Nationality: Canada

Interrupted Nap by bpNichol

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Another short excerpt from Justin Stephenson‘s terrific film The Complete Works, based on the poetry of bpNichol. (See my post of the “White Sound” excerpt for more about the project, including my thumbnail review of the film.) “In this segment, Nichol reads his visual text, Interrupted Nap. The film translates the reading into an animated sequence,” Stephenson notes on Vimeo. He also has a post on the film’s website which goes into more detail, and includes images of the source text (click through for those).

Interrupted Nap is a recording from the 1982 collection, Ear Rational. In it we hear snippets of a narrative, “Once upon a time…,” which are interrupted by bursts of vocal sounds. It sounds as if the narrator is having difficulty telling the story. The word “aphasia”, the inability to make sense in language or of language, appears at the end of the piece. In Interrupted Nap, either the listener has receptive aphasia, or the narrator has expressive aphasia.

The source text is a series of visual panels that appear to have been reproduced from pages on which someone has used a magic marker to write. The marker has bled through each page to the subsequent pages onto which new material has then been written.

Nichol presents the text as if his visual and speaking faculties operate like the head of a magnetic tape recorder, reading and speaking the information on the page including the “noise” from the marker bleed.

Countdown by Prufrock Shadowrunner

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You would think a politically minded poetic countdown from 100 might get a little draggy after a while. But you would be wrong. This collaboration between Prufrock Shadowrunner (poem, performance) and Rob Viscardis (video, music) blows me away. It was an official selection for the Reframe International Film Festival 2016 and the 2016 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival International Competition.

White Sound by bpNichol

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This is an excerpt from The Complete Works, a 41-minute film directed and animated by Justin Stephenson based on the work of the late Canadian avant-garde poet bpNichol. Here, a poet-friend of Nichol’s, Steven Ross Smith, performs a virtuosic translation of visual poetry into sound poetry. Stephenson wrote about this and another sound-poetry segment from The Complete Works in an essay published in Poetryfilm Magazine last weekend, “Seeing the Said“:

Both segments start with visual texts as the source for a sound performance. Using digital algorithms to create and modify animations based on audio, a method called audio reactive animation, I inverted the optophonetic see-and-say strategy. In both pieces, the sounds of the performances are algorithmically connected to various visual parameters to generate resemblances between the performance and the visuals.


The white noise of technological media is the focus of Nichol’s visual text, White Sound. It’s a chap-book that contains pages filled with layers of the rubber stamped words »white sound« set against the backdrop of degraded photocopies of images created by printing blank mimeo plates, stamping empty sort rails, and pressing entire ink pads against the page.

Interspersed within the pages are sheets of semi-transparent colour tissue that act as a filter through which the background text can be viewed. The artefacts and noise introduced through the photocopy process are recorded on the pages of the book.

In The Complete Works, Steven Ross Smith performs White Sound as sound poetry. The performance enacts the organic »generation loss« depicted in the text. The term generation loss is used to describe the noise introduced by duplicating content in analog media – each successive copy (generation) introduces more noise, decreasing the quality, or signal to noise ratio. In the case of White Sound, however, signal to noise is inverted so that the noise is the signal. Accordingly, the text gains quality in each successive generation.

Do read the rest, which goes into detail about the tools Stephenson used as well as his guiding philosophy. His conclusion gives some strong hints about what makes filmmaking like this so compelling, even to those of us who might otherwise remain unmoved by such experimental poetry on the page:

Nichol’s notion of notation is saying what can be seen. This seeing and the saying, though, require participation on the part of reader. They involve diving into the uncertain foggy region between representation by sign and representation by resemblance – this unstable space – and working to locate and read compressions and rarefactions, stresses, tensions that can be recreated in a different medium. In the work of the film, letting the ear lead is a choice that became the foundation for the entire film. It provided the methods and permission to see-and-say in a way that honoured the methods of the texts, but allowed them to take new forms. Visualizing bpNichol’s sound poetry provided an important entry point (which became a crevasse) to the myriad of translations of his work that make up the film.

I should add that Stephenson was kind enough to let me have a sneak peak of the complete film, and I was blown away. It’s a masterpiece. Neither a documentary nor a standard poetry film, The Complete Works focuses resolutely on the poetry, giving just enough biographical information to let viewers know where Nichol was coming from and what he was up to. The interweaving of poems and animation techniques contributes to a really propulsive energy that I sense Nichol would’ve appreciated, and using his friends and colleagues as interpreters gives the film a feeling of accessibility without dumbing down the content in the least.

You can watch other excerpts, and check out reviews and other material on the film’s excellent website, but if you’re able to get to a screening, don’t miss it. There are at least two more coming up: one at the Niagara Artists Centre in Saint Catharines, Ontario on November 23 at 8:00 p.m. (where it will be paired with the launch of Christian Bök’s The Xenotext), and another at the Close-Up Film Centre in London, UK sometime in March.

Ressacs / Backwashes by Jean Coulombe

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A gorgeous, author-made videopoem from Quebecois poet Jean Coulombe and videographer Gilbert Sévigny, “Réalisé pour le blogue de création poétique CLS Poésie.” The text (shown via type on screen) is only in French, but at my request, Coulombe sent along an English translation:


À pelleter devant soi / Shovelling forward
des phrases-chocs / shocking sentences
que personne n’écoute / that nobody listens to
à clamer dans le vide / shouting in the emptiness
notre stupeur de vivre / our amazement to live

on désapprend le feu / we unlearn fire
on tressaille sans faire d’ombres / we flinch without casting shadows

il ne faudrait surtout pas / we certainly should not
bloquer le trottoir / block the sidewalk
ramener les illusions / bring back illusions
trop près des braises / too close to the embers

CLS Poésie is a group literary blog after my own heart, and makes me wish I knew French. The three poets behind it even have a joint Blogger/Google account, which reads:

Les poètes Jean Coulombe, Alain Larose et Denis Samson ont ouvert cet espace , libre et sans prétention, en juin 2009, pour partager leur poésie sous toutes ses formes. Cette grande aventure a débuté à Saint-Benjamin dans la région des Etchemins au Québec.

The poets Jean Coulombe, Alain Samson and Denis Larose opened this space, free and unpretentious, in June 2009, to share their poetry in all its forms. This great adventure began in Saint-Benjamin Etchemins in the region in Québec. (via Google Translate)

Insomnie (Insomnia) by Daniel H. Dugas

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An author-made videopoem from 2012, in French with English subtitles, by Canadian poet, musician and videographer Daniel H. Dugas. From the description on Vimeo:

Synopsis: A television show on the Big Bang theory adds to the anguish of not being able to sleep. What would happen to dreaming if time itself disappeared?

Statement: Dictionaries hold all of the words of languages and images hold all of the feelings in the world. As time races on the linear track of our lives, sleeplessness becomes a fragile stand against the disappearance of being.

Variations on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood

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A short film from the teen-aged South African director Nathan Nadler-Nir that tells its own story, contrapuntal to Atwood’s poem in the soundtrack (read by Adrian Galley).

A Kite is a Victim by Leonard Cohen

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Elizabeth Lewis directed and animated this film based on a Leonard Cohen poem, using a reading by Paul Hecht. It’s actually an excerpt from a longer film produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1977: Poets on Film No. 1, which “brings together animated interpretations of four poems by great Canadian wordsmiths” by four different animator-directors.

(Hat-tip: Anik Rosenblum at the Poetry in Animation Facebook group.)