Australian filmmaker Marie Craven demonstrates one way to get away with out-right illustration in a videopoem. Had she used footage of pinball games in a poem that references pinball, it would’ve seemed merely redundant, I think. But instead she hit upon the idea of using colorful still images (by Donald Bell) alternating with dark, silent-film-like title cards bearing the lines of the poem. Cut these images in time with up-tempo, pinball-esque music by CIRC, and rather than simply depicting a game of pinball, the video actually enacts or reproduces the effect of a highly kinetic ball careening around in an inert cabinet. “The whole thing / goes tilt.” And the poem is raised to a new level, I think.
This film by Marie Craven is the remix category winner of the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest. The challenge was to “Create a remix (a video remix, an art collage, a soundscape, a sound collage, or surprise us) in response to any Storehouse poem currently up at the site.” Erica Goss, Marc Neys and I were the video judges, but in fact all the remix entries were videos, so our top pick was the category winner.
On the poetry side of the contest, Jessica Piazza picked a winner and three runners-up, and I’ll be sharing the resulting ekphrastic videopoems by Neys, Eduardo Yagüe and Lori Ersolmaz as they are completed. Please see the full announcement at Moving Poems Magazine. Let me just quote what Erica Goss wrote about why we selected First Grade Activist.
In judging the contest, we looked for an overall fit between the poem, images and soundtrack. The winner had to demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of the elements of video poetry, blending them to create an artwork that is more than the sum of its parts.
As we evaluated the contest entries, we watched the videos many times over. Dave watched each video on different days, to try to eliminate the influence of whatever mood he might be in at the time, while Marc says he looked at “the total package, the crafting, as in editing skills, original camerawork, and the visual concept and originality.” For my part, I watched looking for that indescribable quality that a good video poem has, the juxtaposition of poetry, sound and image that jumps from the screen.
We agreed that “First Grade Activist” has those qualities. Dave said it had a “great populist aesthetic, as is appropriate for the subject matter. The music is fitting and compelling. The split screen with text on the left is on one hand reminiscent of a classroom blackboard, and on the other just a good choice for a self-referential poem like this one. I like everything about it.”
I thought it dealt well with a subject that’s gotten a lot of attention lately: bullying. I love that the poem imagines a “first grade activist” who combats bullying with a poem praising her friend’s red hair, the very attribute she’s getting teased for. As the children march down the hallway, little ones first, we feel the pain of the child who doesn’t fit in and the courage of her friend, who imagines a way to help.
Marc added, “The video is as crisp and fresh as a first school day, with a strong and taut concept in a tight execution. Good rhythm and good use of split screen in combination with the poem on screen (and the use of red in the letters). The music brings it together and gives it a nice build up, while the visuals remain the same. The video is clever and actually lifts the poem to a higher level.”
Congratulations to Marie Craven for winning the contest, and thanks to all who sent in their work.
On a personal note, I was pleased that the winning film was made with a poem by Nic S., even though this barely registered when I was evaluating the entries. Nic is of course the driving force behind The Poetry Storehouse, and added some of her poems at the beginning (as did I) mainly to set a good example and get the ball rolling. She works tirelessly to promote others’ poetry, lending her wonderful reading voice to many projects and creating a huge number of remixes herself, but her own poetry deserves to be much better known.
Today again I’d like to present two very different videopoems made with the same text—and even the same reading. This time the poem comes from The Poetry Storehouse, and is the work of the Missouri-based poet and editor Laura M Kaminski. The voiceover in both is by Nic S., who is also the maker of the first video remix (her preferred term). Nic sourced her music from David Mackey on SoundCloud.
Australian artist Marie Craven puts the “kinesis” back in “kinestatic” here. I didn’t even notice that the film was made entirely of still images the first time I watched it; the uptempo music by anunusualleopard probably had something to do with that. Click through to Vimeo for the full list of credits and links.
Read the just-published interview with Laura M Kaminski at Moving Poems Magazine to learn why Nic’s film brought her to tears, and how a friend who doesn’t usually read poetry reacted to Marie’s film.
This was a lot of fun, and it was a delight to finally collaborate on something with Marie. After an email volley, I started the soundtrack before seeing the rough cut. I was very taken with the images in the timeline as the edit evolved, and they most definitely influenced definition of touch points in the composition, and the final mix was done to picture. So, half free-form, half score. Anyway, indeed, lots of fun. Looking forward to the next one.
And Craven responded:
It was a highly collaborative process, this one, with very regular emails back and forth between Australia and USA, and various drafts of sound and video. Deon is fantastic and I feel honoured to have been invited to participate. I too am hoping for more collaborations together in future.
She added in an email that they had known each other online and appreciated each other’s electronic music projects for a couple of years.
I asked Craven about her experience adding the closed captioning. She initially tried Amara at my recommendation, but found it somewhat tricky to work with and switched to the other subtitling service Vimeo mentions in their FAQs, Dotsub. “I mainly found it easier to work with in regard to timings of subtitles,” she said. She also made the decision to remove most punctuation and capitalization for easier reading, which strikes me as the right approach for any poem following the old-fashioned convention of capitalizing the first word of each line. In general, I think it’s interesting to compare the decisions made in captioning or subtitling a videopoem which has the poem in the soundtrack, as this one does, with what happens in videopoems that rely solely on text on the screen to convey the poem. With captions or subtitles, ease of comprehension tends to take center stage, whereas when the poem is a graphic element it’s OK — perhaps even essential — to make the viewer work a bit harder to take it in. In either case, it’s a good bet that the filmmaker gains a unique perspective on the poetic text from working so hard to translate it into another medium. “I always love hearing the words over and over so many times while editing,” Craven said.
The footage here was sourced from a public-domain film at the Prelinger Archives, RFD Greenwich Village (1969 circa) — a clothing advertiser’s view of a tamed Bohemia that makes a particularly good fit with Shelley’s poem, I think:
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread…
Finally, Marie tells me that the poem has been selected to screen at the Athens International Film Poetry Festival in December, so congratulations to her and Deon for a successful collaboration that breathes new life into a 19th-century classic.
A poem by American poet Derek J.G. Williams, translated into video by Australian vocalist and media maker Marie Craven with the help of Dementio13 (music) and the Prelinger Archives (footage). The reading is by Nic S. for the Poetry Storehouse, where Craven found the poem. She also credits the POOL group on Facebook, “an open creative community group engaged in shared media conversations,” which seems to be playing an increasingly important role in videopoem collaboration around Poetry Storehouse material.
Two different video remixes of footage from the Prelinger Archives using a text by Janeen Rastall sourced from The Poetry Storehouse. While neither is a perfect video (both end too soon and too abruptly for my taste, for example), I think each is interesting, and together they show how approaches can diverge even when using largely the same material and techniques. Both are black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio, last for 51 or 52 seconds with a cut every 6-10 seconds, and intersperse moments of allusiveness or departure from the text with moments of more literal illustration. But while Othniel Smith seized upon the goddess imagery in the title and first line, Marie Craven took the bursting seeds of the second line as her point of departure. They also differ in their soundtracks, Smith opting to use the poet’s own reading without accompaniment and Craven mixing Nic S.’s reading with music by SK123.