Old Oak Common

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Yes, Virginia, there is a hellmouth. Old Oak Common is where the planned (and entirely unnecessary) High Speed 2 line will link up with Crossrail and the Great Western mainline to form the busiest station in the UK, in the process building one of the largest underground structures in the world. Currently it’s a massive plot of destroyed earth adjacent to Wormwood Scrubs, a rather bucolic conservation area less than two miles from where I live in northwest London. For more on the deconstruction, see this article in the Londonist. Anyway, enjoy the nice haiku.

midnight snail

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The process for making this videohaiku was a bit more convoluted than most. It started with my shooting a pretty good video of a snail descending a dead vine in the garden and continued with several days of adequate but not amazing haiku drafts. Then a long and varied open-mike reading (36 readers!) at London’s Poetry Cafe last night kind of re-set my thinking on the train ride home, and the haiku had taken a dramatically different direction by the time I started the short walk home. Then I encountered the snail in the video above, crossing the sidewalk of our residential street. The iPhone isn’t brilliant at shooting video in low light, but when I looked at the footage on my laptop this morning, I really liked all the glisteny bits. A bit of web research and a short walk later, I had the haiku I ended up using.

I mention all this in part to make the point that haiku are rarely easy to write, despite—or because—they are so short. (And I’m grateful to the host of the open mike reading, Niall O’Sullivan, for making that point at last night’s reading as well, in response to my sharing a couple of haibun. He then launched into a mini rant against 5-7-5 folk haiku, which was quite amusing. I see from his website that this is a regular theme of his.)

The snail is Cornu aspersum, the garden snail or Mediterranean land snail—the same species prized for escargots. It’s considered native here, though I suspect the Romans introduced it for culinary purposes.

dog walking

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The first draft of this haiku was considerably cleverer, complete with a self-reflexive pun, but ultimately simpler was better, I thought. Especially if the video is black and white.

commuter train

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A videohaiku shot on the London Overground, the tube’s less poetic, more sensible sibling.

I lived in Osaka for a year in the mid 80s, so that’s my other major experience with commuter trains. Back then, moving fingers belonged to businessmen taking advantage of the cramped conditions to feel up women. It was a huge problem. All my female acquaintances became adept at elbow jabs and insults in the local dialect. I don’t know how things are in Japan these days, but in the UK I’m glad that everyone just plays with their devices.

Grand Union Canal

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The first in my summer series of haiku videos, shot near where I’m staying in north London, along the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal.

I’m not sure why I haven’t been sharing my videohaiku here, along with Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube. Possibly out of reluctance to supply titles to haiku (though that hasn’t stopped me from doing the occasional Pepys erasure haiku). But first lines will suffice, I think.

Pennsylvania Spring: a videohaiku sequence

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Continuing on from Winter Trees, this cycle contains 24 videohaiku one minute long or shorter, all but one shot on an iPhone without any advance planning, just capturing things of visual interest and letting them prompt haiku a day or more later. (The exception, “coal country spring”, uses old home movie footage that came to me in a similar serendipitous fashion: via @HomeMoviesBot on Twitter.)

As with Winter Trees, I feel that these are best experienced as they unfold, scroll-like, in the video series (which Vimeo now calls a showcase—previously album—and YouTube calls a playlist), in part of course because the visuals and audio are meant to add an extra dimension to the haiku, as with any videopoem. I am composing as much with video editing software as with the pen, and some of the haiku fall a little flat on the page. But here’s a transcription of the texts for the visually impaired:

shedding its snow
the new
old mountain

*

March wind
the first rose-colored
vulture face

*

counting the rings
in the wood frog pond
another year

*

yellow-bellied sapsucker
tapping
its true name

*

former field
the ruffed grouse makes a drum
out of thin air

*

bee or not
the daffodils
keeping faith

*
sun-drenched woods
the first violets
are yellow

*

fake flowers
where they found his body
fly fishing

*

Good Friday
despite claw and knife marks
they’re no one’s beeches

*

wind flowers
the way Beethoven heard
an ode to joy

*

budburst time
the returned vet says he went
straight to the woods

*

spring rain
learning that Dad
has Parkinson’s

*

railroad ties
crowd the vanishing point
fiddleheads

*

such a rush
to come back from the dead
April heat

*

coal country spring
all her doll’s new
imaginary friends

*

tweeting
about the #MetGala
watch your step

*

red eft—
how salamandery
this path

*

painted trillium
already going limp
catch and release

*

this habit
of inhabiting hills
the ants and me

*

clouds lifting
the valley’s visible
clear to the bare earth

*

spring woods at dusk
a daytime firefly
flutters past

*

green green
the broken boughs hiding
that murdered girl

*

nitrous moon
your balloon voice gone
far and wee

*

hatchlings
do you miss the hard shell
of a perfect world?

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 freesound.org, 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

*

January
the shrinking circle
of my needs

*

cold snap
the one-take tune I make
breaking icicles

*

snowflakes
on my bald head
tapping woodpecker

*

subnivean
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
ass-first

*

space
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

*

white-footed
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
underfoot

*

you dance with everything you’ve got
wind
trees

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.”