Filmmaker: Marie Craven

Metamorphosis by Jean Morris

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Marie Craven’s most recent poetry film is a collaboration with the Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe and the London-based poet and translator Jean Morris. I’d been waiting to share it until Marie blogged process notes, which incorporate comments from Jean and Eduardo. The resulting post is too long to quote in full, but here’s a bit of it:

I was immediately drawn to the poem of Metamorphosis when it came up on one of my social media news-feeds, where I regularly read contemporary poetry from around the world. UK writer and translator, Jean Morris, was its author. The piece was inspired by a famous woodcut print by M.C. Escher, Metamorphosis II (1939-40). Jean’s viewing of the art work seemed to have suggested in her a vision of someone who might be similar to Escher himself, a character who perhaps the poet could relate to personally, as could I. The piece sketches a solitary character fascinated by life’s multiple and varying repetitions, of shapes and spaces, movement and time. It has a mirror structure, which I felt apt as a reference to the highly distinctive geometries that appear in Escher’s art.

In another part of the virtual globe, I had been in contact for several years with Spanish film director, Eduardo Yagüe. We had previously talked about a possible collaboration between us. So in 2019 I contacted Eduardo with Jean’s poem and asked if he might be interested in co-directing a film of it. We then contacted Jean, who agreed to a film of her poem. I suggested Rachel Rawlins as a possible voice artist and we were all pleased when she said yes to joining the project as well. […]

Jean Morris (writer):

I’ve always been a loner and not so great at working with others, so having my words become part of this rich collaborative work is a new and rewarding experience. An earlier version of my “mirror poem”, which tried to reflect the morphing mirror structure of Escher’s artwork, appeared on the Via Negativa poetry blog, long established as a beacon of the Creative Commons ethos, which I support, so I was happy to say yes to Marie’s proposal and keen to leave it to her and to Eduardo to make of the poem whatever they wanted. I’d long admired both their, very different, work in poetry film and trusted they’d make something beautiful, technically sophisticated and interesting. It also made me happy that the actor, Pedro, was someone I knew as a poet and the voice, Rachel’s, one long known in real life here in London. What a lovely, complex, international thing in sad and claustrophobic times.

Eduardo Yagüe (direction, videography):

When I was thinking on locations for filming, nothing seemed to me more ‘escherian’ than the Colegio de la Inmaculada in Gijón, my hometown in Northern Spain and where I am currently living. Belonging to the Jesuits, the building owns a long history including some dramatic episodes during the Spanish Civil War. I studied there from age 6 to 18.

Then, when I was thinking for potential actors for the video, I decided, looking at Escher’s portrait, that Pedro Luis Menéndez would be a perfect choice. Pedro was my Literature teacher and my first theater director when I was a teenager student at the Colegio, and now he’s become one of my favorite Spanish poets. One year before recording Metamorphosis I made a video called La vida menguante (Waning Life) based on several of the poems from Pedro’s book of the same title. I also recorded some footage of the streets and buildings of Gijón, a city sometimes aesthetically annoying but very ‘escherian’ too. […]

Read the rest.

I hope this week’s focus on Marie Craven has brought into sharper relief the variety of tools and approaches available to contemporary videopoets and poetry filmmakers. As a much more impatient and slap-dash video maker, I admire Marie’s perfectionism, to say nothing of her artist’s eye and musician’s ear and her openness to collaborations of all kinds.

We may do other week-long features on filmmakers or poets in the coming months. It’s always especially helpful when people take the time to write in detail about the making of their films, as Marie does. Though most projects aren’t as wildly collaborative as Metamorphosis, even the loners among us stand to benefit from a culture of sharing tips and insights, especially with a growing community as full of artistic ferment as the international videopoetry scene.

The Love of the Sun: five poems by Matt Hetherington

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This is Marie Craven’s fifth film made in collaboration with the Australian poet Matt Hetherington. Perhaps fittingly, it contains five of his poems.

This is the final film version of The Love of the Sun, from five poems out of Matt Hetherington’s poetry collection of the same name. The video had its first presentation as a live audiovisual performance at the Ó Bhéal Winter Warmer Poetry Festival in Cork, Ireland in late November 2019. Thanks to festival director, Paul Casey, and the Arts Council of Ireland, I was able to be there in person. I traveled from Australia with Adelaide actor, Claudia La Rose-Bell, also a guest of the festival. Claudia gave a live reading of three of Matt’s poems in rhythm with the images on the screen, and with a pre-recorded music soundtrack by Steve Kelly (aka Douglas Deep, Manfred Hamil). This included Matt’s voice speaking two of his poems. After the brilliant festival in Cork, Claudia and I then traveled to other places in Europe. We presented The Love of the Sun live again, at the video poetry festival in Athens. Directing live audiovisual performance was a first for me. Happily, it went smoothly and was well received.

