Haiku for 10/10/10

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Direct link to video on Vimeo.

10/10/10 is variously Binary Day and 42 Day among geeks and Douglas Adams fans; a Global Day of Doing for greens; a day to try and record the world in photos and videos on Flickr; and among birders, the annual, international Big Sit bird count. For me, it was just a day to walk in the woods.

I approach videohaiku a little differently from regular videopoetry, as you’ll see. For one thing, I prefer the poem to appear as type, without audio. Also, the text can flow more directly from the imagery than with a regular videopoem. And finally, while some videohaiku makers use three short scenes in imitation of the three-line pattern that characterizes most English-language haiku, I prefer the style I’ve followed here: holding the poem until the end of a quiet, meditative scene or two. This resembles the effect of a poem on a scroll, or a haiku following a passage of prose (haibun).

I might get a second videopoem, haiku or otherwise, out of footage I shot today, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 20 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


Direct link to video on Vimeo.

Another one-minute videopoem, this time featuring the Play-Doh creations of my dad and niece. Here’s the text.


Before I learned to write, I could barely see. My days were empty Os to be filled at random in a multiple choice exam & fed into some mechanical reader. Then the pen came down & baptized me in its blue or black ichor, & I traveled whole through insomnia’s corrosive labyrinth. The snowpack had melted & frozen again, & the ground was blinding in the sunlight, an immaculate foolscap. This is it, I thought, everyone has preceded me into the next life. I walked with eyes averted until I passed between columns & entered the temple of trees, the ordinary forest.

Morning Porch: the movie

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Direct link to video on Vimeo.

More and more publishers are producing video trailers for new books. Perhaps it’s time to start making them for websites, too. This action-packed trailer, though, is intended less to promote The Morning Porch than simply to introduce it to new readers — something to embed on the About page.

I shot the video yesterday for my one-minute movies project, and I suppose I’ll still class it as such even though it goes five seconds over with the addition of the Paul Eluard quote (which I stole from a friend’s pseudonymous Facebook profile a while back). This one is definitely more documentary than videopoem. I could probably make it more exciting with a few, brief inserts of other images: you know, close-ups of things glimpsed from the porch. But that might clash with the message of the text, I don’t know. Here’s what I wrote for it:

I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a prisoner, condemned to the same round every day, compelled to do things I had little appetite for, surrounded by others in the same situation, all of us desperate with loneliness and the desire to be somewhere, anywhere else. What would I do? I’m a writer, so I suppose I would write. It would be an almost enviable situation: all that free time. I would take note of everything I saw, immerse myself in the moment no matter how bleak, because daydreaming would only lead to despair. I would write small, spare things 140 characters in length that some would call poems, but that I would see as clauses of one long sentence. I’d be in for life.

The Machinery of Time

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Direct link to video on Vimeo.

A flash-fiction videopoem featuring the hands of my niece Elanor and members of her plastic entourage. The depressing subject matter might have something to do with the fact that I had just seen the documentary Gasland (highly recommended, by the way). And in fact, my preferred style of videopoem-making borrows heavily from documentaries, relying as it does on discovery rather than invention (e.g. actors following a script), and using voice-over narration to convey the text of the poem.

The Machinery of Time

The time machine was our only answer to the apocalypse we’d set in motion. Some chose to travel 10 million years into the future, by which time, they figured, new multicellular organisms would’ve evolved. Others of us decided to go back & try to change history. Someone thought she could help Carthage win the Punic Wars. Someone else wanted to insert a fable about hubris into the Homeric epic. But the backwards travel unraveled us, thinned us out & made us ineligible for death. We appeared only in mirrors, or to people with second sight, provoking fresh terror at a haunted world. When after millennia of helplessness we reached our own birthdays, we crumbled like the pages of a burnt book.


That’s about the maximum length for the text of a one-minute videopoem, by the way. I had to cut out a few phrases and read more quickly than usual to fit it in. Still, after almost three years of writing for the world’s tiniest daily newspaper, The Morning Porch, one minute seems like more than enough time to get an idea across. The above text would fill five tweets.

Jersey Shore

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This entry is part 19 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


Direct link to video on Vimeo.

