Nationality: Argentina

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.

Amorosa Anticipación / Anticipation of Love by Jorge Luis Borges

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This nearly 14-minute videopoem was conceived, shot and edited by Sva Li Levy, AKA syncopath. Initially I wondered how it was going to hold my attention for so long, especially considering that Borges’ original poem is fairly short, but I needn’t have worried: I found it mesmerizing, a brilliant concept beautifully executed. How better, indeed, to anticipate love than by going through a soapy car-wash, Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” playing on the radio? And then playing around with the radio dial and finding Borges’ poem mysteriously transmitted in different languages: Hebrew (read by Yitzhak Hyzkia), Spanish (Julio Martinez Mezansa), English (Yonatan Kunda, reading the Alastair Reid translation), Portuguese (Martha Rieger) and French (Ravit Hanan).

Including the text of a poem in the soundtrack of a poetry film or videopoem has by now become so standard a move that I think I’ve been hungry for a new twist. And Levy’s treatment feels right in part because the poem could so easily be made to seem sententious, and instead he brings out the undercurrent of humor and the provisional quality found in so much of Borges’ writing.