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” 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.
Mary Ann Walsh shines as a bartender with attitude in this spoken-word interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 58. Directed by Olivier Bertin for The Sonnet Project, where the film’s page notes the poem’s intended subject: “an emotionally enslaved lover, the object of his affections behaving wantonly while he quietly suffers, unquestioning.” But the best thing about the Sonnet Project films I’ve watched so far is the freedom with which the directors have reinterpreted the texts.
And of course the specific New York location always co-stars in the film. This time it’s the White Horse Tavern in Manhattan. As the webpage puts it,
The White Horse is perhaps most famous as the place where Dylan Thomas drank heavily, returned to the Chelsea Hotel, became ill, and died a few days later of unrelated causes. Other famous patrons include James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Richard Farina, Norman Mailer, Jim Morrison, Delmore Schwartz, Hunter S. Thompson, and Mary Travers.
Another of the White Horse’s famous patrons is Jack Kerouac, who was bounced from the establishment more than once. Because of this someone scrawled on the bathroom wall: “JACK GO HOME!” At that time, Kerouac was staying in an apartment in the building located on the northwest corner of West 11th St.
About the same time, the White Horse was a gathering-place for labor members and organizers and socialists, as well. The Catholic Workers hung out here and the idea for the Village Voice was discussed here. The Village Voice original offices were within blocks of the White Horse. Much of the content was discussed here by the editors, a practice we at NYSX believe would be much approved by W. Shakespeare.
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.”
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.
Pádraig Burke of the production company Runaway Penguin directed and edited this filmpoem-performance video hybrid. Though some of the shots struck me as a bit too literal, they were balanced by other, more oblique images, and Dave Lordan‘s intense delivery was a good fit for the dire subject-matter of the poem. “My Mother Speaks to me of Suicide” appears in his collection The Lost Tribe of the Wicklow Mountains (Salmon Press, 2014).
Appropriately, my first project for 2015 returns to a subject I first wrote about in 2004. Beyond the legacy of the Nuyorican writers, I can’t fully explain the pull of the place. But when I’m there, when I’m roaming the Lower East Side, there is poetry.
And there are poets from there. Some heralded, others not so much, but I’m honored to speak this poem into existence, to them and for them. And I’m even more honored that Advocate of Wordz chose to record me reciting it at various places on the Lower East Side, including those iconic Baruch Houses at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.
More soon, gente. For now, enjoy the poem.
Performance poet and musician Ngoma Hill was the first person to be featured in a terrific series of web videos filmed, directed and edited by the artist and poet known as Advocate of Wordz. His Director of Wordz series—”digital films and performance art videos consisting of Spoken Word Artist, Poets, Singers, Emcees, and Storytellers”—is now up to six episodes; I’ll post more of them in the coming weeks.