Coal train

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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.

Climate strike

still from climate strike

A haiku video using footage of my partner Rachel preparing for last Friday’s global climate strike—an event led by schoolchildren in which adults were also encouraged to participate.

Sea Levels

still from Sea Levels

A renku (linked verse) sequence about sea level rise and the drowned Bronze Age forest of the Welsh Ceredigion coast, exposed in recent years by climate change-related storms. Here’s the text, for the benefit of the visually impaired:

low tide
we comb the ancient peat
for footprints

drowned forest
the gull’s cry turns eldritch

undead stumps
4000 years later
sprout bladderwrack

our shared excitement
at scraps of root-bark

seaside town
all the colors of ice cream
against the Atlantic

the high street is already
lower than the beach

Tisha B’Av just past
Orthodox Jewish families
stroll the sea wall

land marks us
sea levels us

beneath the waves
we are saying hello
and goodbye

Process notes

Summer is my least favorite season, so I guess it’s no surprise that I fell out of the habit of shooting videos for one-minute videohaikus sometime in July. But an August visit to the submerged forest at Borth and Ynyslas in Wales, scoured of sand most recently by Storm Hannah in April, revived my interest in shooting cellphone video, to put it mildly. I now have plans to finish up the summer sequence with four or five other videos, but this one is different: my first attempt at a renku video. (And at two minutes, it’s too long to share on Instagram. Boo hoo.) The poetry took some time to write, and I was continuing to fiddle with the last three verses up through the final editing.

There is a legend about a little kingdom in the Ceredigion Bay, Cantre’r Gwaelod, that was drowned thousands of years ago, based presumably on earlier glimpses of the ancient stumps, roots and peat. Or it may be actual folk memory; human footprints and artifacts have been found in the peat. There are also arrow-straight glacial moraines leading from shore out into the bay, which look very man-made—I was fooled—and no doubt gave rise to stories of an ancient system of dikes and causeways. All this folk material is very interesting but I didn’t feel it was mine to exploit, especially since Welsh poets have already done so, with the kind of intimate knowledge you only gain by spending a lot of time in a place. John Barnie’s The Forest Under the Sea (Cinnamon Press, 2010) is a great example of this. I was delighted to find a copy in a bookstore in Aberystwyth just around the corner from where we were staying. Here’s one of the shortest poems:

Cantre’r Gwaelod

I’m trying to recall the wreckage of my parent’s lives,
my brother’s,

confounded with claws and stumps on the shore
as

memory sweeps their images
out and in.

And another:

Low Tide at Borth

Terns have settled for a chat
at ease among roots of the sunken forest
like woodland birds before the tide
turns to reclaim its property, wrapping it
in salty preservatives; the terns

will fly, then, and screech and dive
for the silver mint of fish, the shoal
scattering and shining as did leaves in the Cantref
when a westerly blew and there was fierce
gale-light and no mercy.

We did hear from several people that Borth gets all kinds of savage weather. There only for a few days as tourists in fine, late-summer weather, what we see depends much more on what we bring to the place. For me, that’s a long-standing love of forests, a fascination with ancient Britain, and an environmentalist’s deep sense of foreboding about biodiversity loss and climate change. As for myths, there’s Atlantis, of course, but also, as a metalhead, Chthulu (“eldritch” is a word rescued from obscurity by H.P. Lovecraft). And though I’m not Jewish, a reference to Tisha B’Av seemed to fit: a day for mourning historical calamities.

Whether or not readers/watchers pick up on all that doesn’t really matter. The trick with haiku as always is to balance the sense of wabi and sabi with lightness and earthy humor. It’s the ideal form for travel poetry. Whether or not I’ve succeeded here, it does feel good to push myself and do something a bit more ambitious than usual.