Pandemic Time (haibun)

still from Pandemic Time

Be sure to watch with the sound on. Vimeo link.

Kept apart by the pandemic — my wife in London, me in the mountains of Pennsylvania — we connect each day through video conferencing software. She tells me of a scary incident earlier in the day when a man spat at her, narrowly missing her face, as they passed on bicycles. She watched in astonishment as he went on spitting: at a bystander and then at a runner, fortunately also missing both, before he disappeared around the corner like a figure out of some urban legend — “the mad plague carrier.”

pandemic time
stopping the car to watch
a pair of ducks

I’m still digesting this news when she says “It’s time to clap!” and carries me outside. I watch from atop a rubbish bin as people emerge from their houses up and down the street to clap and shout slogans in support of NHS health care workers. It’s chaotic, unsyncopated, and over in less than a minute. That was really great, she says.

open road
our distances
are social

***

Process notes

Although many of my haibun draw on dreams or other products of the imagination, this one is all true. (The shot was taken half a mile away from the spot where I stopped to watch ducks, however: two common mergansers in the Little Juniata River near Tyrone, PA). I decided to experiment with overlapping haiku and prose to suggest the disjunction between what’s going on here with what’s unfolding in London. The risk with this sort of thing is that I lose linear thinkers or anyone with dyslexia.

The PennDOT sign might be hard to read on a small screen. It alternatives between STAY HOME / LIMIT TRAVEL and PRACTICE SOCIAL DISTANCE. It was that latter phrase that I found suggestive: the idea of social distancing as a practice. From that seed sprang the whole haibun.

Waste

Up, and to the office, where sat all the morning busy. At noon home to dinner, where Mrs. Pierce did continue with us and her boy (who I still find every day more and more witty beyond his age), and did dine with us, and by and by comes in her husband and a brother-in-law of his, a parson, one of the tallest biggest men that ever I saw in my life. So to the office, where a meeting extraordinary about settling the number and wages of my Lord Bruncker’s clerks for his new work upon the Treasurer’s accounts, but this did put us upon running into the business of yesterday about Carcasse, wherein I perceive he is most dissatisfied with me, and I am not sorry for it, having all the world but him of my side therein, for it will let him know another time that he is not to expect our submitting to him in every thing, as I think he did heretofore expect. He did speak many severe words to me, and I returned as many to him, so that I do think there cannot for a great while, be, any right peace between us, and I care not a fart for it; but however, I must look about me and mind my business, for I perceive by his threats and enquiries he is and will endeavour to find out something against me or mine. Breaking up here somewhat brokenly I home, and carried Mrs. Pierce and wife to the New Exchange, and there did give her and myself a pair of gloves, and then set her down at home, and so back again straight home and thereto do business, and then to Sir W. Batten’s, where W. Pen and others, and mighty merry, only I have got a great cold, and the scolding this day at the office with my Lord Bruncker hath made it worse, that I am not able to speak. But, Lord! to see how kind Sir W. Batten and his Lady are to me upon this business of my standing by W. Batten against Carcasse, and I am glad of it. Captain Cocke, who was here to-night, did tell us that he is certain that yesterday a proclamation was voted at the Council, touching the proclaiming of my Lord Duke of Buckingham a traytor, and that it will be out on Monday. So home late, and drank some buttered ale, and so to bed and to sleep. This cold did most certainly come by my staying a little too long bare-legged yesterday morning when I rose while I looked out fresh socks and thread stockings, yesterday’s having in the night, lying near the window, been covered with snow within the window, which made me I durst not put them on.

morning run

a broken pair of gloves
covered with snow


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 9 March 1667.

Self-quarantine

Watch on Vimeo.

