New poetry film: PSALM 2.0

Watch on Vimeo

First came this brilliant clip on Instagram by UK poet and artist Janet Lees. I wrote this poem in response, as our mutual friend Marc Neys in Belgium was beginning to compose electronic music in response to the same clip. I suppose it was inevitable that the three elements would eventually merge. Janet helped Marc decide which composition worked best, and they surprised me with a draft of the videopoem last Saturday.

I’m not sure my poem quite does justice to the awe I felt the first time I watched the clip… which I might still prefer without either of our additions. Nevertheless, I think this is a fairly compelling thing that we’ve made. It is always so deeply satisfying and humbling to be able to tap into the creative power of the universe like that. Especially in collaboration with other artists equally attuned.

In solidarity

Words alone cannot stop the onslaught of devastation of Palestinian homes and lives, backed shamelessly and without hesitation by the entire axis of Western power. At the same time, we must reckon with the role words and images play in the war on Gaza and the ferocious support they have engendered: Israel’s defense minister announced the siege as a fight against “human animals”; even as we learned that Israel had rained bombs down on densely populated urban neighborhoods and deployed white phosphorus in Gaza City, the New York Times editorial board wrote that “what Israel is fighting to defend is a society that values human life and the rule of law”; establishment media outlets continue to describe Hamas’s attack on Israel as “unprovoked.” Writers Against the War on Gaza rejects this perversion of meaning, wherein a nuclear state can declare itself a victim in perpetuity while openly enacting genocide. We condemn those in our industries who continue to enable apartheid and genocide. We cannot write a free Palestine into existence, but together we must do all we possibly can to reject narratives that soothe Western complicity in ethnic cleansing.

Statement of Solidarity, Writers Against the War on Gaza

I’ve signed. Will you join me?

Ambition without careerism

I need to stop saying I’m not ambitious about poetry. I am actually highly ambitious… for my writing. I try like hell to avoid repeating too many received ideas, I read as widely as possible, every day I push back against my natural laziness where word choice is concerned—I work hard at poetry.

It’s the whole publications-and-awards business that I have a hard time with—literally. The older I get, the more zealous I am about preserving time for walking, contemplating, and reading—a mix of poetry, mostly in single-author collections, and nonfiction. I’ve whittled back my news consumption to just a few independent media voices, for a total of about ten hours a week. All these things feed the poetry, which, now that I am no longer in a marriage or LTR, I can devote my full attention to whenever I’m most alert and attentive: first thing in the morning, especially, but also at any other time throughout the day when an idea might hit.

So sending work out is a huge time-suck, but that’s not all that makes me neglect it. Tellingly, I find myself quite enjoying it where haiku and haibun are concerned, because the global network of English-language poets working in Japanese short forms is welcoming and relatively unpretentious: someone who just started writing haiku a month ago has as much chance as a veteran with dozens of books and awards under their belt of landing an acceptance at virtually any journal in the space. It feels like a genuine meritocracy. And author bios are rare in such journals. The overwhelming emphasis in that community is on the poetry, not the poet, within a spirit of mutual assistance and support.

So if mainstream poetry culture were like that, I’m sure I’d take more of an interest in submitting, maybe even occasionally enter a competition. I’ve just come to really loathe academic poetry culture, which seems so divorced from the real world: a hierarchy existing seemingly for its own sake, whose members cling to a decades-out-of-date conception of their own cultural significance. Poets like to console themselves with the hope of some kind of literary legacy, but the reality is that even in the unlikely event that humans survive the next hundred years and give rise to a new, healthier civilization, the literary artifacts they’ll be most interested in from the late 20th and 21st centuries, as they seek to understand our genocidal and ecocidal ways, will be things that had a mass audience: genre fiction, the screenplays for TV shows and movies, pop and rap lyrics, etc. Poetry, not so much. Just as when we want to understand the Elizabethans, we tend to read a scruffy playwright who was barely even regarded as a real writer at the time. Except for a few scholars, who still reads Sir Philip Sydney?

