This has got to be one of the best student animations I’ve ever seen. Jake Mansbridge animates a poem from American poet Claudia Rankine‘s Forward Prize-winning collection Citizen: An American Lyric as part of an exciting new initiative from the Forward Arts Foundation, which sponsors both the Forward Prizes and UK’s National Poetry Day. Here’s how their director, Susannah Herbert, described it in an email:
National Poetry Day UK, which falls on the first Thursday in October, is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Effectively, this is a huge mass participation cultural festival that gives everyone in the nation an excuse to share a favourite poem, or line of poetry – through readings, displays, performances and, increasingly, through social media. The theme this year is Truth.
A friend who ran the MA course in Animation at the University of Hertfordshire invited us to give her students a “brief” that they could work to as part of their degree course. We gave them 100 Prized Poems, an anthology of poems drawn from the shortlists of the Forward Prizes over the years… plus a few other poems, all loosely connected to the theme of Truth, and suggested they each create an animation that would bring the poems they chose – and National Poetry Day – to new audiences.
This stunning Jake Mansbridge animation of a poem from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is just one of the films that came out of the process… and the best are being shown next month at London’s Southbank Centre.
That 20 October screening at the Southbank Centre is part of a six-day festival, Poetry International. If you can’t make the screening, all of the videos are being uploaded to a playlist on the National Poetry Day YouTube channel.
Rankine is no stranger to poetry film. She collaborated with her husband, filmmaker John Lucas, on a series of video essays, a few of which I’ve shared here, and Citizen included both stills and transcripts from those videos. So I was happy when Citizen became so celebrated and widely read on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s also one of those books that every clueless white person should read.
Novalis was the pen name of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, a poet, author, mystic, and philosopher of early German Romanticism. The poem here is When Geometric Diagrams and Digits from 1800, a year before his early death at the age of 28. In the original German, the poem is Wenn nicht mehr Zahlen und Figuren.
The film-maker, Eric Edelman, based in New York, has titled the video, Novalis. On the surface it appears very simple, yet I find so much to explore, and to learn from it. More an art work in motion than a film in the traditional sense, the video distills the beauty of the Novalis poem, and the inspiration Edelman draws from its author, into a minimal series of iconic elements, with the poem appearing at the end.
Edelman is a prolific creator of original gifs under his RetroCollage moniker, and the video shows evidence of this. Its style and tone are both contemporary and retro. I find the animation in this video to be the best of the many I have seen from him, and the most emotionally expressive. This is enhanced by a soundtrack from 1791: the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, by Mozart.
The notes on the Vimeo page for the video reveal more about the diverse cultural influence of the work of Novalis:
Despite his short life and somewhat slender oeuvre, Novalis has since influenced many figures in Western culture, including Richard Wagner, Rudolph Steiner, Hermann Hesse, Walter Pater, George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, and Stan Brakhage.
The most famous of his works are the unfinished novel Heinrich von Ofterdingen and the poetry in his Hymns to the Night. The Blue Flower, shown in this video, occurs in Heinrich von Ofterdingen as a symbol of human aspiration toward love and spiritual advancement; it became central to the German Romantic movement.
Edelman’s bio tells us he has been making collages, by hand and digitally, for more than 25 years. He scans images from wood engravings found in books and magazines dating from 1850 to 1920, then colourises, combines and alters them in photo-manipulation software. The resulting pieces are “a mix of Surrealism and psychedelia, by turns playful and solemn, simple and complex, straightforward and mysterious”.
He collaborates as part of The Typewriter Underground, led by poet Marc Zegans. One of Edelman’s videos for this fascinating project, A Clack in the Tunnel, has been previously shared by Dave Bonta here at Moving Poems. Exhibitions of Edelman’s work include the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center and the American Museum of Natural History.
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.
Stuart Pound and Rosemary Norman have been collaborating on videopoems for 24 years now, but their work has lost none of its freshness or surprise. When I click on one of Pound’s videos in my Vimeo feed, it’s with the expectation that it won’t resemble too closely anything he’s done before. And so it was with this animation.
“The angry sleeper stalks his dreams/hard from night to night”. Dirk Bouts’s 1470 painting of demons carrying sinners off to Hell is the starting point for this not-quite-serious animated nightmare. Pachelbel’s famous canon played on a musical box is the accompaniment.
The piece was written by Christina Rau, who describes it as “sci-fi fem poetry”. As a lover of astronomy, this possibly self-invented genre intrigues me, especially as it is expressed in this fresh poem, unusual in choice of language. As if to demonstrate the generic form in its title, Christina’s collection, Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press), was published in 2017, the year before the making of Kepler’s Law.
Among cultural involvements such as teaching and facilitation of writer’s groups, Christina serves as Poetry Editor for The Nassau Review. Dana’s animated videos are designed to appeal to his young daughter, who inspires his current creative work.
A video collage by multi-media artist, Donna Kuhn, set to composer David Hahn‘s piece, “Make America Great Again”, addressing the contemporary political and cultural landscape of the USA, while alluding to historical ideologies of identity that have led to its present condition.
In a rhythm reminiscent of beat poetry, Hahn voices his own text in a rapid stream of hackneyed national slogans, turned upside-down and inside-out to powerfully convey the deranged zeitgeist experienced by so many US residents, and by masses around the world. His feverish mantras climax in the distilled and obsessive chant, “America, America, again, again, again, America, again, again”.
The video is made up of a kinetic array of visual elements including animated text, digitally-drawn art, abstracted numerical sequences, cartoon images, and superimposition of iconic movie clips with footage from World War II.
Hahn has been composing for 30 years, beginning as a performer on lute, guitar, and mandolin with groups such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and Opera Orchestras, Boston Musica Viva, the Seattle Symphony, Musica Nel Chiostro in Florence, and the City of London Festival. He served on the faculty at the New England Conservatory, where he co-founded the Boston Renaissance Ensemble, which toured extensively in the US and Europe.
Donna Kuhn’s experimental videos have exhibited internationally since 2004 at film festivals, museums, art galleries and online on literary and poetry sites.
The title of the piece is given on its Vimeo page as “Make America Great Again”, with the titles on the video itself suggesting the alternative name, “Slogan”.