The Fifth String (videopoem)

This entry is part 10 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


Another videopoem in support of my poetry chapbook, Breakdown: Banjo Poems. For this one, Steven Sherrill — the same Renaissance man responsible for the cover painting — supplied the banjo playing on the soundtrack. He uploaded it to SoundCloud, where I messed with it just a little and layered in my reading of “The Fifth String.” (I don’t have a very good microphone these days so the recording quality is a little primitive, but primitive seems all right here, at least for this track.) The footage comes once again from the Prelinger archive of ephemeral films, in this case two television commercials from the 1960s or late 50s, now in the public domain. I was a little worried that the result might be too weird, but Steve tells me he loves it: “The tone/look of the video is akin to what I paint.”

I might mention that, in addition to a sub-par microphone, I have been using very basic video editing software as well: Live Movie Maker for Windows 7! The version of Adobe Premiere Elements I’d been using before does not work very well in my new environment, and frankly, for this simple kind of remix, Movie Maker is almost good enough. It’s certainly a lot more versatile than the older version I had on my desktop. For audio editing, I use Audacity, which is free and open source — and so good nowadays I find I don’t miss Adobe Audition at all.

My thinking about these audiopoems and videopoems, by the way, is that they don’t necessarily drive more sales of the chapbook; if that were my primary reason for making them, I suspect I’d be disappointed. They’re just fun to make, and the publication of the book provides a handy pretext for spending many enjoyable hours exploring SoundCloud and Plus, they will give me something else to do during a live reading besides just read from a podium. I do have this notion that audiences at poetry readings deserve first and foremost to be entertained.


To the office, where Sir W. Batten, Colonel Slingsby, and I sat awhile, and Sir R. Ford coming to us about some business, we talked together of the interest of this kingdom to have a peace with Spain and a war with France and Holland; where Sir R. Ford talked like a man of great reason and experience. And afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before, and went away.
Then came Col. Birch and Sir R. Browne by a former appointment, and with them from Tower wharf in the barge belonging to our office we went to Deptford to pay off the ship Success, which (Sir G. Carteret and Sir W. Pen coming afterwards to us) we did, Col. Birch being a mighty busy man and one that is the most indefatigable and forward to make himself work of any man that ever I knew in my life. At the Globe we had a very good dinner, and after that to the pay again, which being finished we returned by water again, and I from our office with Col. Slingsby by coach to Westminster (I setting him down at his lodgings by the way) to inquire for my Lord’s coming thither (the King and the Princess coming up the river this afternoon as we were at our pay), and I found him gone to Mr. Crew’s, where I found him well, only had got some corns upon his foot which was not well yet. My Lord told me how the ship that brought the Princess and him (The Tredagh) did knock six times upon the Kentish Knock, which put them in great fear for the ship; but got off well. He told me also how the King had knighted Vice-Admiral Lawson and Sir Richard Stayner. From him late and by coach home, where the plasterers being at work in all the rooms in my house, my wife was fain to make a bed upon the ground for her and me, and so there we lay all night.

To China by ship
we make the globe pay.
Returned to my corn,
I knock six times
upon the ground.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 25 September 1660.

Self-portrait with Breakdown

Selfie with Breakdown

In many respects, the traditional model of poetry publication in which individual author collections on paper take center stage strikes me as outmoded, capitalistic, and more than a little self-indulgent. Why else would my first reaction on receiving a copy of my new chapbook be to pose with it for a selfie? That said, this particular chapbook (or “pamphlet”, for you Brits) is a beautifully made thing, and I am over the moon with the production quality and the cover painting by my friend Steven Sherrill, which is such a good fit with the contents. Seven Kitchens Press chapbooks are very artisanal indeed, and I’m quite sure Ron Mohring (himself a terrific poet, by the way, who chooses to spend most of his free time and money promoting others’ work) sews them up on the kitchen table. He would probably give them away if he could, but $9.00 is a very nominal price. Read more about the chapbook here, and order a copy, if you’re so inclined, here. If you play the banjo, record and send me an MP3 of a banjo instrumental that I can use in an audio recording and I’ll send you a free copy. If you’d like to review it, email me with your postal address and I’ll ask Ron to send you a copy.


