Posts in Category: Videopoems

Foretold by Luisa A. Igloria

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Marc Neys, A.K.A. Swoon, probably needs no introduction here. Nor was this the first time he’s ever worked with a poem by Luisa A. Igloria, though this may be my favorite of their collaborations to date. And their usual working order was reversed, because Luisa’s poem was written in response to a “first draft” of the video, one of the three prompts in the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest. Poetry judge Jessica Piazza selected Luisa’s poem as a runner-up:

Foretold

In that future which pressed
ever closer toward us, time was a room

whose shape we could no longer determine.
In every city, men stood on platforms

gesticulating and making pronouncements.
Armored tanks rolled into the last

encampments, leaving tracks in the river’s
boiled mud. We knew when to flee,

what to gather up, what to leave behind.
We walked deeper into blind forests,

climbed as high as our feet allowed
up the thinned hair of trees. They let us

cocoon there, they let us make hammocks.
At night, we watched as distant flares

limned the unnavigable horizon.
At night, some of us told stories,

making shadows with our hands
to mimic the movement of wings.

Marc explained how he put together the video used in the contest:

I had footage of several Psychic TV performances by Allan Chumak. Once, I re-edited a bunch of them for a collab with another poet, but that didn’t happen. The cuts were not wasted and waited on the shelves for another occasion.

I had also footage of an ASMR performance by Epehemeral Rift waiting to be used.

Around the time of the Poetry Storehouse contest proposals, I thought it might be a good idea to put those two pieces of footage together. For the purpose of viewing quality I added an extra layer of light and colour to the Ephemeral Rift recordings. Not really a match, but an interesting pairing.

I created a track and edited the different pieces loosely to the music, hoping it would give some writers an idea.

Luisa told us:

My writing process in response to Marc’s video, which resulted in the poem “Foretold,” was to open two screens on my computer: on the left side, Marc’s video, and on the right, the first page of a new (blank) Word document. I decided that I was going to compose—start immediately to write—as soon as the video started. Almost all of the poem’s lines were generated exactly in this manner, with very slight revisions afterwards (mostly having to do with lineation and spacing, tightening some of my word choices). In Marc’s film, the images—and their strategic juxtaposition—were immediately striking, as was his choice to strip them of sound and instead use music and ambient sound. Though I realized they may not have had anything specifically to do with each other, their pairing in the film’s sequences began to suggest an underlying narrative to me, filled with foreboding and portent. The occurrences of repetition in the film suggested that. The closeups of hands and mouths spoke to me of something both very intimate and very distant, and in some instances those mouths looked as if they could very well be on the verge of varying emotions: rage, for instance; or pleasure, or fear.

Marc added:

Once I got Luisa’s poem, it all came together perfectly. Suddenly these images and their pairing become very political. Nic Sebastian provided a very suitable reading for the track. It all needed a bit of re-editing (in length and pace), but the main visual idea is still the same, but much more powerful because of Luisa’s fantastic poem.

I Was Grass by Amy Miller

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Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe’s film for the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest runner-up poem by Amy Miller. As mentioned in the contest results, poetry judge Jessica Piazza actually selected two of Miller’s poems: one as the first-place winner (see “Backward Like a Ghost“) and the other as one of three runners-up. Here’s that second poem, Miller’s response to Yagüe’s contest footage:

I Was Grass

Under the city, I grew
and sabotaged
the alleys.
What did I have to drink
but cracks of sun
and the sometimes slash
of paint? Or was that
song? I heard it too. Bachata,
an imagined circle step.
You don’t think
grass can dance?
Stop.
The bending
blade and its shadow.
No, watch. Can you see me?
The stem, the glint,
the green.

Yagüe had this to say about the making of the film:

Nic Sebastian suggested I make a video as inspiration for poets writing for The Poetry Storehouse’s first anniversary contest. I am always very honored to collaborate with TPS, so I told Nic that I would be delighted to make the video.

I spent September and October in Stockholm, Sweden. I recorded footage for Marc Neys (Deze zachte witte kamer, poems by Runa Svetlikova). I also directed a videoclip called La viuda, for Spanish singer Pablo Werner, and started several personal projects (such as the Storehouse remix Broken Figure, by Kathleen Kirk). I also took a lot of pictures of the beautiful Swedish capital and its magical light.

Close to Kungsholmen, the district where I live when I go to Stockholm, there is a place that one might find in every big city (it could be New York, Paris or Madrid) and that’s the set I used for the video. A rough stage full of graffiti, concrete and passing trains contrasting with the fragility and tenderness of the great little actress Emma Sjöstrand (10 years old). The general idea was to capture claustrophobic urban images of this place and contrast them with a few shots in a park (Kronobergsparken) with a very different light, air and colors. The only idea I was sure about was the girl snapping her fingers, staring at the camera and disappearing.