Needless to say, I’m only free to adopt this attitude because I’m not in academia. I certainly don’t blame my academic colleagues for following the conventional route. Though with tenure going away and the American university system increasingly inaccessible to all but the wealthy, I’m not sure how much longer teaching will make sense as a profession for poets. Catering to the elite is already distorting the politics of poetry, favoring a corporation-friendly, cultural version of leftism focused on ethnic and sexual or gender identity to the virtual exclusion of class politics. So bourgeois. So much less threatening to the status quo.

And this kind of material is so in vogue now with the funding orgs and academic gatekeepers, a curious kind of anti-lyrical flatness is taking over—which I actually don’t mind, since I’ve grown rather bored with the dominant autobiographical lyric, and I think it’s good to get more ecological and political concerns out front, as long as didacticism can be kept at arm’s length. So if/when the academic system collapses, I think poetry may emerge stronger (because true strength comes from diversity), however bourgeois it may seem now. But will anyone read it?

Who knows. I write because I can’t not. It’s how I seek to understand the world. And one of the great things about my Pepys erasure project now is that I can see my progress from ten years ago, as I make new erasures from the same diary entries and always compare with my previous attempts. I see plenty of decent poems, but few truly satisfying ones, and for the first couple of years, no real vision or coherent voice. Now I think I do have that, and it’s hugely rewarding, even if some days still don’t produce works of genius (whatever that may be). So I feel the past ten years were well spent. I’m glad I didn’t waste them trying to get big.


These ramblings were brought to you by an all-day rain. See what kind of BS I get up to when I don’t go for a walk?

New film adaptation: Extra Terrestrial by Marc Neys

I love this new videopoem by Belgian artist and composer Marc Neys. The fact that it’s based on one of my own poems is gravy.

Speaking of gravy, here’s a very meta few seconds of video I shot a month ago on a whim: a snippet from Marc’s previous adaptation, SOME FACTS ABOUT PARADISE, viewed at the very spot where I wrote the poem:

At Home in the Middle of Nowhere: Insights from an Ecopoetry Practice

a bare tree white with snow against a background of snowy, wooded mountains

I’m grateful for an invitation to present a slideshow-reading for the Juniata Valley Audubon Society at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library in November, as it will force me to actually go back over all the stuff I’ve been writing for the past two years, see what works, and maybe think about putting out some kind of collection (possibly illustrated, if that doesn’t make the book horribly expensive).

Poet and photographer Dave Bonta has made a practice of writing as he walks, producing what he calls walking poems, and in the process cultivating a mindset that might be closer to pilgrimage than science. Re-visit familiar places through his serendipitous photos and the ideas they spark, from Plummer’s Hollow, where he’s lived since the age of five, to the Little Juniata Natural Area, Mt. Etna, Tytoona Cave, Bell’s Gap, and more. Along the way, we’ll be asked to consider how a simple walk in the woods can lead to new insights about the universe.

All JVAS meetings are also shared over ZOOM these days, for any folks from out of the area who might want to listen in (in addition to those who simply wish to avoid infection, etc.). See the instructions on the Programs page. I’m not sure how accessible their website is to people outside the US, though.

Two recent online pubs and a summer conference!

Yep, it’s that laziest/most inevitable of writers’ blog posts: popping up after a long absence only to present a boring list of recent writerly accomplishments. But! I spent all afternoon on a redesign of this here website which I’d been putting off since 2018, so I’m feeling pretty good about myself at the moment.

Screenshot of The Summerset Review - masthead and Table of Contents

First the publications. I had one of my Pepys erasures in The Summerset Review, Summer 2023 issue. It was one that I had shared as a screenshot on social media, where the editor saw it and contacted me. This is obviously not the norm—most literary magazines still insist that all submissions be complete web virgins, despite the crying need for editors to do the opposite and actively hunt down good internet content, because lord knows none of the rest of us have the time. But knowing the situation, I haven’t bothered to submit the erasures anywhere since I’m hardly going to stop posting them to Via Negativa. Like the online Pepys Diary I draw from and link to every day, these are free cultural works available for reprint and remix by whomever, whenever.

Drfting Sands cover with  a photo of egrets taking flight from a marsh

I was pleased to land a new haibun in one of the few journals devoted to the genre, Drifting Sands—Issue 22, July 2023 [PDF]. I think this is the second time I’ve submitted there, and both times they took the submission immediately, so cheers to them.

