A new Moving Poems production, remixing Vallejo’s classic poem prognosticating his own death with time-lapse photography and Creative Commons-licensed music (from Magna Ingress). For the translation, I enlisted the help of some friends with better Spanish than mine: Jean Morris and Natalie d’Arbeloff, among others, on the Poetry from the Other Americas Facebook group. Another member of the group, the Spanish filmmaker and actor Eduardo Yagüe, was kind enough to supply the voiceover.
Shockingly, this is the first Vallejo poem on Moving Poems. I can’t think of any other Latin American poet of his stature whom I’ve so neglected. I did make one other video for a poem of his some years ago, but I guess I must’ve decided it wasn’t quite up to snuff.
My latest Moving Poems production remixes a translation I made of a poem by the great, 20th-century Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos with footage of a performance art piece. I found the latter on Videezy: two clips licensed CC0, i.e. public domain, but I still think it’s important to acknowledge the original director, Derek Alan Rowe—especially since I made so few changes to his clips—as well as the artist/performer, Stephanie Leathers. In place of the original soundtrack, which was more atmospheric, I hit on the idea of using a tango (for hopefully obvious reasons), and found a Creative Commons-licensed one on SoundCloud that I liked by an Iranian musician named Roozbeh Fallah. As usual, my tools were basic: Magix Movie Edit Pro and Audacity.
Like last week’s video for Nicanor Parra’s “El hombre imaginario,” this is a Moving Poems production in homage to a great, recently deceased Latin American poet. A post by poet-blogger Kristin Berkey-Abbot first alerted me to Claribel Alegría‘s death on January 25, drawing attention to the poem “Soy Espejo”:
In the 1990’s I taught that poem to classes that included very few Hispanic students. Then I moved to South Florida and taught that poem to people who had fled the Central American civil wars that Alegria wrote about. The poem worked well across a wide variety of boundaries.
I used a new translation by my friend Jean Morris. Rather than try to depict the horrors described in the poem directly, I wanted to focus on the speaker or speakers who’d witnessed them, so went looking for footage from asylums and the like. I found what I needed in the Prelinger Archives: a 1938 documentary about mental illness, for which patients were made to wear crude masks to protect their privacy. Shots of a woman repeatedly touching her face, other women standing or sitting frozen, and one, afflicted with echopraxia, mirroring the gestures of an interlocutor, provided points of connection with the text. I used some noise music by Stabbed Empath, the project of another friend, for the soundtrack.
To me, Alegría’s poem isn’t about war but trauma, and that’s where I tried to put the emphasis. I realize that the result may not make for pleasant viewing; it’s basically the complete opposite of the famous sequence from Good Morning, Vietnam where footage of the horrors of war is juxtaposed with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” As great as that scene is, it doesn’t challenge the dominant conception of war as a tragic, horrific, but ultimately somehow inevitable, larger-than-life spectacle, nor does it really explore other perspectives than those of the soldiers. It’s part of a whole genre of “anti-war” filmmaking that focuses on the cost in terms of soldiers and veterans but rarely acknowledges, or actively downplays, the usually much greater cost in civilian casualties and wounds of all kinds. And as long as voters in the U.S. and other aggressor nations continue to ignore these impacts, the news media will be allowed to continue in their role as cheerleaders for the military-industrial complex, depicting war as a regrettable cost of doing business, from Afghanistan and Syria to Yemen and now, once again, Central America.
The great Chilean poet Nicanor Parra died on January 23 at the age of 103, so I wanted to make a video for one of his poems as a tribute, especially since there didn’t seem to be any real videopoems or poetry films of his work on the web. I asked some fellow fans of Latin American poetry on Facebook for suggestions of poems, and “El hombre imaginario” came up. It had been translated before—by Edith Grossman, no less—but we all found her decision to depart from the plain meaning of the text in order to imitate the word order of Spanish odd and unfortunate. The Spanish poetry-filmmaker Eduardo Yagüe is a member of the group, and agreed to read the poem for the soundtrack when I mentioned I had an idea for a videopoem. I found the music—an accordion track by the composer Steven O’Brien—on Soundcloud, and the footage was something I’d downloaded from the one-person stock video channel Beachfront B-Roll a while ago.
