Luisa’s poem is exquisitely lyrical, as with all the writing I’ve read from her at Via Negativa, where the poem for this film was originally published. As with much of her work, it contains deep, melancholy reflections on being a woman travelling life’s seasons.
A friend tells me
her daughter once confided:
I want a life
different from yours.
I’ve been there,
and also been that wish.
Emily Kalish’s cinematic treatment of the poem is understated and beautifully formed, with a visual focus on twilight shades of lilac, a colour at once gentle and emotive. It features the close, intimate figure of a woman alone with trees and sky, as well as at home, where we see her crafting needle work. The translation from page to film imbues the poem with a new level of meaning, suggesting creativity as a kind of companion, or a thread holding a woman steady through pain and uplift over time.
Based in Los Angeles, Emily received her MFA in Film Production from USC School of Cinematic Arts. She is currently a freelance cinematographer shooting projects in NYC, Panama, and Paris.
Luisa has been writing at least a poem a day since 2010, most of them published. Her work has been widely awarded, including the Philippines’ highest literary distinction, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. In 1996 she became the first Filipina woman of letters installed in the Palanca Literary Hall of Fame. Other recognition includes the Charles Goodnow Endowed Award for Creative Writing from the Chicago Bar Association, the Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, and the George Kent Prize for Poetry.
Visible Poetry Project is now calling for submissions from poets and film-makers internationally for their 2020 season, with an emphasis on artists who may be marginalised. Production of the films will take place over the end of 2019 into early 2020, leading up to the release of at least 30 new poetry films in April, National Poetry Month in the USA.
The Flame in Mother’s Mouth is a collaboration between poet Dustin Pearson and film-maker Neely Goniodsky. It is another film shared here at Moving Poems as among the best from the Visible Poetry Project.
As a participating film-maker in this year’s project, I had the good fortune to read this emotionally affecting poem before it became a film. At the start of the production process, we considered about 200 poems by 60 writers before indicating the poet we’d most like to be our collaborator. This process may have happened in the reverse too, with the writers considering the work of many film-makers. It would be interesting to know. Either way, The Flame in Mother’s Mouth was in the top three poems from all I read, and Neely Goniodsky has done a fabulous job with her animated screen adaptation. My only hesitation is the very abrupt ending. I even wondered if this might be a technical error in the rendering of the film.
Since 2017, VPP has been releasing a video a day during the month of April—National Poetry Month in the USA. Various celebrations of poetry also take place around the world at this time, many of them involving daily writing prompts. One poet I know does most of their writing at this time of year. Another began writing in April 2018, with one of his poems now published in an anthology. All in all it’s a good time of year for poetry, and via the VPP, for videopoetry as well.
The call for entries to poets and film-makers around the world for their 2020 season is online now, officially opening on 1 September and closing on 31 October. I highly recommend filling out the simple application form if you are a poet or film-maker interested in expanding skills, both as an individual artist and in collaboration.
As an introduction to this piece, Haunted Memory by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, it may be wise to first talk a little about what we understand to be a poetry video, or a film poem, or whatever term we might choose to describe a work that brings together elements of poetry with audio-visual media.
Over the past five years I have encountered, and sometimes participated in, regular discussions about this terminology: about what are the most helpful terms to use; and what exactly fits within their incompletely defined boundaries. My tendency of thought on such matters is free-spirited, and a bit anarchic, yet I also try to be respectful of the impulse in others to conceptually chart forms and genres. However I think this pinning down of creative work is useful only sometimes, and perhaps more in relation to practical issues of raising finance for festivals and events, than in enhancing the body of work itself. On the one hand I recognise it is desirable to be able to identify poetic audio-visual works we might include and embrace as part of an ever-growing body of artistic achievement in our field of interest and passion. On the other, I fear that tight definitions can become too exclusive, and even strangle or oppress possibilities for that we are meaning to nurture and grow.
