What planet, era, realm, country are your letters from?
At this point, draw a palm, a house, a planet. Explain.
I’m just back from the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival, where I saw many great films including this wonderfully goofy one from Ukrainian poet-filmmaker Anzhela (or Angie) Bogachenko, which with its dancing cosmonauts somehow speaks to my experience over the past week in Berlin (where I also met up with my British partner-in-crime Rachel, with whom I otherwise maintain a long-distance relationship).
You’ll need to watch this at 360p minimum to make out the English subtitles. The text of the poem in the original is here; the translation in the titling is credited to Ksana Kovalenko. The music is a song called “на крыше” (“On the Roof”) by the group VEN, according to a Google translation of the YouTube description. The film was part of a screening called “Triadic Dimensions” featuring films that used music and dance as well as poetry to “convey … the cumulative force of language.”
There’s also a version of the film with Russian subtitles.
“This Valentine was created by running the hard sell of an on-line dating guru through ‘Dictation,'” says the Vimeo description by Laura Mullen, a practitioner of “hybrid poetics” with seven books under her belt. In an interview posted on her blog, afteriwas dead, she answered a question about the making of the video:
LG [Lola Gerber]: The video you showed at your reading at Naropa had both performance and writing in it. Can you tell me more about the process of creating this video? Did you write and then perform the writing? Or do you perform first and then write from that?
LM: Ah, you’re talking about “Him” (a play on Hymn), the Valentine’s day video (up on my Vimeo site, with other movies…). The text is the pitch of a famous dating guru, available on-line, full of promises (including that wonderful: “I will teach you how to speak the secret language of men”!)! I wrote it down, then read it into “Dictation,” which—as far as I can see—speaks “the secret language” of the pitchman, exposing the truth behind those promises made to lonely women. Then I recorded the result as a voice over—and attached it to the film (my friend Marthe Reed helped me make) of me peeing in a giant box of chocolates. But I led up to that with film work (with Afton Wilky) of Valentine’s Day merchandise, and also a Valentine’s Day performance (live) where I read from a journal entry about losing my virginity while smearing my face with Valentine’s day candy (actually, that didn’t work so well—it’s got too much wax in it, doesn’t really melt), while backed up by three brave women who (off-mic) described their loss of virginity experience…
It seemed like an apt follow-up to Monday’s posting of 15th February.
One of a series of “Situation” videos created by Jamaican-American poet Claudia Rankine in collaboration with her husband, the photographer John Lucas, for Rankine’s book Citizen: An American Lyric (2014).
less in terms of genre and just in terms of writing in general. My background, my education, has been in poetry, so I feel that many of the layers in whatever I’m doing are coming out of a world of allusions that are located in poets. So, no matter what I’m working on, I like to call it poetic in some way, because the poets that I’ve read and that I love, their work tends to infuse it.
In a more recent conversation with Lauren Berlant at BOMB Magazine, Rankine discusses her collaboration with Lucas on the Situation videos.
The scripts in chapter six seemed necessary to Citizen because one of the questions I often hear is “How did that happen?” as it relates to mind-numbing moments of injustice—the aftermath of Katrina, for example, or juries letting supremacists off with a slap on the wrist for killing black men. It seems obvious, but I don’t think we connect micro-aggressions that indicate the lack of recognition of the black body as a body to the creation and enforcement of laws. Everyone is cool with seeing micro-aggressions as misunderstandings until the same misunderstood person ends up on a jury or running national response teams after a hurricane.
The decision to exist within the events of the “Situation videos” came about because the use of video manipulation by John Lucas allowed me to slow down and enter the event, in moments, as if I were there in real time rather than as a spectator considering it in retrospect. As a writer working with someone with a different skill set, I was given access to a kind of seeing that is highly developed in the visual artist, and that I don’t rely on as intuitively. My search for meaning—“What do you think that means?”—is often countered with a “Did you see that?” from John. That kind of close looking, the ability to freeze the frame, challenges the language of the script to meet the moment literally second by second—in the Zidane World Cup piece, for example—to know as the moment knows, and not from outside. The indwelling of those Situation pieces becomes a performance of switching your body out with the body in the frame and moving methodically through pathways of thought and positionings.
The photographer Jeff Wall writes about moving into moments of eroding freedoms. He describes racism as “determined by social totality” that “has to come out of an individual body.” In his photographs he brings his lens to existing “unfreedoms.” I am interested in his decision to reenact, to stage moments that happen too fast for the camera to capture. On some level he can’t let what he saw go: “Did you see that?”
