A “Videopoem created together in isolation during the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Montreal-based poet Endre Farkas (text, vocals), Martin Reisch (video and editing), Carolyn Marie Souaid (accompanying vocals), and Gregory Fitzgerald (sound engineering). Farkas and Souaid previously collaborated on Blood is Blood, which won the ZEBRA International Poetry Film Festival’s “Best Film for Tolerance” in 2012.
Sometimes the best videopoems arise from a simple idea flawlessly executed, and this is I think an example of that. All of the lockdown’s pent-up frustration and anxieties (about breathing, among other things) find visceral expression as the text is breathed, stretched and seemingly stitched into the very fabric of the biosphere. On the front page of his website, Farkas describes how it came to be made in a short essay which is worth quoting in full:
This poem has been around the block a few times. Sitting in a bar in Trois Rivières in the 1980s, during its annual poetry festival, a few poets, including me, were asked to compose a brief poem on a handmade paper coaster and then read it to the audience.
I had always been interested in line lengths in poems, usually referred to as beats, feet or breath. I always liked the measure of breath. Breath is best. It made sense that the measure of a line of a poem (an oral form) be measured in breaths not feet. I had also been working with dancers to whom breath was a concern. People take breath for granted. It’s an automatic function. The dancers made me conscious of its actuality and necessity. So breath was floating in my brain. And after a few glasses of wine or beer, not sure, I came up with the first draft of the poem.
When it came to reading it, I decided to “breathe” the poem. This is how and when the poem “as the breath is…” first had life breathed into it.
I had performed it a couple of times over the years before I met Carolyn Marie Souaid, another poet. I don’t remember why or when exactly she agreed to do it with me, but I remember how much richer the poem became. The texture, the meshing, the lyrical, the cacophony, was enriched because of her participation.
Recently, BV (Before Virus), Carolyn & I went into Studio Sophronik to record some poems. “as the breath…” was one of them. The sound engineer, Greg Fitzgerald, who was used to recording music, didn’t know what to make of the poem. But he liked it. He asked if I would allow him to play with it. I have always liked collaborations, so I said, “of course.” A few days later he sent me an mp3 of it. I was blown away. The reverb, echo took it to another level. I listened to it a couple of times and filed it away, feeling that I would like to be able to perform this live.
Then came the plague. I knew that performing it live was not going to be possible. The option was online. For that I needed visuals. I had a bunch of photoshopped images that seemed to fit the bill. However, it would require the animation of stills. My go-to videographer, Martin Reisch, thought it might be too complicated to do in these isolation conditions. He suggested that he go through his archives and find appropriate clips to collage together and synch it to the audio. Again, the collaborative sensibility kicked in and I agreed.
So, to make a short poem long, the videopoem, “as the breath is…”, (a day in the life and death of breath) is a collaboration in isolation brought to fruition by the plague. “as the breath is…” is an artifact of this time.
Australian videopoet Ian Gibbins has always been good at breaking down ordinary language into its elemental phonemes and graphemes. Here, it works especially well to point up the grotesque inadequacy of official communication during a time of crisis. Here’s the description on Vimeo:
“WE ARE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE… MAINTAIN YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION…”
After the pandemic has passed, the lockdowns persist: this is the new normal…
Recorded during the 2020 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic mostly on location at Sleep’s Hill, Blackwood and Belair, South Australia, under partial lockdown conditions. The audio samples are made from birds, frogs and voices in the immediate neighbourhood. The text samples advice from various government, business and community organisations.
This video poem is The Carpet, from Belgrade artist Ana Pantić. Ana wrote, voiced and performed in this personal piece, a film-making collaboration with Maja Djordjević, with music by Milan Bogdanović. Watching the film on high volume gave me the best experience of it.
Ana and I were at the Athens International Video Poetry Festival in Greece last December, where we met. The festival brought each of us in contact with other artists from around the world. Ana compellingly performed her work live on the last night.
She is an artist in a number of related creative modes, as well as a public speaker. Recently Ana appeared on Serbian TV, talking at length about international video poetry.
Haiku Time screened at the Athens International Video Poetry Festival in December, along with two other videos written and directed by Madrid artist Lisi Prada. For me, Prada’s videos were the best discovery of the festival’s screening night, which went from 6:00 pm until about 1:00 am in a continuous stream.
The film-maker is boldly experimental in her approach. Her videos screened in Athens were all multilingual. She also wrote the text for Haiku Time, and has this to say on her website:
“Presented as a video-haiga, the images accompany … poetic text that is recited simultaneously in English and German. Some verses are heard as a chorus also in Japanese, Norwegian, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish, emphasizing that what is said happens to anyone, anywhere.”
