October 2009


Direct link to video.

I got some half-decent footage of crows mobbing what turned out to be a red-tailed hawk this afternoon. I wasn’t quick enough to get the hawk, so it didn’t make for much of a nature video even by my low standards, so I decided I’d mess around with it and try to make a videopoem instead. Here’s the text:

If the dead can’t rest,
it’s because we won’t let them.
We storm,
we harry,
we decry,
we implore.
We make them star
in our horror shows
for that surge of adrenalin
that lets us know
we’re alive —
as if they our dear departed
were the ones out for blood.

Jamendo.com was down, so I went to the Internet Archive’s Open Source Audio collection instead and quickly found some suitable music. The main advantage of searching on Jamendo is that you can filter out Creative Commons licenses that specify “no derivatives.” But I think from now on I’ll probably try the Internet Archive first, because it seems to have much more of the kind of music I’m looking for.

*

For what it’s worth, this is my 3,000th post at Via Negativa. Granted, 466 of those are just quote-and-link posts in the Smorgasblog category. And this figure does not include the 719 Morning Porch posts, which are in a separate blog. I mention them because, in my first several years of blogging, I almost certainly would’ve included them as part of the Via Negativa stream — and someday when I stop keeping the Morning Porch record, I will probably import all those posts into the VN archives.

As luck would have it, we just passed another milestone a week ago: the 12,000th approved comment, which was left by Dana Guthrie Martin. That excludes the several thousand comments that were lost when Via Negativa moved to WordPress on April Fool’s Day, 2006. And just to keep things in perspective: I’ve logged 1,118,233 spam comments during that same period.

Through gestures, the house painter indicates that the goddess appeared to him in a dream and asked for a sacrifice. He points to a small piece of flesh lying in front of her stone toe, a flattened pink slug trailing a red carpet: his tongue. That explains the blood all down his shirt and chin. He opens his mouth and blood pours out instead of speech. As the word spreads, other devotees rush into the temple to annoint him with garlands. There’s even a small procession, the newspaper reports, though it doesn’t give any details. The tongue still lies untouched before the goddess, whose name is Amba Mata. She is said to reward spontaneity and naturalness. Once each year, a group of 50-100 women gathers in her honor, dancing in circles for nine nights. They bend, they turn, they clap. Their husbands maintain a respectful distance.

the holes were made in a living person
whose prosthetic left leg was hidden
wounded men who returned to Iraq

women in elaborate headdress
weapons at their side
crush skulls flat as pancakes

a more grisly interpretation
driven into their heads
to help achieve psychological closure

they all walked under their own power
bodies were arranged neatly
five amputees and one blinded soldier

their night terrors stopped after they went
by blunt-force trauma
the amount of developmental growth and closure was phenomenal

two round holes in the soldier’s cranium
as if they were old friends
it was a trade-off

elite burials
where they were maimed
to honor fallen comrades

soldiers have often returned to old battlefields
treated with a compound of mercury
brittle bones of a person long dead would shatter like glass

some victims had been heated, baked not burned
clapped on their backs and welcomed
to exorcise persistent demons

Ur is protected within the perimeter of an air base
places many of them left while unconscious or in agony
the biggest thing in the world is the silence

we’re getting ready to turn off the lights
wear your wounds like badges
not dosed with poison

a war is still in progress
it’s almost like mass murder and hard for us to understand
the overburden of earth

*

All lines above, including the title, were taken verbatim from the following two news stories:

Feel free to suggest alternate arrangements of lines in the comments.

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series The Temptations of Solitude

I’m very pleased to announce that my “Temptations of Solitude” poems now appear side-by-side with the paintings that inspired them on the artist’s own website. Though we’ve become regular email corespondents, I barely knew Clive Hicks-Jenkins when I started writing this series last spring, and was blown away by his enthusiasm for the poems. After all, he’s a fairly major figure in British painting, and it’s not as if I was the first to write poems in response to his works. In fact, I’ve joined a small online exhibit which includes five other poets (click on their names to view their pages on the site). I am particularly pleased to be published alongside my friend Marly Youmans and the wonderful Callum James.

I put these poems into the proverbial (and wholly suppositional) bottom drawer for many months, but didn’t end up making more than a few, minor changes when I finally took another look at them. This should probably worry me more than it does. I used to be such a perfectionist! Then I discovered blogging, and realized I was only as good a writer as my next post. Some of the poems in the Temptations series are stronger than others, and I’m O.K. with that. You can’t hit a home run every time, you know? I’ve decided there’s value in unevenness, and that if you attempt to reach the same peak each time, you end up with a featureless plateau.

