Filmmaker: Dave Bonta

Historia de mi muerte / Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones

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A Moving Poems production for a new series of poetry in translation for the group literary blog I contribute to, Via Negativa. Go there for the text of the poem and the translation; the titling on the video disregards both punctuation and lineation in the interest of displaying Spanish and English side by side, in the manner of a bilingual book of poetry. I haven’t seen this done on a bilingual poetry film before, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been — it seems like a fairly obvious arrangement.

As I wrote at Via Negativa, I translated the poem (with some invaluable assistance from Alicia E-Bourdin on Facebook) specifically with the intent of pairing it with that footage of cabbage white butterflies—which, when I shot it last week, I already recognized as having a certain Lugones-like feel. So it was just a question of finding the right poem.

Green Enchantment (Verde Embeleso) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

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I made this video for a new series I’ve started at the literary blog Via Negativa, “Poetry from the Other Americas.” Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz is one of the greatest poets of the last 500 years, and it bothered me that I didn’t have anything of hers at Moving Poems yet. Luck was on my side, because (as is often the case with me) I shot the meadow footage without knowing how I’d use it. Then a few days later I found the translation in my files and the proverbial light bulb went off. Since this is a “green” poem, I suppose we should imagine an LED light. But as I said in my process notes at Via Negativa, verde or green has all kinds of connotations, including some that Sor Juana couldn’t have imagined in 1688, and I think it’s fine to suggest some of them in a contemporary videopoem. Through the choice of fonts and music, I tried to bridge the gap between the 17th and 21st centuries.

I also did something a little out of the norm for films/videos of poems in translation: I put the original language into subtitles and a reading of the translation in the soundtrack. To me, this approach makes sense if the primary audience is people who need the translation to understand the poem. Though I personally find reading subtitled movies very easy, I’m told that a lot of people have trouble with it, and in any case, most traditional poetry makes its strongest appeal to the ear, not to the eye. On the other hand, people in the target audience with hearing disabilities will not be well served by this approach.

The black-and-white footage is sourced from two television ads produced in the 1960s, found via the invaluable Prelinger Archives. The music is also in the public domain, courtesy of MusOpen. Thanks to Luisa A. Igloria for the terrific reading.

Reading Arabic by Amy Miller

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A Moving Poems production. I uploaded this to Vimeo five months ago but never got around to sharing it here, side-tracked by my trip to Berlin for the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival a week later. And then when two of Amy Miller’s poems got made into such superlative films by Lori Ersolmaz (“Backward Like a Ghost“) and Eduardo Yagüe (“I Was Grass“), I sort of forgot about my own, more primitive effort. But I was reminded of it again by the rising tide of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia around the world. This videopoem with its hopefully not too obvious calligraphic touches was meant as a gesture of deep respect to the aural and visual qualities of a great literary civilization.

The text is from the Poetry Storehouse and was first published in Faultline. I used some Creative Commons-licensed footage from Equiloud (Uwe Schweer-Lambers), rearranged and turned black-and-white—the colors of ink and paper. I thought Miller’s understated reading from the MP3 file at the Storehouse could carry the video without any additional sounds, especially since the poem’s all about reading. Like the insects in Equiloud’s macro shots, literate human beings are thoroughly absorbed and enmeshed in the warp of text. (In Latin, text means “woven.”)

The writer, editor and videopoet Dustin Luke Nelson also tried his hand at a remix of Miller’s text. He took a very different approach:

It’s fascinating how much variation there can be in how we see or hear a given text.

When nights are longest by Luisa A. Igloria

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Happy Holidays to all Moving Poems readers/viewers. This is a joint production of Moving Poems and Via Negativa, where Luisa A. Igloria and I blog daily poems. Via Negativa began in mid-December 2003, and this time of year “when nights are longest” has always seemed full of creative possibilities to me. So I found a mysterious, dark but light-filled home move at the Prelinger Archives, selected and arranged some of the images into a composition that made sense to me, emailed the link to Luisa and asked her if she thought she could find a poem in it. Indeed she could! After a little back-and-forth about the title and opening lines, she settled on a final form for the text and sent me a reading that she recorded with her mobile phone. I found a Creative Commons-licensed sound recording on SoundCloud through my usual method of clicking on random links and trusting in serendipity: it’s a field recording by Marc Weidenbaum of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” boombox procession passing a certain point in the streets of San Francisco on December 18, 2010.

Moving Poems will be taking the rest of the week off, but will be back on the 29th.

Ethics of the Mothers by Rachel Barenblat and Prayer by January Gill O’Neil

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A Moving Poems original. I got the idea of combining two poems about small children, and spent more than a week tinkering with the footage, trying to create enough echoes between the two parts of the film so it all hangs together. I’m not sure whether I succeeded or not, but it was an interesting experiment.

The texts came from The Poetry Storehouse: “Ethics of the Mothers” by Rachel Barenblat and “Prayer” by January Gill O’Neil, each read by the author. The music is by Serge Seletskyy, AKA GustoTune on SoundCloud, used in its entirety without alteration. I wanted to stay as far away from stereotypically “spiritual” music as possible, and suggest instead the boundless energy of childhood.

I shot some of this myself (the dodgy wildlife shots and the overlays) and filled it out with free footage from Beachfront B-Roll and Phil Fried. Yes, I really was that close to a mother bear with cubs! It seemed important to start out with a powerful image of motherhood that also might be seen to possess a kind of celestial resonance (Ursa Major and Ursa Minor). And over-all, the wildlife imagery and the closing shot of the night sky gave me a way to suggest something extra about the kind of felt connections with the larger-than-human world that seem to come naturally to most children, and the awe that that can inspire in them. Needless to say, I wouldn’t have dared to close with such a “cosmic” shot if O’Neil’s poem hadn’t focused so resolutely on small things.

Rachel Barenblat is an ordained rabbi who blogs at The Velveteen Rabbi, and January Gill O’Neil is also an active poet-blogger — see Poet Mom. Both are based in Massachusetts.

Foreclosure by Tara Skurtu

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Another Moving Poems original. The poem is from The Poetry Storehouse, and originally appeared in B O D Y. I included Nic Sebastian’s reading from the Storehouse in the soundtrack, mixed with a piece by an Austrian-based electronic composer who uses the handle strange day.

The dollhouse footage is mine. The rest comes from the free stock-footage site Beachfront B-Roll, whose proprietor continues to impress me with the non-generic, idiosyncratic quality of his clips. They also happen to look way more professional than mine, which is no wonder since I have crappy equipment and no training. I hope the footage I’ve chosen is oblique enough to avoid a feeling of redundancy.

Tara Skurtu is a poet and a lecturer in Creative Writing at Boston University. Visit her website at She also has a YouTube channel with some videos of her readings.

Jubilee by Traci Brimhall

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A Moving Poems original, made with a text from The Poetry Storehouse, my own reading, some gorgeous free footage by Jeff at Beachfront B-Roll, and Creative Commons-licensed music by SonicSpiral*Selections s on SoundCloud. I must admit that this was a case of my falling in love with the footage first and then hunting for a poem to fit it (and the Poetry Storehouse archives are large enough now for that to work). But Traci Brimhall is a first-rate poet, and I’m very pleased I was able to work with one of her poems. Thanks also to Poets & Writers for sharing it on their video blog last week.

Like the other videopoems I’ve made lately, this has closed captioning, which can be turned on via the button on the bottom right. To see how Brimhall arranged it on the page, though, please refer to her page at the Storehouse.