A brand new videopoem by writer (and former film major) James Brush demonstrating one way to make an effective video with a very short, enigmatic text, marrying Dickinson’s cosmic lines with some footage that is literally out of this world. James put up a blog post about it, which I’ll take the liberty of quoting in full:
This is a video I made for Emily Dickinson’s “Aurora is the effort.” I stumbled on the Jupiter aurora footage at ESA/Hubble and wanted to do something with it. I had Dickinson on my mind since we share a birthday, and I often find myself turning to her work around this time of year, so I started searching for aurora-related Dickinson poems and liked this one for its simplicity and unusual syntax and wording. The sounds are radio static and me rubbing the strings and hitting the back of a bass guitar with some effects from garage band.
I’ve been wanting to do a Dickinson poem for years and even have a concept for another one that maybe someday will get done. Thanks for watching.
For an interesting perspective on what Dickinson might’ve been up to in this poem, see Jed Deppman’s Trying to Think With Emily Dickinson (University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), p. 129 ff. (via Google Books). Deppman finds that “Aurora is the effort”
features the kind of deconstructive paradox that both defines and destabilizes many of Dickinson’s definition poems: the category of “the natural” transforms into the others that philosophers have always used to define it by opposition: the “social,” “cultural” and “artificial.” The specific terms the speaker uses to transform cosmology into cosmetics and make heaven’s two-facedness the basis of a definition under erasure derive in part from the idea—circulating in Amherst thanks to Transcendentalism, Ruskin, Hitchcock, and the Hudson River school—that nature mirros God’s consciousness, that, as Barton Levi St. Armand puts it, “the sensuous veil of nature is but a protective covering over the naked creative spirit of the universe.”
It’s worth reading the analysis in full to realize just how much meaning Dickinson could pack into her gnomic verses.
This video captures the nightmarish aura of the poem, but at the same time becomes a separate work of art. It does more than interpret the poem; it reinvents the poem in a new medium. Its propulsive imagery, editing, and soundtrack create an unnerving sense of urgency that the original never attained, but that it greatly profits from in its second life as a video.
This video gives precedence to the poem’s words, but without sacrificing or marginalizing visuals. In fact, the dense, gloomy background visuals and monotone music heighten the tragic sense of the poem, punctuating its doomsday storyline and elegiac atmosphere.
The most visually crisp of the videos submitted, it also uses some of the most unexpected imagery, as when the word “cornfield” is blackened out in the text. And how can you not love that ukele being plinked in the background.
Thanks again to all the entrants, congratulations to the winners, and thanks to Howie for acting as judge. (Those are his blurbs for each of the prize winners.) I’m very pleased with how this contest turned out: the goal was to showcase a diversity of approaches to the poetry-film or videopoetry genre, and I think we succeeded in doing that.
I am very open to suggestions for future contests. I don’t want to sponsor contests so often that they become a chore, but I’m not sure I want to wait a whole year before doing another one, either, so maybe in three to six months… I also don’t want to do the exact same thing next time with a different poem, unless perhaps it’s a radically different kind of poem; I’d rather come up with a novel challenge. Feel free to email me or leave comments with your ideas.
This is the video my co-editor Beth Adams and I commissioned at qarrtsiluni in support of the soon-to-be-released winner of our 2010 poetry chapbook contest, Watermark by Clayton T. Michaels. James Brush wrote about why he elected to envideo this poem, and what influenced his choice of imagery, at his blog Coyote Mercury.
Watermark was chosen by the noted nonfiction author and naturalist Ken Lamberton, who was impressed by the “wonderfully controlled surreal and mesmerizing quality” of the poems. The print edition is already available for ordering ahead of the official launch on Monday, August 30, when we’ll also unveil online and podcast versions. We’re also running a series of poems from the other ten finalists at qarrtsiluni between now and then, hoping in part to interest other micropublishers in snatching up some of these terrific manuscripts (would that we could publish and release videopoems for every one of them!).