The translations were gathered via the internet from different parts of the world. Of the two main voices, the German is translated and spoken by Thomas Topp, and the English by Susan Nash. Nash performs in a style that sounds like the automated voices heard on train platforms or when waiting in phone queues. This is in accord with Prada’s statement about the content of the text and images:
“(the video)… proposes to abolish the borders of what separates us from the other… and questions the alienation of current life in the cities, where we get lost… a world in which speed, pollution, stress… make us move like pawns on chess boards, forgetting what really matters, what makes sense.”
The soundtrack is made up mostly of the different voices in different languages, that are layered in their timing and accompanied by subtitles. This on-screen text is well-placed, forming part of the overall structure and framing of the images. The music, heard only a few times for the film’s duration, is dramatic and highly effective, echoing the edgy quality of the editing.
The film goes for 5 minutes, 7 seconds, 5 milliseconds – mirroring the 5-7-5 syllables of the popular version of the haiku form in writing. This is explained on Prada’s web page for the film, where she describes the images as being…
“…based on simple and deep observations of everyday life, and poetic images among which the moon frequently appears…”
Prada blurs the boundaries between video and poetic text, uniting them into one form, in which the text feels incomplete without the images, the images without the words.
* Quotations from the artist are translated from Spanish to English with the assistance of Google Translate.
2 birds by Martha McCollough first appeared several years ago and is still well worth sharing now. Martha is an artist, writer and animator whose sustained work in video poetry is compelling and unique.
The text is an adaption of a verse from the Upanishads. Martha speaks this herself in a many-layered vocal soundtrack. She also created the melodically unusual music, minimal and haunting.
Visually the piece displays a strong relation to experimental film forms. Text on screen is shown in layers, echoing the treatment of the voice. Some lines of verse move very quickly, less like comprehensible words, more an abstract texture of the moving images. Other textual layers appear more legibly. Phrases also appear and disappear at different moments like brief little messages underscoring levels of the voice.
The central visual motif anchoring the different elements reflects the title. Two birds are seen in semi-photographic images and in line drawings. Here we see that the two birds might really be one bird. This is thematically linked to the final couplet that resolves the swirling poetic resonances of the whole.
The history of poetry in film can be seen to have two main branches: the cinematic and the classically poetic. In cinematic history, the two were brought together almost from the start, with the avant garde and experimental movements of the early 20th century.
This genre of film was first explored in the 1920s by French Impressionists Germaine Dulac, Louis Delluc, Man Ray, Hans Richter, and others. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s this genre was further explored by the Beat Generation poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and Herman Berlandt, and developed into a festival held annually at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, California. (Wikipedia)
Poetry itself has its origins in the oral forms of ancient times, adapting and evolving over the last millennium with the arrival of the new technology of the printing press. It has been combined over time with art and music. Poetry film now marries audio and time-based visual media with the printed and spoken forms of poetry. There seems little doubt there are other emerging manifestations of poetry happening now.
In the Future, written and directed by Canadian experimental film-maker Mike Hoolboom, is from 1998. It is a piece complete in itself, but also part of a longer feature film, Imitations of Life, that is made up of several parts.
In a recent bio, Mike describes himself this way:
Born: Korean War, the pill, hydrogen bomb, playboy mansion. 1980s: Film emulsion fetish and diary salvos. Schooling at the Funnel: collective avant-geek cine utopia. 1990s: failed features, transgressive psychodramas, questions of nationalism. 2000s: Seroconversion cyborg (life after death), video conversion: feature-length, found footage bios. Fringe media archaeologist: author of 7 books, editor/co-editor 12 books. Curator: 30 programs. Copyleft yes. Occasional employments: artistic director Images Fest, fringe distribution Canadian Filmmakers. 80 film/vids, most redacted. 9 features. 30 awards, 12 international retrospectives. 2 lifetime achievement awards. 24 books, 15 mags, 40 interviews, 100+ essays, 40 sound clips.
Indeed, his contribution to the contemporary field of experimental film is substantial. He is deservedly considered by many to be one of its greatest living artists.
In the Future draws its sublime image stream from moments in films from many sources. Most of these are unrecognisable from their original context. Its text is given visually on screen, a deep poetic meditation on photographic media and its relation to human identity. The film is prophetic in its vision of a world in which every moment will be photographed, until at last our identities become indistinguishable from photographs themselves. Prophetic again is its apocalyptic sense of where this might take us. This film from over 20 years ago seems even more relevant today.
An experimental filmpoem about side-stepping death. The style of filmmaking was inspired by the Materialist/Structural elements of Peter Gidal’s experimental film, Key (1968).