I chose for editing some very beautiful music by Kosta T. But my idea was to ask for an original musical score for the final cut from Four Hands Project — the great, imaginative film and TV composers Alberto Ayuso and David Gómez. They composed an exclusive score for what I consider a very special video.

I am quite sure Amy Miller recorded her poem while she was watching the video. When Nic sent me the audio I hardly touched anything, just added a shot or two and revised the rhythm of some images. Amy’s poem was perfect for the images and the music fit incredibly well with both images and words.

I hope you like the final result. I am very happy to have been a collaborator in this amazing project of TPS. Congratulations to Amy Miller and the other winners and participants in this year’s contest, and very special congratulations to Nic Sebastian for her great and generous work of spreading poetry and connecting artists all over the world.

We asked Miller about her writing process. She wrote,

I was moved to write a poem for Eduardo Yagüe’s video—of course—because of that girl. That beautiful, innocent, wily girl. She owns that alley. She is that alley. But she’s something else, too: a spirit of defiance.

The video opens and ends with grass. And I couldn’t help thinking of what that city will look like long after humans are gone, that apocalyptic vision of the vines engulfing the concrete, the wilderness taking over again. And the Carl Sandburg echo is no accident; his grass covered the battlefields, but this girl’s grass uproots the city, grows up—as she does—right through it. She is the blackberry, the kudzu, the bindweed that splits apart the pavement of every civilization and imparts her wildness into it. I think there’s a youthful hope to that, a reminder that every kid has dreams that reach far beyond the walls of where she’s growing up. Every kid is capable of bringing down the old city, of changing the drab old ways—just watch out.

I wanted the girl to ask questions, to get in the reader’s face: “You don’t think grass can dance?” And I wanted her to talk about an actual dance. In the theatre festival where I work, we’re doing a play next year that features Puerto Rican Jíbaro folk music, and it’s been on my mind a lot. I started looking on the internet for a dance that Latina girls in New York might aspire to do, and I found Bachata, which originated in the Dominican Republic. I chose it for the sound of the word and its popularity in clubs. But when I realized I was going to have to record the poem, I had to go back online and listen to recordings of people saying the word because I’d never heard it spoken. (I’m in Southern Oregon; Bachata, along with many other cool things, has not reached us yet.) I had practice the word over and over before recording the poem. Probably still didn’t nail it.

Is Eduardo Yagüe wonderful, or what? Such lyric beauty in this film. What a privilege it was to work with it.

Backward Like a Ghost by Amy Miller

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This is the film made for the prizewinning poem from the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest. Lori H. Ersolmaz is the filmmaker (see the recent Poetry Storehouse interview with her), and as announced on Monday, Amy Miller’s poem was selected by Jessica Piazza along with three runners-up in the Poetry category of the contest. In each case, the poems were written ekphrastically, in response to one of three, brief clips — which can still be viewed in the contest guidelines. Here’s what Miller wrote after watching Ersolmaz’s clip:

Backward Like a Ghost

They came so far to see this.
Then up close, the hollering and arrows,
the flash of something they should know
but can’t quite understand. The lonely
talk of everyone. Together
we make a city, close
and warm but blinding
in its multitudes. Night,
then open glass. Backward
like a ghost, they move against
what comes. If they find
the solace of sunlight
in a shallow field,
we’ll know them
by the dark birds
of their eyes, the home
only they can conjure.
It’s coming,
the clearing and the day.
They’ll step out into our city.
We won’t see them after that,
their parties and rising,
their dust that settles
just like ours.

When Ersolmaz read the poem, she decided to call on not one, but two readers to lend their voices to the soundtrack: Nic Sebastian and Robert Peake. She told us:

Amy’s poem feels embedded with the imagery in an esoteric way. Amazing how she was able to do that. I now completely see the piece the way she’s written the poem. I knew what I wanted to do with your voices and they fit so beautifully together too! I am so pleased you asked me to participate and honored that the winning poem was with my piece.

UPDATE (15 Nov.): Read Ersolmaz’ short essay “The making of ‘Backward Like a Ghost’” at Moving Poems Magazine.

We asked Miller what it was like to write in this way.

It was so much fun to write poems for the videos in the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest. I’ve always liked writing ekphrastic poems based on photos, paintings, and musical pieces. But a video is a different animal, with the visual and aural elements already working together to form something more complex than their parts alone. And writing specifically to pair a poem with a video, there’s the added element of time: The video has its own rhythms, and it only goes on for a finite time. Coming up with a poem for that that feels a bit like songwriting—fitting an idea and voice to a structure imposed by something outside of the text.

