Dark and like a videopoem

Watch on Vimeo.

Yesterday, my dad spotted a cecropia moth — newly eclosed, from the looks of it — on the side of one of the black walnut trees in the yard. This is the largest moth in North America, and it’s in the same Saturniidae family as polyphemus and luna moths (which have appeared on this same tree or its immediate neighbor two years in a row, in early August). I shot some video footage of it right away, but figured it wouldn’t be flying until after dark, so I went back at dusk with a flashlight to shoot some more footage.

This morning, it occurred to me that the nighttime footage might make a good fit with one of Nic S.’s poems from her recent nanopress chapbook, Dark And Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine, edited by Beth Adams. Nic had given me “blanket permission to use any and all of my stuff out there, any time” in a comment on my post about the new videopoetry album, so I didn’t have to worry about the fact that she’s off on vacation somewhere and probably not reading emails. The poem I had in mind, “on being constantly civil towards death,” is very short, but I’ve made at least half a dozen videos for haiku poems, and this is twice the length of a haiku. Would the text and the footage make a good pair? Maybe. It would depend on what I did with the soundtrack.

I downloaded the MP3 link off the chapbook’s website and listened to it a few more times. Due to the poem’s brevity, each line does a lot of work, so the first order of business was to make sure they didn’t go by so quickly that they wouldn’t register with a viewer. I could have slowed down Nic’s reading — my audio software has a function that lets you change the speed of a track without altering its pitch — but unlike many poets, Nic already seems to read at just about the right speed. So instead I lengthened almost every pause, a strategy that seemed to work well with the first poem of hers I did a video for, “the wanderers’ blessing.” This made the poem half again longer, though it was still pretty brief.

After listening to a bunch of Creative Commons-licensed pieces of music at Jamendo.com and ccmixter.org, I decided not to use any background music this time — it just didn’t seem to fit a poem dominated by a “great black stillness.” But from one death-metal track with a telephone ring in it, I got the idea of turning the poem into a phone call. It seemed appropriate for the overall theme of Nic’s chapbook — attempting to commune with a perhaps unreachable Other. This was good, because I conceive of the video not just as Moving Poems material, but also as something akin to a trailer for the book. (It helps that, as a paying customer of Vimeo, I now have the ability to conclude embedded videos with a clickable link.)

But yes, I did briefly consider using death metal in the soundtrack. Which is why you should probably be very careful about giving someone like me blanket permission to monkey with your work.


This entry is part 14 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


At the harbor front, thick roll of banked clouds; beyond, deeper than velvet, the theatre curtains of night. Across the park, a row of street lamps comes on. Their light is butter-yellow, their light is flicker-dim. A half hour of pelting rain, then finally the boom of fireworks above the river. Silver and gold, blue and lilac and gold. They burst into tendrils like spider plants in the air. Their force is tender, and my chest is a cage of hollow echoes, small winged creatures riding blind and bumping against the walls. Gone the sheer white morning, sky thin enough for the sun’s milk to shine through. Everyone turns away after the last flares flicker and wane. We all want something stronger to tear through the murk and silence, we want to be the hawk that sails clear across the canvas, talon widening the rip from one edge of this world to the other.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Goldfinch in the Garden

This entry is part 13 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


All is gold and green in the garden now,
all humid earth beneath a profusion
of honeysuckle. The brass bell in the tree

is quieter than the foragers that come
tracing deliberate arcs through the foliage,
intent on water or sugar or seed. And I,

I want to sort through the inchoate
tumble of words I’ve written and erased,
erased and written again. My mouth

is heavy with salt, numb from wanting even
a drop of honey. And I want so much to tell you
but don’t know how: perhaps this is the only

way to go on: this never-ceasing work
of cobbling from what was given as loss, regret,
or sorrow: pushing it back into the soil, laying it

out in the sun. The coneflower stem breaks under
the goldfinch’s weight, but he moves to another,
probing the darkest center for a hint of seed.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 5 of 20 in the series Highgate Cemetery Poems


Danger, falling gravestones

My too-grave stone cannot stand.
Its bull’s-eye cross is tired of target duty.

Stones are such somnolent creatures —
they know nothing of the pleasures of flight.

It could topple at any time, in any wind.
There’s no telling which breath will be its last.

It rides the turf like the ship at Sutton Hoo,
waiting for the sky to cave in.

