British Museum

In the British Museum, we dead have so many grave goods now! But even in the afterlife, there’s a closing time.

(Seriously, why is it so acceptable to desecrate graves in our culture? Older portions of British cemeteries are routinely dug up and the old burials disposed of to make way for new tenants. No wonder it’s considered acceptable to plunder graves for archaeological purposes and publicly display the finds in perpetuity.)

midnight snail

View on Vimeo.

The process for making this videohaiku was a bit more convoluted than most. It started with my shooting a pretty good video of a snail descending a dead vine in the garden and continued with several days of adequate but not amazing haiku drafts. Then a long and varied open-mike reading (36 readers!) at London’s Poetry Cafe last night kind of re-set my thinking on the train ride home, and the haiku had taken a dramatically different direction by the time I started the short walk home. Then I encountered the snail in the video above, crossing the sidewalk of our residential street. The iPhone isn’t brilliant at shooting video in low light, but when I looked at the footage on my laptop this morning, I really liked all the glisteny bits. A bit of web research and a short walk later, I had the haiku I ended up using.

I mention all this in part to make the point that haiku are rarely easy to write, despite—or because—they are so short. (And I’m grateful to the host of the open mike reading, Niall O’Sullivan, for making that point at last night’s reading as well, in response to my sharing a couple of haibun. He then launched into a mini rant against 5-7-5 folk haiku, which was quite amusing. I see from his website that this is a regular theme of his.)

The snail is Cornu aspersum, the garden snail or Mediterranean land snail—the same species prized for escargots. It’s considered native here, though I suspect the Romans introduced it for culinary purposes.

dog walking

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The first draft of this haiku was considerably cleverer, complete with a self-reflexive pun, but ultimately simpler was better, I thought. Especially if the video is black and white.

Eid in the park

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Yesterday was Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, and I found myself in a north London park as public prayers were being offered. You can hear that faintly in the background. (This is shorter than my usual one-minute haiku videos because I decided to cut out much of an Islamophobic rant from a man behind me.)

summer sidewalk

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Shot along Notting Hill Gate (confusingly, the name of a street) in London, from a bench facing away from traffic… toward the Art. Unlike graffiti, official street art only looks good after it starts to get grubby, I think. Abandoned shopping carts/trolleys, on the other hand, have that haiku-ready wabi-sabi quality from the outset.

cows on the common

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The village of Brill in Buckinghamshire, where my father-in-law lives, has a unique program to maintain the common with a collectively owned herd of Dexter cattle. For this haiku video, I borrowed the idea of making a postcard come to life from the poetry filmmakers Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, who used it to great effect in an adaptation of one of my haibun, In West Virginia (which isn’t yet available for streaming on the web).

I suppose it was precisely the pro-biodiversity, feel-good quality of Brill’s cattle herding program that brought the baseline misery of livestock into sharp relief for me.

commuter train

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A videohaiku shot on the London Overground, the tube’s less poetic, more sensible sibling.

I lived in Osaka for a year in the mid 80s, so that’s my other major experience with commuter trains. Back then, moving fingers belonged to businessmen taking advantage of the cramped conditions to feel up women. It was a huge problem. All my female acquaintances became adept at elbow jabs and insults in the local dialect. I don’t know how things are in Japan these days, but in the UK I’m glad that everyone just plays with their devices.

Grand Union Canal

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The first in my summer series of haiku videos, shot near where I’m staying in north London, along the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal.

I’m not sure why I haven’t been sharing my videohaiku here, along with Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube. Possibly out of reluctance to supply titles to haiku (though that hasn’t stopped me from doing the occasional Pepys erasure haiku). But first lines will suffice, I think.

Pennsylvania Spring: a videohaiku sequence

Watch on Vimeo or Youtube.

Continuing on from Winter Trees, this cycle contains 24 videohaiku one minute long or shorter, all but one shot on an iPhone without any advance planning, just capturing things of visual interest and letting them prompt haiku a day or more later. (The exception, “coal country spring”, uses old home movie footage that came to me in a similar serendipitous fashion: via @HomeMoviesBot on Twitter.)

As with Winter Trees, I feel that these are best experienced as they unfold, scroll-like, in the video series (which Vimeo now calls a showcase—previously album—and YouTube calls a playlist), in part of course because the visuals and audio are meant to add an extra dimension to the haiku, as with any videopoem. I am composing as much with video editing software as with the pen, and some of the haiku fall a little flat on the page. But here’s a transcription of the texts for the visually impaired:

shedding its snow
the new
old mountain

*

March wind
the first rose-colored
vulture face

*

counting the rings
in the wood frog pond
another year

*

yellow-bellied sapsucker
tapping
its true name

*

former field
the ruffed grouse makes a drum
out of thin air

*

bee or not
the daffodils
keeping faith

*
sun-drenched woods
the first violets
are yellow

*

fake flowers
where they found his body
fly fishing

*

Good Friday
despite claw and knife marks
they’re no one’s beeches

*

wind flowers
the way Beethoven heard
an ode to joy

*

budburst time
the returned vet says he went
straight to the woods

*

spring rain
learning that Dad
has Parkinson’s

*

railroad ties
crowd the vanishing point
fiddleheads

*

such a rush
to come back from the dead
April heat

*

coal country spring
all her doll’s new
imaginary friends

*

tweeting
about the #MetGala
watch your step

*

red eft—
how salamandery
this path

*

painted trillium
already going limp
catch and release

*

this habit
of inhabiting hills
the ants and me

*

clouds lifting
the valley’s visible
clear to the bare earth

*

spring woods at dusk
a daytime firefly
flutters past

*

green green
the broken boughs hiding
that murdered girl

*

nitrous moon
your balloon voice gone
far and wee

*

hatchlings
do you miss the hard shell
of a perfect world?