No Good Deed Goes Umpunished features a performance of the poem of the same name by John Giorno, who died, aged 82, on Friday 11 October 2019. He passed away in New York, the city where he was also born. This video of him is a piece complete in itself, and additionally forms part of a longer film of Giorno’s performances from 2007, titled Nine Poems in Basilicata, from Italian film-maker, Antonello Faretta.
Giorno was part of an illustrious community of American artists in the 1960s, including the major figures of Pop Art, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. One of Warhol’s first experiments in film was Sleep, from 1963, which focused a camera for five hours and 20 minutes on a young Giorno asleep.
The influence of Pop Art on Giorno’s poetry included incorporating found text and imagery in his work. On at least one occasion a found text formed the entirety of one of his poems. In other poems, he employed cut-up and montage techniques. Later he abandoned these approaches for a poetic style that has been described as experimental realism.
In 1965 Giorno founded the non-profit organisation, Giorno Poetry Systems. The aims included connecting poetry with audiovisual media. One of its notable projects, inspired by a conversation with his collaborator, William S. Burroughs, was Dial-A-Poem, in which pre-recorded poems with radical political content were played to anyone calling in. Collaborators on this included John Ashbery, Patti Smith, Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski and Laurie Anderson.
Giorno was open and political about his queer sexuality. During the emergence of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, he founded the AIDS Treatment Project. The charity has since distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to sufferers.
Many thanks to the highly esteemed film-maker, Mark Rappaport, for drawing our attention to the obituary in the New York Times, and to Giorno’s substantial contribution to the development of poetry in performance and audiovisual media. More poetry performances can be seen at the website of Antonello Faretta.
Giorno’s life and creativity was rich and generous. Enduring is the vitality of his spirit.
Novalis was the pen name of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, a poet, author, mystic, and philosopher of early German Romanticism. The poem here is When Geometric Diagrams and Digits from 1800, a year before his early death at the age of 28. In the original German, the poem is Wenn nicht mehr Zahlen und Figuren.
The film-maker, Eric Edelman, based in New York, has titled the video, Novalis. On the surface it appears very simple, yet I find so much to explore, and to learn from it. More an art work in motion than a film in the traditional sense, the video distills the beauty of the Novalis poem, and the inspiration Edelman draws from its author, into a minimal series of iconic elements, with the poem appearing at the end.
Edelman is a prolific creator of original gifs under his RetroCollage moniker, and the video shows evidence of this. Its style and tone are both contemporary and retro. I find the animation in this video to be the best of the many I have seen from him, and the most emotionally expressive. This is enhanced by a soundtrack from 1791: the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, by Mozart.
The notes on the Vimeo page for the video reveal more about the diverse cultural influence of the work of Novalis:
Despite his short life and somewhat slender oeuvre, Novalis has since influenced many figures in Western culture, including Richard Wagner, Rudolph Steiner, Hermann Hesse, Walter Pater, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Stan Brakhage.
The most famous of his works are the unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen and the poetry in his Hymns to the Night. The Blue Flower, shown in this video, occurs in Heinrich von Ofterdingen as a symbol of human aspiration toward love and spiritual advancement; it became central to the German Romantic movement.
Edelman’s bio tells us he has been making collages, by hand and digitally, for more than 25 years. He scans images from wood engravings found in books and magazines dating from 1850 to 1920, then colourises, combines and alters them in photo-manipulation software. The resulting pieces are “a mix of Surrealism and psychedelia, by turns playful and solemn, simple and complex, straightforward and mysterious”.
He collaborates as part of The Typewriter Underground, led by poet Marc Zegans. One of Edelman’s videos for this fascinating project, A Clack in the Tunnel, has been previously shared by Dave Bonta here at Moving Poems. Exhibitions of Edelman’s work include the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center and the American Museum of Natural History.
The writer of the poem in this video, Paul Casey, is an important figure for poetry in Ireland, especially in Cork. The poem is named for his home city, which comes from the Irish word for marsh.
Spoken in the video by Aidan Stanley, Marsh is a lament. The poem is unusual in being from the point of view of a place, anthropomorphised with a subjective voice. Paul’s avowed interest in history comes to the fore in this piece, spanning a vast sweep of time, from an ancient untouched land to a contemporary urban location.
Environmental themes shadow the development of the city over its long history, from free earth to “buses and pipes”. Between the poles is first the appearance of humans, with “A Celtic hunter slowing his currach”.* In later generations the human appears in the form of “merchants and markets”. In a time of British rule, “Oil street lamps lit stocks and paupers”. Finally the marsh has transformed into a place where “mobile phones and mini-skirts flirt my name”.
The video is by David Bickley, who is a musician as well as a film-maker. He composed the soundtrack of Marsh especially for it, using audio collected at a marsh in Carrafeen, West Cork, the location of the shoot. These recordings were then mixed with ambient musical sounds. The stunning, almost abstract images of the marsh landscape were shot looking directly down from far above with a drone camera. They are a magnificent yet serene expression of the sense of origins evoked in Paul’s poem.
In an interview about Marsh, Paul states that music is central to his writing, saying “without it there is simply no poem”. The song of this poem is in the voice of a “sagacious witness, persisting across the ages… that wise gentle spirit of sparse words (time)”.
Paul’s advice to poets is to “read a poem every day from a known poet, then another from an unknown poet. And write a poem every day too, no matter how short or ridiculous. Eventually you’ll be equipped for a masterpiece… It’s up to the gods then.”
As a contrast to David Bickley’s beautiful rendering of Marsh, there’s another video of Paul reading it himself in the modern-day incarnation of the city of Cork.
Paul’s great contribution to poetry in Cork includes working with the elderly through poetry appreciation. He is most known to the poetry film community world-wide as the founder and director of Ó Bhéal, organising the yearly poetry film competition in association with the IndieCork Film Festival.
The finalists in this year’s competition have just recently been announced. They include a number of film-makers and poets who might be familiar to Moving Poems followers, such as Stuart Pound and Rosemary Norman, Caroline Rumley, Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg, Charles Olsen, Matt Mullins, Lucy English and Sarah Tremlett, Jane Glennie, Janet Lees, and more.
* A currach is a type of Irish boat with a wooden frame, over which animal skins or hides were once stretched.
Martin has been making films since the 1980s, at that time involved in the independent film workshop movement in the UK. His experience and creativity are evident in Find Me a Word. The way he visually presents text and his landscape imagery are especially pleasing in this piece.
The poem and voice is by Gus Simonovic, whose writing has been widely published in New Zealand and beyond. He describes his work as post-modernist and post-materialist. Among his range of cultural work, he was previously a co-ordinator for the New Zealand Poetry Society.
Both Martin and Gus have a special interest in teaching and running workshops in poetry and film-making for young people, aiming to give them an expressive voice and means of facing the uncertainties of life in these troubling times.
Martin programs an event called Lyrical Visions, happening this year on December 11th at Lopdell Theatre, Titirangi, Auckland, including four sessions of poetry-related films. It’s good to know there is an active community around video poetry in New Zealand.
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.