(Office day). From thence to dinner by coach with my wife to my Cozen Scott’s, and the company not being come, I went over the way to the Barber’s. So thither again to dinner, where was my uncle Fenner and my aunt, my father and mother, and others. Among the rest my Cozen Rich. Pepys, their elder brother, whom I had not seen these fourteen years, ever since he came from New England. It was strange for us to go a gossiping to her, she having newly buried her child that she was brought to bed of.
I rose from table and went to the Temple church, where I had appointed Sir W. Batten to meet him; and there at Sir Heneage Finch Sollicitor General’s chambers, before him and Sir W. Wilde, Recorder of London (whom we sent for from his chamber) we were sworn justices of peace for Middlesex, Essex, Kent, and Southampton; with which honour I did find myself mightily pleased, though I am wholly ignorant in the duty of a justice of peace. From thence with Sir William to Whitehall by water (old Mr. Smith with us) intending to speak with Secretary Nicholas about the augmentation of our salaries, but being forth we went to the Three Tuns tavern, where we drank awhile, and then came in Col. Slingsby and another gentleman and sat with us. From thence to my Lord’s to enquire whether they have had any thing from my Lord or no.
Knocking at the door, there passed me Mons. L’Impertinent [Mr. Butler] for whom I took a coach and went with him to a dancing meeting in Broad Street, at the house that was formerly the glass-house, Luke Channel, Master of the School, where I saw good dancing, but it growing late, and the room very full of people and so very hot, I went home.

My mother
buried her child
that she brought
to the temple

and there
I find myself,
though I am
wholly glass.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 24 September 1660.

Imperfect Triolet, While Listening to the News

Books stacked in the corners, books by the bed—
What we lack in courage, we make up for in our heads.
On the radio, news of a mall shooting; or of refugees that fled—
Impossible to find enough solace from books stacked by the bed.
A boy watched his mother and sister killed: they had no hijab on their heads.
In the window box, wasps attack the flowers as if to behead.
Books stacked in the corners, books by the bed—
What our hearts lacked in courage, made up for in our heads.

Heaven, etc.

(Lord’s day). My wife got up to put on her mourning to-day and to go to Church this morning. I up and set down my journall for these 5 days past. This morning came one from my father’s with a black cloth coat, made of my short cloak, to walk up and down in. To church my wife and I, with Sir W. Batten, where we heard of Mr. Mills a very good sermon upon these words, “So run that ye may obtain.”
After dinner all alone to Westminster. At Whitehall I met with Mr. Pierce and his wife (she newly come forth after childbirth) both in mourning for the Duke of Gloucester. She went with Mr. Child to Whitehall chapel and Mr. Pierce with me to the Abbey, where I expected to hear Mr. Baxter or Mr. Rowe preach their farewell sermon, and in Mr. Symons’s pew I sat and heard Mr. Rowe. Before sermon I laughed at the reader, who in his prayer desires of God that He would imprint his word on the thumbs of our right hands and on the right great toes of our right feet. In the midst of the sermon some plaster fell from the top of the Abbey, that made me and all the rest in our pew afeard, and I wished myself out.
After sermon with Mr. Pierce to Whitehall, and from thence to my Lord, but Diana did not come according to our agreement. So calling at my father’s (where my wife had been this afternoon but was gone home) I went home.
This afternoon, the King having news of the Princess being come to Margate, he and the Duke of York went down thither in barges to her.

up and down up and down
run that ye may obtain

after dinner or after birth
reach and desire

on our hands and on our feet
go after it

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 23 September 1660.

