Nationality: Spain

Sonámbulo / The Sleepwalker by Theodore Ushev

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A surrealist journey through colours and shapes inspired by the poem Romance Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca. Visual poetry in the rhythm of fantastic dreams and passionate nights.

This is a poetry film only in the sense that it takes its inspiration from one stanza of Lorca’s, but it’s a brilliant animated homage to Spanish surrealism that reminded me of everything I love about the whole Generation of ’27, which includes so many of my favorite poets and artists. It’s difficult to imagine 20th century poetry and art without this incredible flowering of talent in the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War. U.S. poets who came of age in the 1960s were heavily influenced by Spanish poetry in translation; I’d say it was equal in impact to translations of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. For me, getting a bilingual anthology of 20th-century Spanish poetry as a Christmas present when I was 11 was a life-changing experience. I doubt I would’ve become a poet otherwise.

Anyway, here’s a serviceable English translation of “Romance Sonámbulo”, followed by the original.

For more about the film, see its webpage. Theodore Asenov Ushev is a Bulgarian animator, graphic designer, illustrator and multimedia artist based in Montreal.

Screens by Celia Parra

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Screens is a poem from Celia Parra‘s most recent book, Pantallas. The author speaks her own words and is also the film-maker. Original music, sound recording and final mix is by Alejandro Almau.

The video explores the effects on our perceptions of reality when we experience so much of it via mobile phones.

Parra’s website tells us this about her:

Celia Parra is a Galician poet and film producer… Her poems have been translated to English, French, Finnish, Catalan and Spanish.

She also created and was executive producer of Versogramas: Verses and Frames, a 75-minute film about videopoetry as a genre, including many film excerpts and several interviews with videopoets around the world.

Haiku Time by Lisi Prada

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Haiku Time screened at the Athens International Video Poetry Festival in December, along with two other videos written and directed by Madrid artist Lisi Prada. For me, Prada’s videos were the best discovery of the festival’s screening night, which went from 6:00 pm until about 1:00 am in a continuous stream.

The film-maker is boldly experimental in her approach. Her videos screened in Athens were all multilingual. She also wrote the text for Haiku Time, and has this to say on her website:

“Presented as a video-haiga, the images accompany … poetic text that is recited simultaneously in English and German. Some verses are heard as a chorus also in Japanese, Norwegian, Italian, Portuguese or Spanish, emphasizing that what is said happens to anyone, anywhere.”

The translations were gathered via the internet from different parts of the world. Of the two main voices, the German is translated and spoken by Thomas Topp, and the English by Susan Nash. Nash performs in a style that sounds like the automated voices heard on train platforms or when waiting in phone queues. This is in accord with Prada’s statement about the content of the text and images:

“(the video)… proposes to abolish the borders of what separates us from the other… and questions the alienation of current life in the cities, where we get lost… a world in which speed, pollution, stress… make us move like pawns on chess boards, forgetting what really matters, what makes sense.”

The soundtrack is made up mostly of the different voices in different languages, that are layered in their timing and accompanied by subtitles. This on-screen text is well-placed, forming part of the overall structure and framing of the images. The music, heard only a few times for the film’s duration, is dramatic and highly effective, echoing the edgy quality of the editing.

The film goes for 5 minutes, 7 seconds, 5 milliseconds – mirroring the 5-7-5 syllables of the popular version of the haiku form in writing. This is explained on Prada’s web page for the film, where she describes the images as being…

“…based on simple and deep observations of everyday life, and poetic images among which the moon frequently appears…”

Prada blurs the boundaries between video and poetic text, uniting them into one form, in which the text feels incomplete without the images, the images without the words.

* Quotations from the artist are translated from Spanish to English with the assistance of Google Translate.

Haunted Memory by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin

As an introduction to this piece, Haunted Memory by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, it may be wise to first talk a little about what we understand to be a poetry video, or a film poem, or whatever term we might choose to describe a work that brings together elements of poetry with audio-visual media.

Over the past five years I have encountered, and sometimes participated in, regular discussions about this terminology: about what are the most helpful terms to use; and what exactly fits within their incompletely defined boundaries. My tendency of thought on such matters is free-spirited, and a bit anarchic, yet I also try to be respectful of the impulse in others to conceptually chart forms and genres. However I think this pinning down of creative work is useful only sometimes, and perhaps more in relation to practical issues of raising finance for festivals and events, than in enhancing the body of work itself. On the one hand I recognise it is desirable to be able to identify poetic audio-visual works we might include and embrace as part of an ever-growing body of artistic achievement in our field of interest and passion. On the other, I fear that tight definitions can become too exclusive, and even strangle or oppress possibilities for that we are meaning to nurture and grow.

Within this context, Haunted Memory challenges notions of boundaries. Cristina and Adrian refer to the film as an “audiovisual essay”, and that is the term used too by its publisher, Sight&Sound, on the opening title. The skilfully edited visual stream is made up of moving images drawn from scenes in the films of Spanish director, Víctor Erice. The crystalline selection of filmic moments, together with the precise montage that arises from their combination, obscures their cinematic origins. What we see in this re-creation is largely comprised of faces in subtle motion, especially those of children. Even without its soundtrack, I find Haunted Memory to be cinematic poetry.