Within this context, Haunted Memory challenges notions of boundaries. Cristina and Adrian refer to the film as an “audiovisual essay”, and that is the term used too by its publisher, Sight&Sound, on the opening title. The skilfully edited visual stream is made up of moving images drawn from scenes in the films of Spanish director, Víctor Erice. The crystalline selection of filmic moments, together with the precise montage that arises from their combination, obscures their cinematic origins. What we see in this re-creation is largely comprised of faces in subtle motion, especially those of children. Even without its soundtrack, I find Haunted Memory to be cinematic poetry.
This reminds me of an idea that has been proposed by many others aside from me, that film poetry does not always need to contain words. An example of this is a video I shared a few weeks ago, Snow Memory, by Australian poet and film-maker, Brendan Bonsack.
There is, however, a narration in Haunted Memory, spoken with a quality of interior softness. This was contributed by Adrian, a world-renowned film critic and theorist whose work has appeared in a wide array of major film publications, as well as in several books from highly esteemed publishers such as the British Film Institute. Adrian is one of the most imaginative and creative of film writers. He has been in love with the cinema for going on 50 years, and his texts often challenge boundaries between criticism, theory and creative writing. This is apparent in the text of Haunted Memory, written in collaboration with Cristina, a Spanish critic, writer and film-maker, who since 2009 has been a prominent artist in this form of film on film. Other parts of the soundtrack include snippets of breathy voice-over narration from the original films, again hauntingly poetic in text and affect.
Erice’s films themselves are easily seen as poetic cinema. In a way reminiscent of some types of experimental or avant-garde film, Haunted Memory creates a new, fragmented, and somewhat abstract audio-visual form from his work, at once beautiful and profound.
Editor’s note: the film and thoughts raised here have inspired an extended essay in two voices about poetry in film, the boundaries of genres, and the words we use to describe the meeting of audiovisual media and text, with a substantial reply from Adrian Martin.
Stuart Pound and Rosemary Norman have been collaborating on videopoems for 24 years now, but their work has lost none of its freshness or surprise. When I click on one of Pound’s videos in my Vimeo feed, it’s with the expectation that it won’t resemble too closely anything he’s done before. And so it was with this animation.
“The angry sleeper stalks his dreams/hard from night to night”. Dirk Bouts’s 1470 painting of demons carrying sinners off to Hell is the starting point for this not-quite-serious animated nightmare. Pachelbel’s famous canon played on a musical box is the accompaniment.
A videopoem by the Russian Latvian collective Orbita (“Orbit”), made in 2001—I assume on videotape—and uploaded to Vimeo six months ago. Artur/Artūrs Punte and Diana Palijchuk are credited with making the video, the text is by George Uallick and Zhanna Shibalo, and The Trilobitum Coitus supplied the music. I love the fast-paced, playful energy here, making me re-play it multiple times despite not feeling that I entirely understand it. The main thing is, it’s fun and imaginatively shot and edited, and I remain intrigued.
One of my favorite poetry publishers, Brooklyn-based Ugly Duckling Presse, came out with an excellent bilingual anthology, Hit Parade: The ORBITA Group, in 2015. You can read Kevin M.F. Platt’s introduction, along with several of his translations, online at Deep Baltic. Here’s an excerpt that may or may not shed light on what exactly Uallick and Shibalo mean by “pits overgrown with ancestors” and “the hair of literature”:
Paradoxically, while they eschew nostalgia for the Soviet past, the poets of Orbita are the actual heirs to the legacy of cutting edge and experimental culture characteristic of Latvia in the last Soviet decades. Orbita is an intentionally trans-ethnic and trans-linguistic phenomenon. And this is one of the keys to its success: theirs is an avant-garde of cosmopolitan hybridity. In distinction from the majority of Russian cultural production of the Baltic region, these poets transcend marginality and provincialism by forming a literary bridge between ethnic enclaves, languages, and cultures.
Note: Long-time readers of Moving Poems may recall that I uploaded an earlier, lower-resolution YouTube version of this video back in 2011. Rather than simply edit that post, I decided to delete it and post afresh so others can enjoy re-watching it as much as I did.