Nationality: U.K.

Metamorphosis by Jean Morris

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Marie Craven’s most recent poetry film is a collaboration with the Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe and the London-based poet and translator Jean Morris. I’d been waiting to share it until Marie blogged process notes, which incorporate comments from Jean and Eduardo. The resulting post is too long to quote in full, but here’s a bit of it:

I was immediately drawn to the poem of Metamorphosis when it came up on one of my social media news-feeds, where I regularly read contemporary poetry from around the world. UK writer and translator, Jean Morris, was its author. The piece was inspired by a famous woodcut print by M.C. Escher, Metamorphosis II (1939-40). Jean’s viewing of the art work seemed to have suggested in her a vision of someone who might be similar to Escher himself, a character who perhaps the poet could relate to personally, as could I. The piece sketches a solitary character fascinated by life’s multiple and varying repetitions, of shapes and spaces, movement and time. It has a mirror structure, which I felt apt as a reference to the highly distinctive geometries that appear in Escher’s art.

In another part of the virtual globe, I had been in contact for several years with Spanish film director, Eduardo Yagüe. We had previously talked about a possible collaboration between us. So in 2019 I contacted Eduardo with Jean’s poem and asked if he might be interested in co-directing a film of it. We then contacted Jean, who agreed to a film of her poem. I suggested Rachel Rawlins as a possible voice artist and we were all pleased when she said yes to joining the project as well. […]

Jean Morris (writer):

I’ve always been a loner and not so great at working with others, so having my words become part of this rich collaborative work is a new and rewarding experience. An earlier version of my “mirror poem”, which tried to reflect the morphing mirror structure of Escher’s artwork, appeared on the Via Negativa poetry blog, long established as a beacon of the Creative Commons ethos, which I support, so I was happy to say yes to Marie’s proposal and keen to leave it to her and to Eduardo to make of the poem whatever they wanted. I’d long admired both their, very different, work in poetry film and trusted they’d make something beautiful, technically sophisticated and interesting. It also made me happy that the actor, Pedro, was someone I knew as a poet and the voice, Rachel’s, one long known in real life here in London. What a lovely, complex, international thing in sad and claustrophobic times.

Eduardo Yagüe (direction, videography):

When I was thinking on locations for filming, nothing seemed to me more ‘escherian’ than the Colegio de la Inmaculada in Gijón, my hometown in Northern Spain and where I am currently living. Belonging to the Jesuits, the building owns a long history including some dramatic episodes during the Spanish Civil War. I studied there from age 6 to 18.

Then, when I was thinking for potential actors for the video, I decided, looking at Escher’s portrait, that Pedro Luis Menéndez would be a perfect choice. Pedro was my Literature teacher and my first theater director when I was a teenager student at the Colegio, and now he’s become one of my favorite Spanish poets. One year before recording Metamorphosis I made a video called La vida menguante (Waning Life) based on several of the poems from Pedro’s book of the same title. I also recorded some footage of the streets and buildings of Gijón, a city sometimes aesthetically annoying but very ‘escherian’ too. […]

Read the rest.

I hope this week’s focus on Marie Craven has brought into sharper relief the variety of tools and approaches available to contemporary videopoets and poetry filmmakers. As a much more impatient and slap-dash video maker, I admire Marie’s perfectionism, to say nothing of her artist’s eye and musician’s ear and her openness to collaborations of all kinds.

We may do other week-long features on filmmakers or poets in the coming months. It’s always especially helpful when people take the time to write in detail about the making of their films, as Marie does. Though most projects aren’t as wildly collaborative as Metamorphosis, even the loners among us stand to benefit from a culture of sharing tips and insights, especially with a growing community as full of artistic ferment as the international videopoetry scene.

The Ugly Daughter by Warsan Shire

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Ugly is an outstanding animated film directed by Anna Ginsburg, from The Ugly Daughter, a powerful poem by Warsan Shire, who speaks her own words in this piece.

The poem is published in English and German at the fabulous Lyrikline website in Germany. The writer’s bio there says this:

Warsan Shire was born in 1988 in Kenya to Somali parents, she grew up in London… She won her first prize at an international slam event and is now the editor of the magazines Literary arts mashup and Spook. She leads workshops, in which poetry is used as a tool to try to overcome personal traumas.

The same poem was earlier choreographed and performed as a dance piece by Ella Misma. Two different video versions of this are here and here.

The film’s animation appears to be strongly influenced by the body movement in Misma’s choreography, which is graceful yet dynamic. The outstanding original artwork by Melissa Kitty Jarram is richly expressive and affecting.

The Blue from Heaven by Stevie Smith

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Stevie Smith‘s poem is brought to life through the magic of Norwich-based animator and professor Suzie Hanna. Here’s the description on Vimeo:

Glenda Jackson provides the voice of poet Stevie Smith in this animated interpretation of her extraordinary 1950’s poem ‘The Blue from Heaven’. Suzie Hanna has adapted and animated the poet’s own drawings to communicate her rueful, wistful, comic, and melancholy themes with music and sound design by Phil Archer. In Stevie Smith’s awkward world, King Arthur banishes Guinevere to the palace, and he enters the blue from heaven.

Lockdown by Simon Armitage

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A brilliant music video/videopoem hybrid directed by Daniel Broadley for a new single by LYR, adapting a poem by Simon Armitage, the current poet laureate of the U.K. and all-’round mensch. I love the involvement of people under lockdown and the incorporation of visual text—it gives the video a real populist feel, while simultaneously gesturing toward visual and concrete poetry. And as music I think the soundtrack succeeds in being both catchy and inventive.