That appeared a few days after the Haiku North America conference, which I am just now realizing I should talk about as well. Except come to think of it I did already post about it on Moving Poems Magazine, where you can read the text of my talk and then click through to watch the haibun videopoetry festival I presented there for a rapt or at least politely not dozing audience of haiku poets at a grand old 19th-century library in Cincinnati. I do not do conferences the way one is supposed to, staying up till the wee hours and skipping sessions to schmooze. Nope, I was laser-focused on surviving my own presentation (mission somehow accomplished, despite an air delay) and then enjoying the rest of the conference exactly the way I wanted to in my anti-social way, which meant attending the nerdiest talks, browsing the book sale slowly at least four times, talking to as many old women as possible because they have the best stories, walking around town aimlessly taking pictures because I am a flaneur first and foremost, avoiding alcohol, going to bed early, and getting lots of sleep. Didn’t quite succeed on that last one, but I did better than I’ve ever done before at a conference or festival.

It was wonderful to get to meet and listen to some of the best poets working in the genre, but that’s the nature of small conferences, I guess. I mean, I was actively avoiding doing the whole access thing altogether, and my first morning there I step into an elevator and strike up a conversation with the editor of the leading journal in the space. Crazy! But appropriate for the English-language haiku community, which I’ve found to be very egalitarian, reminded regularly by the results of their many contests, which are always run blind, that anyone can and frequently does win top honors. Beginner’s mind is prized rather than condescended to. A very interesting subculture.

I was going to say something about the new Dear Human at the Edge of Time anthology I’m in, but maybe I’ll save that for another post as it is getting perilously close to my bedtime. I’m probably not quite done tinkering with the website, but I think the design will stay, and definitely the new site architecture with a re-conceptualization from pages about books and videopoem cycles with the blog on the front page, to a portfolio arranged as a visual array of different projects, both completed (those books and videopoem cycles) and ongoing (Pepys erasure project, walking poems, The Morning Porch, the poetry blogging digest). I just think that’s a far better way of presenting myself online. This particular theme will probably age out in about five years, though, at which point I’ll have to knuckle down and learn how to use the new sitewide editor on WordPress (replacing the customizer which I’ve honestly always hated) because, I say to myself, guys even more challenged than me figure this stuff out. It’s just boring and fiddly. Which is why I put this redesign off for five damn years.

New videopoem by Marc Neys

I’m quite taken with this new videopoem, based on one of my own recent poems, that my friend Marc surprised me with yesterday. It happened in the usual way: I write a poem in an afternoon, Marc spots it on my blog or in social media, a lightbulb goes off, and he spends another afternoon composing a new film, music and all. Two solitary older guys in different parts of the world living for that absorption into the creative zone.

The text of the poem is on Via Negativa.

The Bearable Lightness of Walking

crow tracks beside tire tracks in the snow

I started the year with a new, more woods-worthy laptop. My five-year-old Acer had begun to fail, which was hugely disappointing but I used the opportunity to get something a bit more portable. Over the past year I’ve done more and more writing in the woods, but generally on my phone (bought last year at this time), which works fine for poems and free-form zuihitsu-type essays of the sort I blogged last April, but not so well for, say, erasure poems, where one does need to be able to see a wider screen. I’m also not one to watch and share videos from a phone, and the finer details of administering a website are  vastly easier on a larger-screened device. It would be nice, I thought, in warmer weather to be able to bring along a wifi hotspot and do all my web work at stopping points on my daily walks (benches, stones piled against trees, that sort of thing). I’m not keen on touch-screens, so rather than a tablet I got a notebook-style computer with a 13-inch screen weighing less than two pounds.

Staying light isn’t only a concern for backpackers. Freely wandering in a literal sense tends to free up the mind as well, and first and foremost, I think, it has to be fun. When I am in the zone, noticing things, snapping photos and jotting down ideas, it helps that I’m not sweating profusely and gasping for breath. So the ultralight shoes I wear, for example, make walking an altogether more enjoyable experience, a fact that was brought home to me two months ago when I bought a heavy pair of work boots and took them for a walk to break them in. Going up any kind of hill became an unexpected chore, and I ended up not enjoying the hike nearly as much as I usually do, even though this is exactly the sort of footwear I used to live in, back when I didn’t spend at least four hours outdoors every day.