The word goes out: Stop congregating. Stop conjugating. Stop conflagrating. Look but don’t touch — not even your own face. Stay home. Keep your distance. Keep your own company. That’s all any of us have left, aside from toilet paper. You may already be dead.

red pill
telling the ladybirds
to fly away home

Institutional

Up and with Sir W. Batten and J. Minnes by coach to White Hall, where we attended upon the Duke of York to complain of the disorders the other day among the seamen at the Pay at the Ticket Office, and that it arises from lack of money, and that we desire, unless better provided for with money, to have nothing more to do with the payment of tickets, it being not our duty; and the Duke of York and W. Coventry did agree to it, so that I hope we shall be rid of that trouble. This done, I moved for allowance for a house for Mr. Turner, and got it granted. Then away to Westminster Hall, and there to the Exchequer about my tallies, and so back to White Hall, and so with Lord Bellasses to the Excise Office, where met by Sir H. Cholmly to consider about our business of money there, and that done, home and to dinner, where I hear Pegg Pen is married this day privately; no friends, but two or three relations on his side and hers. Borrowed many things of my kitchen for dressing their dinner. So after dinner to the office, and there busy and did much business, and late at it. Mrs. Turner come to me to hear how matters went; I told her of our getting rent for a house for her. She did give me account of this wedding to-day, its being private being imputed to its being just before Lent, and so in vain to make new clothes till Easter, that they might see the fashions as they are like to be this summer; which is reason good enough. Mrs. Turner tells me she hears gives 4500l. or 4000 with her. They are gone to bed, so I wish them much sport, and home to supper and to bed. They own the treaty for a peace publickly at Court, and the Commissioners providing themselves to go over as soon as a passe comes for them.

white hall
we complain of disorders
in borrowed clothes


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 15 February 1667.

Two recent haiku videos and an expanded essay on videohaiku

I made this first video to test out the iMovie app for my iPhone. It’s the first time I’ve made a videopoem entirely on the phone. It was dead simple to learn, but the text-on-screen choices and effects options were… limited.

That was in preparation for my keynote presentation at last weekend’s REELpoetry/Houston TX festival, where I needed to pretend to be some sort of expert on how to make videopoetry. In fact, of course, I just picked the brains of some people who are experts and incorporated their recommendations into my talk. One of those experts was fellow presenter Mary McDonald, a media artist with an encyclopedic knowledge of software and hardware, who recommended as the best free solution for on-phone or tablet video editing a two-year-old app for iOS or Android called Videoleap. (I played with it for a bit and was impressed, but to be be honest I’m not very adept at doing things on my phone, so I don’t know how often I’ll use it.)

Another expert, who helped me out with some great recommendations for tutorial sites (which I’ve incorporated into Moving Poems’ page of resources for videopoem makers), was my fellow film judge and host for the weekend, Randee Ramsey, who must be one of the relatively few people qualified to teach both poetry and film to university students. I shot a quick video on her back patio and paired it with a haiku based on her pointing out the Enron buildings to me in downtown Houston:

One of the two screenings I presented at the festival was of my own videohaiku, including a half-hour selection from my four seasonal videohaiku sequences which I called Crossing the Pond and the two-minute supplement Sea Levels. As part of that presentation, I expanded my recent essay at Atticus Review to include some general remarks on what haiku actually is, since there seems to be so much confusion about that in the non-haiku poetry world, let alone the general public:

What the hell is videohaiku? And for that matter, what the hell is haiku?

Throughout 2019 I produced haiku videopoems—AKA video haiga or videohaiku—on an almost industrial scale, churning out 80 short videos in seasonal chunks rooted in one or the other of my two homes in Pennsylvania and the UK: Winter Trees, Pennsylvania Spring, Summer in the UK, and Autumn Metropolis. All four can be viewed at the Videopoetry section of my website, davebonta.com. I’m calling the whole series Crossing the Pond: A Transatlantic Haiku Year, and today we’ll see a half-hour-long selection with a roughly equal number from each season.

A few words about modern haiku, a genre that’s widely misunderstood even by MFA-trained poets: Modern haiku practitioners generally agree that syllable counting is at best too generous at 17 syllables, and should generally strive for something shorter, or at worst that it’s a complete misunderstanding of how sound-units and meaning interact in Japanese.

Also, Japanese haiku are traditionally written in a single line, though I and many others prefer to stick with two or three lines, recognizing that a line break can help emphasize perhaps the most essential feature of haiku: the semantic break dividing the haiku into two, asymmetrical parts, in which two thoughts or images are juxtaposed in a way that hopefully evokes some kind of “a-ha” moment in the reader.

