Posts in Category: Documentary

Off the Trail: poetry by Michael McClure and Gary Snyder

This film, a selection from the longer experimental documentary Headlands Lookout by Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan, was awarded the prize for Best Poetry Film at this year’s ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival “For a pre-apocalyptic journey [with] a perfect guide in a stitched uniform into a world that’s going to unravel itself.” Here’s how Jordan describes it on his website:

Walk the path, sit the rains, grind the ink, wet the brush, unroll the broad white space….Lead out and tip the moist, black line.

Gary Snyder’s invocation to the muse of a Chinese scroll painter sets the tone in a short film adapted from Cartwright and Jordan’s longer work, Headlands Lookout.

Filmed in former US military barracks, and in the long-abandoned homes and circular library of Gary Snyder and Zen philosopher Alan Watts, Off the Trail follows a central protagonist, a soldier from another era, as he performs a series of actions and rituals. The uniformed figure paints Chinese nature symbols, chants, meditates and wanders dreamlike through a rolling Californian landscape of fog-shrouded hills, coastal defences and dense woodland valleys. Scenes are accompanied by haiku and poetry readings from Michael McClure and Gary Snyder, and the disembodied voice of Alan Watts, ruminating upon the passage of time and our perception of the ‘wild’.

As someone who studied Japanese and Chinese literature at university, there were parts of this that made me wince — the inept brush calligraphy, for example, and occasionally simplistic or misleading characterizations of Daoist and Buddhist thought — but I do recognize the historical importance of mid-20th-century writers such as Watts and Snyder in bringing East Asian thinking to a Western audience, however colored by Orientalism their versions of it may have been. And there’s no denying the beautiful cinematography and intriguing almost-narrative here, not to mention the innate fascination of the ruins where it was shot.

Red Coil (excerpt) by Cecilia Vicuña

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I discovered recently that the Chilean poet, visual artist, and filmmaker Cecilia Vicuña has an active presence on Vimeo, with many documentary videos of her performances and installations. Here’s one by Geoffrey Jones that I quite liked.

Film by Geoffrey Jones
Cecilia Vicuña and Jane Rigler.
Four performances for sitelines, New York, 2005, sponsored by LMCC and Poet’s House.

In this performances the artist pays homage to Gloria Anzaldúa’s line “The serpent, mi tono, my animal counterpart…” (Borderlands 26).

Thus the Vimeo description. It’s actually apparently an excerpt from a longer work:

Red Coil. Video, English. 68 mins, 2005
Records four performances where Cecilia Vicuña & the flutist Jane Rigler improvise music and poetry along the Hudson River, within the context of the Sitelines Festival of New York. Filmed and edited by Geoffrey Jones.

“Fire Won’t Eat Me Up”: Manal Al-Sheikh

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I really hate to say this but this is the truth, there is no Iraq now.
Manal Al-Sheikh

From director Roxana Vilk and Al Jazeera’s Artscape: Poets of Protest series, here’s a short (25-minute) bio pic from 2012 featuring the Iraqi poet Manal Al-Sheikh and her life in exile with her two children in Norway. Interspersed throughout the film are a number of short poems treated filmpoem style, with the poet’s recitation in Arabic accompanied by on-screen English translation. Ian Dodds was the cameraman, and Ling Lee edited. Vilk has a mini essay accompanying the film on Vimeo that is worth reproducing in full:

FILMMAKER’S VIEW: Keeping the protest alive

By Roxana Vilk

I was really keen that we have an Iraqi poet in the Poets of Protest series. When I read Manal Al Sheikh’s fiery work I was immediately captivated, as she seemed to truly encapsulate the essence of a poet and activist combined.

As Manal says: “When you are a person from a country like Iraq you automatically have some anger inside you and this anger, if you are a poet or a writer, you can transfer it as an explosion in your text.”

Manal is originally from Nineveh in northern Iraq, one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity and a place renowned for its multi-cultural society. Since the 2003 invasion, Nineveh has been the scene of some of the bloodiest and most violent fighting.

“I witnessed everything, the bombing, the struggle between the parties, all these make you angry, so I protest with my text,” the poet explains.

However, Manal’s work as an outspoken poet and journalist in Iraq was fraught with danger and her life was constantly under threat. She had to make the heart-breaking decision to leave her country and her family and seek refuge with her two young children in Norway.

