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.
Husband-and-wife team Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier won the children’s prize in Southbank Centre’s inaugural Shot Through the Heart Poetry Film Competition with this film. Peake wrote about the composition process on his writer’s blog:
When Valerie and I read the call-out for a film-poem competition with a children’s category happening here in London, we had to give it a try.
I wrote and recorded the poem, and then began playing with stop-motion animation. I used Christmas ornaments made of teasel, blue tack, coloured paper, a Raspberry Pi with LEGO-mounted camera arm (my own creation, at right), and of course lots of buttons. Valerie wrote and recorded the music at the end.
After more than forty hours of painstaking animation work, it was so gratifying to discover that the judges–a group of London school children–really liked the result.
Peake has also created a free storybook from the poem, available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.
While it may seem surprising that someone could meet with such success on their first foray into the world of children’s poetry film, Peake appears to have thoroughly immersed himself in the genre, judging from his survey at the Huffington Post, “Combining Film and Poetry Is Child’s Play.”
The film-poem genre is a slim but highly enthusiastic and truly international one. It is largely comprised of serious filmmakers and equally serious musicians and poets. As a result, the sub-genre of film-poems made specifically for children is something of a subset within a subset. Yet this kind of thing has been going on successfully for some time, from cartoons of Dr. Seuss books made in the 1970s to the recent Emmy-Award-winning “A Child’s Garden of Poetry” produced by HBO in cooperation with the US Poetry Foundation. There are also many fine examples from all over the world, in different languages, of filmmakers setting poetry to film with children in mind.
Click through to watch the selection of seven films that Peake also screened at a live event in the Southbank Centre’s festival in mid-July. He includes some real gems.
Last and probably least, I see from Facebook that Robert Peake has just gotten British citizenship, in case anyone is wondering why there are now two nationalities identified with his poems here. Like T.S. Eliot, he has now become a major headache for book catalogers using the Library of Congress system. Fortunately, the same post can appear on multiple virtual shelves on a website, thanks to the wonders of modern content management systems (WordPress, in Moving Poems’ case). At any rate, congratulations to Robert for coming out of the closet as fully bi-national.