This reminds me of an idea that has been proposed by many others aside from me, that film poetry does not always need to contain words. An example of this is a video I shared a few weeks ago, Snow Memory, by Australian poet and film-maker, Brendan Bonsack.

There is, however, a narration in Haunted Memory, spoken with a quality of interior softness. This was contributed by Adrian, a world-renowned film critic and theorist whose work has appeared in a wide array of major film publications, as well as in several books from highly esteemed publishers such as the British Film Institute. Adrian is one of the most imaginative and creative of film writers. He has been in love with the cinema for going on 50 years, and his texts often challenge boundaries between criticism, theory and creative writing. This is apparent in the text of Haunted Memory, written in collaboration with Cristina, a Spanish critic, writer and film-maker, who since 2009 has been a prominent artist in this form of film on film. Other parts of the soundtrack include snippets of breathy voice-over narration from the original films, again hauntingly poetic in text and affect.

Erice’s films themselves are easily seen as poetic cinema. In a way reminiscent of some types of experimental or avant-garde film, Haunted Memory creates a new, fragmented, and somewhat abstract audio-visual form from his work, at once beautiful and profound.

Editor’s note: the film and thoughts raised here have inspired an extended essay in two voices about poetry in film, the boundaries of genres, and the words we use to describe the meeting of audiovisual media and text, with a substantial reply from Adrian Martin.

Angelofania / Angelophany by Sergi García Lorente

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Text and film by Sergi García Lorente (be sure to click on the CC icon for English subtitles). Paula Berrido Aceña is the actress. García Lorente notes on his website that he “studied Audiovisual Media in order to connect audiovisuals with poetry, to emphasize word’s beauty by visual and audio impulses.” On his About page, he writes:

Poetry is everywhere. Poetry’s beauty lies encrusted under wounds’ shallowness. So we have to scratch the scab and let us bleed. That’s what I try to do with poetry, photography and cinema. There’s too much beauty inside every single thing. It doesn’t matter how hard or high or intense is poetry’s commotion; my will is to catch those endless emotions and impress them through something I’d like to call art.

I was struck by this choice of words, since Poetry Everywhere was the name of one of the first large-scale poetry video projects in the era of YouTube and Vimeo, launched by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation back in 2008. The notion of films that could be available to people anywhere in the world with a fast internet connection was then still an exciting novelty.

But enough of my old-man rambling. I thought this video made for an interesting follow-on to the previous three videos I’ve shared, all also made by the poets themselves, and each also depicting or representing female desire in some way. Those poet-directors were women, though, and the contrast in choice of images is striking. I don’t mean to pick on Mr. García Lorente; the tension between titillation and aesthetic epiphany has obviously been at play in the treatment of nudes throughout Western art history, and this is a well-done film. But it’s interesting to see how many more aesthetic possibilities emerge when the made becomes the maker.

Out of Reach (Rain Night) by Jorge Díaz Martínez

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A 2014 film by Pablo Diartinez and Erik Parys that’s been out of reach to web viewers until now, making the indie film festival rounds and racking up a bunch of awards — and rightfully so. It’s a beautiful film. Here’s the summary from IMDb:

‘Out of reach (rain night)’ is the first installment in ‘From the pages of Album’, a series of short films adapting the poetry of Jorge Diaz Martinez to the screen in a collage of animated graphics, texts and live action. ‘Out of reach (rain night)’ finds the series’ protagonist, a nameless poet in Brussels, seeking shelter and a place to sleep in a tram stop, while memories of lost friendship and love invade his clouded mind and the screen. The poem for this episode, a ‘found object’, paints a state of incommunicado and evasion.

Music and sound are by T.S.E.G. (Thomas Giry). For more on the poet, see his blog; the Pages of Album has its own website and Facebook page. I’ll be following the progress of this “fusion cinema poetry book” with great interest.

Adondar a lingua / Kneading language by Celia Parra

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A videopoem by Galician filmmaker-poet (and videopoetry blogger) Celia Parra. There’s also a version without English subtitles. The Vimeo description:

“Kneading language” speaks about love for language and the emotional roots that connect us to it. It explores the role of family in transmitting affection for our culture and traditions.
FESTIVALS
– Nominated to “Best Valentine” at Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival (USA) 2016
– Selected at Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival (USA) 2016
– Selected at Ó Bhéal Poetry-Film Competition (Ireland) 2016
AWARDS
2º Prize for videoart (ex aequo), Xuventude Crea 2016

According to the credits, Parra was responsible for poem, voiceover, camera-work and editing, while the soundtrack was composed and recorded by Alejandro Almau. I must say, as an amateur baker, I was fascinated by the footage, and have a sudden urge to make Galician empanadas. Northwest Spain is apparently where the empanada originated.