Watch on Vimeo
“I’m a sucker for dream poems,” Marc Neys told me when he sent along his latest video adaptation of a haibun from Failed State. The mix of imagery here, all of it drawn from the online cache of anonymous home movies known as The International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories, is especially dreamlike, I think. And as an poet, there are few reactions to one’s work that are more gratifying than a brand-new creation from a brilliant artist.
Marc opted for text-on-screen rather than voiceover for the entirety of the text, and wisely left out the footnote that I included in the printed version. Let me paste in the complete text below:
Killing is My Business
I dreamed I drove a sprayer truck along the berm of a road in prayerful silence. The staghorn sumac leaves in their autumnal red turned brown behind me and my rubber gloves shone like the udders of a cow, all for the sake of the crown vetch and its hateful pink.* I dreamed of skinning feral cats and selling their meat at auction: Fresh mutton, I hollered. They were slick with the fat of tanagers.
you can tell I’m asleep
when I start to twitch
*Originally a foreign infestor from Europe, now a cultivar developed at my alma mater Penn State as a gift to the interstate highway system. Its wire-tough tangles smother all competition and hide the scars of erosion, which it does nothing to prevent. It swallows our litter better than the sea.
Watch on Vimeo
Filmmaker and composer Marc Neys surprised me yesterday with this great new adaptation of one of the haibun from Failed State. He may be semi-retired from making videopoems, but he doesn’t seem to have lost any of his mad skills. His impressionistic style really fits the poem, I think. I was also chuffed to hear the poem read in someone else’s voice. Here’s the text:
The wolves have finally come to me for advice. Avoid making eye contact with saints and ranchers, I say. Stick to the suburbs where no one else goes to hunt. The wolves are tired; their tongues glisten like the neckties of bankers crowded into a London tube carriage at rush hour. In the window of the building opposite, a white cat levitates on a sudden carpet of arms. The headline in the Evening Standard reads, Is Your Child a Psychopath? It’s More Common Than You Think. My love has taken five sharp sticks from her bag and begun to knit me a sock. What big toenails you have, she says.
gang members lower
Pasting this in just now, I discover a typo, the first I’m aware of in the book: voicies. Nuts! Guess I shouldn’t have blown off Blurb’s typo-finding tool (which seemed tedious because of course it was flagging every word not in its apparently quite limited dictionary). Live and learn.
Speaking of Blurb, some people might’ve noticed the irony that I didn’t in fact include any blurbs on the book. I sort of feel like blurbs are superfluous on physical books of poetry in bookstores or at live events, because people can just leaf through a book and make up their own minds. If sales are mainly or exclusively online, the author and/or publisher can just update the book page(s) with favorable quotes as they come in from readers and reviewers, and I’ve started to do this on Failed State‘s page here. I’ve also added some more of my own video adaptations to the bottom of the page: Killing Time, Ornithology, and Falling, the latter two newly edited to include the haiku. You can also watch all eight videos on Vimeo. (I’ll add the two films by Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg, In West Virginia and Flag Country, when they’re made public. Right now they’re both still making the rounds of festivals.)
Watch on Vimeo
Let’s say you make a videopoem in response to some intriguing footage, but then years later you change the text: add a few lines, decide it’s really a haibun in disguise, and tack on a haiku which fundamentally reorients it. What to do? Find that original footage and re-make the video, of course!
It’s not as if Failed State needs another video, but this one was kind of obvious. (I’ve actually been working on one for the title poem as well, but I’m not very happy with it so that may never get released.)
Here’s the text:
A voice in my dream said: Don’t be so eager to find yourself. The deer rolls her eye in panic at your approach, birds take flight, the rabbit freezes then bolts.
Consider the possibility that they’re right about you, these creatures who we know to be capable of predicting earthquakes. Stop trying to dot your I’s — broken columns from a Greek temple where no one now remembers the name of the god.
Get lost, because the found are insufferable.
everyone running out
into the street
After many delays, I’m pleased to report that my new collection of haibun, Failed State, is out! I chose to self-publish because reality had kind of overtaken it — that’s the risk you take with dystopian writing in this day and age. The paperback is priced at $15 and the hardcover at $28. Here’s the dedicated page with all the details.
I used Blurb for the printer, which wasn’t ideal (the Kindle and ePub versions were crap, which is why I’m not offering those options), but the price point for the paperback, especially, was very good, and the quality of the physical copies is adequate. (Part of the delay involved waiting for the proofs to arrive.) I am not selling copies myself at the moment, so I’m afraid you have to order from Blurb. As I note on the book’s webpage, I am happy to send out free copies of the PDF to anyone willing to write a review or blog a reaction. If you don’t have a blog, a social media post of at least 250 words will suffice. Otherwise, the PDF will set you back $4.99 (which is the base price; I’m not collecting any profit on that).
I’ve been delighted by all the film/video adaptations people have made from privately circulating drafts of the manuscript. Some of those are available on the web and I’ve included them on the webpage, with more to come when they finish touring festivals (online and otherwise). I also challenged myself to submit haiku and haibun from the manuscript to as many different journals as possible, with pretty satisfactory results. I figure when you’re self-publishing you have to at least pretend to be respectable.
So today I put the finishing touches on my book of haibun Failed State and uploaded it to the print-on-demand service I’m using (Blurb, which is ironic because I didn’t solicit anyone for blurbs). But it won’t be available for general purchase until I get a softcover copy and can proof it, so probably not till the end of December or early January.
In the meantime, there’s a fabulous new film adaptation incorporating several haiku from the book. Eduardo Yagüe, a filmmaker friend from Spain, has just released his appropriately dark and disturbing interpretation. He included some process notes in his email which I’ll paste in below. Rebeca Minguito is the actor, and the music is by Hinterheim.
Watch on Vimeo
[Scroll down for the Spanish original.]
This project has been with me for a long time and for me it is very special. I always liked the title a lot and I wanted to bring it over to my own domain: “What would happen if the failed state were a person, what would it be like?” Then your haikus became the memories of the protagonist, in a kind of delusional inner monologue.
The production was lengthy and I had to cancel the recording several times, change the script, the location, the actors, the expectations. Until I found Rebeca, who lent me her house to record in, and she herself was a brave actress to investigate everything I proposed to her through your texts. Then came the pandemic and confinement and we had to wait again, and in the end (in the final shot) it was noticed. Somehow the entire failed state of the world in which we have lived this year appeared.
I know it is a hard video, difficult to watch, in a rather harsh mode. I hope it does honor to your poems, which I find extraordinary. I wish your book a long and successful track record.
Este proyecto me ha acompañado mucho tiempo y para mí es muy especial. El título siempre me gustó mucho y quise llevarlo a mi terreno: “¿qué pasaría si el estado fallido fuera una persona, cómo sería?” Entonces tus haikus se convirtieron en los recuerdos de la protagonista, en una especie de delirante monólogo interior.
La producción fue larga y tuve que cancelar la grabación varias veces, cambiar el guion, la localización, los actores, las expectativas. Hasta que encontré a Rebeca que me prestó su casa para grabar y ella misma fue una actriz valiente para investigar todo lo que le proponía a través de tus textos. Luego vino la pandemia y el confinamiento y hubo que esperar de nuevo, y al final (en el plano final) se notó. Apareció de algún modo todo el estado fallido mundial en el que hemos vivido este año.
Sé que es un vídeo duro, difícil de ver, en cierto modo áspero. Espero que haga honor a tus poemas, que me parecen extraordinarios. Le deseo a tu libro una larga trayectoria de éxitos.