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.
As the founding father of videopoetry, Tom Konyves is often asked to present at conferences and symposiums, but the ReVersed Poetry Film Festival in Amsterdam last month was the first to ask him to do so with reference to his own life and works. The film that he and Alex Konyves put together in response blends theory with reminiscences of some fascinating moments in avant-garde history, and includes a number of excerpts from Tom’s videopoems, some not otherwise available on the web — which is why I decided to share this here on the main site. Tom also provided the text of his talk at my request, which we’ve posted over at the forum (with added links to the full-length versions of a few of the referenced videopoems).
My favorite part is the bit about the role of chance, illustrated by a videopoem composed using the I Ching. Echoing Louis Pasteur (“Chance favors only the prepared mind”), Konyves says:
One has to be open and prepared for chance events to occur. On a perfect summer day, I decided to bring my equipment to nearby St. Helen’s Island. I found a spot to set up and began searching for an image that in retrospect I would call having a collaborative property, or at least collaborative potential. After about an hour of shooting windsurfers, I found three sailboats floating on the water. It was like a picture postcard. Suddenly I realized that behind the sailboats and a land mass there was a large ship moving across the screen.
“Collaborative potential”: yes. The world can be like that sometimes.
Anyway, the talk is full of such stories and insights. Enjoy.
Here’s a Sunday bonus video, a poetic un-sermon after my own heart from one of our finest Southern poets. Ed Madden’s TEDx talk seamlessly incorporates three poems from his 2013 collection My Father’s House: “How to lift him,” “Knowledge,” and “Thirst.” The book’s publisher, Ron Mohring, describes this talk as “Frank, open, painful, specific, direct, moving, and perhaps above all, generous.” I was especially moved by Madden’s quietly radical questioning of the power of communication to change those around us, and his refusal to grasp at easy, glib truths.
The video is also available at the TEDx site.
Each of the three dresses in the Lace Sensor Dress collection is embroidered with a different poem, sourced from an antique embroidery sampler. Each poem evokes a different emotion, which corresponds to a gesture that triggers a recording of the poem to be played through tiny speakers crocheted into the dress. The sensors are created from custom-made conductive lace and the harder they are pressed, the louder the poem will play.
Another selection from the performance “Nothing Twice” (Live Performers Meeting, Rome, May 2012) directed by Agnieszka “Bronka” Bronowska. The translation is credited to Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh and the performers are Joanna Łacheta and Lulu Lucyfer.