I made a video for my friend Peter Stephens’ poem “hollow,” which I love — and not only because I happen to live in a mountain hollow.

View at Moving Poems

Though I’m sure I read the poem when Peter first posted it, I must not have been paying very close attention, because it didn’t make any particular impression. I am grateful to Nic S. for rectifying that with her wonderful reading at Whale Sound, and for letting me incorporate that reading into the video. As Peter said in an email, “Nic’s rendition of ‘This cold has eyes’ gives the line life (death?) I never knew it had.”

Making a video for a poem that already exists is a different undertaking from making a poem in response to footage one has taken or discovered online. I most enjoy filmmaking as a kind of discovery; setting up shots, much less writing a screenplay, is much more calculating and deliberate than what I’m interested in doing right now. With this video, serendipity still played a large role: I looked at some footage I’d shot on a whim, turned it upside down, and immediately thought of Peter’s poem and Nic’s reading. I was afraid that my footage itself wouldn’t constitute a sufficiently interesting short film, however, so I decided to see if I could find something to add to it in the massive Prelinger Archives of so-called ephemeral films. Using the search term “hiking,” I stumbled on a wonderful short documentary which, among other things, showed some people taking peyote and climbing a mountain.

Though the poem has nothing to do with recreational drug/religious sacrament use, I decided that the film could. I also liked the images of hollowing I found in the 20-minute source material. Perhaps it’s an imposition to add meanings like this, and I’m certainly not arguing that the result is great art, but it does exemplify what I’m looking for both as a videopoem maker and a curator of a videopoem site: films that suggest additional meanings and avoid a straightforward illustration of the text.

Not Yet There

This entry is part 12 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


The tree is intricate, a lattice
with many moving parts: sparrows,
robins, a blackbird’s creak.

The ox in the sky pulls the plow.
The archer strings his one good
arrow across the bow. The dipper’s

hinged against the lip of the grassy well.
And I have only my hungry heart, my
wobbly heart: I cart it everywhere I go.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


snowy spicebush

Like the spicebush outside my front door tonight, I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the unexpected blessings that have recently descended upon me. Superstition prevents me from publicly detailing the extent of my good fortune, but suffice it to say that none of it could’ve happened without this here blog. Thank you, blog! And thank you friends, kind strangers, and not-so-fickle-fingered fate.

Postcard to Grey

This entry is part 11 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


How solemn the breastplates of soot
on the sides of old buildings.

How hard the rind; how the mouth
whittles away to get to its sweet.

How like a rumpled quilt, these overcast skies
above clumps of streaked magnolias.

How the train moves forward on the track,
how its whistle departs in the other direction.

How blind to the rain, these small
prisms of light that fracture at our feet.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Landscape, with Returning Things

This entry is part 10 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


From a nest on the mountain, from the skirt
of the nearest pond— something has flown away

in another time. Currents spill their salt
and the earth changes garments. And yes

it is a different season, but somehow the same.
What returns arrows silently through the trees.

Fear does the same things over. And love?
The heart resolves to face, or not to face.

The head says keep, the heart says bend.
What can we do but begin.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


socket 1

With some trees, the knotholes are the last things to go. You can find them staring up from the ground, eye sockets that never belonged to a skull.

socket 3

It makes sense that trees would grow their hardest wood around the weakest points in their architecture. This is called the branch collar, and it is knit with wood first from the branch overlapping onto the trunk, and then from the trunk overlapping onto the branch.

socket 2

Behind the collar, in the parent trunk or limb, the branch core forms. As the Wikipedia entry on branch collars puts it,

The accretion of layers of wood behind the branch collar is a conical decay-resistant structure called the branch core. The knot found in lumber is this branch core.

When woody plants naturally shed branches because they are nonproductive, usually from lack of light, these branches die back to the branch collar. Insects and fungi decompose the dead branch, and it eventually falls off, leaving the exposed branch core. The branch core resists the spread of decay organisms into the parent branch or trunk during the time it takes for the woundwood, or callus, to seal over the wound.

socket 4

There are intergrown and encased knots, loose and sound and pin knots, red knots and black knots. Whatever you call them, though, they can’t be untied. So they are not really knots, but heads — what else goes through a collar? — dense, convoluted, and all too easy to lose.

