First warm day

First warm day.
I sit in the shade closing one eye
then the other.

*

This phoebeing—
even the pants on the line
seem to get the rhythm.

*

Vicious groundhog fight.
The victor stands still & lets the flies
land on his face.

*

Fur in the air—
the cattails
are shedding.

*

As slow as spring
on the half-naked dead elm,
a fox squirrel’s tail.

*

The vulture’s shadow
travels four times farther—
up & down each tree.

*

This morning
in its vase on the table,
the forsythia bloomed.

In lieu of new content

One great thing about blogging is that whenever writer’s block strikes — or even writer’s ennui, which is all I think I’m afflicted with at the moment — I can always tinker around under the hood. And since I have more than one blog, that makes for a lot of tinkering! Here’s some of what I’ve been up to lately.

Shadow Cabinet move and redesign

Shadow Cabinet has now followed Spoil off of WordPress.com and onto vianegativa.us. The new address is shadowcabinet.vianegativa.us. I know a few of you link to the collection from your blog sidebars, for which I’m grateful, but please do change the links when you get a chance. For now, I’ve left a page up at the old domain directing people to the new one. Obviously, any links to specific poems, from old blog posts or elsewhere, will no longer work, and I’m afraid you’ll have to visit the site to get the new links, because I’ve changed and simplified the permalink structure. In other words, you can’t just switch the domain part of the URL and expect it to work, because I’ve removed the month-and-day part.

Social media prompts

Ten days after moving onto its new host, Via Negativa continues to enjoy much faster load-times than before, and stats have improved as a result. I’m cautiously introducing a few new plugins, such as Sociable, which generates the icon-links at the foot of each post. I’m trying this instead of the more elegant-looking ShareThis icon, which I’d had before, for two reasons: the code is leaner and thus less of a drag on load-times, and I think having an unobtrusive visual prompt to share content on Twitter, Facebook, and so forth is half the point. I don’t care for clutter, so I’m keeping the list as brief as possible, excluding social bookmarking sites I don’t want traffic from (i.e. Digg) or doubt that my readers use. But if you’re fond of a social media site or bookmarking service I haven’t included, please let me know and I’ll put it in.

New commenting system

I’ve changed the template here to include the new comments functions that came with the most recent major version of WordPress (2.7): comment threading, and javascript-ennabled comment forms that update the comments thread without reloading the entire page. Comment threading, in layperson’s terms, means that you now have “reply” links below every comment in a thread. I currently have it set so comments will nest up to six deep; any more would probably look goofy given the width of the column.

I’ve also switched on avatars, to see if I can get used to having them — it’s doubtful. But if you’re wondering how you can get one to appear beside your own name, here and on other WordPress blogs, you have to register with Gravatar (stands for Globally recognized avatar) and remember to put the same email in the comment form each time.

By the way, if you, like me, are on an independently hosted WordPress installation (i.e. using WordPress.org) with a theme that hasn’t yet been updated for 2.7, I found the following tutorials invaluable:

Basically, I added the necessary line of javascript to header.php, replaced my comments.php file with the one for the default theme, then modified the sections of my stylesheet relating to the comments and comment form, borrowing both from the default theme and from Chris Harrison’s example. Of course, it helped that my theme happens to use similar CSS classes to the default theme.

Postal Poetry has turned into a static site

Submissions to Postal Poetry have really dropped off in the last couple of months, and it became obvious to Dana and me that we’d either have to become permanent cheerleaders and devote an increasing amount of time to hassling poets for submissions, or stop publishing new work and convert the site into a static gallery of poetry postcards. After much agonizing and discussion, we chose the latter course. At present we’re continuing to use the same theme with a newly widened archive page pushed to the front, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for other free or affordable WordPress themes that may work better. Permalinks to individual postcards won’t change. The present theme, designed with photobloggers in mind, is hard to beat for simplicity and usability, especially now that we’ve added category links below each postcard.

We hope the postcards on the site will continue to inspire Postal Poetry’s visitors and past contributors, and as we say on the About page, we encourage you to keep experimenting with poetry postcards, sending them to your friends, and posting them on your blogs. We’re proud of the work we’ve published there and grateful to everyone who made cards for the site, whether or not we ended up publishing them. It’s been fun.