To start the process, I watched Lori’s video over and over. To me, the predominate images are the arrival by sea at the start (a hint of Liberty Island), the blurred people and cityscapes in the middle (including that backward ghost, reflected in a bus window, maybe?), and that clear shot at the end of the tall buildings on a canal, a place that felt like Amsterdam. All of this, in my mind, added up to a story of immigrants, and specifically, refugees. It’s the “after” image of what happens to refugees after the part of the story that we usually hear—the displacement and the journey—ends. They reach the shores of their new home—and then what? That blurry, confusing middle part of the video is a picture of alienation, of culture shock and skirting the scene without quite being able to understand what it’s about. There’s also a deep, world-ending loneliness in the images of water and sky. And the hazy shots of people speaking—so close, right at hand, yet indistinct—evoke the blurriness and dimming of communication when you know a little of a language and then are bombarded with it full strength, all day.

Originally I wrote the poem in first person plural—“we,” from the viewpoint of the immigrants. But that began to feel too precious and disingenuous, the appropriation of someone else’s story. I have never been an immigrant. But I’ve lived in cities where there are lots of immigrants, and I’ve heard and seen the attendant bigotry all too often. So I chose the POV of a collective “we,” of the city itself, a polyglot community built on the waves of immigrants who came before. I wanted to evoke a collective compassion for the newcomers and the stories and realities they come from.

Congratulations again to Amy, and a huge thanks to her and Lori for this wonderful film. In my opinion, the ekphrastic approach is a great way for writers and filmmakers to collaborate, and I hope these contest results encourage more of it. (We’ll be sharing the other three films from the contest here and on Vimeo in the coming days.)

Beyond the Seen by Yana Djin

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This new poetry film by Karen Mary Berr is based on a poem by Russian-American writer Yana Djin (website, blog). In a post on her blog, Berr noted:

It has been said her poetry offers no consolation, no ‘right’ solution to the tragedy of life, but paradoxically this is precisely the only one I needed when the time came for consolation.
Yana’s voice is a true voice, with no concession, no need for gilding, no lies.
She’s not only an inimitable writer, but a beautiful woman and an irreplaceable friend.

Kaspar Hauser Lied / Kaspar Hauser Song by Georg Trakl

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The recently concluded Art Visuals & Poetry Film Festival Vienna challenged filmmakers to make a make a film with this poem by Georg Trakl, and screened the results just two days after the 100 anniversary of his tragic death. For those who wished to use English, festival organizers supplied a most excellent translation by Alexander Stillmark, as well as a reading in German by Christian Reiner. Many of the competition films have now been shared on Vimeo. UK director Maciej Piatek said about his film (above):

Before I started working on the video footage I had conducted a small study on Georg Trakl’s work. The poet himself was one of the most important Austrian Expressionists. As an avant-garde style, Expressionists cherished more emotional experience over physical reality. The starting point for me was to watch Werner Herzog’s “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser”. The movie had inspired me to carry out another research on Georg Trakl. This time I was studying the importance of colours in Georg Trakl’s poetry. The Kaspar Hauser Song incorporates colours into a text as much as the other poems by this poet. The main four colours I was focused on were: crimson, green, black and silver. According to Wiesław Trzeciakowski (,,Kolorystyka wierszy Georga Trakla”,kwartalnik-pobocza.pl) we could ascribe to each colour certain emotions and feelings. Therefore I tried to use those four colours as a foundation and structural framework of my film. Additionally I brought to the film an experimental/improvised music by Fanfare, a perfect background music based on live instruments and free unspoiled expression.

German director Susanne Wiegner‘s 3D animation style is instantly recognizable. Quoting from her description at Vimeo (spoiler alert; watch the video first):

The visualization of the poem is based on the inscription of Hauser’s gravestone where you can read in Latin: “Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious.” In the film, the typeface is three-dimensional and builds a sequence of spaces, that is passed by the camera. Images and videos are projected on the letters, that lights up in the dark like kaleidoscopic smithers of memory. By these means the epitaph becomes the abstracted path through Hauser’s life from the subtle, slightly colored experiences of nature to the gradually darken spaces of civilisation, to a confusing labyrinth. Towards the end of the poem, the camera leaves the typeface, the script becomes flat again and one realizes Kaspar Hauser’s headstone.

Swoon‘s take. He wrote about it in a recent blog post:

Once I had a finished [sound-]track I started working on the visuals. A combination of sources this time. Footage by Lauren Lightbody (I used parts of this years ago) and SeriesNegras combined with stuff I filmed myself last fall.
I wanted anything but sharp images…blurry feel, colours green and brown… I wanted the edited parts to project a feeling of travel or movement over a period of time and seasons. From contryside to the city from spring to fall.

