Benighted

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up betimes and down to the Old Swan, there called on Michell and his wife, which in her night linen appeared as pretty almost as ever to my thinking I saw woman. Here I drank some burnt brandy. They shewed me their house, which, poor people, they have built, and is very pretty. I invited them to dine with me, and so away to White Hall to Sir W. Coventry, with whom I have not been alone a good while, and very kind he is, and tells me how the business is now ordered by order of council for my Lord Bruncker to assist Sir J. Minnes in all matters of accounts relating to the Treasurer, and Sir W. Pen in all matters relating to the victuallers’ and pursers’ accounts, which I am very glad of, and the more for that I think it will not do me any hurt at all. Other discourse, much especially about the heat the House was in yesterday about the ill management of the Navy, which I was sorry to hear; though I think they were well answered, both by Sir G. Carteret and [Sir] W. Coventry, as he informs me the substance of their speeches. Having done with him, home mightily satisfied with my being with him, and coming home I to church, and there, beyond expectation, find our seat, and all the church crammed, by twice as many people as used to be: and to my great joy find Mr. Frampton in the pulpit; so to my great joy I hear him preach, and I think the best sermon, for goodness and oratory, without affectation or study, that ever I heard in my life. The truth is, he preaches the most like an apostle that ever I heard man; and it was much the best time that ever I spent in my life at church. His text, Ecclesiastes xi., verse 8th — the words, “But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.”
He done, I home, and there Michell and his wife, and we dined and mighty merry, I mightily taken more and more with her. After dinner I with my brother away by water to White Hall, and there walked in the Parke, and a little to my Lord Chancellor’s, where the King and Cabinet met, and there met Mr. Brisband, with whom good discourse, to White Hall towards night, and there he did lend me “The Third Advice to a Paynter,” a bitter satyre upon the service of the Duke of Albemarle the last year. I took it home with me, and will copy it, having the former, being also mightily pleased with it.
So after reading it, I to Sir W. Pen to discourse a little with him about the business of our prizes, and so home to supper and to bed.

night pretty as a burnt church
beyond all oratory
preaches like Ecclesiastes

the days of darkness shall be many
all that cometh is vanity

and I take water
and a bitter little sin to bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 20 January 1667.

Two recent haiku videos and an expanded essay on videohaiku

I made this first video to test out the iMovie app for my iPhone. It’s the first time I’ve made a videopoem entirely on the phone. It was dead simple to learn, but the text-on-screen choices and effects options were… limited.

That was in preparation for my keynote presentation at last weekend’s REELpoetry/Houston TX festival, where I needed to pretend to be some sort of expert on how to make videopoetry. In fact, of course, I just picked the brains of some people who are experts and incorporated their recommendations into my talk. One of those experts was fellow presenter Mary McDonald, a media artist with an encyclopedic knowledge of software and hardware, who recommended as the best free solution for on-phone or tablet video editing a two-year-old app for iOS or Android called Videoleap. (I played with it for a bit and was impressed, but to be be honest I’m not very adept at doing things on my phone, so I don’t know how often I’ll use it.)

Another expert, who helped me out with some great recommendations for tutorial sites (which I’ve incorporated into Moving Poems’ page of resources for videopoem makers), was my fellow film judge and host for the weekend, Randee Ramsey, who must be one of the relatively few people qualified to teach both poetry and film to university students. I shot a quick video on her back patio and paired it with a haiku based on her pointing out the Enron buildings to me in downtown Houston:

One of the two screenings I presented at the festival was of my own videohaiku, including a half-hour selection from my four seasonal videohaiku sequences which I called Crossing the Pond and the two-minute supplement Sea Levels. As part of that presentation, I expanded my recent essay at Atticus Review to include some general remarks on what haiku actually is, since there seems to be so much confusion about that in the non-haiku poetry world, let alone the general public:

What the hell is videohaiku? And for that matter, what the hell is haiku?

Throughout 2019 I produced haiku videopoems—AKA video haiga or videohaiku—on an almost industrial scale, churning out 80 short videos in seasonal chunks rooted in one or the other of my two homes in Pennsylvania and the UK: Winter Trees, Pennsylvania Spring, Summer in the UK, and Autumn Metropolis. All four can be viewed at the Videopoetry section of my website, davebonta.com. I’m calling the whole series Crossing the Pond: A Transatlantic Haiku Year, and today we’ll see a half-hour-long selection with a roughly equal number from each season.

A few words about modern haiku, a genre that’s widely misunderstood even by MFA-trained poets: Modern haiku practitioners generally agree that syllable counting is at best too generous at 17 syllables, and should generally strive for something shorter, or at worst that it’s a complete misunderstanding of how sound-units and meaning interact in Japanese.

