A new direction for Woodrat Photohaiku

as for me the mossy side of the trunk

My long-running photo blog has gone through a couple of re-inventions over the years as my interests have shifted. On New Year’s Day, I decided it was time to re-invent it once again, and start featuring photo haiga (A.K.A. shahai), since I’d already starting incorporating haiku text into images on Instagram. In a way, this isn’t new territory for me: back in 2008-2009 I edited a short-lived journal called Postal Poems that tried (and mostly failed) to get poets to create haiga-like images incorporating text (mostly micropoetry, but not necessarily haiku). And I’ve been incorporating haiku into videopoems for years, usually as text-on-screen.

The difference now is I have a somewhat more sophisticated idea of what haiku is or could be. For decades I was hampered by too much formal education, convinced I knew what haiku was by scattershot reading of mostly mediocre translations in the course of obtaining a comp lit degree focusing on Japanese and Chinese, which included a year abroad in the Kansai region of Japan. The latter did leave me with a healthy aversion toward Japonisme in all its manifestations, important to my growing realization that preserving the possibility of at least occasional originality in a tradition-bound art-form paradoxically requires an openness to the avant garde. As I noted this morning in a tweet reply to the Norway-based poet and blogger Ren Powell, my first real introduction to so-called gendai (modern) haiku was the Haikunaut issue of Cordite in 2009. From there I discovered Roadrunner/R’r journal and the 2011 anthology Haiku 21 from Modern Haiku journal, and it was off to the races.

But for some reason I persisted in keeping text off of the photos at Woodrat Photohaiku, even as the accompanying haiku themselves slowly improved. I’m nothing if not a creature of habit. I think it was mostly the cumulative effect of seeing other haijin posting photo haiga on social media, especially Instagram, that finally broke down my resistance. And I discovered that a photo editing app I’d been using for several years, Snapseed, had an easy-to-use text tool, allowing me to make and post haiga directly from my camera (allegedly also a phone). I could even copy and paste the text directly from the Notes app, a nearly frictionless haiga composition process for the digital age.

I’ll still be using what I deem to be the first line/semantic unit of the haiku as a post title, with the remainder of the text below the image, for continuity’s sake with the archive and to help those using assistive technology. But I’ve also begun appending additional thoughts to some of the posts, which represents another radical change for the blog: process notes, interesting out-takes, notes on potentially obscure details of the content, etc. And having text both beside as well as within the image allows me to present it in contrasting ways, which I like because sometimes a haiku can have quite different effects depending on how it’s arranged, in one line or several, and I feel readers should be able to choose which they like the best.

This may seem like much ado about nothing, considering how few actual readers the blog has, but to me, its small readership is one of the things I most enjoy about it. It makes it feel more like a sandbox where i can indulge my inner child and don’t have to take things too seriously. For a writer, that’s one of the real, unsung pleasures of blogging in general.

Two new pages for Pandemic Season, Pepys erasure project

still from the haibun video Public Relations

still from the haibun video Public Relations

This feels like one of those essays that school teachers used to require on the first day back: What Did I Do On Summer Vacation? Because I’ve been on vacation from this blog since last spring, it seems. Damn.

Well, mainly I moped, like everyone else in this goddamned covidious shitstorm. But I did make a lot of videopoems, as well as continue to plug along with (almost) daily erasure poems. So today I was all set to create a new page for the Videopoetry section of the website on my just-concluded (I think) video haibun collection Pandemic Season, only to find that I’d already done so back in July. Oops. Since it embeds the whole Vimeo showcase for the collection, which is 24 videopoems long, that will do for now. Currently I’m giving it a rest so I can go back and look at it with fresh eyes in a couple of months, and decide whether I want to mess with any of the films, make a book out of them, or just let it be. For now, the series archive at Via Negativa is probably a better way to engage with the collection, since there’s a transcript of each as well as extensive process notes.

I didn’t get to be a complete slacker today, though. Seven years after starting the Pepys Diary erasure project at VN, it finally occurred to me that maybe that deserved its own page here. Among other things, it gave me an excuse to highlight a few videopoems made with texts from the project. Check it out.

(I initially created a project page, experimenting with a custom content type designed for use in a portfolio-style site, because I still tell myself that one day I’m going to re-design this website to foreground a portfolio of projects, rather than continuing to pigeon-hole work by medium, print vs. video. But that seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Bizarrely, though, the project page auto-posted to Twitter, while the page-page did not. All of which is way more geekiness than either reader of this blog probably cares about. Sorry.)

Crossing the Pond and three other videopoems featured at HaikuLife 2020

HaikuLife 2020 banner

HaikuLife 2020 banner

The Haiku Foundation’s Jim Kacian, a poet whose own haiku and haiku videos I admire, was kind enough to select four of my videos for their annual online HaikuLife Haiku Film Festival, which debuted this morning as part of International Haiku Poetry Day. Here’s the link.

It would probably seem churlish to offer criticism, so I’ll just say that this festival is clearly designed by someone with an archivist’s mindset, and as the son of an academic reference librarian, I couldn’t be more pleased to have my videos added to the Haiku Foundation’s digital library and uploaded to their own servers. More usability-minded librarians might give them a hard time over the number of clicks it takes to get to the content, however. And as is to be expected with independently hosted videos, they don’t scale down well for people on slow internet connections, so I will have to wait until I get back to London later this year to watch the other films in the festival myself, unless the local public libraries and coffee shops with good WiFi reopen in the meantime.

The main film of mine in the festival is Crossing the Pond, archived here. It’s a selection of 30 of the best videohaiku from the 80 I made last year, pulled together for a program at the REELpoetry festival in Houston back in January. If you’re on crappy internet, it’s probably easier to watch it on Google Drive (it was too big for my Vimeo account). Here are the other three links, accompanied by embeds of my own uploads to Vimeo:

Pandemic Time

Sea Levels

Self-Quarantine

Do check out the other videos in the festival if you can.

I’m not sure anyone has referred to me as an auteur before. I am feeling an inexplicable urge to don a beret and smoke Gauloises cigarettes.