I thought I was rid of such becalming
when I traded my corpse for fire’s fey wings.

The Gift

This entry is part 12 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


Here’s a cigar box, varnished square
decoupaged with magazine cutouts:

here’s the smell of the long untouched,
the spider trail of pale white asterisks

our hands disturbed, now scuttling
across the floorboards. Sepia sheets,

cursive handwriting. Oh how we want
to know there is some kind of secret,

frond sharpened once by a green
and desperate scent— some face

to fasten to our own, however late.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.


This entry is part 11 of 93 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Summer 2011


There’s that dark-suited convocation
gathered above our heads again, conveniently
screened by leaves: who hasn’t heard
rumors of their self-important agenda,
the steady nattering among themselves
as they deal, petal by pink petal, errant
and seemingly fatal destinies? Every
so often, humid missiles plummet
and find easy targets. Who knows
how many of them sit in session, sniping
from every rung on the tree of heaven?
Listen then: stay clear. Walk the long
way home. Or make a dash for it, head
bent low, gunning for the kill.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Festival of the Trees 61: new discoveries

hugging an English oak, Hampstead Heath

Welcome to the fifth anniversary edition of the Festival of the Trees! Five years might seem like a long time on the internet, but for a tree, at least here in Pennsylvania, it’s barely enough time to get above deer-browse height. So we’re really still at the sapling stage. And although it’s nowhere near as hip as it was in 2006, long-form blogging is proving to be a durable medium for things like nature documentation, poetry, and photo-essay combinations — the stuff of which a good blog carnival edition is made.

Rather than attempt anything too clever this time around, I think I’ll just string together a bunch of cool quotes, photos and videos, which has been my pattern every since the very first edition. The suggested theme this time was “new discoveries,” which some contributors hewed to more closely than others. But all of the posts were new discoveries for me!

(A word about the format: I’ve included just one link for each item: the direct permalink to the post or article in question, on the theory that having an extra link for the blog or website as a whole is redundant and slightly confusing. But once you click through, please do take the time to explore each site further, if you can.)

Reading the past, preparing for the future

Let’s begin in Australia. Ecologist Ian Lunt shares some of his experiences in learning the read the forest for clues about its past, for example by using 19th-century surveyors’ markings on old eucalypts.

Recently I explored a back corner of Mt Pilot National Park. After pushing through thick forest, I discovered a fence post. It took me aback. Who’d plant a post in a dense forest on a steep rocky hill? I explored more, and found another, and another, in a ragged line heading dead north.

Ash at the UK-based treeblog also put his detective powers to work this month in “Forest forensics.”

This carnage occurred sometime between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon. […] By coincidence, all of this happened just a few metres away from where I was photographing fungal fruiting bodies on a cherry tree on Sunday afternoon — the subject of the previous post in fact!

At his weather station on South Fidalgo Island, Washington, Dave Wenning wonders, “Are the Madrona Trees Dying?

A question remains about the odd weather patterns we have been experiencing. If these persist over the next several years, how long will the Madronas be able to withstand the insults? When reviewing articles for this post, I was interested to note the mention of how much people adore these trees.

The effect of global climate change on trees — and the ability of forests to mitigate the effects of climate change — appears to have been the driving concern behind the Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Trees in Europe in Oslo this past month. And Pip Howard at European Trees says it was one of the most progressive environmental conferences he’s attended, with a legally binding agreement on forest protection across national boundaries almost sure to result. But he decries the absence of a public voice on the panel, and points out the necessity of improving communication between professional foresters and the general public if the latter is to have truly meaningful input: “There is no point giving the public their landscape to them unless they are able to judge between good or bad management and all too often bad management is confused with good and areas rich in biodiversity are considered poor.”

German writer and publisher Dorothee Lang summarizes a new UN report, State Of the World’s Forests 2011: “seen globally, the forests are shrinking, especially in South America. And some of the growth is due to large monocultures tree plantations.” But in northern Europe, at least, and Germany in particular, there’s room for cautious optimism. Since a low point around 1980, she says, “the pollution of the air and the rivers decreased noticeably. Endangered species are returning. And the forests are growing again.”

Putting a face on the forest

Silvia at Windywillow shares some European tree news of a decidedly more down-home flavor:

The big news this year in my garden is the blooming of my hawthorn tree. She is more than 10 years old, and has only had one flower cluster in her whole life. Until this spring, when she surprised me by bursting into bloom.

