Filmmaker: Othniel Smith

Census by Lissa Kiernan

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The last Poetry Storehouse remix I’ll be featuring this week was made by Othniel Smith three months ago for a poem by Lissa Kiernan. Together with a video by Swoon that we previously shared here, it’s included on the multimedia page of a website for Kiernan’s fantastic new book, Two Faint Lines in the Violet, which I happen to be in the middle of reading. The publisher is Negative Capability Press, and when I went to check them out online, I was impressed to see that they had gone to the trouble to set up an independent website for the book. (The norm for American publishers is to have, at best, a separate page in the online catalogue, and possibly also a page for the author in some other section of their site which may or may not link to the catalogue page.) The two video embeds appear as images in a slider at the top of the page with a brief description at the bottom of each image, and when clicked, the videos are responsive, meaning they automatically resize to fit any screen. Overall, a very pleasing presentation. I hope other poetry publishers take note.

Though Othniel Smith’s interpretations of poems are sometimes too literal for me, this one has just the right degree of allusiveness (and elusiveness) for my taste. Kiernan evidently thought so too, commenting on Vimeo, “Thank you, Othniel – you brought this poem to life! Love especially the dancing feet shot, the pre-natal scene, and the final few shots.” They go on to talk about the original film that the remix borrows most of its footage from, Marriage Today (Alexander Hammid, 1950) — “certainly an interesting film coming from an experimental filmmaker on his second marriage,” Smith notes.

Incidentally, congratulations to Othniel for getting four of his Storehouse poetry films selected for screening at The Outcasting: Fourth Wall Festival in Cardiff! I like what he had to say about the importance of online resources such as The Poetry Storehouse:

Primarily a scriptwriter (e.g. “The Story Of Tracy Beaker” for CBBC), I have been making poetry films for a few years, in an attempt to enhance my skills in respect of visual story-telling. The existence of online resources such as The Internet Archive, Flickr Commons and Librivox means that there is plentiful material in the public domain for the unschooled video editor to play with. Having made films of poems by such historic figures as Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Emily Dickinson and R.S. Thomas, I was delighted to discover The Poetry Storehouse. This has given me the opportunity to apply my imagination to the work of contemporary poets, and to obtain their feedback which has, thus far, been largely positive.

When Asked About My Inner Goddess by Janeen Rastall

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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.

The High Hills Have A Bitterness by Ivor Gurney

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Filmmaker Othniel Smith combines a 1946 recording of Pygmy music, “Chant Magique en Partant pour la Chasse au Filet,” with footage from a 1936 movie, Millions of Us, for an evocative remix of a brief poem by the early 20th-century English poet Ivor Gurney.

In The Garden by Steve Klepetar

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Marilyn Monroe meets a poem by Steve Klepetar in this simple but effective Poetry Storehouse remix by Othniel Smith. According to the Vimeo description, the Marilyn Monroe footage is from Home Town Story (Arthur Pierson, 1951), via the Prelinger Archives.

Ethics of the Mothers by Rachel Barenblat

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A poetry film by Othniel Smith with footage from the Prelinger Archive and a reading from The Poetry Storehouse by Peg Duthie. The poem, by Rachel Barenblat, originally appeared in April Daily.

It’s entirely possible that I take videopoetry just a bit too seriously. The thing about Othniel Smith’s remixes is that they are fun. This one is a good case in point.

Look for an interview with Smith about his approach to poetry film at the Moving Poems Forum toward the end of the week.

Playing Duets with Heisenberg’s Ghost by Peg Duthie

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Othniel Smith used images from the Internet Archive featuring Martha Davis to accompany a reading (by Nic S.) from The Poetry Storehouse, where the author, Peg Duthie, has five poems. Sebastian herself had also earlier made a video remix of the same poem, and it’s interesting to compare her approach with Smith’s:

https://vimeo.com/77778283

According to a note at the site, the poem appears in a collection called From Measured Extravagance (Upper Rubber Boot, 2012), and was first published in The 3rd Annual SFPA Poetry Contest in 2008: Energy (Spec House of Poetry). So it’s definitely been getting around!

“I like a look of agony…” by Emily Dickinson

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Othniel Smith repurposes public-domain imagery from the Internet Archive to accompany Dickinson’s text, which was written in 1862, during the American Civil War.

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