~ renga ~

Further experiments with videohaiku

The footage I linked to for a videohaiku challenge last week elicited very few responses, though each of them was very interesting. Perhaps composing a credible haiku is challenging enough without the additional burden of such WTF imagery to work with. However, in a classic example of beginner’s mind out-pacing the professionals, my friend Rachel Rawlins, who doesn’t consider herself a poet at all, suggested some lines which I thought worked very well. After some rather intense back-and-forth via email and Skype, here’s what we came up with:

To recap, the challenge was to treat the footage as if it were one part of a typically two-part haiku, either preceding or following the cut-point (usually represented in English by an em dash or colon). I find that composing this kind of videohaiku is much easier if you mentally substitute words for footage. So for this one, one could start with something like “[nudist handball—]”, e.g.

[nudist handball—]
not even netting
comes between us

which was an earlier joint effort of mine and Rachel’s.

Haiku are untitled, but Tom Konyves argued in an email that a videohaiku should have a title nonetheless. This was in the context of a critique of my first effort in this vein. I talked about it with James Brush, the author of the text, and he agreed. So we decided to call that piece flower (videohaiku) — though we didn’t remake the video itself, just changed the title on Vimeo, which was perhaps a bit of a cop-out. But for the second one with Rachel, you’ll notice we did put the title right on the video, using a freeze-frame as background.

There’s a long tradition of occasionally using bizarre imagery in written haiku and senryu. I found some truly WTF footage in the IICADOM collection (the Belgian equivalent of the Prelinger Archives), in an undated home movie identified simply as “Rural Life.” My mental substitution for the footage was “Hitler in the garden.” (This was in part a response to Othniel Smith’s video in this week’s Cheryl Gross column.) Anyway, here’s what I came up with:

I decided both videos worked fine as silent films, but I don’t think that’s necessarily part of the videohaiku prescription. I thought the ambient insect noise in flower was a good addition, and could work just as well with visitor here.

I’m now beginning to consider the best way to string videohaiku into videorenga. In classic Japanese linked verse (renga or renku), each stanza apart from the opening and closing verses is part of two different two-stanza poems in succession, which creates a dilemma for filmmakers: repeat each verse or not? And how to represent the shorter stanzas (two lines in English-language renga; 14 “syllables” in Japanese)?

I’m not going to issue another formal videopoetry challenge for now, but I am interested in continuing to work with other writers, and possibly other video remixers as well, so if you’d like to be part of that, let me know (bontasaurus@yahoo.com). Renga is a quintessentially collaborative approach to composition, and it seems to me it might be a natural fit for the remix/mashup culture of the web. But first we need to generate a prototype, I think.