Another innovative, harrowing videopoetry collaboration between Palestinian-Syrian poet Ghayath Almadhoun and Swedish poet Marie Silkeberg. This time the text and reading are Silkeberg’s, but they are both credited with the editing (“montage”) and camera work. Agneta Falk-Hirschman supplied the English translation. The music was “stolen from the Internet,” according to the credits, and the footage of the Syrian revolution is also “from the Internet.”
A one-minute videopoem that still somehow manages to seem very spacious. It’s the work of filmmaker Lori H. Ersolmaz, reader Michael Dickes, and poet James Reiss. The poem was first published in Esquire, and Dickes and Ersolmaz found it at The Poetry Storehouse.
A Moving Poems original, made with a text from The Poetry Storehouse, my own reading, some gorgeous free footage by Jeff at Beachfront B-Roll, and Creative Commons-licensed music by SonicSpiral*Selections s on SoundCloud. I must admit that this was a case of my falling in love with the footage first and then hunting for a poem to fit it (and the Poetry Storehouse archives are large enough now for that to work). But Traci Brimhall is a first-rate poet, and I’m very pleased I was able to work with one of her poems. Thanks also to Poets & Writers for sharing it on their video blog last week.
Like the other videopoems I’ve made lately, this has closed captioning, which can be turned on via the button on the bottom right. To see how Brimhall arranged it on the page, though, please refer to her page at the Storehouse.
A text from Sheila Packa’s new book Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range.
These poems are about the Iron Range in Minnesota, the Vermilion Trail, and they are stories of travel and derailment about mining, radical politics, unionizing, accordion music and strong women. The book brings together history, geology and the community of people with iron in their veins.
Video artist and cellist Kathy McTavish, Packa’s regular collaborator, describes this as “a screen recording of a database driven web film,” and Packa talks about how that intersects with her writing style in a post at her blog:
I strive to re-create the flows of the northeastern Minnesota landscape, and I borrow metaphors that express the pattern of change in individual stories and narrative poems: the erosions, floods, migrations, lightning strikes, industrialization, excavation, mining, roads, and harbors. Night Train Red Dust will become part of a new transmedia media project, and I can’t wait to get started! [...]
My Geology is a poem that taught me how powerful is our landscape. I placed it first in my book, Night Train Red Dust. The places where we walk enter into us; in my case, as a child, I walked across the vein of iron and taconite on the Iron Range. There is an ASCII art image behind the video in My Geology that rotates on a near/far axis, evoking a map or contract or a train car. In this section, numbers were entered into the input box, and they cascade like taconite down a chute into the hold of a freighter. [...] The music used found sound (a soprano sax, both notes and the musician blowing air through the instrument) and cello by Kathy McTavish.
I’ve also been encountering the text incrementally in a dedicated Twitter feed, @nighttrainred — another example of Packa and McTavish’s interest in innovative technological reproductions of “flows.”
This is “Proem,” the famous introduction to Hart Crane’s book-length poem The Bridge. The poem has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, committed to memory before I even knew what half of the words meant. What great nostalgic pleasure, then, to watch this animated version by Suzie Hanna with a reading by Tennessee Williams in the soundtrack! I think this is an excellent example of how animators can get away with something that directors of live-action poetry films usually cannot: direct illustration of a text. Well, in part that’s because there’s rarely anything “direct” about good animation, which is almost by definition an order of magnitude more abstract than a live-action illustration would be. In addition, poems like this one, where the language is intensely rich and far from the vernacular, can really benefit from a visual connection to the narrative thread (to the extent that there is one). Not every casual consumer of poetry is as comfortable with bafflement as are those lucky few of us that grew up with difficult poems, and so I think a good animation can get people to lower their guard.
At any rate, here’s what that the folks from Liberated Words posted at Vimeo about the animator:
Professor Suzie Hanna has been teaching in Higher Education for over two decades, specialising in the subject areas of animation and sound design. During this time she has developed international academic and industry networks, as well as maintaining her own creative practice. She engages in diverse collaborations with other artists, performers and academics to create original films.
Her current research includes the creation of animation from documentary material, and the study of parallels in animation, poetry and sound design. Suzie also designs and animates commissioned innovative theatrical and site specific animation ranging in scale from puppet theatre to architectural projection. She presents papers at international symposia and industry seminars as well as contributing to academic journals and other publications.
