Song Dogs

white blossoms of blavk locust floating on a stream
This entry is part 39 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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It’s not that you’re chasing a white moth through the forest; it’s just that she happens to be flying ahead of you, right? It’s just that things come to you when you’re walking. And you to them.

An ephemeral forest pool, fed by spring rains. Here at the top of the watershed the rain doesn’t quite know where to go, so it sits for a while. Ripples on the surface show how any point can be the center of an expanding universe. I love watching them intersect and cancel each other out.

song dogs
on the trail of some
ripe panic

Ephemeroptera

still from Ephemeroptera
This entry is part 38 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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Driving home along the river, I have to turn on the windshield wipers every mile or two because of all the mayflies, the off-white inkblots of their anonymous deaths. Imagine living one’s life in a state of arrested development, and only on your last day undergoing not one, but two radical transformations, one after the other: growing wings, breathing air, and mating just once, having gained reproductive parts in exchange for the loss of a mouth.

spring again
scheduling my first
Covid shot


Process notes

Placing two things in close proximity: that’s a poem. The shadbush and hepatica footage here came from a single walk down the hollow and back. But if only I’d had a dash cam on that drive home…

Will this be the final post in the Pandemic Year series? Probably not, but it feels as if it could be.

Pedants may think that COVID should still be written in all caps but that doesn’t seem to be how common usage has gone. In time, even the initial capital letter will come to seem too much, and it’ll end up like scuba or ok, just another word.

Exclusive

This entry is part 37 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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I’m beginning to resent the camera for what it excludes. If I had money, I could get one of those fancy 360° cameras and greatly expand the frontiers of my frustration. If I were rich, I could give up on photography altogether and turn my poems into place-specific holograms. The words could hang in the air like contrails and brew their own bad weather.

for the maples’
flaming sexual parts
this breeze

***

Process notes

After I drafted this I remembered I had an AR app on my phone called Weird Type. Good to finally have a use for it. Also, I’m not sure whether filming that rock pile directly influenced what I wrote a little later, but it was fun to juxtapose two products of the same walk and ultimately the same train of thought.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of what flowers are, or even that trees are flowering plants, so I suppose the haiku might just seem weird and creepy. Oh well. Maples are wind-pollinated, which from a human perspective seems slightly less perverse than relying on insects to get off.

Sproing

still from Sproing

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File under Nonessential Life Skills: On the day before the vernal equinox, I learn the sound a dead Norway spruce limb makes when a red-tailed hawk takes off from it: a soft, wooden sproing! A little later, I listen to two ravens muttering back and forth: first about me, then about another hawk—or possibly the same one—landing in a nearby tree. The raven chasing it off makes little grunts with each labored wingbeat.

include me in your parenthesis day moon

On the equinox, I go for a hike in the Seven Mountains. There’s ice still on some of the state forest roads, and snow on north-facing slopes. I pass through a grove of one of the southern-most populations of black spruce, here where a microglacier sat during the last ice age. The trail around the bog runs with meltwater from a dozen springs, and hikers encountering each other have to step carefully as we turn away or cover our faces, saying our obligatory hellos.

unlost again the spring

***

Process notes

The problem with paying attention is that it’s somewhat incompatible with remembering to shoot video. Fortunately I remembered this great anonymous home movie, which has plenty of spruce-looking confers in it as well as other areas of overlap with the text. I looped a section of a track from one-man industrial music project ROZKOL, and for the haiku, hit upon a font called Strawberry Blossom, which I love, at least in this context.

I’m conscious of the fact that, in a series with the working title Pandemic Year, I haven’t explicitly marked the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown, but I’m inclined to think that’s not really necessary — very few viewers or readers will miss the significance of this second spring with Covid-19 and the possibility of re-opening on the horizon.

Animist

still from Animist
This entry is part 36 of 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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I don’t know whether I am really an animist or simply play one in my poems. Does it matter? The poems represent reality as best as I can intuit it: every object a subject, every subject sovereign. Relationships of mutual regard.

The main thing is I like to go for long walks and write short things. And occasionally I come part-way out of myself to take a look around, like an emerging cicada stuck in its larval exoskeleton. Failed ecdysis: this is the sad state of human consciousness these days. Perhaps if we each had a spirit guide…

spring thaw
trees retrieving their reflections
from the ice

***

Process notes

I had just finished drafting the prose portion of this haibun when I shot the video, which then prompted the haiku immediately afterwards. The vulture drifting through my shot was pure serendipity.

Considering what a simple, haiga-style videopoem I had in mind, I flirted with the idea of making the whole thing on my phone before I got back from my walk, but decided it wasn’t worth sacrificing audio quality for. Also, it turns out the way I’d been pronouncing “ecdysis” was completely wrong. Good thing I thought to check an online dictionary before recording!

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 39 in the series Pandemic Year

 

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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.