Winter Trees: a videohaiku sequence

still from Winter Trees

Watch on Vimeo
or watch on YouTube

Now that winter is finally winding down here in central Pennsylvania, I thought I’d better wrap up a series of winter-themed videopoems I’ve been making. If you follow me on Twitter (@morningporch) or Instagram (@neotoma_magister), you may have already seen some of these (in lower-resolution versions)—indeed, one of the reasons I limited their length to a minute was so I could share them on Instagram.

Almost all of these were shot on an iPhone, with the exception of “cabin fever” which used footage from a game cam which our neighbors kindly installed in the attic of my parents’ house to try and determine how the bait was disappearing from a squirrel trap without triggering the trap. (Turns out an adventuresome short-tailed shrew was the culprit.) The footage that sparked the series was shot by Rachel from Amtrak as she neared Plummer’s Hollow in December; having upgraded to a newer model, she gifted me her previous iPhone, which is the source of almost all the footage here. All the extra sounds are from, and all were public domain (CC0), because I wanted to avoid having to include credits in order to provide an uninterrupted, continuous viewing experience of the YouTube playlist or Vimeo album.

The haiku were prompted by the footage and exist in dialogue with it. I present the text below solely for the benefit of the visually impaired, and urge everyone else to experience them as part of the videopoems. This is partly because I think the video medium goes some way toward solving a problem that readers can encounter with haiku on the page (or screen): how to give each one enough time and space? At normal reading speed, much of their suggestive power is lost.

Winter Trees

winter trees
the hobo is missing
one of his fingers


the shrinking circle
of my needs


cold snap
the one-take tune I make
breaking icicles


on my bald head
tapping woodpecker


I tunnel through the day
half awake


Groundhog Day
the former coal town living
off a shadow


cabin fever
today’s potato flaky
as old wood


meltwater pool
the way my reflection
keeps shivering


cold moon
of the month I was born


between night-time snowflakes
for warp speed


walking the line
on both sides the same
light rime


ice form fits
each body
of water


a flutter of snowflakes
a flurry of snowbirds
an afterlife of seeds


as above
so below
the color of absence


Presidents’ Day—
to build a fire
any refuse will do


no dark side of the moon
where a Chinese probe
is growing plants


unplowed road
someday the mountain itself
will bury us


the way my memory places
mouse tracks in snow


porcupine squeezing
through a deer fence seems
somehow proverbial


winter sun
hoisting all its bristles
into the treetops


spider on the snow
the granularity of land


you dance with everything you’ve got

Seven ways to be a poet

Mazen Maarouf (still from a film by Roxana Vilk)

I’ve never had much patience with people who want to be poets. If you’re not driven by the desire to write poetry, and to explore the world and your own mind in so doing, then get the fuck out — that’s been my mindset. But lately I’ve been thinking that there are exemplary poets out there whose life choices are worth studying and emulating, because in fact being a poet in a society that largely rejects poetry isn’t always easy. Both Luisa Igloria and I have written poems here with the title “How to be a poet”: me in 2011, quite facetiously, and she in 2015. But today I want to share a few videos of poets reflecting on their manner of being in the world.

1. Allen Ginsberg

“Turn north — I should hang up all those pots on the stovetop — Am I holding the world right?”

2. Tyree Daye

“I don’t want a preaching poet, you know what I mean? I want my poets to be flawed, to not know the answer.”

3. Nasreen Anjum Bhatti

“Two things are required: commitment and love. … Because we are not alone. I am not just myself; I have many centuries behind me.”
(Click on the CC icon for English subtitles.)

4. January Gill O’Neil

“Wanting it too much invites haste. You must love what is raw and hungered for.”

5. Mazen Maarouf

“I feel that I cannot be astonished by anything, and I lost this a few years ago, because I still remember so many parts of the wars. The traces of beauty that I just pick up from life are enough.”

6. Kyle Metcalf

“Most people think that I’m an auto mechanic. I’m not actually an auto mechanic at all.”

7. TJ Dema

“I know I can be the girl I am right now, live the life I have right now.”

Net Work

A new videopoem. I’m grateful to Marc Neys for composing the original soundtrack (in response to a draft form of the video).

The poem is presented as text-on-screen, in a kind of call-and-response fashion, and was inspired by the footage, which I shot on my aging iPhone this summer. So I hesitate to extract it from that context, but here it is nevertheless for the benefit of those with impaired vision:

Net Work

for Rachel

It is still light where I sit
reading the lines you are touch-
typing in the dark.

The planet’s curves
are always coming between us
her ceaseless spinning
her magnetic field
her core of molten rock.

But it’s the state that says stop
behind arbitrary lines
the border force that says stand still
for security screening
and if you’re poor, stay out.

The earth is always knitting
us together. Her forces
are centripetal and convergent.
Even now she works to mend
each fraying thread.

Human Resources: erasure poetry meets videopoetry

still from Human Resources by Marie Craven

Changes of State. That’s the working title of my book-length manuscript of prose + micropoetry, which draws equally upon my lived experience, dreams, and nightmares. In the last category, I have a section of seven untitled found texts from the CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train right-wing counter-insurgency interrogators throughout Latin America during the last and most brutal phase of the Cold War. I extract a haiku-length erasure poem or two from each text and place them below it, haibun-style. Last month, an online journal called The Other Bunny, which specializes in experimental haibun, published a selection of these under the title “Human Resources.” Then two days ago, the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven surprised me with this damn-near perfect video version. I strongly recommend expanding it to full screen and using good headphones:

Marie describes it on Vimeo as “A video about mind control and hidden meanings.”

