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).

Book news, new and belated

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long, but I’ve finally made dedicated pages for each of my published poetry collections: Ice Mountain, Breakdown: Banjo Poems, and Odes to Tools. (Twelve Simple Songs already had a page.) They’re available in a drop-down menu from the main Books page link, as well as being linked within that page.

Why hadn’t I done this earlier? I guess I wasn’t convinced it was something website visitors would be looking for. Wouldn’t one page for all of them, linking to the book’s pages on the publishers’ websites, be enough? But publishers tend not to update their pages with links to reviews, much less include videos, musical adaptations, and all the other fun stuff that’s happened as a result of licensing my work for remix under the Creative Commons. Plus, it’s useful for me to keep track of everything. I’d completely forgotten, for example, just how enthusiastically my blogger friends (and a few strangers) reviewed Odes to Tools, for example, culminating in Nicelle Davis’s use of the poems to kick off her Living Poetry Project, handing them out to construction workers in her hometown. And I hadn’t remembered just how damn many videos I’d cranked out in support of Breakdown: twelve! And while technically and conceptually they’re not up to the level of the videopoems I make now, I find I still like them pretty well. So they’re all on that book’s page now.

As for Ice Mountain, I’ve simply never gotten around to blogging much of the news about it. For example, back in December, James Brush made a videopoem for “26 January”.

The footage is an artist’s conception of Pluto, an icy world, apparently lifeless, that resonated for me with the sense of loss and environmental themes that undergird much of Ice Mountain.

Go check it out. Earlier, Phil Coleman had reviewed had reviewed the book for the Spring 2017 issue of the Sylvanian [PDF], the magazine of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club (which took a while to appear on the web), and Kathleen Kirk wrote a great review for the online journal Escape Into Life. Verse Daily posted an excerpt, “20 March.” The book was given away in a free drawing at the Montreal-based Passage des Perles blog. On Goodreads, fantasy/sci-fi author Jordan R. Murray gave it a glowing review.

One of the best reviews was by blogger Ama Bolton at barleybooks, reprinted on the Bath Writers & Artists Group website.

Dave Bonta has, it seems, an instinct for getting to the heart of things without fuss, for choosing words and creating metaphors that are just right, never showy, and for making a point subtly, without jargon. This collection shows him to be a nature-poet in the great American tradition. Even a brief wander through his places on the Internet will confirm that he’s more than that.

Many (most?) of my Serious Writer friends don’t like the idea of sharing first drafts of their work with all and sundry, and I’ll admit there’s a part of me that yearns to erase or at least seriously spruce up my past, as well. But this is a wonderfully perceptive and sympathetic review of Ice Mountain by a long-time reader of Via Negativa who not only remembered the original drafts, but went back and compared them to get a sense of what I’d changed. So that feels like a bit of vindication for my “let it all hang out” approach. Thank you, Ama Bolton!

So you can see why it was well past time to create a dedicated page for all this. All the videos are there, and I embedded Marc Neys’ Ice Mountain album from Bandcamp, as well.

One final piece of Ice Mountain-related news is that I’m posting snapshots of the poems each morning to Instagram on the same date as they were written, accompanied by hopefully interesting (if occasionally prolix) commentary. I’ve heard from people who’ve already read the book that they’re enjoying this closer, slower look, so I hope to keep doing it straight through till the end in mid-May. Follow along if you like.

Brewing, writing, thinking

the poet Li Bai raising his glass

There’s no logical reason why my homebrew recipes should clutter up a site otherwise focused on my writing; I just can’t handle the thought of starting yet another blog. But it occurred to me the other day, while I was sparging a bunch of malt with my jerry-rigged lauter tun for yet another strange brew (a sort of Belgian dubbel with Mexican piloncillo sugar and tamarind pods), that actually I’ve approached both avocations in a similar manner. For one thing, I’m profoundly out of step with most other practitioners of each craft, and in somewhat similar ways. And while I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a master of either brewing or poetry, I’ve followed a slow-learning approach to both, focusing as much on the process as on the product, to the almost complete neglect of monetization or careerism. Read the rest of this post at my homebrewing site, Herbal Brewing.

