Dave writes: This is una mirada desde la alcantarilla / a glimpse from the gutter, the first Moving Poems production directed by Marie Craven. Alejandra Pizarnik‘s brief poems in Árbol de Diana and other collections have been a huge influence on my own writing, but I was never quite satisfied with the video I made back in 2016 for the excerpts included here. I did however like the translation and readings, done with the assistance of the London-based translator Jean Morris. They were part of the Poetry From the Other Americas series at Via Negativa, a collaborative translation project that gave rise to many of the films I wanted to feature in the Poesía sin fronteras screening at Houston last weekend. So I asked Marie, who hadn’t been part of that project, whether she might want to remix or completely re-do the film, and was delighted when she said yes.
The resulting film helped me see what might have been wrong with my own film: too few images, I think, and neither of them quite strong enough to keep up their end of a dialogue with these verses. Marie’s film shows the importance of thinking laterally, by instinct and rhythm. I was pleased that she ended up retaining my and Jean’s voiceovers; Jean’s success in evoking the vulnerable quality of Pizarnik’s own voice was a stand-out feature of our original film, I thought. But Marie’s re-interpretation ended up being a much stronger fit than that earlier effort would’ve been with the other films in the program.
Two Spanish filmmakers have also had a go at Pizarnik’s micropoetry: Eduardo Yagüe, with Piedras verdes en la casa de la noche, and Hernán Talavera, with Todo hace el amor con el silencio: tres poemas de Alejandra Pizarnik.
Marie writes: A few weeks ago, Dave Bonta invited me to participate in the “Poetry Without Borders” program at REELpoetry, by making a video remix of his 2016 piece, “A Glimpse from the Gutter”, from three poems by Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972). Having previously made a number of films with Dave’s poetry, and being involved in some of his wider projects, I was keen to rise to the challenge.
Like the majority of Australians, I speak only the dominant English. Nonetheless, this is the sixth film I’ve made involving different languages. My interest in doing this has arisen in part from a personal impulse to in some way transcend the xenophobia and racism that has long been a lamentable aspect of my own geographically-isolated culture. Aside from this, and despite being in my late 50s, I retain a child-like wonderment that our single human species communicates in so many richly varied ways. In addition, my film-making over 35 years has been largely directed towards international audiences, via the film festival circuit, and now also the web, where poetry film has by far its greatest reach. I also simply love the expressive sounds of different languages as a kind of music.
Dave translated Pizarnik’s poems with advice and in discussion with Jean Morris, a poet and professional translator. Jean voiced the poems in Spanish, while Dave spoke them in English. For my film, I retained only the text and voices, which I re-arranged and mixed with new music and images. I have remained true to Dave’s impulse in his earlier piece to make a truly bilingual film, spoken in both Spanish and English, and therefore without the need for subtitles.
As in a number of my films, the raw images were sourced from Storyblocks, a subscription website with a vast library of short, random clips from videographers in many different countries. The collection of shots I selected were then transformed via changes to speed, light, framing and colour, and the addition of long dissolves that blend and juxtapose the images via superimposition.
Some of the images I selected touch on the literal meanings of the poems. These direct connections of image to text are sometimes seen at moments other than when they are spoken. The film also contains a number of shots that bear no direct relation to the words. My overall impulse was to create a series of moving images that might form a kind of visual poem in themselves, while remaining connected to the resonances I found in the text and in the qualities of the voices. The final visual element is a faintly-flickering overlay containing animated x-rays of human anatomy.
The music is an ambient piece by Lee Rosevere, who for several years has generously released much of his music on Creative Commons remix licenses, enabling film-makers and other artists to create new works incorporating his sounds. I chose this piece for its slow pace, beatlessness and meditative quality, that left room for the voices to take by far the greatest prominence.
I am delighted to have especially made this film for REELpoetry, where it had its world premiere.
When I saw this videopoem by the Spanish director Juan Bullón the other week, I immediately knew I had to include it in a screening I was curating for REELpoetry/Houston TX called Poesía sin fronteras / Poetry Without Borders. Though otherwise focused on Latin American poetry, the theme of the program was “translation, otherness, identity and death in cinepoetry from across the Americas”, and it made sense to close with a gringo poet’s take, especially given how well Bullón’s choice of mirrored images echoed some of the other films in the program. Also, it was good to end on a slightly lighter note than some of the more melancholy, slow-moving films. I’m happy to report that the audience loved it.
As part of the extensive notes in the online version of this program, I asked directors to share any thoughts they might have on translation and/or poetry filmmaking. Here’s what Juan told me:
I’m a Spanish film maker and writer. I write with creative, narrative or poetic intention for about twelve years. I come from the audiovisual world (television and advertising mostly). In recent years I have attended several creative writing workshops. Now, far from audiovisual as a profession, I dedicate myself to writing and coordinate a creative writing workshop in Seville. It is a workshop to experience the fact of creating and feeling literature. We try to go beyond writing or correct narrative, poetic, autobiographical or reflective texts, beyond knowing techniques and writing tricks. Creativity is the goal without end. We give great importance to reading aloud as a way to recognize and work the literary voice of each one, and also, we experiment with the audiovisual format as another way of learning to know how to interpret our texts, to voiceover them, and act on them. Video-poems are another part of the creative process and the recognition of each as an author, it is another way of creative knowledge. The essential is to pose, think and act, and in our case, create from writing to let go and leave our point of view, and be able to share it. And this ability to narrate and tell should be transferable to another means of expression, as another complement, as another revelation of our creative capacity.