Other news

I’m continuing to discover great new video poems, mostly on YouTube, for my Moving Poems site. I’m currently feeding it at the rate of a new post every weekday, though I expect that will slow eventually. I’m trying to avoid posting things that could be subject to take-down from YouTube for copyright infringement, because I don’t fancy having empty archives, so there are some slick documentaries that won’t make it in.

Open Micro, the group blog for micropoetry, continues to chug along with a new post or two roughly every day, and some lively discussions in the comment threads. If you haven’t jumped on the Twitter bandwagon yet, and are wondering if there’s any truth to the critiques of Twitter and similar sites as irredeemably shallow outlets for the attention-challenged, I’d encourage you to check out some of Open Micro’s contributors (linked in the foooter). Many of us see the 140-character limit of microblogging as ideal for haiku and other short poetic forms, and haiku is all about paying attention. Or as the editor of Cordite Poetry Review‘s new Haikunaut issue, Issa translator David G. Lanuoe, puts it:

Haiku is a posture, a way of seeing and being, a philosophy of life in which one dedicates one’s self to noticing, not ignoring; to being open, not closed; to discovering, not defining; to inviting meaning onto a page, never imposing it. Poets of haiku peer expectantly into the moments and moods of this universe of which we are part, ready always to be startled, to receive with open eyes the treasures and enigmas that others miss in their hell-bent rush through traffic and life.

That sounds like excellent advice for anyone afflicted with writer’s ennui, as well — blog tinkering be damned.

Through

Miscarriage: such an odd and innocuous word for such a potentially traumatic experience. As a single man in a male-dominated society, I’ve had the luxury of ignoring the reality of that experience for most of my life, aided by the fact that, for whatever reason, we don’t seem to have a way of really talking about it. Neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice” rhetoric seems adequate for addressing the pain and loss that accompany a spontaneous, unwanted abortion. And what might it mean for a religious woman in particular? Job’s dilemma might come to seem all too familiar, I’m thinking.

I don’t know; obviously I’m way out of my depth here. But I had my eyes opened a little bit when my friend Rachel Barenblat — the Velveteen Rabbi — asked me to read the manuscript of a small collection of poems she’d put together, Through, which arose from her own experience with miscarriage in January. A month or so later I received a beautiful, handmade chapbook (y’all know how much I love chapbooks), and I asked Rachel how other people could get a copy, because it seemed important to start filling the language void about this virtually taboo subject. Here’s her answer. Rachel has generously made it available in three forms: as a free download, an at-cost print-on-demand bound copy, or a free audio edition. Please help spread the word.

This can’t have been an easy experience to write anything about at all, let alone to distill into ten brief, searing, and luminous poems. As with Rachel’s earlier chaplainbook, these are accessible poems with several different layers of meaning, so I think almost anyone who’s ever gone through a miscarriage will get something out of it. Which is not to say the audience should end there: miscarriage is a subject every bit as relevant and revealing of the human condition as warfare, for example. So why doesn’t it get more attention from writers and artists? As Rachel says in “Wordless Melody,”

There is no song
which asks why a soul

dips a toe in these waters
and then turns back

leaving a woman
bereft, bleeding.

But there is now. Go listen.

Lucky Numbers

bad days

Friday the 13th. I sit at home & watch the numbers change on my digital clock. Their economy of form has always pleased me: only seven red bars, but the clock can make any numeral. I keep expecting it to slip & display an upside-down 7 or a backwards 3.

home away from home

I could be a housesitter, I think. What could go wrong? I’d say to the house, “It’s bedtime,” & sing a lullaby to every empty room. When the man from the bank came to visit, I’d show him the bright yellow sun in the corner of the sky.

wall ear

The man from the bank would listen so hard, he’d hear the plaster shrinking in the cold. I’d show him the clock on the side of my coffeemaker. I’d ask him where the lucky numbers go.

