so many good things do, on a whim and an impulse, became far more influential than I’d ever expected or even perhaps wanted, and died in a moment of panic. Here’s the video I featured long ago in its very first post:

Moving Poems was actually two interlinked websites, one for the extensive library of poetry videos, the other for news and opinion pieces about the international poetry film and videopoetry scene. Between them, they had garnered several thousand posts from more than 40 contributors since I founded the site on the day before my birthday in 2009. The main site had gotten infected with malware, and I paid someone to clean it up and thought the problem was solved a month ago, but the hackers had already taken over its companion site and by the time I figured this out had effectively seized control of it. In my panicked reaction, I managed to correctly export all the posts from the news side, but I deleted the database for the main site. Gone!

For the next 24 hours or so I just walked around in a daze. But once I accepted the gravity of the situation and all but gave up hope, solutions began to suggest themselves to me — solutions that still involved several days of manual data entry, but because I am an utter slob and never clean out my email inbox, I was able to recover several years of lost posts from the weekly MailChimp newsletter that’s automatically generated from the RSS feed. That was after figuring out how to wrest control of a four-year-old backup of the site from the proprietary software I’d used to migrate it to its now-former, disastrous web host. Fortunately, there are a hell of a lot of forums out there where geeks are very generous with their time. Thanks to them, I was able to recover the site.

In recent days, I’ve been cheered to discover that the WordPress theme we’ve been using for the main site since 2012, the Origami theme from a small shop called SiteOrigin, has recently been revived and updated—I hadn’t been getting the updates simply because I was using a discontinued premium version—so any security concerns that I had had about continuing to use a potentially compromised theme pretty much vanished.

SiteOrigin appears to make much of their revenue by selling a premium version of their WordPress page-building plugin, which has been fairly widely adopted, apparently—a number of other theme developers have built themes designed to work with it. My main concern is that it remain under active development so the developers live long and prosper and I can keep using the same goddamn theme forever, because like nearly every aging person I am tired of continual upheaval for novelty’s sake, simply because a carnival economy must continually generate new circus tricks.

But yeah, page builders! Never used one before, but here’s a case where I had to learn a new thing in order to continue having an old thing. In order to fully merge the video library and the magazine into one, coherent website, I knew I needed to keep the two separate for browsing and indexing purposes, which in WordPress terms means one database, two loops. Hand-coding this in php would’ve required me properly learning php and I’ve always been too lazy to do that. But then I learned that the new full-site editor in WordPress included a query loops block, so I spent a day flailing around and trying to teach myself how to use one of the new themes, only to find the next day that I couldn’t get the site editor to load for me at all! After a day of trying everything, including contacting the geeks at my hosting company, I gave up.

And it was only when I gave up that I realized that I could do all this with the SiteOrigin page builder. The next day, a WordPress bug fix and security update solved my issue with their obviously buggy new full-site editor, but I went the SiteOrigin route anyway and have mostly been having a blast in the days since. The new architecture required two new, top categories in the hierarchical native indexing system; once I’d done that, it was easy to construct a new front page with a carousel-style slider for the latest News and Views posts, followed by a full-column selection of the five most recent posts from the Video Library, with pages for each archive in the top menu bar alongside an index, which includes three native taxonomies we’ve always used to further categorize the videos by poet, filmmaker, and nationality of poet. My dad was a reference librarian. The apple may not have fallen too far from the tree.

The latest major WordPress update included a ton of free web fonts, so I spent a happy day playing with them until I realized that I’d best go with the boring Noto Sans font for the headings, because Moving Poems post titles sometimes include characters in non-Latin alphabets (for videos in foreign languages with English subtitles, such as this one) and Noto is by far the most internationalized family of Google web fonts. I badly wanted to use my favorite Google display font, Josefina Sans, but I’d already put that to good use in my Woodrat photohaiku blog, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with that. For the title font, I think I’ve settled on a very lightweight version of the same font I was using before, which is called Oswald—the contrast with 700-weight Noto Sans is pleasing to my eye.

ain’t it purty?