The soundtrack is by Tom Simmons, and led to the film taking 1st Prize for Best Music/Sound at Liberated Words III, judged by Rich Ferguson and Mark Wilkinson. It also won 2nd Prize for Best Editing. In a post at a closed group on Facebook, Sarah Tremlett quotes Ferguson and Wilkinson:
We found the visual treatment in Proem to be arresting and original; clear in its intentions and unified in its design as it evolved visually throughout the piece. A balanced and elegant pairing of spoken words and moving pictures.
Hanna’s description from her own upload of the film to Vimeo is also worth quoting:
Suzie Hanna animated the film using hand cut stencils imitating some graphic aspects of contemporaneous 1920s New York artists who were in Hart Crane’s coterie, such as Joseph Stella and Marsden Hartley. She also referenced Vorticism to capture vertiginous aspects of the verse. The voice of Tennessee Williams, who was an ardent admirer of Crane, is taken from a 1960 recording. Tom Simmons has built this into a resonant dramatic soundscape which interprets the materiality of the bridge, the surrounding land and waterscape and the ‘prayerful’ qualities of the Proem. He embeds sonic references to Hart Crane’s ‘shamanic process’ in which the poet played records on his Victrola, including Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, loudly and repeatedly, whilst drinking heavily and typing phrases in manic bursts.
Hanna, Simmons, and producer Sally Bayley all teach at British universities, Hanna at Norwich University of the Arts, which features the film on its website and adds some information in a news story:
The work is part of an ongoing collaboration with Dr Sally Bayley of the University of Oxford and Tom Simmons of the Royal College of Art researching into representation of poetic metaphor. [...]
Proem has been selected for screenings at the Laugharne Castle Poetry and Film Festival Wales, the Filmpoem Festival in Antwerp, Belgium and the Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival and conference in Bristol. In March Professor Hanna and Dr Bayley gave a masterclass titled ‘Poetry in the Making’ at the Oxford Literary Festival.
An article on ‘Thinking Metaphorically and Allegorically: A Conversation between the fields of Poetry, Animation and Sound’ by Professor Hanna, Tom Simmons and Dr Bayley was published in 2013 in the Journal of American Studies, and a further installment has been commissioned for publication in 2014.
The film is also due to be screened at Visible Verse in Vancouver next month.
This was a lot of fun, and it was a delight to finally collaborate on something with Marie. After an email volley, I started the soundtrack before seeing the rough cut. I was very taken with the images in the timeline as the edit evolved, and they most definitely influenced definition of touch points in the composition, and the final mix was done to picture. So, half free-form, half score. Anyway, indeed, lots of fun. Looking forward to the next one.
And Craven responded:
It was a highly collaborative process, this one, with very regular emails back and forth between Australia and USA, and various drafts of sound and video. Deon is fantastic and I feel honoured to have been invited to participate. I too am hoping for more collaborations together in future.
She added in an email that they had known each other online and appreciated each other’s electronic music projects for a couple of years.
I asked Craven about her experience adding the closed captioning. She initially tried Amara at my recommendation, but found it somewhat tricky to work with and switched to the other subtitling service Vimeo mentions in their FAQs, Dotsub. “I mainly found it easier to work with in regard to timings of subtitles,” she said. She also made the decision to remove most punctuation and capitalization for easier reading, which strikes me as the right approach for any poem following the old-fashioned convention of capitalizing the first word of each line. In general, I think it’s interesting to compare the decisions made in captioning or subtitling a videopoem which has the poem in the soundtrack, as this one does, with what happens in videopoems that rely solely on text on the screen to convey the poem. With captions or subtitles, ease of comprehension tends to take center stage, whereas when the poem is a graphic element it’s OK — perhaps even essential — to make the viewer work a bit harder to take it in. In either case, it’s a good bet that the filmmaker gains a unique perspective on the poetic text from working so hard to translate it into another medium. “I always love hearing the words over and over so many times while editing,” Craven said.
The footage here was sourced from a public-domain film at the Prelinger Archives, RFD Greenwich Village (1969 circa) — a clothing advertiser’s view of a tamed Bohemia that makes a particularly good fit with Shelley’s poem, I think:
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread…
Finally, Marie tells me that the poem has been selected to screen at the Athens International Film Poetry Festival in December, so congratulations to her and Deon for a successful collaboration that breathes new life into a 19th-century classic.