Old Oak Common

Watch on Vimeo

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.

British Museum

In the British Museum, we dead have so many grave goods now! But even in the afterlife, there’s a closing time.

(Seriously, why is it so acceptable to desecrate graves in our culture? Older portions of British cemeteries are routinely dug up and the old burials disposed of to make way for new tenants. No wonder it’s considered acceptable to plunder graves for archaeological purposes and publicly display the finds in perpetuity.)

midnight snail

View on Vimeo.

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

View on Vimeo.

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.

Eid in the park

View on Vimeo.

Yesterday was Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, and I found myself in a north London park as public prayers were being offered. You can hear that faintly in the background. (This is shorter than my usual one-minute haiku videos because I decided to cut out much of an Islamophobic rant from a man behind me.)

summer sidewalk

View on Vimeo.

Shot along Notting Hill Gate (confusingly, the name of a street) in London, from a bench facing away from traffic… toward the Art. Unlike graffiti, official street art only looks good after it starts to get grubby, I think. Abandoned shopping carts/trolleys, on the other hand, have that haiku-ready wabi-sabi quality from the outset.

cows on the common

View at Vimeo.

The village of Brill in Buckinghamshire, where my father-in-law lives, has a unique program to maintain the common with a collectively owned herd of Dexter cattle. For this haiku video, I borrowed the idea of making a postcard come to life from the poetry filmmakers Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, who used it to great effect in an adaptation of one of my haibun, In West Virginia (which isn’t yet available for streaming on the web).

I suppose it was precisely the pro-biodiversity, feel-good quality of Brill’s cattle herding program that brought the baseline misery of livestock into sharp relief for me.

commuter train

View on Vimeo.

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.