I can’t deny I’ve been having fun, at least for the past five days or so, after it became clear I’d be able to do what I’ve always wanted to do at the site, but had put off because I thought it would be way too much work. And perhaps it has been, but we’ve been blessed with a string of rainy days so I suppose I’ve put them to fairly good use. Inputting the last four years of posts one by one at the beginning of the month, when the weather was warm and mostly gorgeous, felt like necessary penance for my carelessness and dereliction of duty as a web publisher, by not taking security more seriously and not having regular, scheduled backups. I hope I’ve learned these lessons well enough to preserve Moving Poems and my other websites until such time as I can gracefully retire. I’ve been grateful for the kindness and support of Moving Poems’ other contributors and readers.

It’s been kind of revelatory to see how much of my identity is wrapped up in web publishing. Just because I’ve managed to avoid the career treadmill doesn’t mean I’m entirely free of that quintessential American equation of self-worth with what I do: post stuff on the web and write poetry. No wonder I feel as if I’ve brought myself back from the dead.


Earth Day: what a bizarre concept! How sad that we need to put a day on the calendar to recognize the ground we stand on, the matrix without which we are nowhere and nothing. That said, it has made me reflect this morning on time and the uses to which we put it, as our civilization—a cross between a death cult and a Ponzi scheme—consumes ever more of everything.

Over the past month I’ve been spending more time on web work than I have in years, re-learning WordPress in the course of building a whole new website to welcome people to our square mile of mountain land. Poems have been far fewer as a result, but I don’t mind: it feels like necessary work. As a long-time blogger, writing in public helps me think out a new approach to land management and public relations. But this project wouldn’t have come together in the way it has without all those daily walks I’ve been taking, which have helped me work out a vision for Plummer’s Hollow over the past two years.

How does that happen, exactly? What is it about going for a walk that helps clear out the mental underbrush? The connection between literal and figurative path-finding seems real. And when you are writing about the place where you‘re walking, inspiration starts to feel as literal as an in-drawn breath.

I think the homepage is more or less finished now, if you’d like to go visit. It’s, um, a bit more text-heavy than most website homepages, but you know me. We’ll be using the blog not just for news (its current label in the navigation menu) but to flesh out conservation ideas as well. Pick up a free subscription if that sort of thing interests you.

Creeping conservatism

One thing I never anticipated about growing older is how attached I would become to ordinary possessions, how reluctant I am to replace things that genuinely need to be replaced. I tell myself that this is rational behavior: manufacturing is in a terrible state, that’s not my imagination! Whatever new thing I get will almost undoubtedly be worse. But, like, this perfectly ordinary pair of scissors that I’ve been using to trim my beard and mustache once or twice a week for the past 30 years is getting so dull now that it causes me actual physical pain, yet I still can’t bear the thought of replacing it. Fundamentally, I guess I just don’t hold with the passing of time. It’s wrong and I don’t like it.

The Yellow Clock

Every summer for 6 or 7 years when I was a kid — so effectively forever — my paternal grandparents came and stayed in the old tenant house, which I currently occupy. They had this brilliant mid-century electric wall clock in the kitchen that remained in the house, along with many of their other things, for decades. At some point it got broken, and the kitchen hasn’t felt the same since. Two weeks ago, as I gazed at the spot where it used to hang, a thought popped into my head: eBay! I typed in something like “retro art deco electric wall clock yellow” and there it was, only three items down. Some guy in Jersey Shore had one he’d found in a garage and was asking $35 bucks for it. Couldn’t guarantee it still kept good time. I didn’t care; instant purchase. Turns out it does! The kitchen looks right again, and more importantly, I think, I have an analogue clock that I’ll see every day to remind me that time is cyclical and intrinsic to the rhythms of the cosmos, not simply an endless procession of interchangeable seconds.

Pepys, uncut

Despite making erasure poems from the Diary of Samuel Pepys for more than a decade, I’ve always worked digitally and never actually owned or indeed opened a volume of the 1899 Wheatley edition, whose text I’ve been taking such liberties with… until now. Last night when I went to the monthly meeting of our local Audubon chapter for a presentation on orchids, a member who had attended my own presentation back in November, in which I’d mentioned my erasure project, gifted me the entire set! I was momentarily speechless. She said she’d been a book collector for many years but was now in de-acquisition mode and finding homes for all her treasures.