Another one-minute movie. The postcards displayed are all from the Garden State and span the 20th century. Here’s the text of the poem:

Jersey Shore

the shore is a kind of road
that leads only to itself

the sound of its traffic
is said to be soothing

its sand grains attract
hourglass figures

we bury each other
up to the neck

gulls & gamblers take turns
screaming at the sun

we eat white sandwiches
& colored ice

there are rides no one
has ever dared get off of

there are entire hotels
patronized only by crabs

paperbacks sprawl
face-down like drunks

we hold hands & walk
into the surf

it’s the only way to leave
without paying a toll

Bread & Water

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 18 of 37 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life


Direct link to video on Vimeo.

This is the first in a planned series of one-minute movies made in less than a day with text written in response to the film images. I include the text below for the benefit of those on dial-up, but I’m not sure it makes too much sense on its own.

Bread & Water

I cast my bread on
the water, but
it didn’t come back.
Did you call?
I wrote. I made tea
from every leaf in
the garden.
Would you know it if
you saw it again?

I would.
I would know it slowly.
I would know it as
a failed boat.
Wasn’t it full
of air pockets, like
a lung?
No, those
were just open
dates on a calendar.
It was fresh.
It had skin for a skin.
What will you do when
you tire of waiting?

I’ll whistle back to
the old steam grate.
I’ll lick the lenses
of my glasses until
the street looks clean.
What will you do
if the bread
comes back?

I’ll teach it to sink.

Another Good Question

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Watch on Vimeowatch lower-res version on YouTube

I recently took the time to completely re-do this videopoem, which was a break-through video for me when I first made it a year and a half ago. I’ve now replaced that original with this new version (one of the main advantages of Vimeo over YouTube is that it allows one to upload a new file for an already-posted video), but you can still read what I originally said about it back on February 5, 2009. It was the first poetry video I made with the text in a spoken-word soundtrack instead of as silent captions. But more than that, it was the first in which film and poem were equal partners in a kind of dance. The footage had come first, and the text about five days later, but both changed dramatically in the editing.

My impetus to re-do it was simply the feeling that the audio quality could be improved, now that I have better audio-editing skills and software (Adobe Audition). When I went to look for the text, I discovered that I had apparently never saved it — a very rare oversight, but perhaps indicative of the extent to which I saw it as component rather than end product. I had to transcribe it from the video:

A good question never satisfies the way one might expect. It’s not like a conviction. There’s no warm glow of satisfaction. Everyone tells you, That’s a good question! But they don’t know how it torments you in secret with its indifference and its perplexing transformations. Living with the questions is like living with a house full of cats. Wouldn’t you rather have an uninterrupted sleep? Wouldn’t you rather be numb? Sure you would. But getting there involves a brief and jarring realignment of molecules, a hot iron fry pan going into the water, that squeal no real voice can begin to answer.

Once transcribed, I could see that it might need work: wasn’t “in secret” better left implied? Isn’t “warm glow” a bit of a cliché? As I worked through a second draft, trying to figure out where to put in line breaks, it occurred to me to try recasting the poem as a series of questions. At this point, the title changed from “The Good Question” to simply “Good Question.” Here’s the text I ended up generating for the new version of the video:

What makes a good question “good”?
Why doesn’t it ever satisfy, the way a conviction does?
Why doesn’t it impart an incandescent glow
& draw lost moths to its semblance of a moon?

Why do people say “That’s a good question”
instead of simply admitting “I don’t know”?
Why does one good question turn into so many others the closer you get?
Why can’t it stay round & whole?

When a theologian advocates living with the questions,
should we presume he has a house full of cats?
And is it wrong to prefer an uninterrupted sleep?
What if all the best questions led only to despair?

But how can we rid ourselves of them
without a jarring realignment of molecules,
like a hot iron fry pan going into the water?
And how do you answer that brief, inhuman squeal?

If anything, I think the text is actually less suitable now as a stand-alone poem, but it might be a better match for the film images. The image of the moon/(implied) bulb, for example, as well as the “round and whole” bit, were influenced by the snowball imagery in the video. The idea of questions breeding more questions would help prepare the listener for that house full of cats, I thought. Despair entered on its own during the writing, but stayed because it seemed to form an additional feedback loop with the video imagery.

I experimented with different arrangements of the footage, but in the end went back almost to what I had at the beginning. I did decide to include music in the soundtrack this time, a piece by Michael Lambright from Jamendo.com, licenced Attribution-Noncommercial under the Creative Commons. I wanted something from a solo instrument that was simulataneously spirited and a bit doleful, and “Poirot” seemed to fit the bill. The fact that its title referenced Agatha Christie’s famous fictional detective cemented the link.