Since I always forget to post here, you don’t have to scroll very far to find a post from last March which ended up seeming a bit prophetic about all the “walking poems” I ended up writing in the ensuing months.

come to think of it my feet were born first

i had gone to extreme lengths not to leave home

but is that why i think best on my feet

What is a walking poem? More than just a poem based on a hike, it aims

To engage readers the way walking engages the heart, lungs, and mind. In-breath, out-breath. Gathering impressions, gathering wool.

Or so I wrote at Via Negativa last October. Click through for more.

Pepys Erasure Project

In other big news which I am late in sharing, I made it to the end of Pepys’ Diary on May 30, having used every entry in at least one erasure, compiled a PDF of the final year (see here for download links to all the PDFs), then took the next seven months off to write the aforementioned walking poems. On January 1 I rejoined the folks reading Pepys together online, though possibly just for a couple of years. I feel I owe it to the project to come up with better erasures for the first 500 or so diary entries, before I really knew what I was doing.

That is of course all going on over at Via Negativa. If you’d like to follow along, pick up a free subscription via the form in the sidebar there.

Poetry Month approaches!

One final note: My previously announced reading at the Frenchtown Bookshop in New Jersey, hosted by Vasiliki Katsarou, has been re-scheduled for April Fools Day, which suits me to a T. Here’s the announcement.

A hand holds up the cover of "Walking Unever Ground:  Selected Haiku of Bill Pauly" in a late-autumn forest
my walking companion a couple of weeks ago in the Seven Mountains (northeast of here)

On Mastodon

screenshot of my Mastodon profile

I joined Mastodon this week, sensing like a lot of people that Twitter was in a death spiral. Here’s my profile.

I’d noticed about a week ago that the official Twitter app for iOS removed the functionality that let me toggle between different accounts. Which made me reflect further on how dependent I’ve become on a platform I have never really liked, and only went along with because I could never get more than a handful of people to try open-source alternatives back in the day. I chose the instance I did because of their long history with the Fediverse, as it’s called. (Because you don’t even need to be on Mastodon to interact with users there. Other options abound.)

For those who find the whole concept of a federated social media experience hard to grasp, think about email, and how you can communicate with someone on Yahoo Mail if you’re on Gmail or whatever. That’s how social media was supposed to be from the beginning. I once had a long conversation with the life partner of Twitter’s original lead developer. He left when they turned their back on the then-mostly-theoretical concept of federation with other microblogging platforms.

Somewhat to my own surprise I find I’m actually enjoying Mastodon, because the UI and the way everything works is so well thought-out, it makes the case against corporate overlordship better than any manifesto could.

I certainly understand the reluctance to learn how to use and navigate a new social media network, especially since it isn’t just one site, and you have to go to some extra effort to find interesting people to follow, and to reconnect with contacts from other social media platforms. I felt this reluctance so strongly, I avoided joining Mastodon for years. But without the distorting influence of the need to make money—each Mastodon instance apparently gets by on regular donations from users who can afford it—it’s possible to have a fully social social media platform, actually serving people in our intertwined communities, not investors. There’s no algorithm, y’all!

And one of the cool effects of that is the standardization of best practices, such as content warnings and descriptions of images for the visually impaired. It’s so easy, I’ve been converted from indifference verging on hostility to the very concept of content warnings to full acceptance, because when it’s just a routine click of a button to add a content description, why would you not, if you know (for example) that some people prefer not to see politics in their feed. So more sensitive or traumatized users have the option of minimizing posts by default, so that if there’s anything with a content warning/description, they’ll just see that description, and can decide whether or not to click to expand, while those of us who are coarse, insensitive bastards can opt to see full content every time. Problem more or less solved.

I’ve taken to using content warnings for poetry too, because a poem that doesn’t challenge people in some way isn’t much of a poem in my opinion. Plus I have friends who just don’t like or get poetry, and that’s perfectly fine. If I do post a poem with rape allusions or something like that, I’ll endeavor to post additional, more explicit CWs… as long as they don’t mute the impact in some way. But having that as a built-in feature makes it much more likely that I’ll be mindful of it. Well done, tech geeks. Long live open source software!