I’m beyond grateful. From a haiku perspective, there’s so much wabi-sabi in old books like these. For one thing, they seem never to have had a single reader in their more than century of existence: the pages in most volumes, though yellowing, remain uncut. (And no, I’m not going to mutilate them to make analogue erasures. My dad was a librarian. He’d come back to haunt me! I’ll use photocopies if it comes to that.)

I record this here as a reminder to myself never to say no to local gigs, no matter how much they might cost me in nights of lost sleep. As Qoheleth says: Cast thy bread upon the waters.

New haiku hither and yon

A batch of haiku and haibun that I wrote last summer specifically to send out—some with darker imagery, influenced by my regular consumption of death metal—has met with mixed reactions from editors: acceptances from tinywords, The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Drifting Sands Haibun (as previously noted) but no bites from Acorn, Whiptail, Rattle, or Contemporary Haibun Online. The one in tinywords appeared back in October:

monitoring the dead zone blue crabbers

The image came from a lengthy article in the Chesapeake Bay Journal, an essential source of environmental news for anyone living in the Chesapeake watershed.

My haiku in The Heron’s Nest came about in the approved manner, however: an encounter in nature prompting a nearly instantaneous response, in a haiku all about responsiveness.

night bird—we startle as one

I’m grateful to the editors of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America, for selecting this one for their Winter 2024 issue:

being measured for a coffin first snowflake

This had been included in the batch I sent to Modern Haiku, but editor Paul Miller chose this one instead:

unrivaled in my kitchen cricket

I love and read all these journals whether I place work in them or not, so it’s fun to feel as if I’m taking part in building something bigger than ourselves. That something being, I think, no less than a complete reassessment of how we in the West relate to nature: seen no longer as something apart from humans but a spontaneously self-organizing cosmos, “of itself thus” as the two-character compound for “nature” in Japanese and Chinese may be translated. But that’s a topic for another post.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning, for those who might be curious, that I do not necessarily hold my best haiku to send out. If I get an idea for a photo haiga, that sucker is going up on my photoblog and on social media right away, because I think sometimes the immediacy of haiku is more important than anything else. And by sharing these kinds of haiku more widely, with people who aren’t already up to speed with the modern understanding of Japanese short forms in English, my hope is to enlarge the tent of modern haiku readers and creators.


Avoiding the whole po biz scene as I do might seem brilliant to an outsider, but it does mean there’s a lot of pretty basic stuff I’ve had to work out on my own. For example—and this is always a big one for me—why bother to put my work out there at all? Since the writing itself is what gives me so much joy, why not just live for that?

Well, it occurred to me just the other day that while I may not need an audience, the work does. It needs that appreciative Hmmm! or that doubtful Hmmm. Because avoiding self-satisfaction is absolutely essential in order to safeguard what skill I’ve managed to build up. I mean, that’s the task of every serious artist, isn’t it? To remain critical of one’s own work without losing awareness of its quality. And it’s hard to maintain a realistic sense of the work’s quality without at least occasional feedback.

Also, I owe it to the creative energies that produced it to share the work widely, because such energies feed off of conviviality; it’s in my own interest as an artist to keep the virtuous cycle going. It’s a leap of faith, of course, and sometimes feels about as meaningful as writing my poems in the snow with a stick.

Although that can be meaningful, too, if you’re a child walking home from school and you write messages in the snow of your driveway for your father to read when he drives home. Years later, Dad told me those were some his favorite memories from raising kids.

It helps to know your audience.

Pepys Erasure Project, Vol. 1: back to the future

Another year of Pepys erasures, done and dusted. And before New Year’s for once! And as I’ve done every year since 2017, I’ve compiled the erasures into a PDF, free for download, samizdat-style circulation, and remixing. Here’s the link. (And if you’ve missed any of the others, you can find all the download links in the last sentence of the top-of-page description of the Pepys Diary Erasure Project.)

Painting of Samuel Pepys as a young man by John Hayls
Painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls

Looking again at this painting of Pepys, I’m reminded how much older than him I am this time around: three decades, instead of just the two I had on him last time. But it’s hard to tell how much that might’ve influenced the inevitable change in my perspective on Mr. Pepys, as I’ve gotten to know him over the course of this ten-year-long ‘deep misreading.’ In general, though, my wonderment at people in my own life who resemble Pepys in their energy and ambition has only grown with age, as the erasure project has assumed an increasingly significant role in my otherwise shambolic existence, now that I’ve reached a level of mastery I could barely conceive of ten years ago, when I was still just entranced by the process of erasure and posting any old garbage in my typically impulsive manner. But in defense of my 47-year-old self, Pepys was just a side project at the time, something to be fitted in around other, more exciting projects… which I’ve half-forgotten and can’t even be arsed to look up right now.