I think the ending still needs work…


Over at the Moving Poems discussion blog, I’ve talked videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves into sharing his latest “summary of videopoetry.” Here’s the essence of his definition:

Videopoetry is a genre of poetry displayed on a screen, distinguished by its time-based, poetic juxtaposition of text with images and sound. In the measured blending of these 3 elements, it produces in the viewer the realization of a poetic experience.

The poetic juxtaposition of the elements implies an appreciation of the weight and reach of each element; the method is analogous to the poet’s process of selecting just-the-right word or phrase and positioning these in a concentrated “vertical” pattern.

To differentiate it from other forms of cinema, the principal function of a videopoem is to demonstrate the process of thought and the simultaneity of experience, expressed in words — visible and/or audible — whose meaning is blended with but not illustrated by the images.

Please stop by and read the rest.

A Bigfoot Poem, revisited

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Direct link to the video on YouTube

Poet Nic S.’s reading of my poem at Whale Sound — her marvelous audiopoem blog which was already becoming one of my favorite online poetry sites even before she asked if she might include one of my own pieces — prompted me to revisit this poem and see what I might do in the way of envideoing it. This is just one idea, and perhaps not a particularly good one. I looked at a bunch of YouTube videos purporting to show Bigfoot, and after a while I realized they reminded me of some shaky, fuzzy footage of my own…

It was actually another poet-blogger, Scott Standridge at The Sonnet Project, whose reprint from the Via Neg archives brought the poem to Nic’s attention, I think. As I said to Scott when I found his post, I’d pretty much forgotten the poem. I’m grateful to both of them for helping me rediscover it.

Sea of wood frogs

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Direct link to video.

by Juan Ramón Jiménez

Siento que el barco mío
ha tropezado, allá en el fondo,
con algo grande.

¡Y nada
sucede! Nada…Quietud…Olas….
—¿Nada sucede; o es que la sucedido todo,
y estamos ya, tranquilos, en lo nuevo?—


I sense that my boat
has struck, deep down,
against some massive thing.

And nothing happens!
Nothing… silence… waves…
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and we are already resting in the new life?


It may be a mistake to try and make a video for one of my favorite poems: I’ll never be satisfied with the results. In this case, my dissatisfaction is especially acute because one of the main things that made the footage so compelling to watch on my home computer — the complex patterns of waves — is excessively pixelated at anything but the highest of resolutions. Also, there’s some absurdity in visually equating the surface of a small, vernal pond with Jimenez’ “Seas.” Oh well.

For the translation, after much thought I decided to borrow from Robert Bly’s translation and render “lo nuevo” as “the new life,” instead of simply “the new,” because I think that is the gist of it. As always with my translations, I’d welcome suggestions of alternatives. I was trying to figure out some way to use “calm,” or a variation thereof, for “tranquilos,” but “becalmed” seemed over-reaching. It’s frustrating to have a clear idea of what the poem means and be unable to quite convey it.

Harlequin ladybird

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Video link.

Part videopoem, part music video. The music is by the Polish composer efiel on Jamendo.com, who made it available for noncommercial remix with attribution under the same Creative Commons licence, so this whole video is also so licenced (BY-NC-SA). This is the acoustic version of his otherwise electronic single, Home, with the first instrumental break repeated twice to give me time to get the reading in. The singer (as we learn in the notes for his album 2, which is also available on Last.fm) is Joanna Szwej. The creatures in the video are the Asian or harlequin ladybird beetle, Harmonia axyridis, filmed swarming one of the windows in my house yesterday afternoon. Here’s the poem.

Harlequin Ladybird

The ladybird
is a hard pill,
a dose of red medicine.
Her dogged way
of walking &
the gleam on
her elytra suggest
a certain brittleness,
a gift for sudden
flights of rage.
You wouldn’t think
such a small mouth
could pack
such a painful bite.
Like everyone,
I found her cute
at first, until I realized
there were many more
versions of her, &
they had infiltrated
every crack. Now
she lets herself in
whenever she wants,
only to spend all
her time at
the window.
The pungent scent
of her defensive spray
permeates the house.
What is she afraid of?
I begin to suspect
that those delicate
underwings are really
an airmail letter
containing the last,
unwary words of someone
who perished in
a house fire, the way
she keeps unfolding
& refolding them —
two sheets of onionskin
tucked against a small,
bad heart.

A thorough revision of this poem.