Witch-burning

On fire, their faces strangely impassive, they kept trying to get up and walk away, only to have their neighbors push them back into the pile of burning brush, beating them with sticks, shouting witch, witch. Why were they not staked down in some fashion? It was as if they were being told: here is the forest you were always skulking off into. Here is your cover and refuge, on fire. Get back where you belong.

Watching the video — as much of it as I can stomach — I’m suddenly grateful to be living in a nation of laws with the era of lynching behind us (I hope)… and also to be living on a mountain two miles from town.

I know how vicious small-town neighbors can be. I’ve heard the jokes about vigilante action against the local gay prostitute who solicits customers by the side of the highway just outside of town. How bad would things have to get before any and all weirdos became scapegoats? According to one line of thinking, witch persecutions are tied to economic insecurity, and flare up during times of widespread scarcity. During the last depression, I’ve heard, the Klan burned crosses in the Catholic cemetery in the middle of town. It’s not just the government you have to watch out for, though clearly the worst, most horrible violence happens when some demagogue harnesses the people’s petty hatreds and jealousies: think Rwanda in 1994, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

A few years ago, I read a bunch of books and articles on witch beliefs among the Pueblo peoples of the southwestern U.S. What the ethnographers heard from their informants, over and over, was that trouble starts with envy. Sometimes people became witches without even realizing it, just because they let themselves be consumed with envy for their proverbial neighbor’s ass. Evidently whoever wrote the Ten Commandments was aware of this danger, too. Apart from modern consumer society, I think it’s virtually a universal sentiment. Among the Pueblo Indians, anyone who accumulated too many things too quickly might be a witch — or might provoke jealousy and thus witchcraft in others — and therefore care was taken, traditionally, not to let anyone get too rich or too poor. Witches were thought to be shape-shifters who usually took the form of coyotes, and also traveled in dust-devils, forsaking the proper roads and paths.

Perhaps the people in the video, too, crowded onto a gravel road somewhere in (I think) Tanzania, were waiting to see whether the flames would burn off everything human and reveal the monstrous nature they knew had to be lurking just beneath.

Spoil alert

Spoil: selected earlier poems by Dave BontaI spent entirely too much time today moving my old e-book Spoil off of WordPress.com and onto a sub-domain of this blog. The new address is spoil.vianegativa.us. I’d tell you to change your links and bookmarks, but I’m not sure anyone actually links to it.

I considered taking it down altogether, but I’m just too fond of the header image (which is by the multi-talented Lori Witzel) to let it go yet. And moving it should be good practice for moving Shadow Cabinet, whose contents I am slightly more invested in. That move will probably take even more time, because I’m not as wedded to the header image there, and therefore will be freer to play around with templates. I want to explore the available options for e-book presentation with a self-hosted WordPress installation so that we can do a good job with the electronic version of the winner of qarrtsiluni‘s first chapbook contest, which we expect to publish in November.

Why not just use Issuu, you may ask? Online flip-books are very cool looking, but I personally don’t find them as easy to read as regular webpages. More than that, though, I’m not willing to write off the visually handicapped, forgo search engine access, and deprive users of the ability to link to (and promote) specific poems. Issuu is great for print publications that just want to have something online — if you already have a nice-looking PDF, you don’t have to do anything further — but it would represent a step backward for a truly online magazine like qarrtsiluni. I also really admire good web design, and enjoy giving exposure to some of the more talented designers out there. (My new site Moving Poems represents, in part, my desire to do something with Oulipo, by Andrea Mignolo — the most attractive blend of minimalism, whitespace, and good typography in a free WordPress theme since Ulf Petterson’s Modern theme, if you ask me.)

That Old-Time Religion

I remember this one metalhead I used to know, guy
about my age, told me the first time he heard that Quiet
Riot song Bang Your Head on the radio, he was so impressed,
he fell to his knees in the middle of his suburban driveway
& began to smash his forehead against the asphalt
as hard as he could, & it was bleeding something awful
& his mother came rushing out & stopped him, yelling
What in God’s name do you think you’re doing, but little
did she know he’d just been saved. I was a metalhead
from that day on, he said. I almost passed out, but it felt
so good to just let everything fucking go. I saw stars.

