As her ambitious Book of Hours has unfolded, it’s been fascinating to watch Lucy English‘s poetry evolve and adapt to the online video medium and to the exigencies of particular film-making styles. Here’s how Stevie Ronnie, her collaborator for this film (along with composer Jim Ronnie), describes their process at Vimeo:
Lucy and I wanted to try something different as a way of kick starting the collaborative process for Dark Place. It started from a desire to work on something that was going to become part of Lucy’s Book of Hours poetry film project. Poetry films often begin with the words or footage or sound but we decided to start from a colour palette. I created a palette and sent it to Lucy and she wrote the poem from the colours. Lucy then sent me a couple of drafts of the poem and, after spending some time digesting Lucy’s words, I decided to respond to it visually. Using the colours that I found in Lucy’s poem I rendered the poem as a painting, where each mark on the canvas represents a letter in the poem. I then captured this process as a series of still images which have been strung together into the film. The soundtrack, performed by my father Jim Ronnie, was composed and added during the video editing phase as a response to the poem’s images and the words.
The latest release from Motionpoems‘ Season 7 was directed by Chad Howitt, and is based on a poem by Geffrey Davis from his 2014 collection Revising the Storm. The cinematography is by James Laxton, who was also the Director of Photography for Moonlight, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The latest in an occasional series of Moving Poems productions matches Sarah Sloat‘s evocation of travel in the tropics to a beautifully decayed old home movie in a sort of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage. The soundtrack is courtesy of the bird-sound library xeno-canto, from recordist Rodrigo Dela Rosa in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. The footage has been lightly edited from a single movie at the International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM).
Since one of my main motivations in producing videopoems like this, apart from simply having fun, is to demonstrate to other poets just how easy it is, let me give a few more detailed process notes. The whole idea was prompted by viewing the footage (which was silent, like most old home movies, and therefore I think easier to imagine juxtaposed with poetry). I thought it might be interesting to pair it with a text that dealt with decay and/or travel somehow, and after messing around with some Elizabeth Bishop recordings — “Sleeping on the Ceiling” was one strong possibility — I remembered that Sarah Sloat had written something that might work.
I’m in London for the summer and my copies of Sarah’s chapbooks are back home in Pennsylvania, but a web search turned up the likely poem title (from Heiress to a Small Ruin), and since I’d worked with her before, it was simply a matter of emailing to ask for a copy (and of course permission to mess around with it). I experimented with a news ticker-like scroll of the text along the bottom of the screen, and shared that with Sarah via a private upload to Vimeo, but she felt that it was too distracting for a viewer to concentrate simultaneously on the text and the rapidly changing images, and offered to supply a voiceover instead.
I asked Sarah for three readings so I could pick and choose the best bits to combine with the rainforest soundscape (editing as always on Audacity, which is excellent, free, and easy to use). Then it was simply a matter of cutting and splicing the footage to fit. (I use MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, which is a cheaper and somewhat more sophisticated alternative to novice-friendly software such as Adobe Premiere Elements. Its widespread adoption means that most questions one might have about its use are addressed in tutorials on YouTube.) The biggest change I made was to apply a warm filter to most of the footage — all but the “northeast” portion of the poem, which retains the original, cooler look — for that “bloodshot” effect. That might seem like an essential edit, but in fact it was the last thing I thought of, and the video worked almost as well without it. It’s always tricky to decide how much literalism to allow in a videopoem, but given the abstract nature of most of the images, I figured I could get away with some pink, blood-vessel-like webbing here and there.