Also, Japanese haiku are traditionally written in a single line, though I and many others prefer to stick with two or three lines, recognizing that a line break can help emphasize perhaps the most essential feature of haiku: the semantic break dividing the haiku into two, asymmetrical parts, in which two thoughts or images are juxtaposed in a way that hopefully evokes some kind of “a-ha” moment in the reader.

Haiku poets tend to prize double meanings, so in English, creative arrangements of text and avoidance of most punctuation can accentuate that quality. Presentation of text in a video through simple animation or sequential appearance can play with these possible multiple meanings.

In addition to that, similes are completely eschewed and metaphorical dimensions are left implied rather than spelled out. Objectivity and direct observation by the poet are highly valued, though all the traditional masters wrote haiku of pure imagination as well.

Modern haiku writers do not agree on whether it’s important to continue to focus on natural imagery and seasonal words. I personally feel that the relationship of humans to their environment is a key element of haiku awareness, even if that happens to mean a highly urban environment. It’s important to remember that the Sino-Japanese word for nature, shizen, does not mean something apart from or in opposition to humanity, but the world as it functions in and of itself. A literal translation of the two characters would be something like “of/in itself thus.” So spontaneity is seen as integral to naturalness. It’s no coincidence that spontaneity is also the (highly elusive) goal of most haiku writers.

Skills learned in crafting modern haiku can be readily transferred to videopoetry and vice versa. Both succeed when they merely suggest connections rather than stating them outright. Both rely heavily on juxtaposition. Further, masters of both modern haiku and videopoetry have stressed the importance of a kind of openness or incompleteness. Ogiwara Seisensui characterized haiku as a circle, with one half to be completed by the poet, the other half by the reader. Tom Konyves, who invented the term videopoetry, stresses the collaborative or synergistic properties of individual elements (text, visuals, audio) in a videopoem. “This collaborative property implies an incompleteness, indicating the presence of accommodating spaces in each of the elements,” he notes.

A further argument for marrying haiku and videopoetry is the long history of combining images and haiku: haiga, a genre which has been exported to the West as well. But most important, to me, is the way that the video/film medium can give haiku what they often lack on the page: necessary time and space. It’s not unusual for printed collections to isolate just one or two haiku on a page, surrounding them with white space in an effort to slow the reader down. It’s been said that haiku are the perfect form of poetry for our distracted, sound-bite-dominated society, but actually I feel the opposite is true. Even when I am away from all digital distractions, I still often have to keep admonishing myself to read more slowly. How slowly? Maybe something like half a minute to a minute per haiku… about the length of a short video.

I gather material for videohaiku in the same way people tend to gather material for regular haiku, walking slowly and keeping an eye out for small, odd things. My phone camera is always in my pocket, and I usually carry a notebook as well, because often while I walk I’m composing haiku in my head in response to footage shot on previous walks. So the writing flow and the perceptual flow often merge. The most common form my videohaiku take is similarly slow and contemplative, inviting viewers to enter the flow from which the text eventually emerges. I’m more about the process than the product in general, but especially with videohaiku, where spontaneity, as mentioned above, and the connection to a particular time and place strike me as more essential than producing flawless work.

[Watch Crossing the Pond on Google Drive]

The other thing we’re going to watch today is Sea Levels, a two-minute, stand-alone haiku sequence (renku) shot on a section of the Welsh coastline especially vulnerable to climate change, where recent storms have uncovered the remains of a forest flooded by earlier sea level rise during the late Bronze Age. That earlier event was of course not anthropogenic, but the way it’s been remembered in Welsh folklore to this day is fascinating. Since I’m not Welsh, however, I brought my own associations, including the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and the Book of Revelation. In contrast to the other videohaiku I’ve shown today, I’m afraid this all goes by pretty fast.

It’s worth mentioning that the traveler’s perspective has traditionally been given pride of place in many haiku and haibun sequences.

[Watch Sea Levels]

***

I should add that I was deeply honored by the invitation and gratified by the audience’s enthusiastic response, which was beyond anything I’d imagined, and does suggest I’m on the right path here. I’m painfully aware of the limitations of my film-making and my haiku, which I’ve come to realize are just about the hardest kind of poem to write. Reassuring as it’s been to land acceptances from a range of haiku journals over the past two years, this response from poets and filmmakers outside the haiku ghetto is just as reassuring, because the last thing I want is to become proficient at something too arcane for ordinary readers (and viewers) to grasp.