Haiku poets tend to prize double meanings, so in English, creative arrangements of text and avoidance of most punctuation can accentuate that quality. Presentation of text in a video through simple animation or sequential appearance can play with these possible multiple meanings.

In addition to that, similes are completely eschewed and metaphorical dimensions are left implied rather than spelled out. Objectivity and direct observation by the poet are highly valued, though all the traditional masters wrote haiku of pure imagination as well.

Modern haiku writers do not agree on whether it’s important to continue to focus on natural imagery and seasonal words. I personally feel that the relationship of humans to their environment is a key element of haiku awareness, even if that happens to mean a highly urban environment. It’s important to remember that the Sino-Japanese word for nature, shizen, does not mean something apart from or in opposition to humanity, but the world as it functions in and of itself. A literal translation of the two characters would be something like “of/in itself thus.” So spontaneity is seen as integral to naturalness. It’s no coincidence that spontaneity is also the (highly elusive) goal of most haiku writers.

Skills learned in crafting modern haiku can be readily transferred to videopoetry and vice versa. Both succeed when they merely suggest connections rather than stating them outright. Both rely heavily on juxtaposition. Further, masters of both modern haiku and videopoetry have stressed the importance of a kind of openness or incompleteness. Ogiwara Seisensui characterized haiku as a circle, with one half to be completed by the poet, the other half by the reader. Tom Konyves, who invented the term videopoetry, stresses the collaborative or synergistic properties of individual elements (text, visuals, audio) in a videopoem. “This collaborative property implies an incompleteness, indicating the presence of accommodating spaces in each of the elements,” he notes.

A further argument for marrying haiku and videopoetry is the long history of combining images and haiku: haiga, a genre which has been exported to the West as well. But most important, to me, is the way that the video/film medium can give haiku what they often lack on the page: necessary time and space. It’s not unusual for printed collections to isolate just one or two haiku on a page, surrounding them with white space in an effort to slow the reader down. It’s been said that haiku are the perfect form of poetry for our distracted, sound-bite-dominated society, but actually I feel the opposite is true. Even when I am away from all digital distractions, I still often have to keep admonishing myself to read more slowly. How slowly? Maybe something like half a minute to a minute per haiku… about the length of a short video.

I gather material for videohaiku in the same way people tend to gather material for regular haiku, walking slowly and keeping an eye out for small, odd things. My phone camera is always in my pocket, and I usually carry a notebook as well, because often while I walk I’m composing haiku in my head in response to footage shot on previous walks. So the writing flow and the perceptual flow often merge. The most common form my videohaiku take is similarly slow and contemplative, inviting viewers to enter the flow from which the text eventually emerges. I’m more about the process than the product in general, but especially with videohaiku, where spontaneity, as mentioned above, and the connection to a particular time and place strike me as more essential than producing flawless work.

[Watch Crossing the Pond on Google Drive]

The other thing we’re going to watch today is Sea Levels, a two-minute, stand-alone haiku sequence (renku) shot on a section of the Welsh coastline especially vulnerable to climate change, where recent storms have uncovered the remains of a forest flooded by earlier sea level rise during the late Bronze Age. That earlier event was of course not anthropogenic, but the way it’s been remembered in Welsh folklore to this day is fascinating. Since I’m not Welsh, however, I brought my own associations, including the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and the Book of Revelation. In contrast to the other videohaiku I’ve shown today, I’m afraid this all goes by pretty fast.

It’s worth mentioning that the traveler’s perspective has traditionally been given pride of place in many haiku and haibun sequences.

[Watch Sea Levels]

***

I should add that I was deeply honored by the invitation and gratified by the audience’s enthusiastic response, which was beyond anything I’d imagined, and does suggest I’m on the right path here. I’m painfully aware of the limitations of my film-making and my haiku, which I’ve come to realize are just about the hardest kind of poem to write. Reassuring as it’s been to land acceptances from a range of haiku journals over the past two years, this response from poets and filmmakers outside the haiku ghetto is just as reassuring, because the last thing I want is to become proficient at something too arcane for ordinary readers (and viewers) to grasp.

