Filmmaker: Marie Craven

Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree) by Alejandra Pizarnik: three excerpts

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Dave writes: This is una mirada desde la alcantarilla / a glimpse from the gutter, the first Moving Poems production directed by Marie Craven. Alejandra Pizarnik‘s brief poems in Árbol de Diana and other collections have been a huge influence on my own writing, but I was never quite satisfied with the video I made back in 2016 for the excerpts included here. I did however like the translation and readings, done with the assistance of the London-based translator Jean Morris. They were part of the Poetry From the Other Americas series at Via Negativa, a collaborative translation project that gave rise to many of the films I wanted to feature in the Poesía sin fronteras screening at Houston last weekend. So I asked Marie, who hadn’t been part of that project, whether she might want to remix or completely re-do the film, and was delighted when she said yes.

The resulting film helped me see what might have been wrong with my own film: too few images, I think, and neither of them quite strong enough to keep up their end of a dialogue with these verses. Marie’s film shows the importance of thinking laterally, by instinct and rhythm. I was pleased that she ended up retaining my and Jean’s voiceovers; Jean’s success in evoking the vulnerable quality of Pizarnik’s own voice was a stand-out feature of our original film, I thought. But Marie’s re-interpretation ended up being a much stronger fit than that earlier effort would’ve been with the other films in the program.

Two Spanish filmmakers have also had a go at Pizarnik’s micropoetry: Eduardo Yagüe, with Piedras verdes en la casa de la noche, and Hernán Talavera, with Todo hace el amor con el silencio: tres poemas de Alejandra Pizarnik.

Marie writes: A few weeks ago, Dave Bonta invited me to participate in the “Poetry Without Borders” program at REELpoetry, by making a video remix of his 2016 piece, “A Glimpse from the Gutter”, from three poems by Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972). Having previously made a number of films with Dave’s poetry, and being involved in some of his wider projects, I was keen to rise to the challenge.

Like the majority of Australians, I speak only the dominant English. Nonetheless, this is the sixth film I’ve made involving different languages. My interest in doing this has arisen in part from a personal impulse to in some way transcend the xenophobia and racism that has long been a lamentable aspect of my own geographically-isolated culture. Aside from this, and despite being in my late 50s, I retain a child-like wonderment that our single human species communicates in so many richly varied ways. In addition, my film-making over 35 years has been largely directed towards international audiences, via the film festival circuit, and now also the web, where poetry film has by far its greatest reach. I also simply love the expressive sounds of different languages as a kind of music.

Dave translated Pizarnik’s poems with advice and in discussion with Jean Morris, a poet and professional translator. Jean voiced the poems in Spanish, while Dave spoke them in English. For my film, I retained only the text and voices, which I re-arranged and mixed with new music and images. I have remained true to Dave’s impulse in his earlier piece to make a truly bilingual film, spoken in both Spanish and English, and therefore without the need for subtitles.

As in a number of my films, the raw images were sourced from Storyblocks, a subscription website with a vast library of short, random clips from videographers in many different countries. The collection of shots I selected were then transformed via changes to speed, light, framing and colour, and the addition of long dissolves that blend and juxtapose the images via superimposition.

Some of the images I selected touch on the literal meanings of the poems. These direct connections of image to text are sometimes seen at moments other than when they are spoken. The film also contains a number of shots that bear no direct relation to the words. My overall impulse was to create a series of moving images that might form a kind of visual poem in themselves, while remaining connected to the resonances I found in the text and in the qualities of the voices. The final visual element is a faintly-flickering overlay containing animated x-rays of human anatomy.

The music is an ambient piece by Lee Rosevere, who for several years has generously released much of his music on Creative Commons remix licenses, enabling film-makers and other artists to create new works incorporating his sounds. I chose this piece for its slow pace, beatlessness and meditative quality, that left room for the voices to take by far the greatest prominence.

I am delighted to have especially made this film for REELpoetry, where it had its world premiere.

St. Umbilicus by Cindy St. Onge

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Portland, Oregon-based poet Cindy St. Onge is no stranger to Moving Poems, but mostly as the maker of her own videos. This one’s the work of Australian filmmaker Marie Craven, herself a Moving Poems regular, and I love the way she both literalized and extended the poem at the same time. She posted some process notes on her blog last May which are worth quoting in full:

‘St. Umbilicus’ is from a poem by Cindy St. Onge, and is one of my shorter video pieces. As well as a poet, Cindy is a maker of videopoems I admire. She also gave her voice to the soundtrack of this video. This is the second video I’ve made from Cindy’s poetry. The first was ‘Double Life‘. The collaboration was closer on ‘St. Umbilicus’ and grew out of personal chats we had recently on Facebook and via email. These led to me expressing an interest in collaborating further, to which Cindy agreed. The poem is about the navel and its bodily reminder of our connection to our mother. To express this, I chose a very close, still image of a navel to be a ‘frame’ for a series of central images featuring mothers and children. The still image, which rotates slightly throughout the piece, was found on creative commons licence at Flickr. The artist is Linnéa Sjögren. The moving images contained within it are from ‘Scenes at the Beach Club‘, a 1927 home movie from the Prelinger Archives. I selected historic images here to emphasise the timelessness of the theme. Music is by Chris Zabriskie, his ‘Prelude No. 12’ from the ‘Preludes’ album.

