Introducing my first videopoetry collection: Winter Trees

still from the video "winter trees"

Single-author videopoetry collections are a relative rarity, but I’ve been inspired by such stand-out examples as the multi-filmmaker Book of Hours collaborative poetry film project coordinated by poet Lucy English, and the Twelve Moons collaboration between poet Erica Goss and filmmaker-composer Marc Neys. While my own approach to videopoetry is a bit more basic than most of the filmmakers in these projects, the connection of both anthologies to the changing seasons definitely helped shape how I envisioned my own, inaugural collection, a chapbook-length sequence of 22 videohaiku called Winter Trees.

The link takes you to a new, dedicated page on this site, accessible via a drop-down from the main Videopoetry tab in the navigation menu. I also posted process notes at Via Negativa. As I remarked when I shared the link on Twitter, videopoetry collections are essentially unpublishable, so I saw no reason not to simply release this myself. Eventually I’ll probably combine all 22 videos into one, 20-minute film, but for now, I think the embedded Vimeo album (or YouTube playlist) provides a viewing experience that serves the collection pretty well.

Seasonality is of course a key feature in the haiku tradition; most classic haiku/hokku anthologies have been organized by season since the 17th century. Proper linked verse sequences, on the other hand, take a montage approach, with ever-shifting times, settings, and moods, and reproducing that experience in a videopoem sequence is a challenge I don’t feel I’m quite up to yet (and which in any case might work better as multi-author compositions).

But I do feel that haiku are especially well suited to the videopoetry medium. Haiku and videopoetry both rely heavily on the juxtaposition of images for their effect. Further, the modern haiku master Paul Miller (AKA paul m.) writes, “Ogiwara Seisensui is reported to have described haiku as a circle: one half to be completed by the poet, the other half by the reader.” Which reminds of something the leading theorist of videopoetry, Tom Konyves, has written:

What is specific to a hybrid form like videopoetry is not what is specific to its elements… text, image and sound tend to arrive complete-in-themselves, self-sufficient, if you will. For the hybrid form, the specificity, I would suggest, is in the collaborative properties (a more accurate term may be synergistic properties) of the individual elements. In other words, not all texts (a good example would be most previously published poems), not all images (obviously) or soundtracks embody collaborative or synergistic potential. This collaborative property implies an incompleteness, indicating the presence of accommodating spaces in each of the elements. [emphasis added]

A further argument for marrying haiku and videopoetry is the long history of combining images and haiku: haiga, a genre which has been exported to the West as well. See the haiga gallery at Wales Haiku Journal (scroll down) for some particularly inspired modern examples.

But most important, to me, is the way that the video/film medium can give haiku what they often lack on the page: necessary time and space. It’s not unusual for printed collections to isolate just one or two haiku on a page, surrounding them with white space in an effort to slow the reader down. It’s been said that haiku are the perfect form of poetry for our distracted, sound-bite-dominated society, but actually I feel the opposite is true. Even when I am away from all digital distractions, reading haiku alone on the front porch of my home in the woods, I still often have to keep admonishing myself to read more slowly. How slowly? Maybe something like half a minute to a minute per haiku… about the length of a short video.

Anyway. Do go watch Winter Trees.

My words in “Vibrant Words” and “Words/No Words”

Words/No Words cover art

Vibrant Words coverTo say that I don’t actively pursue publishing opportunities would be an understatement. Nevertheless, from time to time my writing does find its way into various sorts of publications. It’s especially satisfying when those publications are as fun, off-beat and well thought-out as the two collections I’d like to mention today.

The first, Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (PushPen Press, 2014) is a collection of poetry writing prompts edited and mostly authored by Erica Goss, a terrific poet and the current Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California. I’m one of eight other contributors besides Goss, and I must say my tongue-in-cheek piece “Delusions of an Erasure Poet: The Shadow Text” seems almost laughably unhelpful compared with most of the other prompts, but perhaps Erica wanted it in there for comic relief. It’s paired with one of my Pepys erasures, following the pattern of the other chapters where a brief exercise is generally accompanied by an example or two for inspiration.

I wish I had had a book like this 30 years ago, when I was beginning to get serious about writing. The prompts are wide-ranging and the examples (many by Goss herself) powerful but at the same time approachable, by which I guess I mean they don’t bristle with dense syntax, obscure allusions, or other trappings of “difficult” poetry. One thinks “Wow!” but also, “Hey, I can do that.” The prompts include “Parking lots as inspiration,” “Something about the birds” and “Stalked by Walt Whitman,” as well as more standard chapters on strong first and last lines, political poetry, ekphrasis, writing in various forms, and so forth. Throughout, the tone is genial and conversational, and Goss includes a generous list of books for further reading. I would recommend it without hesitation to poets at any level, and am tickled to be in it.

Words/No Words cover artThe other recent publication in which one of my poems is included takes the physical form of a cassette tape. No, I’m not joking — along with the growing interest in vinyl records, apparently the kids these days are also getting into cassettes. Yay, analog media! (says the guy who never would’ve had any of these opportunities without the web).

Fortunately, I am enough of a fossil never to have abandoned cassette tapes in the first place. Poverty has its virtues. The entire CD revolution passed me by, and a boombox still occupies pride of place in my living room. So when the musician/composer Marc Neys, AKA Swoon, handed me a copy of Words/No Words (Already Dead Tapes, 2014) this past July while I was visiting him in Belgium, I knew I’d be able to play it as soon as I got home. And so I did. (I hasten to add that it’s also available as a digital download, a code for which is included in the cassette.)

The title is a literal description of the contents. Pieces with audiopoetry alternate with pure instrumentals (if that’s the right term for music created electronically). I’m hardly an expert in electronic music, which will be seen by the two composers this reminds me of: Swoon’s music is like a mash-up of Edgard Varèse and Nine Inch Nails. Except, of course, when it isn’t. My only criticism of the cassette is that the tiny white letters on black background are difficult for us fossils to read without magnification, and I had completely forgotten what Marc had told me about the contents. So there I am, listening to the cassette for the first time while doing something else, when the fourth track comes on and I hear the familiar tones of Nic Sebastian reading my 12 Simple Songs — the composition that became the soundtrack for the videopoem Marc and Nic surprised me with last year. Nothing like being surprised twice by the same thing!

I’ve listened to the cassette three times so far. The pieces do work together as an album—the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts—and I like the way the “no words” tracks cleanse the palate between audiopoems. Suffice it to say that, again, I’m very happy to have been included in such an innovative project. The other poets on the cassette are Paul Perry, David Tomaloff, Michael Dickes, Dena Rash Guzman, Erica Goss (yes, it’s true—we’re all members of an online poet mafia), Luisa A. Igloria (another especially delightful surprise on first listening) and Meg Tuite. You can listen to three sample tracks on the publisher’s page.