Best of all, though, was the photo of her crocheted tree hat.

Windywillow tree hat

News of an even wilder sort comes to us from Danish artist Anne Mølleskov, in the “Charlottenlund Skov (Charlottenlund Forest) near Copenhagen. Here I temporarily transformed the forest into a Face Forest by drawing faces on tree stumps with charcoal.” She adds:

The exhibition and the ephemeral nature of the works was partly inspired by the Russian/Korean author Anatolij Kim, who writes poetically in “Otec-Les”, (“Father-Forest”): “When a human being dies, it becomes a tree”, and “when a tree dies, it becomes a human being”.

We’ll return to that thought at the end of the festival. In the meantime, do click through and check out the photos of Anne’s Face Forest.

Georgia Silvera Seamans of the local ecologist blog sent along a couple of links. Back on May 26, she reviewed a new book called Seeds: One Man’s Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton, by Richard Horan. She praises the book for its breadth and wealth of detail, and concludes, “This book will make you want to: read the classics, if you have not, or read them again if you have; visit California; and spend more time in the southern U.S.” And just yesterday, Georgia blogged about several new ways in which municipalities and nonprofits are sharing information about urban trees, including a Chicago program that puts literal price tags on trees, calculating the economic value of their environmental services. It’s sad if that’s the only way to convince people of the value of trees, but whatever it takes, I guess.

Ontario naturalist Seabrooke Leckie’s sharp eye and well-stocked reference collection led her to learn a new species this month: the maple eyespot gall midge, Acericecis ocellaris. As she notes, “Leaf galls aren’t that unusual themselves, but this one was pretty interesting for the pattern – perfectly round, pale spots bordered in dark, vibrant pinks and purples.”

Earlier in the month, I produced a video for my site Moving Poems, using a reading by British poet and blogger Dick Jones of a poem called “The Green Man” that was featured in last month’s Festival of the Trees at Rubies in Crystal. Have a look:

The Green Man from Dave Bonta on Vimeo.

And speaking of Rubies in Crystal, Brenda’s own contribution this month was also a videopoem, her “Green Garden” Masque.

The mask’s fronds as if growing out of the forest floor in the Spring. Papier-mache, mulch: paper, or leaves. The face as landscape; the face carrying the landscape with it. Flower colours framing her face; the iridescence of insects, sheen of dragonfly.

Do click through to read all about the process of making it and the thought behind it, as well as to watch it in a larger format. Here’s a smaller-sized embed:

Watch at Rubies in Crystal.

Novelist and poet Marly Youmans posted a series of expressive photos she labeled “Dryadic: among beech and maple” from a conference she attended at West Chester University in eastern Pennsylvania. Here’s one she captioned “Lithe Willendorf Venus. Not stone but tree”:

Marly Youmans - tree at West Chester

Spotlight on India

The world’s largest English-speaking country has often been well represented in the Festival of the Trees, so I thought I’d spotlight the subcontinent for this 5th anniversary edition. A news story at Peaceful Societies: Alternatives to Violence and War reports that the Paliyan, a forest-dwelling people of southern India, are assisting in the rehabilitation of lost or orphaned babies of an endangered squirrel species.

[T]here are only about 500 grizzled giant squirrels left in India, plus a small population in Sri Lanka, due to the loss of their forest habitat. They are the size of small cats, weighing 1 to 1.8 kg (2.2 to 4 pounds) each. The Paliyan efforts for the animals are evidently part of the protection and recovery program of the Shenbagathoppu Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary, an important refuge for the large squirrels. It is also called the Srivilliputhur Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary.

Why the Buddha Sat Under the Bodhi Tree from Mike Finley on Vimeo.

The bo tree, also called peepal or sacred banyan, Ficus religiosa, is a type of strangler fig, a fun fact I discovered last month at the Kew Botanic Gardens in London. As the Wikipedia article on strangler figs puts it,

This growth habit is an adaptation for growing in dark forests where the competition for light is intense. These plants begin life as epiphytes, when their seeds, often bird-dispersed, germinate in crevices atop other trees. These seedlings grow their roots downward and envelop the host tree while also growing upward to reach into the sunlight zone above the canopy.

An original support tree can sometimes die, so that the Strangler Fig becomes a “columnar tree” with a hollow central core.