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.

Ten years of The Morning Porch

Detail of Paper Garden by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

My daily microblog The Morning Porch is ten years old today. Aside from times when I haven’t been at home — notably the three summers and one winter I’ve spent in the UK — I’ve managed to come up with something to say, in 140 or fewer characters, about the view from my front porch every bloody morning for the past ten years, no matter how boring or repetitive it ended up being. (Just this week, for example, I used variations on the word “shimmer” two days in a row. Yikes!) That the posts turn out lyrical as often as they do still strikes me as something of a minor miracle.

I want to thank everyone who’s followed along over the years, whether on Twitter, via email, on Facebook, or even by bookmarking and reading the website itself (so old-school!). I’m grateful to Clive Hicks-Jenkins for letting me use a portion of one of his paintings, Paper Garden, as a header image, and to the late, great film critic Roger Ebert for regularly re-tweeting my posts back in the day, which still accounts for the bulk of my alleged followers on Twitter (I imagine many of them are inactive now).

I’m especially grateful to Luisa A. Igloria for taking seriously my invitation (via Creative Commons license) to build upon my entries and use them as writing prompts; she’s not the only good poet to do so, but she’s been the most prolific, and it led of course to her becoming my co-author at Via Negativa in early 2011. Without the example of her energy and dedication to a poem-a-day practice, Via Negativa might have petered out like so many other literary blogs in recent years, and I probably wouldn’t have found the ambition to embark on daily erasures of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. So dailiness has bred more dailiness.

I was planning to write more to mark this milestone, but I injured my left index finger last night and typing is difficult, so — appropriately, perhaps — I’m forced to be brief. See the Morning Porch’s About page for a thumbnail history of the site and examples of what people have said about it over the years, and if that’s not enough, here’s what I wrote on the fifth blog-birthday. What I like most about the project now is the cumulative effect of reading so many years’ worth of observations for each day, accessible in the sidebar of the site with the help of a handy WordPress plugin. What sort of a day, for example, is the fifth of November? (Aside from being Guy Fawkes Day, of course.)

  • November 5, 2007
    Venus and the fourth-quarter moon stand close together, shining through the treetops as I drink my coffee.
  • November 5, 2008
    Under gray skies, barely a breath of wind and the woods are alive with the commotion of falling leaves. I will cut my hair.
  • November 5, 2009
    I hear the grunting of a buck in rut, but see only a grown fawn chasing a doe. As they pass below the porch, I hear the bleat in his voice.
  • November 5, 2010
    The wind rustles in the crown of one red oak; all the others are still. A train whistle. The light patches in the clouds fade to blue.
  • November 5, 2011
    A hard frost softens the edges of leaves and blades of grass. The witch hazel blossoms beside the house have curled into woolly fists.
  • November 5, 2012
    A thin spot in the clouds close enough to the sun to turn yellow like a bruise. A turkey vulture circles. The usual clamor of small birds.
  • November 5, 2013
    Overcast and cold. Wind hissing in the dry goldenrod and rattling the half-bare crowns of the oaks. A distant crow.
  • November 5, 2014
    An inversion layer brings freight train and traffic noise to mix with rustling leaves, crow scold-calls, a chipmunk’s metronome. My music.
  • November 5, 2015
    Warm morning after a cold night, and the oaks are shedding leaves: a dry sound as they hit lower branches, like the ticking of many clocks.
  • November 5, 2016
    A bright blue morning. The wail of sirens somewhere to the east—until the wind shifts and I hear nothing but the whispering of oaks.
  • November 5, 2017
    Fog and rain. The stream runs brown, as if to match the woods and meadow. The pink flamingo in my garden is looking distinctly out of place.

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.

Ice Mountain makes the Banff Mountain Book Competition longlist!

