Putting a Garden In

still from the video - close-up of a baby bunny
This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Pandemic Season


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

Putting a garden in so often entails putting wildlife out. You develop an adversarial relationship with nature, fencing, trapping, shooting, poisoning, getting a guard dog… It’s this sad reality that many years ago turned me against what had been the reigning passion of my youth.

onion bed
pulling out
wild onions

But my wife suggested from her bunker in London that as long as I am stuck in Pennsylvania for at least half the summer due to the pandemic, I might as well grow some vegetables. Great idea, I said, already relishing the thought of getting my fingers in the dirt again. But just planting fence posts, I displaced three adorable baby bunnies from the long grass, and when our neighbor plowed the site up, a meadow vole rushed out, all fur and panic.

wire fence
the wind’s
new whistle


Process notes

In contrast to my usual one-shot approach, I had plenty of footage to work with this time. Serendipity, as usual, played the strongest role; my planned shots were the least interesting. I realized during editing that I could even use a few seconds of accidental video recorded by the iPhone when a strong gust of wind blew it off the well cover where I’d had it propped up, and make it look as if it’s my reaction to the feint of a milk snake. To me, haibun is all about balance between different registers: prose and poetry (obviously), but also in this case humor and seriousness, attraction (the bunny) and repulsion (the snake). I tried turning it black-and-white to see how that would work, but it pushed it too far in the direction of serious, high-brow art.

As with my previous haibun, the haiku took the longest to get into their final (I hope!) form. It helped me to remember to go back to the original moment of inspiration for each one, and not get too abstract or clever (such as “now the wind has somewhere to whistle”). I displayed them as one-liners in the video and three lines above, and this inconsistency doesn’t bother me in the least, though many modern haiku people seem to obsess about such things. (One has to wonder whether their energies might be better spent learning to make videopoems!)

I am worried about the video seeming a bit rushed, and wonder whether it makes sense to continue to restrict myself to a one-minute duration. Regardless, this video haibun thing appears to be turning into a proper series. Yay!

Quarantine Walk

still from Quarantine Walk
This entry is part 3 of 14 in the series Pandemic Season


Watch on Vimeo.

quarantine walk
stopping at the sound
of a jet

I can’t stop marveling at how quiet it’s become under lockdown. In normal times I find the close horizons of this narrow hollow in the hills a bit claustrophobic, but now that there’s so much less noise echoing around in it from adjacent highways, the nearby quarry, and factories and businesses in town, it feels more spacious. A pair of local Canada geese fly over at dusk and I hold my breath, listening to their wingbeats. I no longer envy animals that live underground their superior soundproofing.

last week’s rain
that hush
in the moss


Process notes

I think of the relationship between the prose and haiku portions of a haibun as a conversation, or better yet, antiphony — call-and-response. When it becomes a film/video, two other elements, image and sound, join in for what might hopefully resemble four-part harmony. What’s fascinating about this from the creative side is how the editing proceeds, with each element continually getting tweaked in response to the others. Even if, as is often the case with me, the video arrives first and calls up the text, where to cut and how much to process it can still change up to the last minute, as the haiku morph and I adjust the prose to make everything fit into the span of a minute. Our internet in Plummer’s Hollow continues to degrade as the pandemic crisis intensifies; best to keep the upload as small as possible.

The haiku here assumed their final and shortest form after I got a few more hours of sleep and rose in the middle of the night when the internet is fastest. There’s something about the wee hours that favors concision. Ultimately, I take my inspiration from the moss, which crowds so much into so little space. It carpets the mountain’s steep slopes where the ravages of the first clear-cutting, more than 200 years ago, might as well have been yesterday as far as the soil is concerned. No matter how great the chasms that open between them during a drought, moss plants always manage to heal all wounds and join up again in a harmony that must be perfect — how else could such a teeming mob maintain such silence?

Pandemic Time

still from Pandemic Time
This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series Pandemic Season


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.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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.


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall
This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series Pandemic Season


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


holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

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.