There was a Guardian article about the collaboration between Armitage and the band, but it didn’t say anything about the video, so I’ll quote the YouTube description instead:

Lockdown is a new song by LYR, featuring Florence Pugh and Pete Wareham of Melt Yourself Down. The song is set to a poem by poet laureate Simon Armitage, written in response to the coronavirus restrictions. ‘Lockdown’ moves from the outbreak of bubonic plague in Eyam, Derbyshire in the 17th century – when a bale of cloth sent from London inadvertently brought fleas carrying the plague – to the poem Meghadūta by the Sanskrit poet Kālidāsa, which follows the legend in which an exile sends words of reassurance to his wife in the Himalayas via a passing cloud.

The song was recorded and filmed remotely at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceeds from the release will go to Refuge, a UK-based charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. The video was directed by Daniel Broadley. Filmed in Bristol in May during lockdown, he asked locals to partake in the project from a safe distance, resulting in a series of smile-inducing clips.

Daniel says:
“I’m constantly looking for positives within this negative period of our lives. This project allowed me to reach out to Bristol locals from all walks of life, people who are outside my circle whom I would normally not have the pleasure of meeting, let alone collaborating with. Even at a distance I felt a wonderful connection with these people who all poured their time and energy into bringing this piece of work to life.”

For each download sold in the UK or accounted to Mercury KX in the UK, Mercury KX will donate £0.50 to Refuge (Registered Charity number 277424). 150 paid or ad funded streams shall count as 1 download.

Download it here.

Consensus trance by Janet Lees

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A new video from artist and poet Janet Lees, who calls it

A film poem for the end times
Words & imaging by Janet Lees, with thanks to Richard Heinberg for the title. Image taken on the last Thursday in April 2020.
Music, ‘On a Thursday in April’ by Crysalide Shoegaze

Deadlock by Lauren Jones

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Deadlock is about an old English street: Daniel Street in Portsmouth. The text by Lauren Jones, and the film by Jane Glennie, evoke an important moment in its everyday history around 1820. The following quotes are from the artist notes.

“In the looming shadow of prison hulks docked in the harbour, Jeremiah and Charles Chubb worked on this site primarily as ironmongers providing naval equipment. Frequent crimes, including daring robberies of the dockyard warehouses and escapes from the hulks led to a competition being launched for an ‘unpickable lock’. The Chubb brothers accepted the challenge and created the now familiar Chubb lock still used to this day.”

But the success of the Chubb enterprise created a shadow legacy.

“…for those on the other side of the lock, the invention was a devastating barrier that put an end to those who relied on petty crime for survival, to those who were facing long, punishing sentences on the ships and even those women who were confined to the nearby Lock Hospital.”

The bold phrases of the text, and the spirited voice over, are well met by an animated ‘flicker film’ stream of images. Evocative stills rapidly pass through the eye in a way that feels dramatic and textural. The collaboration between the artists recalls to vivid imagination the local history and its impact.

Deadlock is one in a collection of films commissioned to be the online media component of ‘Dark Side Port Side‘ (2019), a walking tour set in Portsmouth.

“…the street has long since vanished in the name of progress and is now the location of Admiralty Road with its own soaring, modern accommodation. Evidence of the concern of security is still visible… behind keypads, passcodes and security men.”

Refugee Blues by W. H. Auden

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This 2016 film co-directed by Stephan Bookas and Tristan Dawes moved me to tears. That’s how effective, and affecting, I found this juxtaposition of W. H. Auden’s poem (text here) about Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany—read by a man identified only as Noah, a refugee and former child soldier from Uganda—with excellent documentary footage of contemporary refugees. Here’s the official synopsis from Bookas’ website:

Set to the verses of W.H. Auden’s 1939 poem, the multi-award winning “Refugee Blues” charts a day in ‘the jungle’, the refugee camp outside Calais. More intimate and unlike much of what has been seen in the mass media, this documentary poem counterpoints the camp’s harsh reality of frequent clashes with the French riot police with its inhabitants’ longing for a better future.

On Vimeo, Bookas includes a mini essay about the making of the film, which I found illuminating in its suggestion of how documentary poetry can differ from journalism. This was something I’d been thinking about because I recently attended a reading and slideshow from another documentary poetry project, which was a collaboration between a poet and a photojournalist: Julia Spicher Kasdorf and Steven Rubin’s Shale Play: Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields. Technically, Auden’s poem by itself would not be considered an example of documentary poetry, but as a filmpoem Refugee Blues certainly would qualify, in my opinion. Anyway, I hope Mr. Bookas won’t mind my quoting a sizable chunk of his post:

We didn’t set out to make a film at first – that idea came later – we just packed a car full of blankets, clothes, food and other items and went, not fully knowing what to expect. But of course, being filmmakers, we also brought along our cameras – to see if we might have the opportunity to document, to capture, to find the human story in all the chaos that was so ubiquitous in the media at the time.

Soon after our arrival, we found the people living at the refugee camp to be very warm and welcoming, as long as we assured them we weren’t news-gathering journalists.

We didn’t film anything to begin with and just walked around, introduced ourselves as documentary filmmakers and listened to people and their stories. Every single one of them was unique and heartbreaking.

Following these discussions, we asked if it would be alright to take out our cameras and start filming. For the most part the answer was a resounding yes.

We spent the following days exploring the camp and talking to people, discussing the situation and the political climate and spending time with them, being invited for coffee and food and allowed to film elements of their daily lives. This turned out to be the calm before the storm, as things culminated in a clash between the camp’s inhabitants and the French riot police on the road leading to the ferry terminal, symbolic for the plight of the refugees and their struggle against institutional powers they are unable to defend themselves against. […]

Of course, our film can’t possibly even begin to try and unravel all the lives and personal fates entangled within this crisis. But in some small way, and for us especially, it has given this tragedy a face that’s less abstract, more relatable, more human.

Read the full post (including complete credits).