Videopoetry challenge: help me shape a new(ish) style of videohaiku

This collaboratively produced videopoem with text by James Brush represents a new approach to videohaiku for me: one in which the first part of the haiku is represented by film footage, which freezes and transitions to text roughly where a mid-poem kireji or cutting word would occur in a Japanese haiku.

[A mid-verse] kireji performs the paradoxical function of both cutting and joining; it not only cuts the ku into two parts, but also establishes a correspondence between the two images it separates, implying that the latter represents the poetic essence (本意 hon’i) of the former, creating two centres and often generating an implicit comparison, equation, or contrast between the two separate elements.

It’s an approach for which I am partly indebted to Tom Konyves, who in his Videopoetry: A Manifesto cites Eric Cassar’s minimalist videohaiku as normative for the genre—”The videohaiku (approx. 30 seconds) uses a few words of text attached to the shortest duration of images”—and who responded to some recent thoughts of mine about different approaches to videohaiku (and there are many!) with a comment that took me a little while to digest. I had mentioned one approach in which a long shot (or series of related shots) is followed by the haiku as text-on-screen, so that the shot(s) function more or less like the painting in a traditional haiga as well as suggesting something about the poet’s observational process leading up to the composition of the haiku. This is a method both James and I have experimented with in the past. Quoting a description of the two-part structure of a typical haiku, Tom wrote:

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this “method” addresses a question about videopoetry’s strategies re: word-image relationships in the fact that the observation of the first segment – the division into two semantic elements of unequal length, usually corresponding to two different images or ideas, which for maximum effect should have some relationship but not too immediately obvious a one – is best achieved by the image, while the non-sequitur of the second segment is best expressed in words (the text in a videopoem).

It was with this on my mind last Monday that, rather on the spur of the moment, I challenged Facebook friends and members of the POOL group there to write something to go with a section of a randomly chosen old home movie from the Prelinger Archives. I gave them six hours, later extended to eight, and linked to my post from the Moving Poems Twitter account as well:

Ekphrastic haiku challenge: I need a haiku to feature in a haiga-style short film using footage from this old home movie—the section from 3:50 to 4:50 where the baby is brandishing a flower. Haiku should contain no more than 17 syllables but may contain fewer; kigo unnecessary; number of lines unimportant. It should work as a poem and should probably refer obliquely to the film imagery at best. You’ll be fully credited as author, and the resulting video may appear on Moving Poems if I’m satisfied with it. Email haiku (as many attempts as you like) to me: bontasaurus@yahoo.com by 10:00 PM tonight (Monday), New York time (3:00 AM GMT).

In short order I received 27 submissions from 13 people, most of them published poets along with a couple of inspired amateurs. I soon realized that my instructions had been inadequate if not down-right misleading. I shouldn’t have specified that a submission should work as a poem, because the lines that seemed to work best with the footage felt incomplete until I imagined them following the footage. James had started with a rather high-concept idea and pared it down in the course of three drafts. I suggested two further edits. What finally emerged was this:


how your hands burn
for the sun

with the ellipsis standing in for the footage of the baby in a meadow waving a daisy around. (One could even make it fit into a line: babe with a flower, say, or toddler in the yard.)

I’m excited by the result, and I’d like to propose a new challenge to help us further explore the possibilities of videohaiku. This time I’ll make the deadline midnight on Monday, New York time — i.e., 5:00 AM January 13 GMT. (That’s for people who get the weekly email digest and read it at work on Monday.) I tend to resist the idea that haiku need to be about nature all the time, so found a home movie, evidently from the 1930s, that features two men, naked but for jock straps, playing American handball in an indoor court. There are many minutes of that footage both at the beginning and end of the movie, but as before, I’ll select less than a minute of it, so feel free to suggest specific sections to use with your submission of haiku — or should I say, half-haiku. Because the idea this time is not to submit something that would necessarily stand on its own as a printed poem, but something that can be wedded with the footage as its other half, “generating an implicit comparison, equation, or contrast between the two separate elements” as the Wikipedia entry on kireji puts it.

Again, please use email (bontasaurus @yahoo.com) to submit, and send along as many suggestions as you like. Also, feel free to consider the possibility that the footage might fall in the second part of the verse, with one or two lines of text at the beginning. Would that even work as a poetry film? Could the flinging of a handball operate even as an end-of-verse kireji?

If you’re unfamiliar with haiku, or wonder why a lot of us who write it in English no longer believe in “5-7-5,” I recommend the Wikipedia entry on haiku, Imaoka Keiko’s essay “Forms in English Haiku,” and an excellent brief for writing haiku based on art or literature, rather than exclusively on direct experience: “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths” by Haruo Shirane. And for a good overview of 20th-century and contemporary haiku, I strongly recommend the Spring 2009 issue of Cordite, “Haikunaut.” The issue index at that link isn’t actually complete, because the essays are as illuminating as the poetry, so start with David Lanoue’s introduction and use the “next post” links to page through. By the end of it, you should have a pretty comprehensive picture of the variety of modern traditional and experimental haiku… except for videohaiku, which they don’t mention. I guess it’s up to us to write that chapter.

Dave Bonta

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here’s a bio.

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