Bandage yourself in green: the color of a wound that has festered beyond healing. Sink into the moss, that peaceful mob. A 17-year cicada chants Pharoah, pharoah but no one else joins in, because this is in fact the 18th year — it missed the party. The pharoah has gone back under the ground. His colorless green ideas sleep furiously: an ignis fatuus, born of decomposition. Moss spreads soft as velvet over all the burned and barren parts of the earth.
The soft crunch of gravel: a bear-shaped shadow detatches itself from the woods, ambles up the road, turns onto my walk, and stops right in front of the door. Stands there under my portico, still as a statue. The light of the half-moon is disappearing into the dawn like spilled milk into a cat.
I’m up early to help my mother with our annual Important Bird Area point-count, which involves counting every bird seen or heard in three minutes from each of 16 points, located 250 meters apart, before 9:00 a.m. — but first I have to take my coffee, as usual, out on the porch. The large red cedar in my side garden is blocking my view of the bear, who doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave. The other week, a bear tore up a couple of greenhouses in a nursery less than a mile from here, but the game wardens trapped and relocated it, they said, several counties away.
I ease the porch door open, creep inside, and tiptoe through the house to the other door. Fortunately, the cold front had blown in the night before and I had pulled the sliding storm window down over the screen. There on the other side of the glass, a massive head shakes slowly from side to side, as if trying to free itself of some hallucination. I consider trying to get a flash photo, but why let the trophy-hunting instinct hijack this encounter?
I crouch down so my eyes are level with the bear’s, six inches away. Does he see me? It’s hard to say. He finally turns around, pads back down the walk to the driveway, and heads up the hill toward the barn. I go out after him, and this time, he does acknowledge my presence, looking back, then breaking briefly into a slow trot.
Two and a half hours later, we’re ascending the southeast-facing side of the hollow along the Dogwood Knoll trail, en route to point number ten, when I spot a large black animal in the middle of the trail: no doubt the self-same bear. We watch from 75 feet away as he sits down — still in no hurry — and appears to engage in some birdwatching of his own. This is the first non-humid morning in two weeks, and with the temperature in the low 50s, it’s reasonable to assume that the bear, too, is enjoying the change.
Video link (subscribers must click through to watch)
We must’ve watched for at least five minutes. The shakey, often out-of-focus video I managed to shoot has been edited down drastically, and fails to convey the slow, contemplative mood the bear seems to have been in. If I hadn’t moved to try and get a clearer shot and disturbed its reverie, we might be there still.
A spider has spun a web across the end of the walk, blocking my only way out. As if the weather weren’t already sticky enough!
I notice a wide strip of bark draped over the lowest limb of a dead elm at the edge of the woods, like a towel on the arm of a washroom attendant. It has rained every day and almost every night for more than a week, including last night while the spider wove its net. We retreat between the curling covers of paperback books, barely stirring for hours except to turn the damp pages.
I feel something crawling across my belly and lift my shirt: a small earthworm gropes its way through the forest of hairs. Son of a bitch, I mutter, stepping outside to toss it into the garden. I don’t sleep well in this kind of weather, but that’s no reason for my bad dreams to come to life. It’s as if they, too, are sticky and won’t let go.
I filled a glass at the sink,
set it down on the counter
& watched it grow still.
What am I doing here?
I asked the water.
Which way should I go?
What color is sleep?
The water rose from the glass
as well as any genie
though it took its own
In less than a minute after entering the woods, I acquire an aura of insects. I step carefully through knee-high wood nettles with my hands in the air, peer at the screen in the back of my camera as if it were an escape hatch, and focus on the one still fly.
Now that they are silent and surrounded by new forest, we want the lime kilns to bear more than a passing resemblance to Mayan temples — to have been shrines to something other than greed and toil. We want their gaping to reflect openness rather than consumption, and their standing apart to signify fidelity to a transcendent vision, one that was always intended to culminate in a hillside of yellow moccasin flowers, tulip trees dripping with nectar, and an abandoned mine harboring endangered bats.
A thunderstorm shakes me out of sleep in the small hours. I lie awake listening to non-human screams — cat? Raccoon? In the morning, I peer up into the crevasse between the portico and the house, as if the bat’s sleeping face held any clues. The peonies are bent double with their latest haul of rain.
When trains were new, you could still step
from tie to tie as if climbing stairs.
People stood at crossings & held up
handkerchiefs for the sheer delight
of seeing them flap in a man-made wind.
When trains were new, rails had yet
to merge in the distance — it was considered
unseemly. The first trainwreck
had yet to occur; war & storm
were still the best models for chaos.
In the middle of North America,
a Lakota shaman saw a bent column
of smoke approaching at great speed
& understood that the medium
was the signal (Burn!) & that bison
were no longer the only beasts
that could make the earth tremble.
