Nationality: Argentina

O by Alejandro Thornton

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This videopoema by the Argentine artist and writer Alejandro Thornton is — as Tom Konyves puts it in a new essay in Poetryfilmkanal — a “silent, minimalist, prototypical ‘concrete poem'”. Konyves’ description of what’s going on in this video from a viewer’s perspective is the centerpiece of his essay, “A Rumination on Visual Text in Videopoetry,” which also mentions seven other videopoems, all embedded in the post. I’ve never been able to articulate why certain avant-garde videopoems work for me, but I think Tom nails it here: the video depends for its effect on “multiple, ambiguous meanings (the word O, the letter O, the vowel sound of O, an O shape, an expression of an emotion, a graphic representation of some concept like unity, harmony, return, etc.),” and by the video’s end, we should be able “to experience the ambiguous word-image relationship – a static O and a moving landscape – in a spatial context and therefore interpret O as a shape first, and the effect of rotation as a self-referential meaning ascribed to the entire work.”

Finally, there is the juxtaposition of text to image; O, therefore, is a demonstration of a figure-ground relationship in which the letter/shape O is the figure and the ground is – well, the ground (and the cloud-filled sky, and all in motion) of the image. In addition, the ground not only provides the best context for interpreting the meaning of the figure of the text (whose shape it reflects by its rotation) but also demonstrates the contrasted functions: image is from the world, of the world, predetermined and framed just-so or captured by chance from the environment with the function of bringing attention to and expanding the meaning of visual text in such a way that it completes its inherent incompleteness; it functions also as a device of closure, providing the context that leads to a poetic experience of ›greater or lesser value‹, depending on selection, modification, etc.

Nowhere is the juxtapositive function of the image more striking than in videopoems that feature a ›single-take‹; what appears in the frame, the content, automatically provides the context we will need to interpret the displayed text and, by extension, the entire work. My experience of O was enhanced by the recognition that the image element of the work, a found image, captured by chance from the environment, connects the visual text with the external world as the artist perceived it at that spontaneous moment; it is a recorded passage of a particular time in a particular space and, as such, it appropriates a ›slice‹ of the world against which could be written the internal world of thoughts.

Read the rest (and watch the other videos).

This was I think the first English-language essay in Poetryfilmkanal’s current issue on the theme of text in poetry film, but if you don’t know German I recommend using the Google Translate drop-down menu in the sidebar of the site to get the gist of the other recent contributions, each of which adds something to the growing international conversation. Konyves’ essay builds on insights from his manifesto and other, more recent essays. I may not always agree with him, but I admire his capacity for jargon-free original thought, which always gives the impression of being very hard-won, unlike much of the more facile, academic prose one encounters these days.

Three poems from Árbol de Diana (Tree of Diana) by Alejandra Pizarnik

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I’ve been somewhat lax in posting new material here because of server instability at my webhost, which has resulted in frequent, short outages. I’m working to resolve this. In the meantime, here’s a video I made myself last week, which grew out of a translation project at Via Negativa, Poetry from the Other Americas. I posted some process notes there, too. The main thing I guess is that the footage of the construction site at sunset had come first, shot out the back bedroom window of the house where I’m staying in north London. The footage somehow made me think of these Pizarnik poems, which it seemed to me might form a unity with it. I shot the other footage purposefully for the video a few feet from the back door. Then I called on my friend Jean Morris for help in the voiceover, and drew on her superior understanding of Spanish to help polish my translations.

I’ve never seen a bilingual videopoem with both languages alternating in the soundtrack (though I’m sure someone must’ve done it before), so this was a bit of an experiment. I think it works—if it works—because the poems are short, and because each relates to the video imagery in a different way. But I suspect the same could be done with a single, longer poem if the languages were to alternate stanza by stanza. If anyone experiments further along these lines, do let me know.

Incidentally, if the post title seems a little familiar, that’s because the Spanish filmmaker Eduardo Yagüe has also made a film with three (different) poems from Pizarnik’s Árbol de Diana, Green Stones in the House of Night.

Instrucciones para cantar / Instructions for Singing by Julio Cortázar

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A comically literal, manic interpretation of Cortázar’s text, directed by Adrián Suárez with the Akira Cine production company. Other credits include Juan Carlos Gonzáles, director of photography; Real Music, sound design; and Alexander L’Estrange, music. The English translation appears to have been adapted from this one.

The Watcher (El centinela) by Jorge Luis Borges

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Alastair Reid’s translation of the Borges poem is narrated by James Wykes in this filmpoem by Celia Qu. The music is by Ulises Conti and Boris Nechljudov. Qu writes:

The poet Borges stated that ‘I feel constrained to be a particular individual, living in a particular city, in a particular time’. His labyrinthian poem ‘The Watcher’ explores self reflection, confinement and split personality.
Throughout the film I aim to portray the division of the self as well as explore the theme of isolation cyclically, as the narrator deconstructs himself into numerous selves. The idea being to covey a ‘confused sense of being’ as universal, relating to everyone and everything.

Historia de mi muerte / Story of My Death by Leopoldo Lugones

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A Moving Poems production for a new series of poetry in translation for the group literary blog I contribute to, Via Negativa. Go there for the text of the poem and the translation; the titling on the video disregards both punctuation and lineation in the interest of displaying Spanish and English side by side, in the manner of a bilingual book of poetry. I haven’t seen this done on a bilingual poetry film before, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been — it seems like a fairly obvious arrangement.

As I wrote at Via Negativa, I translated the poem (with some invaluable assistance from Alicia E-Bourdin on Facebook) specifically with the intent of pairing it with that footage of cabbage white butterflies—which, when I shot it last week, I already recognized as having a certain Lugones-like feel. So it was just a question of finding the right poem.

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

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Piedras Verdes en la Casa de la Noche and Green Stones in the House of Night are Spanish and English versions of the same poetry film by Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe, which includes and responds to three poems from Alejandra Pizarnik‘s brief but epoch-making collection Árbol de Diana (Diana’s Tree). I’ve just been reading and re-reading the marvelous new translation by Yvette Siegert, which was longlisted for the 2015 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. I went back and watched this film with fresh appreciation, having read the verses Yagüe includes in their original context (where they are nos. 6, 8, and 20, with a line from no. 35 supplying the title). The translations by Luis Yagüe in Green Stones in the House of Night are serviceable enough, but if you’re not fluent in Spanish, do get Siegert’s translation to experience the whole collection in its full, luminous intensity.

No volverás / You won’t come back by Alfonsina Storni

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Spanish filmmaker Hernán Talavera‘s interpretation of a text by the great 20th-century Argentinian poet Alfonsina Storni. The description for the English version reads:

“You won’t come back” starts from a poem of Alfonsina Storni, of [her] book “Poems of love” written in 1926 immediately after an unhappy love affair. In the beginning of the book, the poet warns: “These poems are simple phrases of love states written in a few days, some time ago. This small work is neither a literary work nor claims it”. After “Poems of love”, Storni kept silence during nine years.

And here’s the same description in Spanish, from Talavera’s website:

No volverás parte del poema LXVII de Alfonsina Storni extraído de su libro Poemas de amor, escrito en 1926 a raíz de una decepción amorosa. Al inicio del libro, la poeta advierte: “Estos poemas son simples frases de estados de amor escritos en pocos días hace ya algún tiempo. No es pues tan pequeño volumen obra literaria ni lo pretende”. Después de Poemas de amor, Storni estaría nueve años en silencio.

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