Travel Song

This morning I called up my boy, and found him a pretty, well-looked boy, and one that I think will please me.
I went this morning by land to Westminster along with Luellin, who came to my house this morning to get me to go with him to Capt. Allen to speak with him for his brother to go with him to Constantinople, but could not find him. We walked on to Fleet street, where at Mr. Standing’s in Salsbury Court we drank our morning draft and had a pickled herring. Among other discourse here he told me how the pretty woman that I always loved at the beginning of Cheapside that sells child’s coats was served by the Lady Bennett (a famous strumpet), who by counterfeiting to fall into a swoon upon the sight of her in her shop, became acquainted with her, and at last got her ends of her to lie with a gentleman that had hired her to procure this poor soul for him. To Westminster to my Lord’s, and there in the house of office vomited up all my breakfast, my stomach being ill all this day by reason of the last night’s debauch. Here I sent to Mr. Bowyer’s for my chest and put up my books and sent them home. I staid here all day in my Lord’s chamber and upon the leads gazing upon Diana, who looked out of a window upon me. At last I went out to Mr. Harper’s, and she standing over the way at the gate, I went over to her and appointed to meet to-morrow in the afternoon at my Lord’s. Here I bought a hanging jack. From thence by coach home (by the way at the New Exchange I bought a pair of short black stockings, to wear over a pair of silk ones for mourning; and here I met with The. Turner and Joyce, buying of things to go into mourning too for the Duke, which is now the mode of all the ladies in town), where I wrote some letters by the post to Hinchinbroke to let them know that this day Mr. Edw. Pickering is come from my Lord, and says that he left him well in Holland, and that he will be here within three or four days.
To-day not well of my last night’s drinking yet. I had the boy up to-night for his sister to teach him to put me to bed, and I heard him read, which he did pretty well.

This morning I will go
to Constantinople
where the woman I love
sells child’s coats.
Last night
I sent for my chest
and put on my black silk for joy.

Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 22 September 1660.

Triolet: Epistemology of the Bees

This entry is part 1 of 28 in the series Morning Porch Poems: Autumn 2013


Do you know how much honey remains in the hive?
The wind teaches the body to tuck in its corners like sheets in a hotel.
Neon signs lie— in those furtive cells, not all things revive.
Do you know how much honey remains in the hive?
Open a jar and consume its contents; but leave me a sweet to archive.
Did you love that house, all honeycombed; its molecules and golden bell?
Do you know how much honey remains in the hive?
The wind teaches the body to tuck in its corners like sheets in a hotel.


In response to an entry from the Morning Porch.

Taking the Waters (videopoem)

This new film by Marc Neys (AKA Swoon) grew out of our shared experiences in Dunbar, Scotland at the beginning of August, where Rachel, Marc and I spent a great deal of time together, walking, talking, and taking the local beverages. (Unmentioned in the prose poem is the fact that a fairly major brewery, Belhaven, is located there. When we arrived at our campground that Thursday evening, the air was suffused with the sweet smell of boiling mash.) Since we were in town for the Filmpoem Festival, it seemed only fitting that a new filmpoem/videopoem should come out of it. However, Marc’s first attempt with footage he’d shot on the Dunbar shore used an old poem of mine with which I’d become somewhat disenchanted. In the meantime, I’d written the prose poem “Taking the Waters” and suggested he try working with that instead, and obviously that’s what he did — but with almost all new footage, shot not on the North Sea but high in the Austrian Alps.

Marc describes the whole process in a recent blog post at his new website. As he quotes me as saying in the post, prose poetry is closely associated with surrealism, but sometimes, as here, real-life incidents provide more than enough bizarre material to keep the prose from getting too prosaic. Rachel’s story about a man reading to the sea was obviously key to the success of the text, so I’m glad she has a major part in the videopoem as the primary reader. Marc himself is “our friend the musician.” It’s interesting that he ended up not using much of the footage he shot that weekend, but I think avoiding too close a correspondence between subject matter and film images makes for a more suggestive videopoem. There are still enough visual and auditory artifacts from that weekend in the film to make it an apt memento for the three of us without, I hope, coming across to other viewers as exclusive or overly self-referential.

It’s always hugely satisfying to collaborate with artists like this, despite or perhaps because of the fact that the results aren’t the sort of publications that more ambitious American poets climb all over each other to bag for their CVs. I can’t think of a filmmaker I’d rather have envideo my poems than Marc; he’s the most-published filmmaker on for a reason.