For the Festival of the Trees.

Join the Via Negativa Poetry Month book club!

On March 2, I announced plans to again read and blog a book or chapbook of poetry a day throughout April. Many thanks to all who sent review copies (and if I promised a copy of Odes to Tools in return, I’m planning a trip to the post office soon!).

A number of people expressed interest in my regimen, but understandably, only a couple indicated they might be following suit. Today I want to invite y’all to join me and Kristin Berkey-Abbott in a somewhat more modest undertaking: to read and discuss just four books of poetry next month, one a week. Here’s what we’ll be reading:

Week #1: Diane Lockward’s Temptation by Water
(Publisher’s page, Amazon.com, review in Rattle)

Week #2: Luisa A. Igloria’s Trill and Mordent
(Publisher’s page, Amazon.com, review in Galatea Resurrects)

Week #3: Ren Powell’s Mercy Island
(Publisher’s page, Amazon.com, review in Velveteen Rabbi, review at Carolee Sherwood’s blog)

Week #4: William Trowbridge’s Ship of Fool
(Publisher’s page (be patient), Amazon.com, review in Gently Read Literature)

We welcome participation in any form, but we encourage you to borrow or purchase all four books and read them at your leisure. Kristin and I will both be blogging our responses (which may or may not resemble traditional reviews), and if you’re a blogger, we encourage you to do the same, and let us know about it so we can interlink. Discussion can take place in multiple blog comment threads. Critical responses are welcome as long as they are constructive, not snide or dismissive.

Kristin and I will also be interviewing each of the four poets by phone for the Woodrat Podcast, insh’allah. If you are able to read the books in advance of our phone calls, we’d welcome suggestions of what to ask and which poems to have them read on the podcast. So here’s when we’ll be doing that: April 9, Diane Lockward; April 13, Luisa A. Igloria; April 23, Ren Powell; and April 25, William Trowbridge. Also, I could be persuaded to include one more person in those conference calls, so let me know (bontasaurus[at]yahoo[dot]com) if you want in on any of them.

A word on how we selected these four. I emailed Kristin the complete list (as of a couple weeks ago) of books I was planning to read next month, and we went back and forth about it. Obviously we are both guilty of bias in favor of friends and poets who are active online. Some friends didn’t get considered because we didn’t learn about their new books soon enough. But I will be looking for podcast guests long after April… including, I hope, my co-conspirator in this, who is a wonderful blogger, poet, and theologian, and seems remarkably sane for a Floridian.

Finally, for those of you who can actually contemplate parting with favorite poetry books, I want to echo Kristin and put in a plug for a Poetry Month-related initiative by Kelli Russell Agodon which I strongly support in theory if not in practice: the Big Poetry Giveaway 2011.

Basically, bloggers give away 2 books of poems at the end of April. The first can be your own book, and the second is to be a FAVORITE book of poems of your choosing.

People will come to your blog and leave a comment saying they’d like to win your book and at the end of the month, you randomly choose two winners and mail them out the books.


We’re in a ramshackle farmhouse in the far north, a half-dozen of us, sleeping at odd hours because there are no clocks and the sun never sets. Though ostensibly this is a writers’ colony, we think we might be stars in a covert reality TV show, a la The Truman Show. How else to explain the complete psychological profile and multiple photos required in the submission process, and the rule that we only wear certain brands of clothing? Anything can be a camera these days — and besides, who ever heard of hummingbirds above the Arctic Circle?

I find a window no one’s looked out of before. It shows me a twelve-story Chinese pagoda in flames that do not consume it as long as I watch. Perhaps the flames are really autumn leaves, pulled upwards by extreme low pressure. Someone else needs to see this, I think, but the nearest writer turns out to be sound asleep, though his pen still inches across the paper. I go outside to look for the pagoda and get lost in a maze of streets. Eventually I come to to a town square with a big bank clock. 12:45, it says. If that’s a.m., I’ll go to a bar. If it’s p.m., I’ll go to a coffee shop.

