Temblor

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Here’s a poem from my new collection of experimental haibun, Failed State. Long-time readers may recognize the videopoem, a earlier version of which appeared here some seven or eight years ago, under a different title, and with a briefer text. The haiku is based on an experience I had when I was an exchange student in Taiwan back in 1986.

The book is the product of a new nanopress, Via Negativa Books — i.e. me — with print-on-demand and electronic versions available through Blurb, which has a worldwide network of printers to keep shipping costs down (and give them bragging rights about a lower carbon footprint). I wrote about my decision to self-publish, and my gratitude for the filmmakers who have made adaptations from it, in a blog post on my author website. To watch some of those other films, see the book’s dedicated page, or go directly to Blurb to preview the content.

Failed State is open content, meaning that it’s licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike “copyleft” license to encourage sharing and remixing. I’m also happy to offer a free copy of the PDF to anyone willing to write a substantial review on their blog or social media (or you can just squint at the full-text preview).

Winter Den

still from Winter Den
This entry is part 33 of 33 in the series Pandemic Season

 

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Limbs against the snow, outlined with more snow. Treetops no longer canopies but the bare nets of need. Their no-longer-rare caresses and collisions in the winter wind. The moans of the ice-bound. How tormented they’d be if they hadn’t retreated to the underworld, that silken matrix of rootlets and hyphae, to trade fermented memories of sunlight for the bones of a mouse.

winter den
a slow leak of breath
growing needles

snowy meadow
seedhead bending into
its own pit

We who cannot hibernate, isolated in our boxes of wood or brick, fight the cold any way we can. A poet posts a selfie taken by snowlight. A long-Covid survivor befriends the horse stabled beneath her apartment. The snow plowman dreams of combine harvesters bringing in the crop: a wintry mix. One of his chickens goes gaga over her egg.

cold sun
the fetal curl
of rhododendron leaves

What fever do I still need to break? I take a dose of Vitamin D with my morning outrage. Whose salt-block ignorance or black-ice tongue are we taking offense at today?

crescent moon
a snowflake’s asterisk
in my windpipe

It’s snowing right over there, on the other side of the valley, in soft syllables of Plattdeutsch. Fresh coyote tracks cross my own and I follow them back to a den under an outcrop of Tuscarora quartzite. I walk on, until the last bit of daylight has drained from the sky.

blinking
through the night forest
cell tower

house shaking
from the oil furnace
from the wind

***

Process notes

The longer I delay finishing these things, the longer they get. The delay in this case was due not to procrastination, but indecision about whether to make a haibun or a linked verse sequence with the footage and haiku I had, plus some difficulty in finding the right soundtrack. I’m not completely satisfied with the somewhat canned-sounding piece of music I ended up using here; I just needed to finish up so I could move on.

When I started making haiga with still photos at the beginning of the year, I wondered how it might impact my video-making. What I’m discovering is that, while it does scratch kind of the same itch, it’s given additional impetus to my haiku writing, so that I end up with more than enough material for both projects. The trick is remembering to shoot both video and still photos — if I’m looking for one, I’m not necessarily looking for the other.

NEOLOG 2021.0: new words for a new year

still from Neolog

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gaslighght

haranguish

antivoxpopuli

farmine

winterred

sunderland

isonation

simulus

plutocrack

infestive

corporulation

dishoarder

whitewish

epiphan’t

quarantinder

chutzprat

sworm

immoanity

inocubus

virall

Notes

The original plan was for Luisa and me to collaborate on a linked-verse videopoem, but around Christmas the word “infestive” came to me, and I thought maybe it would be fun to do one-word poems after the style of Aram Saroyan, famous for “lighght” among other micropoetic masterpieces. I messaged Luisa, and as soon as she ingested some more caffeine we were off to the races. The footage is mostly my own, gathered over the past three years. A few clips have appeared in other things I’ve made, and a few were shot intentionally for this project, including a car-window glimpse of cotton fields that Luisa shot. I found the soundtrack once again at the fabulous online community of musicians and remixers at ccMixter.org.