Banff Mountain Book Competition screenshot

Just received word from Beth at Phoenicia Publishing that Ice Mountain has made the 2017 Banff Mountain Book Competition longlist, one of three titles in the Mountain Fiction & Poetry category, and the only book of poetry on the entire list. It’s an honor for the press and for me… and, I have to say, for the Appalachians, which don’t always rate too highly in people’s estimations of mountain-ness, being more ridgy than peaky, as well as being inhabited by one of the most mocked groups of people in the country. So, yay for us! Here’s the text of the announcement from the Banff website:

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival celebrates mountain literature and film, bringing together filmmakers, writers, publishers, editors, photographers, athletes, adventurers, and – of course – readers. Featuring film screenings, guest speakers, readings, seminars and book signings, the Festival offers a wide spectrum of experiences for the mountain film and book-loving audience.

As a key program of The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival, the Book Competition is an internationally recognized literary competition that celebrates mountain literature in all its forms. Over $16,000 in cash is awarded annually with 8 awards selected by an international jury of writers, adventurers and editors. The shortlist of category award winners eligible for the Grand Prize is announced in October every year. In 2017, the Grand Prize will be announced on Thursday, November 2 at The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival and category awards will be presented to winning authors.

The Mountain Fiction & Poetry category “Includes fiction and poetry books with a focus on mountain topics. Creative narratives about climbing and mountaineering, exploration and mountain culture are acceptable.” The other two finalists are In Case I Go by Angie Abdou, Arsenal Pulp Press (2017) and Rising Abruptly: Stories by Gisèle Villeneuve, University of Alberta Press (2016). Congrats to both.

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.

What I did this summer, Part 1: The terroir of London homebrewing

Over the past few years, I’ve become interested in the concept of terroir, traditionally “the site- or region-specific characteristics of a wine,” as it might apply to beer and brewing, both for environmental reasons — imagine the carbon footprint of beer made as per usual with malts and hops from half-way around the world — and also as a way of getting to know a place better and feeling more at home in it. I know I’m far from the only brewer or beer fancier to feel this way; at least two of the local breweries here in central PA now make a point of trying to use local hops, and I’ve heard about small, regional maltings being developed around the US. But in the UK, regional maltings never quite went away, and as for hops, if you’re in London or really anywhere in the southern UK, you’re not too far from Kent, where some of the most sought-after hops in the world are grown.

This summer, I had the opportunity to really revel in that. Read the rest of this post at my homebrewing site, Herbal Brewing.

Ice Mountain: now available in album form!

screen capture from Ice Mountain's page on Bandcamp

My book Ice Mountain: An Elegy has been made into an album! I couldn’t be more excited or pleased with the result. You’ll probably recognize the composer’s name from all the videopoems he’s made for my poems over the years (including the video trailer for Ice Mountain): Swoon AKA Marc Neys.

The mythical Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhall is said to have held that the greatest sound in the world is “the music of what happens.” Over the past two decades, I’ve really come to identify with this sentiment, learning to appreciate the happy accidents in natural and human-made soundscapes sometimes as much as, if not more than, composed music. I’d like to think it’s even shaped my writer’s ear.

There’s something of that spirit in this album. Liquid and icy textures, hissing, rustling, crackling, and other aural interventions are interwoven with piano notes and long-held orchestral chords, all adding up to a music as spare and minimalist as the poetry itself: Marc’s own selection of a few of his favorite poems from the book.

The poetry is presented in four distinct voices, and though it doesn’t dominate the other music, you don’t have to strain to understand the words. Sometimes layered and repeated, these readings are the work of me, both my parents and the precocious young daughter of a friend (who kind of steals the show, in my opinion). Bookended by two instrumental tracks, Ice Mountain allows an attentive listener to experience something of the stark grandeur of an Appalachian winter and early spring. And for many of you in the northern hemisphere, a blast of Arctic chill might be just what you need right now.

The album is only available in digital form, via Bandcamp: listen and download here. Marc is asking a paltry €6 — roughly the cost of two fancy cups of coffee these days — and if you’ve already purchased a copy of the book, take a photo of yourself with the book and email it to Marc (swoonbildos [at] gmail [dot] com) and he’ll send you a copy for free!