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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A new Moving Poems production. I was browsing recent clips at the Beachfront B-Roll blog and was taken by a plume of rising smoke, which struck me as just the right sort of image for a poem I’d just read at the Poetry Storehouse that features a small forest of white birches. The author is Massachusetts-based poet Jennifer Martelli. After searching SoundCloud and the Free Music Archive in vain, I finally found a track on ccMixter that seemed to fit. I was going for a Tom Waits kind of vibe, and I’m delighted to report that Martelli (with whom I’d never previously communicated) liked the video, and said some kind things about my reading as well. It really does take a leap of faith to submit one’s poems to the Poetry Storehouse and let random strangers mess around with them.
A few technical process notes: I’m now using MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, following a recommendation by Marc Neys, and am finding it to be a better fit for my needs and abilities as an amateur filmmaker than what I’d been using before, Adobe Premiere Elements. After uploading the finished video to Vimeo, I decided to add closed captioning, inputting the poem line-by-line as it appears in the published text so that even people with normal hearing can still benefit from turning on the captions (CC button, lower right) and seeing how the poet chose to arrange her words. I also discovered that the WebVTT file generated by Amara can be subsequently tweaked in a simple text editor (I used Notepad) to correct typos or finesse start and stop times before uploading it to Vimeo. While I like the results, this is a poem with a lot of enjambment, so I’m not sure whether my desire to display original line breaks should have trumped the need of viewers for a potentially smoother read. I welcome feedback on that point.