UPDATE: Read Lori Ersolmaz’ essay on the making of the film at Moving Poems Magazine.
This is Fourteen Photos from the Bridge, the winning film from last month’s Big Bridges poetry film contest, sponsored by Motionpoems and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, and I’m pleased to say that the filmmaker is someone we’ve regularly featured here: the New York-based, grassroots multimedia content producer and visual storyteller Lori H. Ersolmaz. Here’s some of what she says about it on her website:
My submission was based on the winning poem by Leonard Gontarek, Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge. Expressing fourteen of the thirty-seven stanzas, I used original footage shot in Paris and Belgium and filmed locally during summer 2015. I’m especially excited about this award as it provides me with an alternative visual storytelling approach to social issues. I submitted the film in an effort to open dialogue about the current need to address structurally deficient bridges and infrastructure.
There’s a good bio of Leonard Gontarek at the Poetry Foundation.
A film by Lori H. Ersolmaz using both voiceover and text-on-screen for the poem by the Chicago-based poet and therapist Nina Corwin. Ersolmaz found the poem at The Poetry Storehouse and the archival footage at Pond 5 and the Internet Archive.
This new poetry film by the always interesting Lori H. Ersolmaz is an adaptation of a poem from The Poetry Storehouse by Luisa A. Igloria, and includes the author’s own reading in the soundtrack. Ersolmaz incorporated archival footage from the newly available Pond5 Public Domain Project and sound effects from Freesound.org.
Read Lori’s process notes, “Beginning with the End in Mind,” at Moving Poems Magazine.
The last of the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest runner-up poems was written in response to the very same footage by Lori H. Ersolmaz that prompted the winning poem by Amy Miller. This time, the poet is Michael Biegner:
This ocean is a gray tidal yank,
That speaks with a blurred accent
of wild greens and blue – the yellow
skin, the sad-eyed light,
these make up the neurons of dark storms.
This frame is a blight of opaque water and dying
movement: go on and be brave.
Sea birds carry word of a drowning in the canals,
To all the lost faces,
To the pink buildings. Helium
lifts the mylar thinking. Salt drops are alive everywhere.
Slog on, unfocused – to the place
where breathing cannot be felt,
where it is not the kind of music we can play by ear.
The resulting film is, I think, quite different from Backward Like a Ghost — which suggests just how central the poem is to our experience of a poetry film. Peter Danbury is the reader.
Biegner described his writing process as follows:
Writing is a generative process for me. I chose Lori’s film because it was rich in composite images. I quickly realized that I could view her work as one views an abstract painting. I found a cozy corner in my favorite coffee shop one afternoon and played the video over and over, each time writing feelings, emotions, suggestive links that came to me as I watched the video and took in the soundtrack. I did not worry about line breaks (I tend to write for voice anyway, so most breaks occur during natural breath points).
After developing the mass of the poem, I began to whittle it away, almost like a sculptor chiseling away flecks of marble. I wanted the end piece to be stark, because the sound track made me feel a barrenness; its repetitiveness paints a great dearth.
The recurring theme of water in Lori’s work also finds its way into this poem. I start with the ocean tugging, suggesting muscle, gravity, a primal force. The drowning is an invented conceit implying the inherent dangers of water. It highlights the struggle of making one’s way (slogging) through primal forces that surround us.
The looseness of the focus of many of the shots connects me to memory: its fragility, its subjectivity. The flashing lightning reminded me of firing neurons of a brain. So when I was done, I had a poem that dealt with these two diametrically opposed aspects of humanity: the physicality of existence, and the realm of memory where we seem to dwell.
Muscle memory, of course, is the way the human body is able to repeat movements with little or no input from the brain. Lori’s video evoked in me the contrast of what we plan versus what we do; what we contemplate in action versus what we allow ourselves to do from some other parts of us.
Lori Ersolmaz has already written at length about the making of her first film from the contest, but had this to add about Muscle Memory:
I am honored to have been able to work with not one, but two wonderful poems from the Poetry Storehouse 2014 Anniversary Contest.
When I received Michael’s poem I re-read it numerous times and felt that it was important to let it breathe. The poem gave me the room to spread it out from beginning to end. I find it incredibly interesting that visuals can help stoke emotions across mediums in subtle, varied, yet common ways—vice versa! Michael’s poem provided a wonderful screenplay that in many ways touched upon my own emotions when I first created the film. For instance, at the beginning, “Yellow skin, sad-eyed light, these make-up the neurons of dark storms…” is a concept about capitalism that I often grapple with and captured my feelings perfectly. I wanted to allow that idea to merge with the imagery from the very beginning and is why there’s such a long break until we hear a voice again. Peter Danbury’s narrative arrived the night before I started editing and his inflection and annunciation of Michael’s poem clicked with me immediately and influenced my use of space within the three-minute film.
I am grateful for everyone who I had the opportunity to collaborate with on the Poetry Storehouse Anniversary Contest, but in hindsight I wish I had more time to actually spend conversing with the poets before I finished the composed pieces. I feel in the future I can gain additional perspective if I connect with them in advance of the final cut. Nonetheless, the process I experienced while working with and viewing all the poems and remixes for the contest will stay with me for some time.
Thanks again to all the poets and filmmakers who took part in this challenging and, I think, ground-breaking contest. We’re all the richer for it.
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.
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 S. 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.)
A one-minute videopoem that still somehow manages to seem very spacious. It’s the work of filmmaker Lori H. Ersolmaz, reader Michael Dickes, and poet James Reiss. The poem was first published in Esquire, and Dickes and Ersolmaz found it at The Poetry Storehouse.