Ice Mountain: now available in album form!

screen capture from Ice Mountain's page on Bandcamp

My book Ice Mountain: An Elegy has been made into an album! I couldn’t be more excited or pleased with the result. You’ll probably recognize the composer’s name from all the videopoems he’s made for my poems over the years (including the video trailer for Ice Mountain): Swoon AKA Marc Neys.

The mythical Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhall is said to have held that the greatest sound in the world is “the music of what happens.” Over the past two decades, I’ve really come to identify with this sentiment, learning to appreciate the happy accidents in natural and human-made soundscapes sometimes as much as, if not more than, composed music. I’d like to think it’s even shaped my writer’s ear.

There’s something of that spirit in this album. Liquid and icy textures, hissing, rustling, crackling, and other aural interventions are interwoven with piano notes and long-held orchestral chords, all adding up to a music as spare and minimalist as the poetry itself: Marc’s own selection of a few of his favorite poems from the book.

The poetry is presented in four distinct voices, and though it doesn’t dominate the other music, you don’t have to strain to understand the words. Sometimes layered and repeated, these readings are the work of me, both my parents and the precocious young daughter of a friend (who kind of steals the show, in my opinion). Bookended by two instrumental tracks, Ice Mountain allows an attentive listener to experience something of the stark grandeur of an Appalachian winter and early spring. And for many of you in the northern hemisphere, a blast of Arctic chill might be just what you need right now.

The album is only available in digital form, via Bandcamp: listen and download here. Marc is asking a paltry €6 — roughly the cost of two fancy cups of coffee these days — and if you’ve already purchased a copy of the book, take a photo of yourself with the book and email it to Marc (swoonbildos [at] gmail [dot] com) and he’ll send you a copy for free!

Proof

Holding a copy of Ice Mountain against the trees

Holding a copy of Ice Mountain against the treesLike yeast, a book is proofed, in the older sense of proof/prove meaning to test. But for many authors, having a published book is proof (in the modern sense) that one is a Real Writer. When I was younger, I too might’ve felt that way. Instead, what I’m feeling now is simple pleasure at a well-made thing.

It also means, of course, that publication is imminent, and very soon I shall be endeavoring to sell physical copies in meat-space. What a concept! There will, however, be a PDF version as well for those who are decluttering, living out of their suitcases, or simply don’t like the way books gather dust (which is roughly how my late Nanna felt about books). Here’s the link to order. And here’s an excerpt.

I am also extremely pleased with the videopoem my friend Marc Neys made, based on a collage of lines from the book. He intended it as a video trailer for Ice Mountain, but it’s really a stand-alone short film. I blogged about our collaboration recently at Via Negativa.

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.