In China & in Ireland, starving infants
could be heard for miles: a high, haunting wail
that had men reaching for their hats.
No one but an Indian ever welcomed
the sun, that old has-been,
rushing down its tunnel of sky.
Here begynneth a treatyse how þe hye Fader of Heven sendeth dethe to somon every creature to come and gyve acounte of theyr lyves in this worlde, and is in maner of an amorall blogge. So might the 15th-century classic Everyman begin, were it rewritten for the 21st-century internet. And why not? This is the age of the anonymous Every(wo)man: the troll, the hacker, the file sharer, the Wikipedia editor, the YouTuber. It makes sense that a culture obsessed with celebrities would find an anti-hero in Every(wo)man, whose touching or deplorable exploits are celebrated in dozens if not hundreds of highly popular blogs and websites. Consider:
The ultimate agony column, minus the helpful advice part: anonymous readers submit brief vignettes illustrating their personal misery, and other anonymous readers get to vote either “i agree, your life is f****ed” or “you deserved that one.” Such interactivity, whether through voting or commenting, is of course a key contributor to the popularity of Every(wo)man blogs.
- Post Secret
One of the classiest blogs in this list. Not only is the concept itself brilliant — get people to send anonymous postcards containing some secret or confession — but the culture that has grown up around the blog encourages creativity. Many of the postcards are objects of beauty, lending pathos to their often sordid contents.
- FOUND Magazine
Another high-quality site, which is actually just the online appendage to an old-fashioned, tree-flesh magazine, showcasing “love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, telephone bills, doodles — anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life.”
- Stall Wall Poetry
This is a really well-done blog, with a photo and transcription of each graffito (or exchange of graffiti), the exact location (including a Google map), and a brief comment from the blogger. Very occasionally, some of the graffiti does rise to the level of poetry, but most of it seems fairly tame, perhaps because it tends to be from Canada.
- Overheard in the Office
- Overheard in New York
- Overheard Everywhere
These are sister blogs. (There’s also an “Overheard on the Beach,” but who cares about that? Actually, one Overheard blog would’ve been plenty.) Again, most content is submitted by readers, but I find it a little disappointing: if these sites are any indication, most people don’t have much of an ear for the surreal. But sometimes the merely cute almost suffices:
Young ice cream customer: I’m going to get a large sundae.
Competitive young ice cream customer: Oh, yeah? I once had a sundae that was so big it was…it was… (thinks about it) up to the top of Jesus!
- Best of Craigslist
- You Suck at Craigslist
- Fun with Craigslist
Ah, Craigslist — no doubt a treasure-trove for future cultural historians. It’s kind of telling that there really isn’t much difference between the first collection and the second: the worst of Craigslist is the best of Craigslist. The author of the last blog isn’t content merely to showcase found disasters, but actually elicits new trainwrecks by responding to Craigslist ads in a crank-call fashion: pro-active schadenfreude.
- Fail Blog
The hugely popular blog devoted to failure of all kinds. Lowbrow fun — except when it’s too painful to watch, and you start to wonder just where the humor was supposed to lie and what the hell is wrong with us that we can take such pleasure in the failures of others. There seem to be a lot of niche-specific failure blogs out there, too, such as:
- Cake Wrecks
“When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong.”
- Bad Parking
The failure blogs of most interest to me as a writer are those that focus on various kinds of found texts.
- Passive-Aggressive Notes
We laugh nervously. The anonymous authors of passive-agressive notes seem uncomfortably familiar.
- Crummy Church Signs
Decades before Twitter came along, there were church signboards with movable letters. The young and hip don’t have a monopoly on shallowness, thank Whomever. But not all the signs are crummy, either: “REMEMBER YOU ARE DUST,” says one. Hell, I remember that everytime I visit Fail Blog.
- Vanity Plates: Creepiness in 8 Characters or Less
What to make of someone whose licence plate reads CORPSE, or BIRTH, or simply WHY? This site is chock full of unintended writing prompts for poets and fiction writers alike.
- texts from last night
Text messages sent under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or sleep deprivation: a wonderful concept for a blog. Authors are identified by area code, and messages are presented out of context to increase their universal appeal, according to the About page. Samples of text-message wisdom include: “the best thing about dollar beer night is beer is only a dollar” and “i just thanked the atm machine for giving me cash.”
- Engrish Funny
The statement in the sidebar seems a little defensive: “Remain clam. I am a licensed Asian-American who has spend 14-years lived all over Asia. Please. Just enjoy.” Most of the bad English on the site is simply the result of poor machine translations, of course; it’s the fact that it was posted in public that makes it funny, like the sign in a Japanese supermarket that reads “Hand Shredded Ass Meat.”
