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.
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.
Set on a Melbourne tram, Stander Under Anvils is from Australian film-maker Martin Kelly, and features the luminous presence of poet Bronwen Manger, who speaks her text live to camera for most of the film. It is one of several video poetry pieces that Martin has produced in a media partnership with Ian McBryde.
As with many of Bronwen’s poems, there is an enticing sense of mystery here, perhaps even a suggestion of perversity. I find shadowy and unfamiliar meanings arising from the subtle twists of soft-spoken words, ostensibly directed towards a brother. The final, almost-not-there glance at the camera creates for me a perfectly sly ending to a piece that draws me in by being quiet.
Martin is best known in the international video poetry community as co-creator of Spree, a highly-regarded video of a poem by Ian. In Spree too, the writer appears speaking the text direct to camera, inter-cut with vivid flashes of associative imagery.
Martin says of the ongoing collaboration he has with Ian:
…We hope to provide both a window into the world of poetry for those who may otherwise pass it by, but we also aim at contributing to and developing the unique genre of video poems.
Ian makes an uncredited appearance in Stander Under Anvils, as a blind passenger sitting next to Bronwen on the tram, who suddenly turns to give her a key word.