“For me as a female writer in Iraq, just being female it was of course a challenge; just to live there in a normal way with my thoughts and my ambitions for a future. But really I can say the main change in my life was becoming a single mother in that society. Suddenly I found myself a widow, a very young widow,” Manal reflects.

I travelled with Ian Dodds, the director of photography, to Stavanger in Norway in January 2012, during the depths of the Norwegian winter, as temperatures were plummeting to an unforgiving -20 degrees Celsius. Filming the stark contrast of the snowy cold white landscapes against Manal’s stories of Iraq made her struggle to have her voice heard all the more poignant.

At a time when it is dangerous to speak out in Iraq, especially as a woman, Manal had to travel half way around the world to keep her protest alive.

Our film follows Manal closely as she works through crafting a new poem, before presenting it to a public audience. Manal is a truly extraordinary poet, brave and defiant, at a time when Iraqi female voices are increasingly being silenced.

About the series:

Poets of Protest reflects the poet’s view of the change sweeping the Middle East and North Africa through its intimate profiles of six contemporary writers as they struggle to lead, to interpret and to inspire.

Poetry lives and breathes in the Middle East as in few other places.

“Seeing life in a different way”: Gabriel Rosenstock on haiku

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A great feature on Irish haikujin Gabriel Rosenstock from the arts and culture TV program Imeall, produced by Red Shoe Productions. The English translations of the interview and haiku are excellent, which is no surprise: Rosenstock is a prolific translator and author, and his poetry blog is gloriously multilingual.

Wordpharmacy by Morten Søndergaard

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A documentary/interview from the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art of Danish poet Morten Søndergaard‘s wonderful multimedia project Wordpharmacy, which

combines the structure of language with the healing principles of various medicaments. Like pills, language is something to be consumed by the body, and in turn it does not only affect our conceptions of things, but it also comes to designate our very corporal movability in the world. Consequently, words are not only something we consume, they are refractory entities that in turn define and consume us. Wordpharmacy can be seen as a poetical gesture endeavouring to let words work their magic from within the body itself.

The Wordpharmacy is written and produced by the danish poet Morten Søndergaard.

The Wordpharmacy has be shown in several cities like Paris and London and Berlin and Bangor and Tromsø and Voss.

The Wordpharmacy is translated into English by Barbara Haveland and designed by Christian Ramsø and is now available in six languages.

According to the Vimeo description,

Morten Søndergaard was interviewed by Christian Lund at Hardy Tree Gallery in London in April 2014. Thanks to Steven Fowlers and Cameron Maxwell.

Camera: Matthias Pilz
Edited by: Miriam Nielsen
Produced by: Christian Lund

But tell me, who are they, these Travellers, by Tony Williams

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Director Alan Fentiman worked with poet Tony Williams to produce a documentary on the relationship between dog-walking and writing, concluding with a poem that grew out of the film-making process. I first saw Roam to Write at the 2013 Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland, and when I got back to the States I shared the link with some friends who study the literature of place but inexplicably forgot to share it here. It was brought back to mind by a new video released by the same two guys, a film of a pub discussion about poetry film, which I posted at Moving Poems Magazine on Sunday.

Roam to Write was funded by Northumbria University, where Williams is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing. Fentiman has a page about the film on his website:

“Roam to Write” is a short documentary film which I filmed, edited and produced in Alnwick Northumberland. The 15 minute film follows poet Tony Williams as he walks the same route over 5 days. Each day Tony addresses different aspects of the creative relationship between walking and writing.

I especially love working with artists and writers, and documenting their creative process. I want the audience to gain an understanding of how ideas develop and emerge through a piece of work. Working with Tony was a especially rewarding as we developed the idea for the film over many months. It allowed me time to absorb and reflect on Tony’s writing process and work out ways of showing this through film.

During filming Tony worked on a piece of poetry called “But tell me, who are they, these Travellers” which he performs at the end of the film. This poem reflects on his earlier observations about writing and walking.

I shot the the film over a week with a Panasonic AF101, a steadicam and a GH2. We developed the initial ideas during fireside discussions at The Tanners pub in Alnwick. Tony then wrote the script and together we developed the storyboard over egg and chip lunches and the odd evening pint. After logging the footage in Adobe Prelude, Tony sat with me throughout the editing process.