- The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks
- Apostrophe Abuse
- Apostrophe Catastrophes
- Literally, a Web Log
Blogs devoted entirely to documenting a single annoying grammatical faux pas can be hit-or-miss in the humor department. Of the foregoing, only the last one really does it for me. The use of literally to mean figuratively was funny when Ambrose Bierce pilloried it a hundred years ago in Write it Right, and it’s still funny today. It’s not the mistake of a poorly educated person, as unnecessary quotation marks or a poorly placed apostrophe tends to be; it’s the mark of someone who’s full of shit and doesn’t know it. And in that category also we might also include:
- Banned for Life
“Tom Mangan’s collection of reviled news media cliches” (except that, as the sidebar admits, the content is in fact reader-generated). I want to like this blog, but the total lack of links to sources makes that difficult.
- The Perplexicon
“Intentional misspellings of brands, trademarks, and companies.” As soon as we leave Every(wo)man behind, the humor fades. For those who were expecting some sort of moral here, a la the original Everyman, I guess that’ll have to do.
Video link (subscribers must click through).
Yeah, I know it’s the wrong time of year, but the music made me do it — that, or else I have what Wallace Stevens called a mind of winter. Encouraged in part by a post by Lucas Green — “poets, poems, and videotape” — in which he argued that poetry is fundamentally an oral art, I wanted to see what would happen if I put more thought into the soundtrack, mixing voice and music in Adobe Audition first, then cutting and splicing video clips to fit. I’d been searching the free music site Jamendo.com for something to use in a different poem when I happened across the Sound Sculptures of one daRem, and immediately thought of my old poem “Therapy.” The composer describes her/his five tracks as “Experimental ambient music with a dark, but calm touch. Originally written for use as music for art exhibitions of my father.”
The extended version of “Therapy” includes a prose introduction, haibun-style, but when pondering video possibilties this morning, I couldn’t see how to make that work. Maybe that’s a failure of imagination, and I’m simply too much of a neophyte to know how to switch registers like that and make it work.
I appreciate the dissenting views on the value of music in the comments to my previous video, and I’ll be curious to see if my inclusion of a piece of experimental electronica this time also meets with opposition. My basic goal with poetry soundtracks, I think, is to find pieces that fit the mood I was in when I wrote the poem. One problem, though, is that music with a regular rhythm may conflict with the rhythms in the poem. So it probably makes more sense to search avant-garde classical, electronic, and ambient music — or less-composed soundscapes, if I can find them. (I’d need a dish microphone to gather my own ambient audio, so that probably won’t happen for a while.)
I’m not sure about the effect I gave my voice here. I think that could be better. But the main thing I learned today was that fairly lengthy spaces between stanzas or sentences can work so long as music is present.
Which is good, because I think such spaces are really important to aural comprehension: the main problem most people have with poetry readings is that the words go by too damn fast, at least with poems composed for the page. Modern lyrical poetry is nothing if not dense with layered meanings and images. Slam poetry works, when it works, because it’s not terribly subtle, and because it tends to repeat phrases and ideas, in common with almost all truly oral poetry. But more than once I’ve had the experience of buying a book or chapbook by an outstanding live performer only to find that the energy didn’t translate to the page. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been disappointed by lackluster readings from poets whose written work I love. So now I’m wondering: are Lucas and I crazy to dream of a hybrid between the two?
By the way, I apologize to readers on dial-up. I am a learn-by-doing kind of guy and videography is what I want to learn right now, so I’m afraid you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of this kind of blog post.
Subscribers must click through, or visit the video page.
I went to the woods to live haphazardly, from hand to mouth, marching like an army on my stomach. The path travels through me like a wave, like a particle. I’ve learned nothing, & am much the better for it — the forest teaches by confounding expectations. The bright orange of an eft, like the hair of a punk rocker, says: leave me alone. The spots on a fawn are a map to a country that doesn’t want to be found. The sun doesn’t move there, trapped in a net of trees. A hen turkey clucks not to lead her chicks, who disguise themselves as stones & vanish, but to lead me, her sudden unwanted charge — to draw me away. Which might turn out to be exactly where I was going.
Speaking of forests, be sure to visit the June edition of the Festival of the Trees at Roundrock Journal. And for many more creepy-crawlies like the millipede in the video, check out the latest Circus of the Spineless, the blog carnival for invertebrates and the people who love them.
I learned something about making poetry videos today: the addition of music can mean the difference between success and failure.
I’m always excited to see other poet-bloggers making videos. Ren Powell recently launched a second blog to showcase her terrific poem animations, AnimaPoetics. I’m sure I’ll link to most of her videos at Moving Poems eventually, but do check out her site in the meantime. She’s posting new videos at the rate of roughly one a week.