Clean

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
"to wonder at order
and never wonder at ruin"
- D. Bonta



Sometimes I envy
the plain white lines
and pale planks of wood
on the floor of a magazine
kitchen—everything stacks
in tidy tiers with hardly
a bolt or a nail in sight.
The sun is always streaming
gently into other rooms
with no sense of wild
dishevelment. If
there are clothes
on hangers, they are
colorless and shapeless
as if no shoulders
had shrugged them on,
as if they were illustrations
of the word garment, made
from cotton or linen
or wool. There is not a hair
in sight, nor a wastebasket
overflowing with shredded
papers and bills. Not a dent
made by two heads
on the pillows,
not a rumple in the sheets
that must have draped
at night over intertwined
legs. And yet part of me
is seized by the desire
to be overcome by this
clean wash of absence:
as if the empty
fireplace never wished
for the roar of fire,
as if the windows were
never licked by rain;
as if each knife
and fork and plate
in the dish rack
never held a thing
that once lived
before being rendered
into pieces.







 

In response to Via Negativa: Disorderly.

Disorderly

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and at the office all the morning. Sir W. Batten tells me to my wonder that at his coming to my Lord Ashly, yesterday morning, to tell him what prize-goods he would have saved for the Navy, and not sold, according to the King’s order on the 17th, he fell quite out with him in high terms; and he says, too, that they did go on to the sale yesterday, even of the very hempe, and other things, at which I am astonished, and will never wonder at the ruine of the King’s affairs, if this be suffered. At noon dined, and Mr. Pierce come to see me, he newly come from keeping his Christmas in the country.
So to the office, where very busy, but with great pleasure till late at night, and then home to supper and to bed.

to wonder at order
and never wonder at ruin
this red din I come to see
as pleasure


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 19 January 1667.

Film

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
We take photos in the moment:
the discovery of a spurt of green
after lakes of dust, a brilliant
feather fallen through some
window in the sky.

Film is the name we give
to the reel as it unwinds
the grainy image; is the thin
layer of scum that coats
these poisoned waters.

We used to write
dedications on the other
side of these pictures.
Who were we addressing?
Someone invented the way

the heat from our fingers
starts a chemical reaction;
the way a small bleed of color
comes through the application
of even a little light.

Options

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
       This poem will not begin
with the speaker stating
what it wants.

When it said it tried,
it was told that isn't
a viable option.

So this poem will steer
clear of tragedy or
the wound by staying

in view and nesting
with small animals caught
in traps.

Di/vision

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and most of the morning finishing my entry of my journall during the late fire out of loose papers into this book, which did please me mightily when done, I, writing till my eyes were almost blind therewith to make an end of it. Then all the rest of the morning, and, after a mouthful of dinner, all the afternoon in my closet till night, sorting all my papers, which have lain unsorted for all the time we were at Greenwich during the plague, which did please me also, I drawing on to put my office into a good posture, though much is behind.
This morning come Captain. Cocke to me, and tells me that the King comes to the House this day to pass the poll Bill and the Irish Bill; he tells me too that, though the Faction is very froward in the House, yet all will end well there. But he says that one had got a Bill ready to present in the House against Sir W. Coventry, for selling of places, and says he is certain of it, and how he was withheld from doing it. He says, that the Vice-chamberlaine is now one of the greatest men in England again, and was he that did prevail with the King to let the Irish Bill go with the word “Nuisance.” He told me, that Sir G. Carteret’s declaration of giving double to any man that will prove that any of his people have demanded or taken any thing for forwarding the payment of the wages of any man (of which he sent us a copy yesterday, which we approved of) is set up, among other places, upon the House of Lords’ door. I do not know how wisely this is done.
This morning, also, there come to the office a letter from the Duke of York, commanding our payment of no wages to any of the muster-masters of the fleete the last year, but only two, my brother Balty, taking notice that he had taken pains therein, and one Ward, who, though he had not taken so much as the other, yet had done more than the rest. This I was exceeding glad of for my own sake and his. At night I, by appointment, home, where W. Batelier and his sister Mary, and the two Mercers, to play at cards and sup, and did cut our great cake lately given us by Russell: a very good one. Here very merry late.
Sir W. Pen told me this night how the King did make them a very sharp speech in the House of Lords to-day, saying that he did expect to have had more Bills; that he purposes to prorogue them on Monday come se’nnight; that whereas they have unjustly conceived some jealousys of his making a peace, he declares he knows of no such thing or treaty: and so left them. But with so little effect, that as soon as he come into the House, Sir W. Coventry moved, that now the King hath declared his intention of proroguing them, it would be loss of time to go on with the thing they were upon, when they were called to the King, which was the calling over the defaults of Members appearing in the House; for that, before any person could now come or be brought to town, the House would be up. Yet the Faction did desire to delay time, and contend so as to come to a division of the House; where, however, it was carried, by a few voices, that the debate should be laid by. But this shews that they are not pleased, or that they have not any awe over them from the King’s displeasure.
The company being gone, to bed.

a blind mouth
sorting all the green to sell

places giving up other places
taken by the sharp
speech of a rogue

something calling
in a vision of the voice


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 18 January 1667.