Certainly, I think many mystics would embrace this as a metaphor for the role of faith in the life of an individual (though the Buddhist scriptures also liken strangler figs to bad karma). Nor is Ficus religiosa the only strangler fig with religious significance in India. The closely related Ficus benghalensis is the banyan tree, and the national tree of India. It’s sacred to Krishna, who states in the Bhagavad Gita, “Of all trees I am the banyan tree.” Here’s my snapshot of a banyan in the Palm House at Kew:

banyan tree at Kew gardens

Uma Gowrishankar, a poet from Chennai in south India, sent along three poems about trees, including one about Ficus religiosa, “Mandala,” and in the accompanying text associates the stories about Krishna with this species rather than F. benghalensis. She may be right. I can’t imagine the authors of the Vedas, the Gita and the Puranas were too concerned about distinguishing between two such similar species (try pinning down the exact species referred to in the Bible sometime!). Uma’s other two poems were about the flowers of the neem tree and the Indian tulip.

Swirl of yellow petticoat,
crimson dreg of passion
at the bottom of the heart
for her man in the plains.

Another Indian blogger, Sahastrarashmi at The Green Ogre, has an eye-opening post about the Cannon Ball Tree (Couroupita guianensis), a native of the Caribbean and South America. “It seems to have been known in India for hundreds of years,” he says — “a mystery, since we do not know how and when it came to our shores.” The photos are lovely and intriguing: flowers and fruit grow directly out of protrusions on the trunk:

Cannon Ball Tree Flower

Despite its relatively brief tenancy in the subcontinent, this tree too has been freighted with religious significance:

The large petals, tapered at the apex with the prominent stigma at the center, have been imagined as a representation of multiple cobra hoods around a Shiv lingam. This has earned the tree several Shiva-associated appellations – Shiv Kamal, Kailaspati, Nagalingam, Nagalinga Pushpa, Mallikarjuna, etc. – and lots of survival aid in the form of propagation near Shiva temples. In the native Amazon (where it’s called Castanha de macaco, monkey nut) it is a favorite of shamans and is believed to provide protection against the ill-disposed spirits of the netherworld.

Do visit The Green Ogre for many more fascinating tidbits about this tree.

Trees as teachers

Back in the middle of June, a few days before the summer solstice, Suzanne at Spirit Whispers found wisdom in the way sycamore flowers and seeds develop:

The variation between trees along the same row can be huge, with some trees in flower before others have barely opened their leaves. Flowers & seeds develop at different rates across the sycamore community, spreading the risk of hitting adverse conditions that could hit fertilisation or the spread of seeds…. increasing the chance that some of them will mature under optimum conditions. Thus the species as a whole has a greater chance of new growth & continuity.

London blogger Jean Morris shares a series of photos taken “Under the trees.” Here’s one example:

Under the trees by Jean Morris

In her accompanying email, she put the photo series in context: “Always there, but newly magical every year: beneath the tall, old trees is a rippling, monochrome shadow-world distinct from the rest of the clashing, chaotic London street scene.”

Another Londoner, who blogs anonymously at twisted rib, reports on a new discovery about root grafting that suggests trees can practice something akin to altruism.

So a fat happy tree with access to lots of sunlight and water might (how? accidentally? in response to a chemical crie de coer?) end up with one of its roots joined to that of an undernourished example of its own kind, comparatively deprived of sunlight and water, and because of this join might slow down its own growth but provide sustenance to its graftee. That’s the new bit – the finding of evidence for individual cost to support another tree, as determined by measuring “radial girth”.

The technical term for the joining of stem, trunk or indeed root to share vascular tissue goes by the delightful name of “inosculation“. Yup, it’s like kissing but with lots more than just tongues.

This can even happen between trees of different species — and apparently carries with it a certain risk. Fascinating!

The flavor of the subtropics pervades a poem by Moira Gentry, simply titled “Tree,” in which a storm ravages a garden full of palms:

he told me how he’d gone out shaken into the savaged morning garden
all his trees down on the ground — lying stormflat under the tough old mangroves.
When I was sick, he told me, when the big storms come, about the palms

“Puerto Rican hat, Anguillan thatch, Cuban royal, Rio Grande, the palms,
honey — chonta, everglade, palmyra, clumping fishtail, I’ll never forget that day
christmas, zombie, Bismark, coconut, yellow butterfly back up over the mangroves —
honey, the palms — by noon they were all standing, every last one, I went in the house
and brought your grandmother out to see what had happened in the garden”

By sheer serendipity, whilst looking for a poetry video to post on Moving Poems this morning, I discovered a reading by Jane Hirshfield of her short poem “Tree” at the end of an interview (also brief), which features an eloquent statement about the role of poetry in contemporary society.

