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?

Moon at the station

View on Vimeo.

A videohaiku filmed at our local London Overground station, Kensal Rise. This is the final video in the seasonal series and also in the larger cycle of videohaiku that began last December with footage Rachel shot from the Amtrak approaching our crossing in central Pennsylvania. I know that leaves a month-long gap, but this feels complete now, and I’ve resisted mixing PA- and UK-based videohaiku in a single seasonal series, which I guess reflects some feeling that, however modern haiku might become, however much they might dispense with seasonal words and traditional conceits, they should still be rooted in particular times and places.

Imagine belonging like that. It’s easy if you try…

Guard dog

View on Vimeo.

My time in the UK is coming to a close for the year, so this is the penultimate video in the current haiku series, which I’m calling Autumn Metropolis. It was shot in a neighborhood of London we’ll call Anytowne, UK. It begins with a sign that I found both haiku-like and ironic:

do not enter
large dogs
may be running free

The ambiguity of “free”, especially in the British context where citizens are also subjects, and where a large proportion of them—possibly a majority—are demanding greater restrictions on their own and others’ movements, is not unlike the ambiguity of one of the dogs’ reactions to me. I feel as if it’s missing its calling as a member of the Border Force.

November rain

View on Vimeo.

The latest videohaiku combines footage shot this morning through a half-open upstairs window with an observation made yesterday through the downstairs window. I was kind of pleased with the way the footage looks like a mash-up of Impressionism and Cubism.

Hunting mushrooms

View on Vimeo.

A videohaiku shot yesterday on Hampstead Heath, where various autumn mushrooms are appearing in the leaf duff and meadows. I’ll admit, though, I had eyes mainly for the trees, as usual, and came home empty-handed except for some pretty images.

The vignetting effect is beginning to feel a bit cheesy to me, but I used it without hesitation here, perhaps because the subject of the second half of the video is the essence of cheesiness. The same thinking guided my choice of font. But it’s fine, because as I’ve said before, haiku are supposed to be somewhat light-hearted.

field mushroom, Hampstead Heath

In this human city

View on Vimeo.

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

View on Vimeo.

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:


Watch on YouTube.

Wet sidewalk

View on Vimeo.

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.

Skyline

A videohaiku shot on Primrose Hill, London. The area where people are congregating includes a quote from William Blake incised into the curb/kerb: “I have conversed with the spiritual sun on Primrose Hill.” Here’s the background on that. Unfortunately, too many people were sitting or standing on the quote, posing for selfies or admiring the view — I wasn’t able to video it. I like the shot I used, but it took me several days to come up with a fitting textual accompaniment. One draft I particularly liked…

skyline
the moving domes
of umbrellas

…until I looked at my footage again and realized there weren’t many umbrellas in it.