Link roundup: Nanopressing, bombs not food, and carnivores after dark

Nanopress Publishing: alternative poetry publishing, with gravitas
The indefatigable Nic S. has set up a website to advocate the new model of poetry publishing she’s pioneering with her own book, Forever Will End on Thursday (which I’ll be blogging next month).

The nanopress is a single-publication, purpose-formed poetry press that brings together, on a one-time basis, an independent editor’s judgment and gravitas and a poet’s manuscript. The combination effectively by-passes both the poetry-contest gamble and the dwindling opportunities offered by existing poetry presses, while still applying credible ‘quality control’ measures to the published work.

Join the discussion about this new paradigm at Nic’s blog — in particular, a post titled “Nanopress poetry publishing: Avoiding the publisher’s cycle of need.” Beth Adams, Ren Powell, Sarah Busse, and Rachel Barenblat are among the contributors to the comment thread so far.

The Washington Post: “In the Mideast, U.S. policy is still driven by realism” (Eugene Robinson)
Is it realism, or is it surrealism? It is certainly frustrating the way we never seem to have money for anything but destruction. We can only laugh to keep from crying: The Daily Show for March 21 was devastating.

The Palace at 2:00 a.m.: “The House of Words (no. 1)”
Novelist and poet Marly Youmans kicked off what she promises will be a 25-part series “on persisting, giving up, and other topics” connected with the writing life.

Giving up writing is easier than persistence because–surprise!–nobody much will mind if you give up. It’s not like giving up a job with a salary; there are few reproaches, and in fact many of your near-and-dear will heave great buffalo sighs and snort with relief. People will be glad to think that you may be a solvent person some day, rather than a struggling writer with the usual garret, heaps of foolscap, and bargain Toshiba laptop.

The New York Review of Books Blog: “The New American Pessimism”
Charles Simic is smarter than your average poet.

They say the monkey scratches its fleas with the key that opens its cage. That may strike one as being very funny or very sad. Unfortunately, that’s where we are now.

t r u t h o u t : “Instead of Bombing Dictators, Stop Selling Them Bombs”
But Gaddafi promised he’d only use them on terrorists!

NewScientist: “Fake tweets by ‘socialbot’ fool hundreds of followers”
“The success suggests that socialbots could manipulate social networks on a larger scale, for good or ill.” Good idea. I’ve heard that terrorists can use Twitter and Facebook to foment unrest.

xkcd: “Beauty”
It’s not every day that I get to read a web comic about my favorite organism, the dog vomit slimemold.

O: Maria Shriver interviews Mary Oliver
I’m not entirely sure who Maria Shriver is — some sort of Kennedy, apparently — but somehow she managed to lure the famously reclusive poet out of her shell. (And I’m pleased to see O magazine devoting its April issue to poetry. Here’s the New Yorker’s review.)

Finally, here are a couple of videos from Plummer’s Hollow that complement this past week’s podcast, “Creatures of the Night.” Thanks to our neighbors Troy and Paula for doing such a great job documenting the local wildlife with multiple trail cameras and sides of venison for bait.

Watch on YouTube.

Watch on YouTube.

Letter to Silence

This entry is part 8 of 92 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Spring 2011


Dear silence, the deeper I fall into your
soundproofed well, the clearer I hear
these arias: beyond the window, a rapid
scrabbling of claws on bark; indoors,
a waterfall miming a moving drape.
The clicking of the laundry cycle, tinkle of
a brass bell in the shade of the dogwood tree.
Has the reaper come, has the harvest
started? Whether or not I am ready, the grain
explodes from its golden husk. And still I crave
the warmth more than the amber in the cup;
and still I am in love with the zest of oranges,
that opening of light crosshatched with blue above.
I’ve kept fingernails, eyelashes, hair; dried stumps
that fell shortly after birth from my daughters’ navels:
the smallest things that tether us tightly to this world.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.