Pimp

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where all the morning sitting. At noon home to dinner, and then to the office busy also till very late, my heart joyed with the effects of my following my business, by easing my head of cares, and so home to supper and to bed.

ice sitting on ice
my heart
my car


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 17 January 1667.

Salted

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and by coach to White Hall, and there to the Duke of York as usual. Here Sir W. Coventry come to me aside in the Duke’s chamber, to tell that he had not answered part of a late letter of mine, because ‘littera scripta manet’. About his leaving the office, he tells me, [it is] because he finds that his business at Court will not permit him to attend it; and then he confesses that he seldom of late could come from it with satisfaction, and therefore would not take the King’s money for nothing. I professed my sorrow for it, and prayed the continuance of his favour; which he promised. I do believe he hath [done] like a very wise man in reference to himself; but I doubt it will prove ill for the King, and for the office. Prince Rupert, I hear to-day, is very ill; yesterday given over, but better to-day. This day, before the Duke of York, the business of the Muster-Masters was reported, and Balty found the best of the whole number, so as the Duke enquired who he was, and whether he was a stranger by his two names, both strange, and offered that he and one more, who hath done next best, should have not only their owne, but part of the others’ salary, but that I having said he was my brother-in-law, he did stop, but they two are ordered their pay, which I am glad of, and some of the rest will lose their pay, and others be laid by the heels. I was very glad of this being ended so well. I did also, this morning, move in a business wherein Mr. Hater hath concerned me, about getting a ship, laden with salt from France, permitted to unload, coming in after the King’s declaration was out, which I have hopes by some dexterity to get done. Then with the Duke of York to the King, to receive his commands for stopping the sale this day of some prize-goods at the Prize-Office, goods fit for the Navy; and received the King’s commands, and carried them to the Lords’ House, to my Lord Ashly, who was angry much thereat, and I am sorry it fell to me to carry the order, but I cannot help it. So, against his will, he signed a note I writ to the Commissioners of Prizes, which I carried and delivered to Kingdone, at their new office in Aldersgate Streete. Thence a little to the Exchange, where it was hot that the Prince was dead, but I did rectify it. So home to dinner, and found Balty, told him the good news, and then after dinner away, I presently to White Hall, and did give the Duke of York a memorial of the salt business, against the Council, and did wait all the Council for answer, walking a good while with Sir Stephen Fox, who, among other things, told me his whole mystery in the business of the interest he pays as Treasurer for the Army. They give him 12d. per pound quite through the Army, with condition to be paid weekly. This he undertakes upon his own private credit, and to be paid by the King at the end of every four months. If the King pay him not at the end of the four months, then, for all the time he stays longer, my Lord Treasurer, by agreement, allows him eight per cent. per annum for the forbearance. So that, in fine, he hath about twelve per cent. from the King and the Army, for fifteen or sixteen months’ interest; out of which he gains soundly, his expense being about 130,000l. per annum; and hath no trouble in it, compared, as I told him, to the trouble I must have to bring in an account of interest. I was, however, glad of being thus enlightened, and so away to the other council door, and there got in and hear a piece of a cause, heard before the King, about a ship deserted by her fellows (who were bound mutually to defend each other), in their way to Virginy, and taken by the enemy, but it was but meanly pleaded.
Then all withdrew, and by and by the Council rose, and I spoke with the Duke of York, and he told me my business was done, which I found accordingly in Sir Edward Walker’s books. And so away, mightily satisfied, to Arundell House, and there heard a little good discourse, and so home, and there to Sir W. Batten, where I heard the examinations in two of our prizes, which do make but little for us, so that I do begin to doubt their proving prize, which troubled me. So home to supper with my wife, and after supper my wife told me how she had moved to W. Hewer the business of my sister for a wife to him, which he received with mighty acknowledgements, as she says, above anything; but says he hath no intention to alter his condition: so that I am in some measure sorry she ever moved it; but I hope he will think it only come from her.
So after supper a little to the office, to enter my journall, and then home to bed. Talk there is of a letter to come from Holland, desiring a place of treaty; but I do doubt it. This day I observe still, in many places, the smoking remains of the late fire: the ways mighty bad and dirty. This night Sir R. Ford told me how this day, at Christ Church Hospital, they have given a living over 200l. per annum to Mr. Sanchy, my old acquaintance, which I wonder at, he commending him mightily; but am glad of it. He tells me, too, how the famous Stillingfleete was a Bluecoat boy. The children at this day are provided for in the country by the House, which I am glad also to hear.

her letter finds me
like a ship laden with salt

so angry a note
to deliver to the dead

a salt with no light
a ship deserted by her fleet


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 16 January 1667.