A “Videopoem created together in isolation during the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Montreal-based poet Endre Farkas (text, vocals), Martin Reisch (video and editing), Carolyn Marie Souaid (accompanying vocals), and Gregory Fitzgerald (sound engineering). Farkas and Souaid previously collaborated on Blood is Blood, which won the ZEBRA International Poetry Film Festival’s “Best Film for Tolerance” in 2012.
Sometimes the best videopoems arise from a simple idea flawlessly executed, and this is I think an example of that. All of the lockdown’s pent-up frustration and anxieties (about breathing, among other things) find visceral expression as the text is breathed, stretched and seemingly stitched into the very fabric of the biosphere. On the front page of his website, Farkas describes how it came to be made in a short essay which is worth quoting in full:
This poem has been around the block a few times. Sitting in a bar in Trois Rivières in the 1980s, during its annual poetry festival, a few poets, including me, were asked to compose a brief poem on a handmade paper coaster and then read it to the audience.
I had always been interested in line lengths in poems, usually referred to as beats, feet or breath. I always liked the measure of breath. Breath is best. It made sense that the measure of a line of a poem (an oral form) be measured in breaths not feet. I had also been working with dancers to whom breath was a concern. People take breath for granted. It’s an automatic function. The dancers made me conscious of its actuality and necessity. So breath was floating in my brain. And after a few glasses of wine or beer, not sure, I came up with the first draft of the poem.
When it came to reading it, I decided to “breathe” the poem. This is how and when the poem “as the breath is…” first had life breathed into it.
I had performed it a couple of times over the years before I met Carolyn Marie Souaid, another poet. I don’t remember why or when exactly she agreed to do it with me, but I remember how much richer the poem became. The texture, the meshing, the lyrical, the cacophony, was enriched because of her participation.
Recently, BV (Before Virus), Carolyn & I went into Studio Sophronik to record some poems. “as the breath…” was one of them. The sound engineer, Greg Fitzgerald, who was used to recording music, didn’t know what to make of the poem. But he liked it. He asked if I would allow him to play with it. I have always liked collaborations, so I said, “of course.” A few days later he sent me an mp3 of it. I was blown away. The reverb, echo took it to another level. I listened to it a couple of times and filed it away, feeling that I would like to be able to perform this live.
Then came the plague. I knew that performing it live was not going to be possible. The option was online. For that I needed visuals. I had a bunch of photoshopped images that seemed to fit the bill. However, it would require the animation of stills. My go-to videographer, Martin Reisch, thought it might be too complicated to do in these isolation conditions. He suggested that he go through his archives and find appropriate clips to collage together and synch it to the audio. Again, the collaborative sensibility kicked in and I agreed.
So, to make a short poem long, the videopoem, “as the breath is…”, (a day in the life and death of breath) is a collaboration in isolation brought to fruition by the plague. “as the breath is…” is an artifact of this time.