As regular readers of Via Negativa know, I’ve been making erasure poems from the online Diary of Samuel Pepys since January 1, 2013, and though I’m currently almost a week behind, I’ve yet to miss an entry. (What’s an erasure poem? Think of it as a poem sculpted from, or discovered within, someone else’s text: one can only use words or parts of words as they appear in the original, and in the order they appear there.)
Pepys himself rarely missed a day in his diary, so in six years this project has generated rather a lot of poetry. Granted, it hasn’t all been brilliant, and I do it as much for the process as for the product. Has it made me a better poet? I believe it has. It’s certainly taught me humility and persistence, and I think I’ve become a more nimble writer of micropoetry as well. But I’ve never regarded the project as a way to generate traditionally publishable work. So starting in 2017, I got the idea of compiling my daily erasures into a single document, which I could then convert into a PDF and release at the end of the year for anyone in search of something a little different to read. So here are the download links:
After the conclusion of the nine-and-a-half-year diary, I hope to go back and compile the first four years into PDFs as well — if I’m not completely burnt out by then.
Failed State. That’s the working title of my book-length manuscript of prose + micropoetry, which draws equally upon my lived experience, dreams, and nightmares. In the last category, I have a section of seven untitled found texts from the CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train right-wing counter-insurgency interrogators throughout Latin America during the last and most brutal phase of the Cold War. I extract a haiku-length erasure poem or two from each text and place them below it, haibun-style. Back in March, an online journal called The Other Bunny, which specializes in experimental haibun, published a selection of these under the title “Human Resources.” Then the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven surprised me with this damn-near perfect video version. I strongly recommend expanding it to full screen and using good headphones:
Marie describes it on Vimeo as “A video about mind control and hidden meanings.”
The original text here is sections of a CIA document from the 1980s, concerning mind control techniques. […] The video is made up substantially of this text on screen, overlaid on a delirious blend of movie images from the Prelinger Archives. I chose to ‘mash up’ two different films for this background. The first, and most visually recognisable, is ‘Duck and Cover’, a famous documentary film from the 1950s containing advice on how to take cover in the event of a nuclear blast. The second film is ‘Destination Earth’, an anti-communist animation also produced in the 1950s. Both films were ‘doubled up’, making four superimposed layers, sped up considerably, with some parts appearing in forward motion, others in reverse, and some images rotating so that they appear at odd angles throughout the piece. The rapid melee of images is designed to express the hallucinatory effect of mental confusion engendered by mind control. The music is a psychedelic piece by The Night Programme (aka Paul Foster), with whom I’ve collaborated musically for over a decade, all via the net (he’s in Wales, I’m in Australia). The track is entitled ‘Cxx2’, from his album, ‘Backup 010318’. In a contemporary sense, the poem and video seem timely in this era of rampant fake news and unabashed propaganda.
Human Resources is Marie’s fifth videopoem based on my poetry. This is the sort of collaboration the web was built for, I think, and it’s always deeply gratifying to me as a writer to have been able to inspire an artist of Marie’s caliber.
Reblogged from Via Negativa.
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.
When I started blogging erasure poems based on the Diary of Samuel Pepys on January 1, 2013, it was with the understanding that I would only do the interesting entries, and stop as soon as it got boring. Two years in and I have yet to skip a single entry of the diary—not even the one-sentence ones. It’s become this weird compulsion. Maybe it’s a crutch, a way to avoid having to think up poems on my own? Nah. It’s actually quite a bit more time-consuming. But it’s teaching me a lot about invention and discovery, the observer effect, and the shadow text—which, like a shadow government, thrives on its own irrelevance. Within a few months of beginning the project, I switched to a fully digital style of erasure using HTML. And in the latter half of 2014, I began to use erasure to teach myself how to compose better haiku — one of the most difficult kinds of poetry to get right.
What better way to celebrate two years of erasing Pepys than with a videopoem by one of the best in the poetry-film business? My friend Marc Neys, aka Swoon, surprised me with this in late December:
But even now, I’m sure I can stop erasing Pepys anytime I want. I just don’t want to yet.