I Don’t Own Anxiety, But I Borrow It Regularly by Kelli Russell Agodon

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We can’t plan a party for the apocalypse 
          because friends of the apocalypse know
                    the apocalypse always shows up 
uninvited and with a bag of half-eaten chips.

A film Marie Craven made for a poem by Seattle-based poet Kelli Russell Agodon for the 2019 series of Visible Poetry Project films. Glass journal, where the text originally appeared, included a process note from Kelli:

This poem was written on a poetry date with Susan Rich. I’m not sure what prompted the poem, but I was thinking about loss and death (as one normally does on a Friday) and this poem came from that moment. As someone who carries not only a saint in her pocket, but also anxiety too, I’ve found one of the easiest ways to lose my midnight fears is by knowing sometimes I just need to stand outside on my deck at 2 in the morning to feel secure.

And here are Marie’s process notes from her blog:

In 2017, I followed a series of videos appearing during the month of April, also known as National Poetry Month in the USA, a celebration that is global in various forms as well. These interesting pieces were being published daily by the Visible Poetry Project, based in New York. In mid-2018, I happened to see a call for film-maker submissions for the 2019 VPP series. I sent my application that same night. A few months later, I was delighted to have been selected as one of 30 film-makers from around the world to participate in this year’s series. The process firstly involved reading a series of poems from 60 writers, and returning a shortlist of three poets I might like to work with. VPP soon announced that I was to collaborate with my top choice, the well-known US poet, Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli and I then started communicating directly, and she sent me a larger collection of poems, three of which I felt drawn to adapt to the screen. I vacillated between two of them for a little while, until Kelli suggested I ‘go with my gut’. At this point I knew the poem of choice would be I Don’t Own Anxiety, But I Borrow it Regularly (eventually shortened to I Don’t Own Anxiety for the film adaptation). I straight-away knew who I would most like to ask to voice the poem, and so I contacted poet and film-maker, Cindy St. Onge, with whom I’ve been fortunate to have prior collaborations. Cindy’s readings of the poem were recorded by Eric Sorenson, both of them in Portland, Oregon. Eric had quickly responded to my call-out on social media for a technician in that city to assist with recording Cindy’s voice. As always, Cindy’s readings of the poem were sensitive, articulate and well-modulated – a joy to receive and work with them. VPP allocated a producer to our project, Alina Sodano, who monitored progress through a series of rolling deadlines leading towards the film’s release date in April 2019. Alina was instrumental in securing the music I most wished for our film, a piece entitled Blames and Revelations, by Matt Howes & Dan Slatter, licensed for our project via Premium Beat. Footage for the film was sourced from royalty-free subscription site, Videoblocks, including work from their contributors, Vadim Key (Belarus), WeAre (Ukraine), ProStock (Slovenia), Oles Ishchuk (Ukraine), glowonconcept (Thailand), and Sergey Gribanov (Russia). Editing is my primary area of interest and pleasure in film-making, which accounts in large measure for my easy embrace of ‘found media’, such as may be sourced on licences like royalty-free, creative commons, copyleft, and public domain. Sourcing media in this way gives me legal permission to adapt, remix and re-create it in my non-commercial videos, each fragment given new life in the new contexts I create. As with Half Measures, written up earlier in this blog piece, the editing challenge for I Don’t Own Anxiety was bringing together the diverse written, vocal, musical and visual elements, to create a film that, in its final form, felt organic and whole. Our film was released on 28 April and will continue to be distributed now with the other films in the 2019 series by the Visible Poetry Project.

Die Ameisen / The Ants by Joachim Ringelnatz

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A 2019 film by Marie Craven. Here’s what she wrote about it on her blog:

The Ants was made for the poetry film competition of the Leipzig Poetry Society in Germany. The challenge was to make a film based on any poem by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934), a cabaret poet and absurd humorist. Most of the Ringelnatz poems I have read are strange and funny, and very short. I chose Die Ameisen/The Ants for its whimsy, and partly because it includes a reference to Australia, where I live. It’s a coincidence too that ants have been a funny and instructive presence in my life. The film is bilingual, in German first and then English. It was a fun film to make, with music created for it by my long-time collaborator, Adrian Carter, and collage art by Kollage Kid. Both of them are in the UK.

The film ended up taking first place in the contest.

All this week I’m going to be featuring recent poetry films by Marie Craven. When she joined Moving Poems as an editor last year, our initial instinct was to avoid sharing her own films too often to avoid the appearance of favoritism, but I’ve recently changed my mind about that. Marie has become one of the most prominent filmmakers in the international poetry film scene, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. So it’s catch-up time! Especially since Marie has just caught up on her blog, and I can simply quote her process notes for most of these films.

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.