Catching a Cranefly: linked verses

Watch on Vimeo.

just one drink
catching a cranefly
in mid-air

how many months now
since I’ve held someone

missing you
the morning after
a hard frost

breath measured out
in small white clouds

buzzing
what the rattlesnake sees
in infrared

ah just to touch
that velvety skin

floating leaves
the fetal curl that makes
a good craft

trapped in transit with
whatever’s going ’round

migrants
a Japanese barberry
trembling with sparrows

will the circle in fact
be unbroken

mountain path
I step aside to let
a caterpillar pass

in the trail register box
an empty bottle

just one drink…

*

Process notes

This began as three tanka jotted down in the Notes app while I sat out in the woods, and snowballed from there. While haiku-writing culture prizes Zen-like objectivity, tanka are traditionally more open to the overt or side-long expression of deep emotion. This persisted even as I broke the tanka apart into a short linked-verse sequence, which I’d call a renku except that it wasn’t composed by a small group, just me. But as in renku, each pair of adjacent stanzas may be read as one verse.

I thought of ways to underline those linkages by repeating verses throughout the film, but the footage I ended up using — all shot on my phone over the course of the month — was so pretty, I thought it had to take center stage. And quite early in the process of editing I decided to make the bluesiness explicit with the choice of music. Fortunately, there are some seriously good blues musicians and remixers on ccMixter. After playing for a while with a more traditional, BB King-style guitar instrumental, I went with something more drone-y and experimental, which was a better fit for my slow presentation of text and images.

I also experimented with mixing music with spoken word, but couldn’t make it work. At that point it just sounded like a failed blues song. But I have long felt that the way traditional blues singers improvise songs, by adding or modifying verses from their repertoire to a stable melody+verse core, bears a more than passing resemblance to the way Japanese linked verse sequences are made. So I was glad for the opportunity to create a sort of hybrid of the two.

I hope the flying-in animation effect for the couplets doesn’t become too annoying. I recently bought a souped-up version of my video-editing software to help with client work (Need a poetry video or a clean-up job on a reading documentary? I’m your man!) so yes, I let myself be seduced by this new, not-at-all-cheesy effect. I find the contrast between slow-moving footage and nervously excited text aesthetically interesting. Your mileage may vary.

Also, yes, a timber rattlesnake! Sadly not here in Plummer’s Hollow, but in a nearby state forest. Ditto with the woolly bear. As for the trail register with the empty whiskey bottle, I shared a photo of it on Instagram (with my first draft of the haiku about the caterpillar).

5 Replies to “Catching a Cranefly: linked verses”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this solo renku, Dave. As for the video, the three-way combination worked a treat. The only slight irritant for me was the way the fly-in text came in randomly; I’d have preferred to see the words form in order, or all at once, but it’s a really small thing relative to the whole. Well done!

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