Two different appreciations of Parra have appeared in major North American literary magazines in recent days: “Nicanor Parra, the Alpha-Male Poet” by David Unger in The Paris Review blog, and “Remembering Nicanor Parra, the Almost Immortal Chilean Poet” by Alejandro Zambra in The New Yorker.
I recently returned to Pennsylvania after a summer in London, and on my way out of Newark, New Jersey, I shot a brief cellphone video through the dusty window of a Greyhound bus, capturing some remarkable murals on a wall beneath a train line. After I got home and recovered from jet-lag a bit, it occurred to me that the footage might make an interesting pairing with a short poem by Luisa A. Igloria, which she’d just posted to the literary blog we share, Via Negativa. Footage shot from car, bus and (especially) train windows is of course exceedingly common in videopoetry, but I’m hoping my use of moving text saves this instance of it from cliché. I liked the juddering racket of the bus, preserving it as-is in the soundtrack even after I slowed the clip down.
The latest in an occasional series of Moving Poems productions matches Sarah Sloat‘s evocation of travel in the tropics to a beautifully decayed old home movie in a sort of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage. The soundtrack is courtesy of the bird-sound library xeno-canto, from recordist Rodrigo Dela Rosa in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. The footage has been lightly edited from a single movie at the International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM).
Since one of my main motivations in producing videopoems like this, apart from simply having fun, is to demonstrate to other poets just how easy it is, let me give a few more detailed process notes. The whole idea was prompted by viewing the footage (which was silent, like most old home movies, and therefore I think easier to imagine juxtaposed with poetry). I thought it might be interesting to pair it with a text that dealt with decay and/or travel somehow, and after messing around with some Elizabeth Bishop recordings — “Sleeping on the Ceiling” was one strong possibility — I remembered that Sarah Sloat had written something that might work.
I’m in London for the summer and my copies of Sarah’s chapbooks are back home in Pennsylvania, but a web search turned up the likely poem title (from Heiress to a Small Ruin), and since I’d worked with her before, it was simply a matter of emailing to ask for a copy (and of course permission to mess around with it). I experimented with a news ticker-like scroll of the text along the bottom of the screen, and shared that with Sarah via a private upload to Vimeo, but she felt that it was too distracting for a viewer to concentrate simultaneously on the text and the rapidly changing images, and offered to supply a voiceover instead.
I asked Sarah for three readings so I could pick and choose the best bits to combine with the rainforest soundscape (editing as always on Audacity, which is excellent, free, and easy to use). Then it was simply a matter of cutting and splicing the footage to fit. (I use MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, which is a cheaper and somewhat more sophisticated alternative to novice-friendly software such as Adobe Premiere Elements. Its widespread adoption means that most questions one might have about its use are addressed in tutorials on YouTube.) The biggest change I made was to apply a warm filter to most of the footage — all but the “northeast” portion of the poem, which retains the original, cooler look — for that “bloodshot” effect. That might seem like an essential edit, but in fact it was the last thing I thought of, and the video worked almost as well without it. It’s always tricky to decide how much literalism to allow in a videopoem, but given the abstract nature of most of the images, I figured I could get away with some pink, blood-vessel-like webbing here and there.
In this Moving Poems production, a quote from Denise Levertov’s “Relearning the Alphabet” anchors a brief epistemological meditation. Or as I’ve been describing it on Facebook, this is basically a videopoem about videopoetry. The text animation, live footage and audio were all released to the public domain by their shy and selfless creators. (The poem is of course under copyright, but I think using a short quote—the “U” section—combined with what the law would probably consider a transformative use—the videopoetic treatment—would qualify this as “fair use” under U.S. copyright law.)