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.



A bit of unrelated housekeeping news: 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!

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:


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!

New page on how I make poems and why I blog

I’ve just added a new artist’s statement of sorts, though unlike most such documents it focuses less on what I’m making and why, and more on how I’m making it. Perhaps it’s really more of an apologia. In the top navigation bar, it’s a drop-down link under the About Me page. Here’s how it starts:

My approach to writing focuses neither on product nor on process but on daily practice. What am I going to make today? What am I going to do right now? Is re-writing yesterday’s effort ever as important as going for a walk or reading a book to prime the creative pump anew?

I go on to argue for the vitality of the quotidian, admit to the addictive nature of creative immersion, mention that making poetry entails more than just writing for me, and conclude with some thoughts about why blogging has become so central to all this. Check it out (and if you have any feedback, feel free to comment on this post or drop me a line).


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.