Williams expanded his thoughts into an open-access journal article, “The Writer Walking the Dog: Creative Writing Practice and Everyday Life.” Here’s the abstract:

Creative writing happens in and alongside the writer’s everyday life, but little attention has been paid to the relationship between the two and the contribution made by everyday activities in enabling and shaping creative practice. The work of the anthropologist Tim Ingold supports the argument that creative writing research must consider the bodily lived experience of the writer in order fully to understand and develop creative practice. Dog-walking is one activity which shapes my own creative practice, both by its influence on my social and cultural identity and by providing a time and space for specific acts instrumental to the writing process to occur. The complex socio-cultural context of rural dog-walking may be examined both through critical reflection and creative work. The use of dog-walking for reflection and unconscious creative thought is considered in relation to Romantic models of writing and walking through landscape. While dog-walking is a specific activity with its own peculiarities, the study provides a case study for creative writers to use in developing their own practice in relation to other everyday activities from running and swimming to shopping, gardening and washing up.

Karawane by Hugo Ball (2)

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When is a sound poem a found poem? When it’s Marie Osmond Explains Dadaism with Auto-Subtitles, one of the latest uploads by UK videopoet Ross Sutherland as past of his 30 Videos/30 Poems project for the Poetry School. He’s been doing some really interesting stuff with remix, swapping in his own voice-overs for existing videos, but in this case all he’s done is share the results of turning on the auto-subtitling function for a YouTube video of Marie Osmund explaining Dada and reciting Hugo Ball‘s “Karawane.” The software’s “misreadings” are at times wonderfully apropos. And then there’s Marie, in her yellow bathrobe and 80s hair… I don’t think I’ve gotten this much joy from a web video since Cat Wearing A Shark Costume Cleans The Kitchen On A Roomba.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, why in the heck was Marie Osmond holding forth on Dada and and sound poetry? It turns out she was a regular host of the TV show Ripley’s Believe It or Not! in its 2nd series, which ran from 1982-86 on the American ABC Network. The TV show derived from a long-running syndicated feature in American newspapers—kind of the original “news of the weird.” According to the Wikipedia article,

Character actor Jack Palance hosted the popular series throughout its run, while three different co-hosts appeared from season to season, including Palance’s daughter, Holly Palance, actress Catherine Shirriff, and singer Marie Osmond. The 1980s series reran on the Sci-fi Channel (UK) and Sci-fi Channel (US) during the 1990s.

Six of the segments hosted by Osmond have been uploaded to YouTube, including another one about a poet, Renée Vivien. I’m not sure who the director was for this particular show (which apparently aired on 29 September 1985), but it didn’t go unnoticed. According to a post at Dangerous Minds,

In 1993, Rough Trade records put out Lipstick Traces, a “soundtrack” to the book by Greil Marcus. It’s one of my favorite CDs of all time, with tracks by The Slits, Essential Logic, The Raincoats, The Mekons, Buzzcocks, The Gang of Four, Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers, Situationist philosopher Guy Debord and others. It’s an amazing collection, but one track in particular stands out from the rest, a recitation by none other than Marie Osmond, of Dada poet Hugo Ball’s nonsensical gibberish piece from 1916, “Karawane.”

The post goes on to quote the liner notes from Lipstick Traces:

As host of a special (Ripley’s Believe It or Not) show on sound poetry, Osmond was asked by the producer to recite only the first line of Ball’s work; incensed at being thought too dumb for art, she memorized the lot and delivered it whole in a rare “glimpse of freedom.”

In a YouTube comment on a different upload of the segment, art-video maker Ethan Bates does throw a bit of cold water on Marie’s performance:

Great upload and interesting video, but Ripley didn’t appear to get their dada facts quite right…
‘Karawane’ was performed and written by Hugo Ball, and was also performed in 1916 at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich as the video says. But his costume for that show was a kind of ‘Cubist’ tube-esque costume made from different coloured sheets. It can be easily found in images online.
The ’13’ costume discussed in the video was worn by Theo Van Doesburg, not Hugo Ball, in 1922 when he performed ‘Does At Mid-Lent’ at the Bauhaus.

This info is from the book ‘Dada’ edited by Rudolf Kuenzli. As a product of its time, though, this clip is fascinating.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that this is not quite the strangest video of “Karawane” on the web. That honor belongs to Lucas Battich’s binary code translation. Still, kudos to Ross Sutherland for recognizing the re-Dadaifying potential of YouTube auto-subtitling.