The difficult thing about this “immanence” or indwelling is that it holds and prolongs the violence of supremacist spectacle in a body and shuts it down in other participatory ways. The reality, moment, narrative, or photo locks down its players and gets read as a single gesture.
We often, perhaps inevitably, envision history unfolding as a sort of cartoon, and our perceptions of combat these days are liable to be colored by video gaming. This new film-poem by Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier turns that on its head, with live-action footage of World War II glimpsed from a present-day machinima world, through the windows of a moving train. See Peake’s blog for the text of the poem. He adds:
Our recent film-poem collaboration “One Stop” was nominated for best music/sound at Liberated Words III in Bristol, where it premiered. The original soundtrack was composed and performed by Valerie Kampmeier. The film commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. [...]
I sourced archival colour footage of WWII, and composited this into an animation that I created using Blender 3D. I recorded journeys on the tube with an X1 Zoom, and mixed this under Valerie’s music and my voice reading the poem.
There’s a decade-long tradition of using machinima in cinepoetry (the term usually preferred by filmmakers in that tradition), but it’s not well represented here at Moving Poems because I don’t often find the results terribly compelling. I’m not sure how much Peake was influenced by that tradition, but his use of machinima here was ingenious, I thought. Kudos also for finding a new twist on the footage-from-a-moving-train motif so prevalent in poetry films.
Incidentally, there’s a lovely interview with Robert Peake at Geosi Reads conducted by Ghanaian blogger Geosi Gyasi. In one exchange, Peake talks about the Transatlantic Poetry on Air series of live video readings he coordinates. Then he reflects on technology and poetry in general:
Geosi Gyasi: As a technology consultant, do you think technology has influenced poets and poetry in any particular way?
Robert Peake: I think it has influenced the audience for poetry by shortening our attention spans, and I think poetry is always influenced by its audiences. That said, technology may also be the saving grace of contemporary poetry, because even as the fan base has dwindled since the advent of rock-n-roll, the ability of poets and poetry-lovers to connect and engage all over the world has expanded. The global audience for poetry today is therefore many times the size of what many poets enjoyed as a regional audience one hundred years ago. I think it is therefore a kind of “Invisible Golden Age” for poetry–with more availability than ever, despite the perception of scarcity.
Poet/performer/librettist Douglas Kearney made and uploaded this to Vimeo two years ago, noting:
A quick and dirty performance of a poem from my new chapbook, SkinMag (A5/Deadly Chaps). It’s a projection that accompanies live readings.
Like Betsy Newman’s video for Ed Madden’s “Red Star”, or film interpretations of Jade Anouka’s poems by Mickael Dickes and Sabrina Grant, this collaborative effort from filmmaker Anita Clearfield and poet Nicelle Davis shows how to include the poet as an actor while still keeping the main focus on the poem. I was alerted to its existence by a post at Davis’ blog, The Bee’s Knees: “Collaboration: The Walled Wife.”
The Walled Wife is a project that has haunted me for the past six years; it is my retelling of a story about a woman who is buried alive in hopes that her soul will hold up the walls of a church. “The Ballad of the Walled-Up Wife” is a folk song at least 1,000 years old; it is one of the most famous in the world, according to folklorist Alan Dundes. In an interview Dundes explains, “the song has inspired more than 700 versions — mainly throughout eastern Europe and India — as well as countless essays by scholars.”
Countless, he says.
Countless, I questioned, and so began exploring the many cases of women being buried alive. I compared variations of a song sung across the globe. The lyrics go: a wife is buried so a structure can rise—it implies a room is worth more than a woman, and as a place she approximates value.
I started to wonder if the architecture of intimacy is dependent on violence—if art is the ultimate form of violence—if women, especially in the role of wife, are worth anything (or nothing) at all? Countless being the inverse of priceless, it would seem that this ballad proves that we are not worth much at all. It shows that the easiest thing in the world to replace is a wife—it says a woman is a thing.
Read the rest to learn how Davis attempted over the years to re-create the experience of being walled up or buried alive, what she learned from it, and how she came to collaborate with Clearfield and composer Silke Matzpohl. The post also includes the text of the poem, which first appeared in Manor House Quarterly.
A new film from Massachusetts-based videopoet Martha McCollough, one of three she’s placed so far in TriQuarterly. This one appears in their Summer/Fall 2014 issue. Kudos to their editors for changing their policy and allowing their videos to be embedded elsewhere.
McCollough continues to chart an independent course. Her work is like nobody else’s, mesmerizing and disturbing in equal measures — and always gorgeous.