Spring ahead

Yesterday I watched a gray squirrel out the kitchen window of my parents’ house as it excavated a black walnut. After retrieving its prize, which had been buried at a depth of about ten inches, the squirrel sat back on its haunches and scraped all the dirt off it with its incisors, turning it rapidly around and around in its mouth. Then gripping the walnut firmly in its teeth, it trotted about three feet, dug another hole, and reburied it.

The whole thing happened so quickly, I’m not sure I registered all the relevant details. Had there been, perhaps, a nascent sprout on the walnut that needed to be removed along with the dirt in order to keep it viable as food? Had the squirrel seen or heard something that caused it to change its mind about making the hundred-foot dash back to the woods with the walnut?

Or, given that squirrels retrieve nuts based on memory rather than smell, was I witnessing an act of theft? Had this squirrel witnessed another squirrel burying the walnut, and returned later to move it to a new spot? I don’t know. But one thing’s certain: it would’ve made a damn funny video.

Its nut reburied,
the squirrel moves quickly away
& pretends to forage.

*

Half of the turkeys
run one way & half the other.
I turn in circles.

*

On the night we have to set
the clocks ahead,
the rustle of earthworms.

*

We search the sky
for the whistling woodcock.
Nothing but the moon.

*

In the bathtub this morning,
it’s the first wolf spider
of spring!

The Conversation


Video link.

A new poem-like thing gave me an excuse to use some video I’ve been hoarding.

***

Don’t forget to bookmark or subscribe to the feed for Moving Poems, where I’m posting other people’s videoetry at the rate of five a week, skipping the weekends. I’m having a blast hunting down poetry videos on the web (95% of it on YouTube, of course), and it looks as if it’ll be many months before I run out of material. Upcoming posts include poems by Paul Celan, Nazim Hikmet, Martin Espada, and Gabriela Mistral.

By the way, if anyone has an interest in helping out, I could definitely use help in finding and translating video poems in languages other than English and Spanish (and sometimes I need help in Spanish, too, but I don’t tend to let that stop me). You would of course get full credit and link-love.

Winter green

March sunlight

It’s been cold, the past few days, and very quiet. The four-lane highway just over the ridge to the west has been virtually inaudible, even at dawn. Every day the sun inches a little higher in the sky; the long low light of winter is coming to an end. The evergreen leaves of the mountain laurel, shot through with sunlight, burn with the fire of an eternal spring — especially when we don’t have a deep snowpack leaching sulfuric and nitric acid into the soil from the coal-burning power plants of the Ohio Valley. In past years, I’ve watched up to half the leaves on some laurel bushes acquire lurid splotches and die within a week of melt-off.

silver barn

I climb to the top of what we call Laurel Ridge — the one my front porch looks out on — but there’s no snow anywhere. The fields to the east are a muted yellow, and the hillsides look as brown as November, with no sign of a blush from swollen buds. I watch a train wind past the village of Ironville a mile away, and except for the fact that it’s not black and white, I might as well be watching a silent movie. A pickup truck moves slowly down the village’s single street. It occurs to me that the only actual human beings I’ve seen from this ridgetop are the Amish farmers, on occasion — tiny figures from here, especially by contrast with their enormous barn.

I go back down into the hollow, zig-zigging through the laurel, careful not to slip on the leaf litter which the snows we did get earlier on have pressed into a flat slick surface, like the pelt of a well-groomed pet. Though it’s only mid-afternoon, the other side of the hollow is already in shadow. Among the hemlocks at the bottom of the gorge, shining in the sun, is a bluish-white snake: Plummer’s Hollow Run gurgles and whispers under scales of ice, all that’s left of winter.

stream ice

I suddenly realize how hungry I am. I look down and spy a pair of pink teaberries a few inches from my right boot. They are dry and half-frozen, but twice as sweet as they would’ve been last fall when they were fresh. One doesn’t often think of winter as a time for ripening, but of course it is. Some things need a cold season to bring out their full character; the rosehips in my front garden are also at their peak of flavor now. I follow the ribbon of ice upstream toward home, my mouth filled with the pleasant fragrance of methyl salicylate — wintergreen.