Transferring our texts (or those of other authors) to an audiovisual format, relying on the image and music to create these video-poems is a challenge where the fundamental is the literary burden of the text. We do not consider it as a struggle between the greater or lesser relevance of the image, music or text. The written is the important, it’s essential, then, the interpretation and performance of these texts with a suggestive audiovisual dress. The direction and production of these video-poems must be guided by the simplicity and speed of creation in the event that they are self-produced or by taking advantage of what the internet offers with the royalty-free images and music that can be used and shared, with that democratization of the media. In turn, the video-poems we make are posted on the internet for anyone’s free enjoyment, helping to fill in that great library of Babel.
Moving the texts to an audiovisual format is a part of the creative process, a moment of enjoyment and self-knowledge. The important thing is to act, to be and to write it.
Visit Juan Bullón’s YouTube channel to see more of his and his students’ work.
This 2016 film co-directed by Stephan Bookas and Tristan Dawes moved me to tears. That’s how effective, and affecting, I found this juxtaposition of W. H. Auden’s poem (text here) about Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany—read by a man identified only as Noah, a refugee and former child soldier from Uganda—with excellent documentary footage of contemporary refugees. Here’s the official synopsis from Bookas’ website:
Set to the verses of W.H. Auden’s 1939 poem, the multi-award winning “Refugee Blues” charts a day in ‘the jungle’, the refugee camp outside Calais. More intimate and unlike much of what has been seen in the mass media, this documentary poem counterpoints the camp’s harsh reality of frequent clashes with the French riot police with its inhabitants’ longing for a better future.
On Vimeo, Bookas includes a mini essay about the making of the film, which I found illuminating in its suggestion of how documentary poetry can differ from journalism. This was something I’d been thinking about because I recently attended a reading and slideshow from another documentary poetry project, which was a collaboration between a poet and a photojournalist: Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin’s Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. Technically, Auden’s poem by itself would not be considered an example of documentary poetry, but as a filmpoem Refugee Blues certainly would qualify, in my opinion. Anyway, I hope Mr. Bookas won’t mind my quoting a sizable chunk of his post:
We didn’t set out to make a film at first – that idea came later – we just packed a car full of blankets, clothes, food and other items and went, not fully knowing what to expect. But of course, being filmmakers, we also brought along our cameras – to see if we might have the opportunity to document, to capture, to find the human story in all the chaos that was so ubiquitous in the media at the time.
Soon after our arrival, we found the people living at the refugee camp to be very warm and welcoming, as long as we assured them we weren’t news-gathering journalists.
We didn’t film anything to begin with and just walked around, introduced ourselves as documentary filmmakers and listened to people and their stories. Every single one of them was unique and heartbreaking.
Following these discussions, we asked if it would be alright to take out our cameras and start filming. For the most part the answer was a resounding yes.
We spent the following days exploring the camp and talking to people, discussing the situation and the political climate and spending time with them, being invited for coffee and food and allowed to film elements of their daily lives. This turned out to be the calm before the storm, as things culminated in a clash between the camp’s inhabitants and the French riot police on the road leading to the ferry terminal, symbolic for the plight of the refugees and their struggle against institutional powers they are unable to defend themselves against. […]
Of course, our film can’t possibly even begin to try and unravel all the lives and personal fates entangled within this crisis. But in some small way, and for us especially, it has given this tragedy a face that’s less abstract, more relatable, more human.
This has got to be one of the best student animations I’ve ever seen. Jake Mansbridge animates a poem from American poet Claudia Rankine‘s Forward Prize-winning collection Citizen: An American Lyric as part of an exciting new initiative from the Forward Arts Foundation, which sponsors both the Forward Prizes and UK’s National Poetry Day. Here’s how their director, Susannah Herbert, described it in an email:
National Poetry Day UK, which falls on the first Thursday in October, is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Effectively, this is a huge mass participation cultural festival that gives everyone in the nation an excuse to share a favourite poem, or line of poetry – through readings, displays, performances and, increasingly, through social media. The theme this year is Truth.
A friend who ran the MA course in Animation at the University of Hertfordshire invited us to give her students a “brief” that they could work to as part of their degree course. We gave them 100 Prized Poems, an anthology of poems drawn from the shortlists of the Forward Prizes over the years… plus a few other poems, all loosely connected to the theme of Truth, and suggested they each create an animation that would bring the poems they chose – and National Poetry Day – to new audiences.
This stunning Jake Mansbridge animation of a poem from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is just one of the films that came out of the process… and the best are being shown next month at London’s Southbank Centre.
That 20 October screening at the Southbank Centre is part of a six-day festival, Poetry International. If you can’t make the screening, all of the videos are being uploaded to a playlist on the National Poetry Day YouTube channel.
Rankine is no stranger to poetry film. She collaborated with her husband, filmmaker John Lucas, on a series of video essays, a few of which I’ve shared here, and Citizen included both stills and transcripts from those videos. So I was happy when Citizen became so celebrated and widely read on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also one of those books that every clueless white person should read.
Liz Waldner voices her poem in this newly uploaded video from Denise Newman. Newman, whose experimental work I’ve shared here twice before after encountering it randomly on Vimeo, is a published poet, translator, and multimedia artist who teaches at the California College of the Arts. Liz Waldner is an even more widely published poet with many honors and awards to her name. According to the Poetry Foundation,
Waldner’s work is known for its formal experimentation, reliance on quotation and pastiche, and often playful rhyme schemes. Using long titles, made-up words, and expansive proselike sentences that change topic quickly and constantly, Waldner’s verse, according to poet-critic Stephen Burt, “pays constant homage to the delights of the senses; beside her, most similarly difficult present-day poets seem arid, theoretical, no fun.”
Newman told me in an email that they made I thought I had a very nice time five years ago, and are collaborating on a second video now, which is what prompted her to dig out and share their earlier piece.
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.