Cold Moon

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning, and here among other things come Captain Cocke, and I did get him to sign me a note for the 100l. to pay for the plate he do present me with, which I am very glad of. At noon home to dinner, where was Balty come, who is well again, and the most recovered in his countenance that ever I did see. Here dined with me also Mrs. Batters, poor woman! now left a sad widow by the drowning of her husband the other day. I pity her, and will do her what kindness I can; yet I observe something of ill-nature in myself more than should be, that I am colder towards her in my charity than I should be to one so painful as he and she have been and full of kindness to their power to my wife and I. After dinner out with Balty, setting him down at the Maypole in the Strand, and then I to my Lord Bellasses, and there spoke with Mr. Moone about some business, and so away home to my business at the office, and then home to supper and to bed, after having finished the putting of little papers upon my books to be numbered hereafter.

Cold Moon
I finish putting paper
on my books


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 20 December 1666.

Vulpes vulpes

Up, and very well again of my pain in my back, it having been nothing but cold. By coach to White Hall, seeing many smokes of the fire by the way yet, and took up into the coach with me a country gentleman, who asked me room to go with me, it being dirty — one come out of the North to see his son, after the burning his house: a merchant. Here endeavoured to wait on the Duke of York, but he would not stay from the Parliament. So I to Westminster Hall, and there met my good friend Mr. Evelyn, and walked with him a good while, lamenting our condition for want of good council, and the King’s minding of his business and servants. I out to the Bell Taverne, and thither comes Doll to me, and yo did tocar la cosa of her as I pleased; and after an hour’s stay, away and staid in Westminster Hall till the rising of the house, having told Mr. Evelyn, and he several others, of my Gazette which I had about me that mentioned in April last a plot for which several were condemned of treason at the Old Bayly for many things, and among others for a design of burning the city on the 3rd of September. The house sat till three o’clock, and then up: and I home with Sir Stephen Fox to his house to dinner, and the Cofferer with us. There I find Sir S. Fox’s lady, a fine woman, and seven the prettiest children of theirs that ever I knew almost. A very genteel dinner, and in great state and fashion, and excellent discourse; and nothing like an old experienced man and a courtier, and such is the Cofferer Ashburnham. The House have been mighty hot to-day against the Paper Bill, showing all manner of averseness to give the King money; which these courtiers do take mighty notice of, and look upon the others as bad rebells as ever the last were. But the courtiers did carry it against those men upon a division of the House, a great many, that it should be committed; and so it was: which they reckon good news. After dinner we three to the Excise Office, and there had long discourse about our monies, but nothing to satisfaction, that is, to shew any way of shortening the time which our tallies take up before they become payable, which is now full two years, which is 20 per, cent. for all the King’s money for interest, and the great disservice of his Majesty otherwise.
Thence in the evening round by coach home, where I find Foundes his present, of a fair pair of candlesticks, and half a dozen of plates come, which cost him full 50l., and is a very good present.
And here I met with, sealed up, from Sir H. Cholmly, the lampoone, or the Mocke-Advice to a Paynter, abusing the Duke of York and my Lord Sandwich, Pen, and every body, and the King himself, in all the matters of the navy and warr. I am sorry for my Lord Sandwich’s having so great a part in it.
Then to supper and musique, and to bed.

not seeing me
the city fox’s
full ears


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 14 December 1666.

Coal train

View on Vimeo

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.

Frozen

Up, and to the office, where we sat all the morning. At noon dined at home. After dinner presently to my office, and there late and then home to even my Journall and accounts, and then to supper much eased in mind, and last night’s good news, which is more and more confirmed with particulars to very good purpose, and so to bed.

ice all morning
in my mind
last night’s particulars


Erasure haiku derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 4 December 1666.

Autumn Metropolis (videohaiku sequence)

If you experience playback issues with the Vimeo link above, try the YouTube playlist version instead.

This 17-video sequence of videos based mostly in London, with one from the outskirts of Swindon, concludes my year-long series of haiku videos, which began with Winter Trees and continued in Pennsylvania Spring and Summer in the UK: 80 videos in all. As with the other three collections, the canonical link is at davebonta.com.