At any rate, thanks to Clive for the inclusion — and for creating such damn fine paintings in the first place.

The anonymous YouTube folk hero speaks out

The security cameras only catch
one side of the story. Notice how they stick
at the 38-second mark, keep me standing
still as a parking meter for long seconds
only to skip
faster than light to the far wall
& its chorus line of coolers.

Just because you’re looking down
doesn’t make you omniscient.
What appears to the straight-laced
like a shopping trip gone awry
was really a pas de deux
with some wild weather.
True, I am loose as a flag
flailing around its pole,
buffeted by winds you barely feel.
But drinking is an escape into the open.
I round an aisle or pull on a door handle
& the cross-wind catches me;
I try to walk like a sober person & I go down.

And there on my fundament
I begin again,
exploring the deep
contingencies of consciousness
with all four limbs at once,
supple as a newborn.
Luck — as the madman
of Chu told Confucius —
is lighter than a feather,
but no one knows how to bear its weight.
Be it a 12-pack or a bowl of candy,
as long as I cling I’m anchored
to the spot.

But in the end, in the part that got cut
from all your amusing remixes,
when I let go & just sit for a minute,
my body remembers on its own
how to evade the world’s
persistent embrace
& I rise & walk.


Link to video.

A video adaptation of a poem I wrote back in 2006 and included in my online collection Shadow Cabinet.

This videopoem idea has been brewing for a while. I finally got a chance to shoot the contrail footage last week, on one of those days when some of the contrails remain and others quickly fade, depending I suppose on the elevation of the jet. As usual, though, the most time-consuming part of the video-making process was finding the right music. The wordless, a capella song is by a Belgian electronica band called Silence, who are generous enough to copyleft all their material. The track happened to be just the right length, so I didn’t have to alter it in any way.

This entry is part 6 of 20 in the series Poetics and technology

A wide-ranging discussion about the pleasures and distractions of the internet with Amanda Palmer, a musician whose DIY spirit, creative energy, and songwriting skills I deeply respect. “I think being bored is really important,” she says. Yes. I’ve sometimes thought I owe a real debt of gratitude to the optometrists and orthodonists in whose waiting rooms I spent so many endless hours of my childhood. Without them, would I ever have developed the habits of mind necessary for that kind of focused daydreaming we call writing?

But I also saw myself in Palmer’s description of her writing process, needing to be online in order to look up words on Google and explore ideas in Wikipedia. I’m not ashamed to admit that I use Wikipedia almost constantly when I write poems — who wants to risk being badly mistaken about some Norse mythology allusion, or (to cite something from my latest poem) the exact purpose of a gyroscope?

I share Palmer’s sense that the relationship with one’s blog is almost indistinguishable from a long-term, committed relationship with another person. I don’t feel that way about Twitter or Identica, though, much less Facebook. To me, those sites are more like fun, low-key parties where you can drift in and out of interesting conversations without feeling like you have to stick around.

A distillation and clarification of last night’s response to the RWP prompt. Now I think I’m getting somewhere.

Oh rare & wild ear, translate these nuggets of noise until they gleam. I am too restless with desire’s ever-shifting surfaces to coalesce around a single planet or communion cup. I hear the ticking in a slab of meat, the crackling of an old 78 record pitted with meteorites of dust. A bird lisps its satisfaction in a minor key & I hear a spare sorrow, a sparrow’s grief. Ear like the ornate lip of a jar, part human, part gyroscope: no matter how I turn, you keep me from falling. Bare twigs of synapses light up until the whole gray cage is aglow, some autumn morning.

Oh rare & wild ear, translate until bright
my rival making, my restlessness.
The river bears thousands of planets
& the church lifts an elliptical wine,
reminding us of lust on old records.
Up, bird! Bring pieces of ticking meat,
traumatic presents to fill with our losses.
Carry an uncanny whisk-broom,
utter sparse desires, jump.
Time extends beyond the ornate
lip & jar. One turns, wants, composes,
part human, part gyroscope,
raw twigs exposed together.
The ear spans ignored masters
& incorporates sheer guises of a cage.

*

For a Read Write Poem prompt, using the cut-up technique. I dug out a Copper Canyon Press catalog (Spring/Summer 2009) and took a few words from each of the book blurbs, none from the poems themselves. I used the list randomizer at Random.org to shuffle them into a new order, arranged them into lines of 4-6 words for easy viewing, and then did the bare minimum of rearranging, addition and subtraction necessary to make some kind of coherent sense out of the whole. What does the poem mean? Hell if I know. But there are a couple of phrases I might be able to use in more coherent contexts, I think.