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.

Firefly flashes: the latest adventures of a chronically unmotivated writer

I was sitting outside enjoying the fine, early-summer weather the night before last when I spotted a solitary light flashing in the treetops like a small, lost satellite: the first firefly. I watched as it drifted slowly through the darkness, advertizing its presence to an otherwise empty yard. It suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t posted an update here about my literary accomplishments, such as they are, for a very long time. Oops.

Often what happens, I think, is that I brag about a publication on Facebook and/or Twitter, then later on think that I’ve written about it here when in fact I haven’t. That was certainly the case with the inclusion of one of my poems in an art gallery exhibition at the University of Southern Maine, Secrets of the Sea, and the accompanying chapbook, Poems For Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea. The Lewiston-Auburn College Atrium Art Gallery did not post a copy of the chapbook to their website, for some reason, but they did send PDFs (as well as the printed version) to all the contributors. Since it was produced to distribute for free, I can’t see why they’d object to my sharing it here: Poems for Tube-Snouts and Other Secrets of the Sea [PDF].

Of the other poets in that collection, I was most pleased to be sharing space with Elizabeth Bradfield, an excellent poet whose strong grasp of science and natural history shines through her work. Bradfield is the publisher of Broadsided Press, which pairs artists and poets for monthly, free-to-print-and-distribute broadsides, “putting literature and art on the streets”—a great model. For their annual haiku year-in-review broadside in January, Bradfield asked poets to submit via open postings to Twitter. At last, a barrier to entry so low that even a writer as monumentally lazy as me couldn’t think of a reason not to submit! And as luck would have it, two of my haiku made the cut. Check it out.

Fired up by that success, I submitted to two other publications I admire, and was honored to have my pieces selected for both. “Leave-taking,” a videopoem, appeared in Issue 2 of Gnarled Oak, an online magazine founded last year by the Austin, Texas-based writer James Brush. And one of my Pepys erasure haiku was Autumn Sky Poetry Daily‘s poem for March 19. One of the unique features of that magazine is the inclusion of a note from the editor, Pennsylvania poet Christine Klocek-Lim, after each poem, explaining what she likes about it. For mine, she wrote:

Haiku is one of the most difficult forms of poetry to write because you have very little time to speak. This poem succeeds with that task, and has the added little delight of originating from within another source of words. Erasure poetry is very cool.

Last November, I was honored to have one of my videopoems screened at Videobardo, the long-running videopoetry festival in Buenos Aires, as part of a selection curated by the Canadian videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. Here’s the text of his presentation. I was honored that he chose my video to illustrate what has become a very popular trend in videopoetry: working with a pre-existing text.

In this videopoem, the image of a nest of snakes provides a constrained visual metaphor for each reference to “they” “these” and “them” in Salinas’ reading: “these wild and dishevelled ones” “they beg” “they can’t go on living” “help them” etc. One lasting impression that differentiates a “pure” videopoem from any other “poetry video” is that you will always associate the text you read (or hear) with the image(s) and the soundtrack it was created with. After viewing this work, how can we not help but associate this poem by Pedro Salinas with a nest of garden snakes?

Do read the rest. It’s really very flattering indeed.

Another videopoet I admire, Australian artist and musician Marie Craven, remixed one of my videopoems to very good effect. I wrote about both videos in a post at Via Negativa: “Native land.”

Last but not least, I contributed a short essay to a new German website, Poetryfilmkanal: “The Discovery of Fire: One Poet’s Journey into Poetry-Film.” Believe it or not, I was trying to express myself as clearly as I could. (There’s a reason why I mostly stick to poetry.) The website administrators have plans to release annual print and PDF versions of the magazine portion of the website, so my deathless prose about videopoetry and poetry film may find its way into dead-tree media as well.

I think that’s everything; my apologies to anyone I may have overlooked. It’s not that I don’t enjoy placing poems and videos hither and yon, it’s just that I derive most of my satisfaction as a writer from my daily posts at Via Negativa. I’m still beavering away on Pepys Diary erasures, and have yet to miss a single entry. (Last night, I had the quality problem of trying to decide which of three separate erasure poems found in that day’s diary entry was the best.) And I’m excited about a new series at VN called Poetry from the Other Americas, which is giving my translation muscles a much-needed workout. As for fireflies and their lonely writer’s lamps, I just remember that classic haiku of Buson’s:

All this study—
it’s coming out your ass,
oh firefly!