And finally, this film was

a collaboration between JosdenbroK (video) and Alfred Marseille (sound). The poem, Das Kaspar Hauser Lied, by Georg Trakl was written in 1913. Kaspar Hauser (30 April 1812 (?) – 17 December 1833) was a German youth who claimed to have grown up in the total isolation of a darkened cell. Hauser’s claims, and his subsequent death by stabbing, sparked much debate and controversy.

This was chosen as the winner of the competition. The statement from the jury reads (in English):

The art work in its graphic-abstract form offers versatile imaginative arrangement and a striking combination of drawn animation and moving image sequences to the text. Together with the coherent music composition a compelling work of art has been created. The film by Jos den Brok and Alfred Marseille on the text of Georg Trakl has been considered to the jury to be particularly outstanding and worthy to win the ART VISUALS Special Award 2014.

The nine other “Kaspar Hauser Lied” films screened at the festival may also be watched on Vimeo or YouTube, from directors Jutta Pryor, Nicolas Pindeus, Zooey Park, Dean Pasch, Othniel Smith, GRAF+ZYX, Justine Bauer, Karina Ille and Timon Mikocki.

On Loop by Christine Hooper

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Struggling with insomnia last night, I kept thinking of this film by Christine Hooper—a Royal College of Art graduation film that’s gone on to win a whole raft of awards and screenings (I saw it at ZEBRA). The voice is provided by British comedian and actress Susan Calman, and the sound design is by Tom Lock Griffiths. As Michael Fukushima, the Executive Producer of the National Film Board of Canada, says:

The animation and cinematography are beautifully executed with spontaneity and verve that complements the liveliness of the monologue, and the Hockney-esque composition and playing with time sequencing is such an apt visual metaphor. An exceptional graduate film, showing enormous potential for a successful future.

First Grade Activist by Nic Sebastian

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This film by Marie Craven is the remix category winner of the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest. The challenge was to “Create a remix (a video remix, an art collage, a soundscape, a sound collage, or surprise us) in response to any Storehouse poem currently up at the site.” Erica Goss, Marc Neys and I were the video judges, but in fact all the remix entries were videos, so our top pick was the category winner.

On the poetry side of the contest, Jessica Piazza picked a winner and three runners-up, and I’ll be sharing the resulting ekphrastic videopoems by Neys, Eduardo Yagüe and Lori Ersolmaz as they are completed. Please see the full announcement at Moving Poems Magazine. Let me just quote what Erica Goss wrote about why we selected First Grade Activist.

In judging the contest, we looked for an overall fit between the poem, images and soundtrack. The winner had to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the elements of video poetry, blending them to create an artwork that is more than the sum of its parts.

As we evaluated the contest entries, we watched the videos many times over. Dave watched each video on different days, to try to eliminate the influence of whatever mood he might be in at the time, while Marc says he looked at “the total package, the crafting, as in editing skills, original camerawork, and the visual concept and originality.” For my part, I watched looking for that indescribable quality that a good video poem has, the juxtaposition of poetry, sound and image that jumps from the screen.

We agreed that “First Grade Activist” has those qualities. Dave said it had a “great populist aesthetic, as is appropriate for the subject matter. The music is fitting and compelling. The split screen with text on the left is on one hand reminiscent of a classroom blackboard, and on the other just a good choice for a self-referential poem like this one. I like everything about it.”

I thought it dealt well with a subject that’s gotten a lot of attention lately: bullying. I love that the poem imagines a “first grade activist” who combats bullying with a poem praising her friend’s red hair, the very attribute she’s getting teased for. As the children march down the hallway, little ones first, we feel the pain of the child who doesn’t fit in and the courage of her friend, who imagines a way to help.

Marc added, “The video is as crisp and fresh as a first school day, with a strong and taut concept in a tight execution. Good rhythm and good use of split screen in combination with the poem on screen (and the use of red in the letters). The music brings it together and gives it a nice build up, while the visuals remain the same. The video is clever and actually lifts the poem to a higher level.”

Congratulations to Marie Craven for winning the contest, and thanks to all who sent in their work.

The music in the soundtrack is by Dementio13, and the film footage is courtesy of the Prelinger Archives. See the contest results announcement for Craven’s bio.

On a personal note, I was pleased that the winning film was made with a poem by Nic Sebastian, even though this barely registered when I was evaluating the entries. Nic is of course the driving force behind The Poetry Storehouse, and added some of her poems at the beginning (as did I) mainly to set a good example and get the ball rolling. She works tirelessly to promote others’ poetry, lending her wonderful reading voice to many projects and creating a huge number of remixes herself, but her own poetry deserves to be much better known.

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