Harlequin ladybird

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Video link.

Part videopoem, part music video. The music is by the Polish composer efiel on Jamendo.com, who made it available for noncommercial remix with attribution under the same Creative Commons licence, so this whole video is also so licenced (BY-NC-SA). This is the acoustic version of his otherwise electronic single, Home, with the first instrumental break repeated twice to give me time to get the reading in. The singer (as we learn in the notes for his album 2, which is also available on Last.fm) is Joanna Szwej. The creatures in the video are the Asian or harlequin ladybird beetle, Harmonia axyridis, filmed swarming one of the windows in my house yesterday afternoon. Here’s the poem.

Harlequin Ladybird

The ladybird
is a hard pill,
a dose of red medicine.
Her dogged way
of walking &
the gleam on
her elytra suggest
a certain brittleness,
a gift for sudden
flights of rage.
You wouldn’t think
such a small mouth
could pack
such a painful bite.
Like everyone,
I found her cute
at first, until I realized
there were many more
versions of her, &
they had infiltrated
every crack. Now
she lets herself in
whenever she wants,
only to spend all
her time at
the window.
The pungent scent
of her defensive spray
permeates the house.
What is she afraid of?
I begin to suspect
that those delicate
underwings are really
an airmail letter
containing the last,
unwary words of someone
who perished in
a house fire, the way
she keeps unfolding
& refolding them —
two sheets of onionskin
tucked against a small,
bad heart.

A thorough revision of this poem.

Next Life

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

snow ripples 2

Every day it softens and settles; every night it sets. At a certain point in late morning, it no longer holds you up. In one week since this photo was taken, we have gone from late winter to early spring. Yesterday a bluebird began singing, and this morning at dawn the call of the Cooper’s hawk was echoing off the snowpack — as if such a skilled ventriloquist needs one more way to throw his voice.

I was out early enough to hear him only because a sea urchin woke me, spines poking my flesh as I wandered through a dream forest of kelp. For the past week I have been dithering over a poem about sea urchins, trying to capture that extreme otherness in words, and now this visit. I leaf through Rae Armantrout’s Next Life, which I am trying hard to like, and happen on a poem about those who believe they have been abducted by tentacled aliens, which she compares to Doubting Thomas and his probing of the wounds in the risen Christ. “It is from this wound/ that humans first emerged,” she says — the only lines in the poem that speak to me.

The blurb on the back from Publisher’s Weekly says, “this could be the year when more readers discover Armantrout.” Hmm. Well, readers who happen to be steeped in the self-reflexive thinking of American graduate-school programs in English, perhaps. For who else would relish poems about metaphor:


shifts a small weight
there and back.

My self-relection shames God
into watching

(“Remote”), sentences about sentences:

A man and a woman
finish sentences
and laugh.

Each sentence is both
an acquiescence
and a dismissal.

(“The Ether”), the use of quotation marks to signal irony:

It’s after us
and before us—always

trying to get “in.”

(“Continuity”) or a discourse on irony itself (“Empty”)? The book description informs us that “these poems push against the limit of knowledge, that event-horizon, and into the echoes and phantasms beyond, calling us to look toward the ‘next life’ and find it where we can.” No, they don’t. They merely bore me. The radical questioning of meaning is hardly new, and Armantrout’s poems show little evidence of familiarity with the significant philosophical works of the last hundred years.

I mean, there’s literally a poem here about — no, make that “about” — trying to write a poem, “Make It New.” Infinite recursion does not equal apophatic insight. “You’re left out,” concludes a poem called “Framing.” That’s fair to say.

I walk up into the woods to see if I can spot the Cooper’s hawk, but my eyes are drawn, as usual, to the ground. It’s still below freezing, and my boots barely crunch into the surface, but I stop to admire spiny oak leaves that have melted their way down into shallow graves. Again I think of sea urchins, painstakingly excavating nests in the seafloor’s solid rock: eyes in search of sockets. And that’s not just a metaphor. It turns out that the appendages between their spines are covered with light-sensitive molecules, and the spines help them focus on the same principle as squinting eyelids. They have no brains because they are all brain. They have no eyes because the entire surface of their body is wired for vision.

Listen, you can look forward to the next life if you want, or try to throw your voice beyond the event horizon of a black hole, but I’m telling you: there’s no way another life can be more marvellous than this one.

Top Poets

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

My videopoetry site Moving Poems has only been around since last June, doesn’t have very many incoming links, and averages around 200 page views a day, so probably the following data don’t mean too much. I introduced poets’ names into post titles two months ago in an attempt to get more traffic from people who were typing, e.g., “Emily Dickinson poem” or “Blake Tyger video” into Google. As expected, traffic jumped. What I didn’t expect was who the most popular poets would turn out to be, based on page views of individual posts.

Moving Poems post title page views
A Julia de Burgos (To Julia de Burgos) 552
Arte Poética by Vicente Huidobro 214
Todesfuge by Paul Celan 208
Der Erlkönig (The Erlking) by Goethe 190
Umeed-e-Sahar (Hope of the Dawn) by Faiz Ahmed Faiz 170
Paris at Night by Jacques Prévert 154
The Tyger by William Blake 138
Ay, Ay, Ay de la Grifa Negra by Julia de Burgos 138
I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died by Emily Dickinson 137
African-American folk poetry: gandy dancers 123
Manhatta (from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman) 109

Because I use the very minimal stats plugin from WordPress.com, I don’t have information on any of the archive pages, and so I have no idea how many people might be visiting, for example, the Emily Dickinson archive page. Dickinson might well be more popular than the great Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos.

Still, I think these results do give some indication of the relative popularity of certain kinds of poetry on the web. Of the 260 posts I’ve published there so far, 128 feature poets from the U.S., and England is the second best-represented country with 34 posts. No other country even breaks ten. This reflects, I think, where the best English-language (or English-subtitled) videos are being made. But clearly it’s not Anglo-American poetry that people are looking for.

I kind of wish I had a more sophisticated stats system now, because I would love to know how many of the people looking for videos of Dickinson and Whitman are from the U.S.; both poets have huge global followings. One way or the other, it’s good to be reminded from time to time just how popular poetry still is beyond the borders of the United States.*

*Yes, I know that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. But Julia de Burgos is popular throughout Latin America, which is I imagine what accounts for her ranking here.

Medicine Show (4): A Spell to Ward Off Banjos

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 25 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


Fill a soup spoon with salt
& lower it into the Atlantic
singing: Dance, sailor,
dance with your captain,
your head’s too heavy,
your body’s too thin.
When the salt is gone
say in a loud voice
Are you thirsty now?
& wait for a gull to say Yes.
Walk backwards so
the incoming tide can’t follow
your footsteps home.

Repeat daily.
If banjos persist,
see a licensed hoodoo man.

Woodrat Podcast 8: Chris Bolgiano and Marcia Bonta on Greening the Appalachians

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Chris Bolgiano and Marcia Bonta talk about some of the threats to  natural world they love so much, and what to do about it (Part 2 of 2)

In this second part of our phone conversation, Chris shares some instructive and sobering tales from her years as an environmental writer. Topics include: what we can learn from German foresters; anti-Appalachian prejudice in the nature-writing community; mountaintop removal and the insidious ways of Big Coal; global climate change and how — or whether — to talk about it; Big Wind vs. distributed generation; rooftop solar and the feed-in tariff system.


Theme music: “Le grand sequoia,” by Innvivo (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike licence)

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