Let me paste in the text, with the first line of each haiku linking to the original post here at Via Negativa where I wrote about where it was shot and what might’ve prompted it. I’ll post some concluding thoughts below.

Autumn Metropolis

peace garden
the nonresistance
of leaves

*

back alleys
it’s not whether but how
we go to seed

*

building site
the four-square mounds
of unearthed earth

*

poetry festival
someone says the lake
isn’t a lake

*

in wild
flower beds now
only the cosmos

*

200 years
after Keats’ ode
autumn persists

*

churchyard labyrinth
zeroing in
on the X

*

where the dead
are said to sleep
my autumn face

*

skyline
the immensity
of our loss

*

wet sidewalk
beneath the fallen leaves
another sky

*

London after Blake
bearded hipsters open
a pop-up brothel

*

in this human city
an ash tree sings
possessed by starlings

*

hunting mushrooms
I find
a small circus

*

November rain
a mouse forages under
the garden table

*

this slower autumn
from which there’s no return
cold to my bones

*

guard dog
wagging your tail
I’m leaving now

*

moon at the station
imagine belonging
to just one place

*

Today I watched the whole sequence together for the first time, three weeks after finishing the last video and returning to the U.S., and I have to admit I’m kind of pleased with it — which isn’t my usual reaction to things I’ve made. I think I can detect a gradual improvement in both my haiku writing and my video editing over the course of the year, though I think there’s more continuity than not. I still think single-shot videos work best for haiku, freeing the viewer to give these super-brief texts their full (if not undivided) attention. For that reason, out of this sequence I think “poetry festival”, “skyline” and “moon at the station” are the most successful, though with a video like “peace garden”, I wouldn’t not want the extra shots at the beginning, which help establish context and also introduce additional found text. “Guard dog” does this perhaps even better. Other videos where I took advantage of additional text in the shots include “London after Blake”, “hunting mushrooms”, “churchyard labyrinth” (that cross read as an X, as in Xmas). In “back alleys” and “this slower autumn”, graffiti lend a calligraphic touch, and could be seen as tongue-in-cheek allusions to traditional haiga.

The plethora of texts within the environment is one interesting aspect of making videohaiku, or any sort of videopoetry, in urban locations. Then there’s the ability to connect to great artists or writers who may have lived or worked nearby — not generally as easy a thing to do in the backwoods. So for example the Keats and Blake references set in parts of London where they’d actually spent time.

But most of all, what I have enjoyed about walking around towns and cities this year is not knowing what I might discover around the next bend — which is actually very similar to the way I experience forests. The rich cultural and historical diversity compensates to some extent for the radically impoverished biodiversity. “Hunting mushrooms” is my attempt to suggest something of that sleight-of-hand here. Though it could’ve used a better shot focusing on the mushroom-cap shape of that circus tent… which points up one of the pitfalls of working in this ekphrastic manner. The spontaneity of haphazard shooting on a cellphone is a great fit with the modern haiku ethos, but it does mean that you often have to settle for less-than-ideal footage. The shot in “building site” is really rather sub-par, for example, due in part to poor light and in part to constant vibrations of the road surface I was shooting from as huge trucks rumbled past behind me. But it ended up sparking a fairly interesting text, I thought, even if as a haiku it’s perhaps a bit too clever, too lacking in lightness.

Where do I go from here? It’s tempting to go back and re-do some of my videos from last winter and spring, applying new techniques I learned in the course of the project. I thought about putting all the videos into one humongous Vimeo collection and YouTube sequence, but I don’t know that anyone would ever actually watch it. A better idea might be to select the best half or two-thirds of them and roll them into a single film with a run-time of under one hour, presuming I can figure out how to do this with the video editing tools at my disposal, and call it something like Crossing the Pond: A Transatlantic Haiku Year. Then I’d have something I could, I don’t know, put on a DVD? With an accompanying book? I’d appreciate feedback from anyone who’s been following this project. What would you like to see? Or are the four online sequences sufficient?