The selection of words we used represents about a third of what we came up with in the course of an hour. We tried to avoid bathos as best we could, with the Urban Dictionary to keep us on the straight and narrow: several of our most obvious ideas had already been coined! Nevertheless, we wanted to include a mix of more and less obvious neologisms, since (unlike Saroyan) we’re not necessarily just about art for art’s sake here — we also wanted something accessible enough to serve as a sort of weird holiday greeting card for Via Negativa readers.

So thank you for visiting Via Negativa in 2020, and thanks especially to those who share our links on social media or pick up a subscription. (We don’t make any money off this, it just make us feel good to know that some people like our content enough to commit to reading it every day… or at least as often as our slightly buggy set-up manages to generate new emails.) Best wishes for a Happy or at least Less Intolerable New Year to all.

Coal train

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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A new videohaiku. It’s silent, in part because I was blasting music when I shot the footage, waiting for a train to clear our crossing. Had no idea the footage would be so hypnotic. This is less than half the total length of the train, by the way. Every car loaded high with bituminous coal, heading east.

In this human city

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The latest videohaiku stars the neighborhood ash tree and a flock of starlings, shot from the patio while I was drinking coffee. The text is a bit wordier than usual for me, shaped in part by the need to fit into a pseudo-concrete poem.

London after Blake

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My latest videohaiku is an homage to William Blake. The major Blake exhibition currently at Tate Britain features only indirectly, via a billboard above the escalators in Waterloo Station. Just to the southwest of that station, under the multiple railroad tracks, is another, permanent exhibition that Rachel and I took in on Sunday, before walking over to the Tate: the London School of Mosaic’s project Blake’s Lambeth (2005-2015):

Blake’s Lambeth is a collection of 70 mosaics installed in the tunnels alongside Archbishops Park, close to Waterloo Station. The project was part of a 10 year collaboration of Southbank Mosaics (our former company) with Future’s Theatre and Southbank Sinfonia supported by Heritage Lottery.

William Blake lived for ten of his most productive years in North Lambeth at 13 Hercules Buildings. The old house has been knocked down, but there is a plaque where it once stood on Hercules Road. This mosaic project pays homage to his genius and some of his greatest work. Our artists worked with 300 volunteers over a period of 7 years to research, design, plan, create and install 70 mosaics based on the words and paintings of William Blake into the railway tunnels of Waterloo Station, turning them from dark unwelcoming places into street galleries bright with opulent and durable works of art.

There’s also an extensive photo gallery at the blog Spitalfields Life, which is how I found out about the installation, having Googled “William Blake Lambeth”, hoping for an historical marker or something.

I messed around with the text of the haiku quite a lot while working on the video, and it wasn’t until I decided to take it in a Blakean, satirical direction that it felt right. So it’s “after Blake” in two senses. (Here’s the text of his poem “London” if you need a refresher.) Each of the three lines is divided in two, using a similar font to the one in the Tate poster.

Here’s the (longer and much more slickly produced) official video for the project:


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Wet sidewalk

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A haiku video shot near the Angel, Islington, which is apparently the third cheapest property in the British version of Monopoly. These days it’s one of the trendier, more gentrified neighborhoods of north London. In the video I decided not to reference any of this in connection with fallen leaves, since “fallen angels” is such a cliche. But videopoetry fans will doubtless roll their eyes at my use of one of the most hackneyed visual tropes in the genre, a shot of walking feet. In my defense, we were moving quickly (the video is at half speed) and I didn’t have time to frame the shot in such a way that it didn’t include my feet. The results were pretty enough to make me decide to embrace the suck.

Summer dusk

still from "summer dusk" - lights reflected on the river

A videohaiku filmed several weeks ago at Rotherhithe on the south bank of the Thames, London. There were many other things that afternoon and evening that I wish I’d filmed, such as the grand spectacle of the tide going out on the Thames, or the 18th-century clay pipe stems that still appear by the thousands among the stones on the foreshore. But you have to go with what you’ve got — and nothing stops me from making poems without video, after all.