The original text here is sections of a CIA document from the 1980s, concerning mind control techniques. […] The video is made up substantially of this text on screen, overlaid on a delirious blend of movie images from the Prelinger Archives. I chose to ‘mash up’ two different films for this background. The first, and most visually recognisable, is ‘Duck and Cover’, a famous documentary film from the 1950s containing advice on how to take cover in the event of a nuclear blast. The second film is ‘Destination Earth’, an anti-communist animation also produced in the 1950s. Both films were ‘doubled up’, making four superimposed layers, sped up considerably, with some parts appearing in forward motion, others in reverse, and some images rotating so that they appear at odd angles throughout the piece. The rapid melee of images is designed to express the hallucinatory effect of mental confusion engendered by mind control. The music is a psychedelic piece by The Night Programme (aka Paul Foster), with whom I’ve collaborated musically for over a decade, all via the net (he’s in Wales, I’m in Australia). The track is entitled ‘Cxx2’, from his album, ‘Backup 010318’. In a contemporary sense, the poem and video seem timely in this era of rampant fake news and unabashed propaganda.

Human Resources is Marie’s fifth videopoem based on my poetry. This is the sort of collaboration the web was built for, I think, and it’s always deeply gratifying to me as a writer to have been able to inspire an artist of Marie’s caliber.

Mountain wedding

wedding couple in the woods

This video may not be terribly interesting if you’re not friends or family of me or Rachel… unless you like porcupines, which were so much in evidence before, during and after our wedding, I thought I had to include one in the video as well. I also think our home-spun, self-uniting ceremony says something about the use of poetry in these kinds of major life events.

It may seem odd, me being a poet and all, that I hadn’t really given much thought to reading poetry at our wedding, but we were focused on getting our documents in order and writing our vows. So it was only on the day of our wedding that I mentioned to Rachel that I had a poem in mind to read, and it seemed that she did, too.

Interestingly, we both chose well-known poems from the canon (though the e.e. cummings one isn’t as well known in Britain, Rachel tells me). The trick as I saw it was to pick something that was simultaneously meaningful to me, relevant to the occasion, appropriate to the natural setting, and accessible to the audience. I love the Bible, and part of me wishes we still lived in a society that had such a powerful, ancient text in common to help unite us on ceremonial occasions or in times of crisis, but let’s face it: the poetic texts that unite us as a society these days are the pop, rock and rap songs we grew up with… the secular “high church” counterpart of which are certain poems such as Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” and yes, e.e. cumming’s “I carry your heart with me.”

As for the video, I used mobile phone video footage by Rachel (via tripod) and my cousin Heidi Suydam, with additional photographs by Heidi and her daughter Morgan. I couldn’t resist including some snippets from Aaron Copland’s ballet about a newly married couple in the wilds of western Pennsylvania, Appalachian Spring. Credit is also due to Joseph Brackett, composer of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts” that Copland drew upon in the most famous portion of the suite. Since many people unfortunately know this tune only in its bastardized form (as the faux-Celtic “Lord of the Dance”), I want to quote the original lyrics:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Amen to that.

Book Trailer by Swoon (Marc Neys): The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis

Swoon (aka Marc Neys) is a Belgian video-artist and soundcreator who is, in the words of Dave Bonta, one of the most “prolific and (obviously) fast-moving, …one of the most inventive and interesting artists working in the medium” today. I have so much respect for his work, and also the great good fortune of having Swoon produce a book trailer for my new collection out this week from Phoenicia Publishing, The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis.

I am also eternally grateful to Via Negativa founder and co-blogger Dave Bonta for making possible the connection to Swoon and a host of other creatives all over the world. It’s going on the eighth year of my daily poetry writing practice at Via Negativa— let me just say that when I started, I couldn’t even imagine how many full length collections and chapbooks would come out of it.

Swoon and I have collaborated before on at least 5 other video poems, which are viewable at Moving Poems— including “Foretold,” a poem I wrote in response to a “first draft” of Swoon’s video used as a prompt in the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest; and “Trauermantel” (which he turned into a triptych of video poems to include my 2 other poems “Mortal Ghazal” and “Oir.” 

This is the book trailer that Swoon (Marc Neys) produced. I hope you enjoy it, and that you will follow more of his work and visit his blog. Please also visit Phoenicia Publishing for information on how to order the book.

New videopoems: “Tree Questions” and “November Surprise”

It’s a two-video day! Both of these began as photo-and-poetry posts at Woodrat photoblog and Instagram. Both were shot on my aging iPhone.

As the green drains from the leaves, why doesn’t it pool underground like a reservoir of eternal summer?

Why don’t the green, leaf-shaped katydids turn brilliant colors before they die?

When lovers intertwine, why don’t they fuse like roots from adjacent trees?

If a human falls in a city and there are no trees around, does it leave a hole?

An early snow prompts memories of last year at this time: three haiku-like things.

the sky is falling:
autumn leaves turning
white with snow


November surprise:
white supremacists elect
an orange leader


it’s not winter
it’s white springtime

What is a soul? (videopoem)

What is a soul screenshot

Luisa’s poem from last Saturday seemed like a good match for a video I shot on my iPhone through the dusty window of a Greyhound bus as I was leaving Newark, New Jersey on Monday. The light was wonderful and evocative, as were the murals on the wall below the train tracks.

Footage shot from car, bus and (especially) train windows is exceedingly common in videopoetry, but I’m hoping my use of moving text saves this instance of it from cliche.

Carnival (videopoem)

still from "Carnival"

A quick, silent videopoem made with text-on-screen from the latest erasure poem. I’m indebted to a friend, Rachel Shaw, for commenting on the footage I’ve used here — a shot of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, which I posted to Facebook last night — that it was “weirdly beautiful with the sound off. Like anemones and seaweeds waving in the current.”

This comment was much in my mind as I selected lines for the erasure poem, which lo and behold turned out to be just the right length for a half-minute video. Enjoy.