Direct link to video on YouTube.

Tree hunger

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, a poet and theologian from Florida, says that where she lives, “Mangoes Are the New Zucchini.”

Last week, my neighbor had signs on his van: “Yard sale and mangoes.” I went over to see their microwave, and my neighbor shook his head as he dumped another bucket of mangoes on the table. “This is how we spend our week-ends now. We’ve got three trees in the back.”

Summer in the northern hemisphere means mushroom picking season — and without the symbiotic relationships between trees and fungi, forests as we know them could barely exist. Oregon poet Sharon Cooper evokes those summer fungi in “Tiny Citadels.”

We hunger for trees in more ways than one. Nicolette Wong, a fiction writer from Hong Kong, sent along a flash fiction piece. I’m a little hazy on the difference between prose poetry and flash fiction, but the results are nearly always interesting, regardless of what the author calls it:

Cold front is you on the morning I cut through mist. Around the park where old men wave their wooden swords in unison, blunt-edged glory boiling in their veins. I tread a path of oval stones to haunt the trees, reading their names & spirits to make them my allies.

Kentucky-based poet Sherry Chandler continues her year-long meditation on a dogwood tree for The Tree Year, a worthy blogging initiative that we haven’t done enough to promote at the Festival of the Trees. In her 24th post in the series, she shares a photo of “sun dogs on the dogwood,” and concludes with a poem about another species, American sweetgum, by her friend Sally Rosen Kindred.

Here it stands, finally, in the chapter marked
Flowering Trees, and I’m afraid to read
the words, as if their spiny tongues could curl
to touch heartwood, that underbark where the sap
no longer goes.

Speaking of tree years, we got a contribution this month from A Year With the Trees blog, also based in the southern Appalachians. Rebecca shares a discovery about the redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, of which I was completely unaware: not only are the flowers beautiful, but the seed pods are edible — and nutritious:

Nutritional studies have found high concentrations of condensed tannins (proanthocyanidins) in new green Redbud seed pods. Green Redbud seed pods also revealed the presence of the essential fatty acids linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid. Oleic and palmitic acids were also present in the green seed pods.

They taste like sugar snap peas, she says.

Here at Via Negativa the other day, I compiled a short history of sassafras beer, prompted by my discovery of an old recipe in a book from 1888, which also included another brewing ingredient I’m anxious to experiment with: wild cherry bark.

Returning to Australia where we began, Aadhaar at Entropy and Light grapples with “This thing we have for trees“:

I’m organising my nascent funeral and natural interrment right now, and there’s that classical image to contend with in my mind – the planting of a tree to commemorate a loved one. I have seen tales where people have been buried foetal-like, with a fruiting tree planted atop, and later excavation has revealed a human-skeleton-shaped network of roots as the hungry tree recycles the body’s nutrients and carbon back into use, seamlessly, over time. Who wouldn’t love that?

What is the origin of our special relationship with trees, he wonders. This is a question tree bloggers have been pondering for at least the last five years, and as long as we continue, I doubt we’ll run out of creative answers. But I think Aadhaar’s conclusion is right on the money: “I would humbly submit that by sorting out our relationship with trees, we would go far with sorting out our relationship with our fellow man.”


That’s it for this month’s edition. It’s a holiday weekend in the U.S. and Canada, but I hope you’ll take the time to follow the links, read all the contributions, and leave comments when you can. As successful as the Festival of the Trees has become in terms of international participation and readership, I do think we could all stand to be a little more sociable, myself included. Thanks to everyone who sent in links, and I hope I’ll see you all still around for the Festival’s tenth anniversary in 2016! In the meantime, start thinking about “Lessons We Have Learned From Trees” — that will be the theme for next month’s edition at Beyond the Brambles. Email links to Kate (beyondthebrambles [at] gmail [dot] com), or submit through our online form, by 11:59 p.m. on July 30 to be included in Festival 62.