Misery by Sarah Sloat

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I’ve been following Sarah J. Sloat’s erasure poetry project using Stephen King’s Misery ever since it began, on a subsequently deleted Tumblr site, as a poem-a-day project in 2016, and thereafter in various online magazines (such as Tupelo Quarterly and Escape Into Life) as Sloat’s erasures have become ever more visually arresting and imaginative. Just last week there was this interview and feature in Neon Pajamas.

So I was delighted to see a video collaboration between Sarah Sloat and Marie Craven, incorporating images from the erasures in a montage of Marie’s own invention. Here’s how Marie describes it in a just-published blog post:

Sarah Sloat creates hand-made visual art pieces that are also poems. She does this by using various techniques to ‘erase’ most of the words from pages of Stephen King’s novel, ‘Misery’. Her ‘erasures’ leave only scattered words around the page, forming small poems. To these, she adds found images, related to the poems in associative ways that might recall surrealism. With Sarah’s permission and ongoing feedback, I have here selected a number of the visual poetry pieces and adapted them. The video of ‘Misery’ attempts to construct a fragmented narrative, or new poem, from the juxtaposition of the selected visual poetry pieces. It focuses strongly on the image components of Sarah’s ‘Misery’ pages and creates a new form in motion with them. Not a strict ‘presentation’ of Sarah’s visual poetry, the video is my response to their inspiration. Music is by Gurdonark, whose Creative Commons music I have been following for about eight years. Other videos I have made from Sarah Sloat’s poetry are Dictionary Illustrations and Nightlight Ghazal.

Light Ghazal by Matt Hetherington

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Some gorgeous new work from Australian poetry-film collaborators Marie Craven (video concept, edit, effects) and Matt Hetherington (poem and voice), with music by Masonik and film sourced from Mono No Aware. Marie’s process notes (with links added):

‘Light Ghazal’ is the third video collaboration with poet, Matt Hetherington. From across the world, Dave Bonta put us in email contact for the first of these, ‘Orphanage‘. Since then Matt, who lives not far from me here in Australia, has been coming up this way to meet and collaborate in person. This process resulted in the second piece, ‘Everything sleeps but the night‘, and now this latest. It’s kind of radical for me to collaborate in the flesh these days, as most of my collaborations for the past decade, video and music alike, have been net-based. I welcome this recent development. For the soundtrack I selected ‘Inna Sky’ from the ‘Sutol’ album by Fremantle-based Masonik, whose sounds I have also worked with before in my poetry videos. The source footage for the image track is from Mono No Aware in New York, whose films are available on Creative Commons licence at Vimeo. I selected the sections of footage most fitting for this new video and created two layers on top of each other. This was so I could add dimensionality and fx to bring out the hand-processed film textures, as well as bring into sharper presence the ghostly, underlying images on the original film. I love hand-processed film. It seems to emphasise the direct chemical expression of light hitting celluloid and focus us on the materiality of that process. Thus the footage seemed especially relevant to the poem here, which is all about light.

Peace-Prayer by Laura M Kaminski

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Just in time for Christmas, an international collaboration between American poet Laura M Kaminski and Australian filmmaker Marie Craven, who shared it on Facebook:

Sending wishes for a peaceful time this season, to friends and family, near and far. Here is a video just completed. Poem by Laura M Kaminski. Music by Benjamin Dauer & Specta Ciera. My video concept and editing.

Cynic that I am, I found the video unexpectedly moving, so I guess it’s fitting that it be Moving Poems’ holiday selection this year. I join Marie and Laura in sending everyone wishes for peace, now and in the New Year.

Quiet Sounds by Lucy English

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The second collaboration between Marie Craven and Lucy English for The Book of Hours. Marie recently blogged some process notes:

‘Quiet Sounds’ is my second video collaboration with the marvelous UK poet and performer, Lucy English. Both have been made as part of her great, multi-artist project, ‘The Book of Hours‘. The earlier video, ‘The Last Days‘, started with images. This one started with the poem and sound. The soundscape is comprised entirely of Lucy’s voice and small noises in the environment. I wanted the ‘bed’ of the soundscape to be quietly musical and constructed it from a collection of sounds recorded by various artists, and found on Creative Commons licences at Freesound. The central element is the metronomic sound of a clock ticking. I edited Lucy’s voice in loose rhythm with the clock, elongating the pace of her reading and leaving spaces for the various other sounds to have their ‘solo’ moments: a pheasant and a wood pigeon, a sheep, a cow, an old fridge, air traffic. I carefully built up the soundtrack piece by piece until I had a complete first draft. Then I looked for images that might add further to the audiovisual experience of the poem. The poem describes a moment of solitude, a hush when a woman becomes aware of the little sounds in her environment. It is implied she is inside a domestic space at the time. In my net wanderings, I found a marvelous series of interior shots by Carol Blyberg (aka Smilla4 on Flickr), also available on a Creative Commons licence. I worked with the images using zooms and slow dissolves that changed in rhythm with Lucy’s voice. For such an apparently simple piece, it was time-intensive to make, especially in the refining process that saw both sound and image go through many drafts. I gave a lot of attention to subtle details, in a meditative way. Maureen Doallas has since featured ‘Quiet Sounds’ on her wonderful blog, Writing Without Paper.

See Vimeo for the text of the poem, as well as links to all the soundtrack sources.

Everything sleeps but the night by Matt Hetherington

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Marie Craven‘s latest poetry film uses a text and voiceover from fellow Australian Matt Hetherington over a collage of images from hither and yon (see Vimeo for the credits).