I remain deeply grateful to my then-partner Rachel for getting me started on the whole thing, so we’d have an excuse to read it together. Those were great times. But reading my 2013 erasures every morning this year was painful, I’m not going to lie—so many wince-worthy lines! Fortunately, Luisa Igloria and I had plenty of other content, so readers didn’t abandon Via Negativa in droves. I don’t expect I ever would’ve had the nerve to start blogging like that if Luisa hadn’t already joined.

Look at me reminiscing like some kind of geezer! LOL.

I dimly recall that it was partway through the summer of 2014 that something clicked and finally figured out where I was going with Pepys, so I’m excited to see what happens with the project this year: will I be able to coast a little at some point, and just polish previous drafts? There have only been about a half-dozen times when I’ve been able to do that so far. Regardless, I hope to keep going in this till I have PDFs for all ten years of the diary. But I have to tell you, I am already champing at the bit to get started on my next erasure project, and if you know me, you can probably guess what book I have in mind. Superstition prevents me from saying anything further.

Anyway, enjoy the PDF, and do consider sharing it with anyone who might enjoy it. Happy New Year.

Bottle up and go

I love my filthy, bird-safe windows, especially when they’re being caressed by cedar-tree shadows on St. Lucy’s Day. The antique bottles are there so I can still savor the look of light through glass, and are of an age with the old springhouse in the dirt-mediated view they frame. The one on the right lies on its side because its bottom is round; it was made to serve as ballast in a sailing ship. They are green because of the presence of iron oxide, considered an impurity. Glassmakers went to great lengths to remove it so they could achieve the sought-after clarity, only to decide a century later that colored glass was better for preserving the contents of the bottle from the harmful effects of ultraviolet and infrared light. But the process they settled on in the interim generated initially clear bottles that slowly turned purple with age. When my brothers and I were kids, we collected whiskey bottles of this type from the old farm dump and all over the mountain, and I still sometimes find shards of purple glass out in the woods, disinterred by frost heave, and think about the lives of those who left them there—colliers, quarrymen, loggers, hunters, hard-working sorts living on the margins of society and doing what they knew to give the hard hours a bit of a glow. Because life can be pretty fucking grim, you know? They say between 365 and 988 million songbirds die each year in the U.S. from flying into glass windows so clean they can’t distinguish their reflections from reality. They simply haven’t evolved to process images in that way. Meanwhile, we humans are drowning in a similarly unnatural stream of images of our own volition. Yesterday after supper my mother and I were comparing notes on our respective grieving processes (for Dad, for the earth) and I said something like, every day I don’t wake up bleeding out in the wreckage of my home in an open-air prison is ultimately a good day, and Mom said yes, exactly that. There’s no escaping the imperial blowback; I’ve been expecting it all my life: the retreat into warring camps, the rise of authoritarianism, the quiet setting aside of the First Amendment ‘for our own protection’ from the barbarian hordes… it’s here. I’m sticking to my guns as a pacifist and free-speech absolutist. But I do notice in myself an increasing suspicion of our story-telling instinct, seeing so many people with seemingly unimpeachable faculties of perception and analysis, as certified by multiple institutions of higher learning, fall for the most absurd fabrications because they’re well told, they like/trust the teller, and it reconfirms them in some strongly held prejudice about scary Others. Few are willing to abandon their screens, leave the house, and exercise their brains and bodies in the open air. For prisoners or inhabitants of concentration camps, of course, that isn’t even an option. And I’m guessing we will soon reach a point when it will be hazardous to do so nearly everywhere, whether because of dangerously high temperatures, smoke from wildfires, or new tick- and mosquito-borne diseases. Someday I may have to wash my windows so I can enjoy the outside from inside, and learn how to construct seductive story-lines instead of erasure poems and haiku. But right now, engaging with the world through lyric poetry feels like a healthier response. Through all the tumult and the strife, as the old folk poem puts it, how can I keep from singing?