“Winter Trees” in Poetry Film Live and other videopoetry news

I’m very pleased to have my Winter Trees videohaiku sequence included in the UK-based journal Poetry Film Live, accompanied by a generous review from my friend Marie Craven. It’s the sort of highly personal reaction I really appreciate, and from a poetry filmmaker whose work I admire. She writes about her favorite videos and why they work for her, and also zeroes in on the series’ weakest point: the text-on-screen font and effect choices. She concludes:

Overall, I found Dave’s collection a rewarding experience. I recommend it to anyone interested in poet-made videos, or in smaller, subtler and more personal approaches to the genre.

Read the rest.

Three videos from Winter Trees in HaikuLife Festival

HaikuLife banner
It’s been really gratifying to have people responding warmly to Winter Trees on Twitter and elsewhere. I sent along the link to the Haiku Foundation website for possible inclusion in their extensive bibliography of haiku-related publications, and got back a request to submit three of the videos for their 5th annual online HaikuLife Haiku Film Festival, along with some encouraging words about the sequence from Jim Kacian, whose own haiku I deeply admire.

Does this mean I’m a big poet now?

If you’re in the UK, mark your calendar for the Big Poetry Weekend, formerly known as the Swindon Poetry Festival, to be held in Swindon, UK at the Richard Jeffries Museum, October 3-7. Rather a thrill to see my ugly mug on the front page surrounded by a bunch of real poets. I’m helping to judge a film poetry competition alongside Lucy English, and will be part of a panel discussion on poetry film with her and Helen Dewbery, following a presentation by Lucy of her fantastic Book of Hours collaborative project, and followed by the awards presentation and screening. That’s all happening on Friday evening, October 4. Here’s the full programme.

If you’d like to enter the competition, by the way, there’s still time. The deadline is July 12th. Here are the guidelines.

In West Virginia

Many years ago, I was stranded in West Virginia for several days when my brother’s car broke down, and instead of going camping in the Monongahela National Forest, we got to explore the strip mall and downtown of scenic Summersville, a town famous for its speed trap and its old-time music scene. A blog post followed, and eventually a prose poem which mutated into a haibun. Now it’s been adapted into a film by Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran of Outlier Moving Pictures. In West Virginia isn’t available on the open web yet because it’s still making the film festival rounds, and some festivals require films to be web virgins. But I’m pleased to report that it’s a lovely film that makes unique use of postcard-like images, and that it was selected for screening in April at the Newlyn International Short Film Festival in Cornwall.

Oops

Speaking of Newlyn: such is my neglect of this poor blog that I forgot to mention I had a video of my own screened there in 2018, Ornithology. A birder struggling through quicksand becomes a metaphor for our mostly fruitless efforts at transcendence:

Bloodshot Cartography at Cadence Video Poetry Festival

I was pleased to have a videopoem I made for a poem by Sarah J Sloat, Bloodshot Cartography, included in a couple of events in the month-long Cadence Video Poetry Festival held at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum in April. It didn’t qualify for the main screening, but apparently they got a deluge of submissions this year… possibly because I promoted them on Moving Poems. D’oh! Regardless, it was great to be able to support such a fantastic new videopoetry festival. I’m always happy to submit films or manuscripts for a reasonable fee to organizations I believe in.

Anyway, the video combines Sarah’s evocation of travel in the tropics with a beautifully decayed old home movie, in a sort of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage. The soundtrack is courtesy of the bird-sound library xeno-canto, from recordist Rodrigo Dela Rosa in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. The footage has been lightly edited from a single movie at the International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM):

Taking the Waters goes on tour with Poetry + Video program

A final bit of videopoetry news that I’m excited about brings us back to my Australian film-maker friend Marie Craven, who has put together an hour-long touring program of videopoems from around the world called simply Poetry + Video, and was kind enough to include an old collaboration I did with filmmaker and composer Marc Neys, with my partner Rachel Rawlins in the soundtrack: Taking the Waters. Here’s the very complete description on the website, and here’s the full program. If you’re a teacher, run a poetry reading series, or coordinate a film series in your community, get in touch with Marie — “The program is designed to be highly portable, and easily obtainable on request to screening spaces in any location. It is available to cultural organisations internationally during 2019-20.”

The world premiere screening was on May 4th in Murwillumbah, Australia, and two further screenings are on the schedule so far, one in Kathmandu and another in Muncie, Indiana.

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.

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:

 

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!

Poetry featured in new films by Swoon and Alastair Cook

still from The Grave Dug by Beasts

Among the greatest honors a poet can enjoy is to have his or her words adapted or remixed by other artists. As a guy who’s stumbled into publishing what’s become the most prominent English-language blog on poetry film and videopoetry, it’s perhaps not too surprising that I’ve gotten to know some of the best poetry filmmakers working today, who, knowing that I’m a half-decent poet and that I “copyleft” everything I write under the Creative Commons, occasionally use some of my own texts in their films. This is never something I ask for, not wanting to abuse my power as an editor, but it’s always wonderful when it happens, as it has recently with three new films by two of the most imaginative makers of poetry films out there. I’ve already blogged about the first two, by the Belgian artist Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon, at Via Negativa, so I’ll just embed those films and link to their respective VN posts.

1. Hit the Lights

See “The conversation continues: two videopoems.”

2. The Grave Dug by Beasts

See “The Grave Dug by Beasts: a new videopoem by Swoon.”

3. Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared)

I only contributed 1/20th of the text to this collaborative, ekphrastic magnum opus by Alastair Cook, but I’m chuffed to have my lines rubbing up against the lines of such truly great poets as George Szirtes, John Glenday, Linda France and Andrew Philip. The process involved Alastair sending a snippet of found film to each of us to elicit a brief, free-verse response without seeing any of the other poets’ responses. Alastair came up with the concept and title and did all the weaving together, and is therefore the main poet here in my opinion. Kudos to everyone involved and to Alastair’s Filmpoem project for continuing to grow and flourish.

My lines, for what it’s worth, are these:

We go on civilizing missions into the past:
remaster the sound, restore the color,
and reduce to scenery the land through which we progress.

Alastair edited out a couple of the lines in my original submission to very good effect. As I say, he is the real poet here; the film is a true filmpoem (or videopoem, as we tend to say on this side of the Atlantic), the text and footage forming a unity greater than the sum of their parts.

To watch more films with my poetry in them, check out the Plummer’s Hollow Poet channel on Vimeo. It’s up to 58 videos now (though the majority are ones I’ve made myself).

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.