A Moving Poems production in which I experimented with some abstract live footage meant to evoke animation. I sourced the
text—by American poet Sarah Sloat—from The Poetry Storehouse, where I also used one of the sound recordings, a reading by poet Amy Miller, to pace the titling, but then removed it from the soundtrack.
This replaces an earlier video I made for the same poem that I was never quite happy with, because its point of departure from the text was a bit too obvious and clever for my taste. (That one never made it onto Moving Poems.) The footage this time is a clip of fiber optic tips from Beachfront B-Roll, source of some the least generic free stock footage on the web, and the soundtrack is a public-domain field recording from Freesound.org of a prairie in eastern Oregon, complete with meadowlarks.
Speaking of Freesound, they’re currently on a fundraising campaign to cover their development and maintenance costs, which I’m guessing are not insignificant. Please give if you can. They’re a great resource for filmmakers and audiophiles.
I’ll end the week with a poem by one of my favorite poets, Sarah Sloat, interpreted by one of my favorite poetry-film makers, Marie Craven, in what I think is one of the most effective examples of the kinestatic style in videopoetry that I’ve seen. (Kinestasis is properly defined as “an animation technique using a series of still photographs or artwork to create the illusion of motion,” but I use the term, in the absence of a better one, a bit more broadly, to refer to any faster-than-slideshow series of still images in a video.) Craven’s masterful deployment of images from the Brockhaus Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (1890-1907) unfolds to music by Podington Bear and the Poetry Storehouse voice recording by a young boy identified only as DM. Someone on Facebook described the overall effect as “sumptuously austere.”
This isn’t the first poetry film to use this text; no less than Marc Neys AKA Swoon has also tried his hand at it. But Craven definitely gave him a run for his money here. Sloat’s text seems especially ripe for videopoetic adaptation, given its musing on the relationship between words and images. Pen-and-ink illustrations in a dictionary break up the columns of text, Sloat says, “like little windows opening / from one side of the brain // to the other.” That’s exactly what happens to me whenever I watch a good videopoem.
The title poem from Meghan O’Rourke’s Once (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), adapted to film by L.A.-based directors Angela & Ithyle for Motionpoems. Logan Polish is the actor, Patrick Jones the director of photography, and John Hermanson of Egg Music composed the original score.
The Motionpoems website includes an interview with the directors, conducted by poet Jake Lans, that’s really worth checking out, because I think it’s fascinating to see how filmmakers used to working on commercials approach a poetry film assignment. Here’s a bit of it:
Many motionpoems utilize a voice actor to help convey the poem; you chose text. What inspired that decision?
As we were listening to different voices, we realized that any voice actor that we chose would really influence how the poem was understood by the viewer. As we talked about it, we realized that for us the imagination was triggered more authentically by reading than by hearing the poem performed. We really enjoy reading poetry and wanted to stay true to that feeling.
What moved you to choose Meghan O’Rourke’s poem? Did you consult with her while you were adapting?
It’s so young and nostalgic. We decided not to talk to Meghan about the poem because we had a lot of questions about the deeper context of the piece but felt that we needed to go with our own gut reaction after reading it, as one would do when reading a poem normally. We felt that having a greater insight into the poem, having all of our questions answered, would tie us too much to a “real” narrative.
When working with an organization like Motionpoems, how does the creative freedom differ from some of the other projects you have worked on?
It was a lot of fun to have the parameters of the poem and then just go for it. Most of our work is done for products or companies where we have objectives of the client and their culture to really think about (we do a lot of work in other countries) and with this, we could really explore our own motifs and personal mythology.
The latest poetry animation by artist (and Moving Poems Magazine columnist) Cheryl Gross illustrates a poem by her long-time collaborator Nicelle Davis. Additional credits include “Voice: Robert Fisher, Music: David Michael Curry, Performed by: Willard Grant Conspiracy.” Cheryl’s succinct description is also worth quoting:
This video poem tells of the emotional impact that terrorist drills, conducted by police, have on a non affluent community.
A powerful, affecting poem. I like how the viewer/listener gradually comes to understand that what originally seemed like surrealist hyperbole is in fact all too real — though Cheryl’s drawings keep our attention focused on just how wrong and bizarre it is.
This is Filmpoem 50, a collaboration between Scottish filmpoet Alastair Cook and 20 other poets hailing from Scotland, England, Ireland, the U.S., South Africa and Belgium. I have a rule against posting films containing my own poetry to Moving Poems, but in this case my lines account for only 1/20th of the poem, so I decided not to be precious about it. Besides, it’s too important a poetry film not to feature. The composition process involved Alastair sending each writer a snippet of found film. To quote his original email:
You can be trite, erudite, short or shorter (no more than three or four lines) but the brief is this—Americana, the 1950s, travel.
All the clips are from the same batch of film and the artistic conceit is that a narrative will thread through these. This batch of film has this family move through America over the years, these boys grow up and some of the footage I have is heart-wrenching, always tinged with the salient and sombre fact that I source these from house-clearances, that the death of the filmmaker releases this footage to me.
The official description, from Vimeo and the Filmpoem website, reads:
Watch Alastair Cook’s brand new film, three years in the making, with new writing by twenty of the world’s best poets, sountracked by composer Luca Nasciutia and read by poet Rachel McCrum – screens worldwide from Autumn 2016. New ekphrasis work by poets John Glenday, Vicki Feaver, Stevie Ronnie, Janie McKie, Brian Johnstone, Jo Bell, Andrew Philip, Linda France, Dave Bonta, Angela Readman, Michael Vandebril, Gerard Rudolf, George Szirtes, Emily Dodd, Ian Duhig, Rachel McCrum, Robert Peake, Polly Rowena Atkin, Pippa Little and Vona Groarke.
This was originally planned as Filmpoem 40, but got delayed for a number of reasons, during which I believe the concept changed and matured a bit. I list Alastair as the chief poet here because it was his concept from start to finish, and he edited and moved around the submissions after they all came in. The decision to have a single narrator was, I think, a good one, but it’s amazing how well the conjoined text holds together on its own. Clearly, this is an approach to filmpoetry/videopoetry composition deserving of further experimentation. Alastair had been building on what he learned in making his Twenty Second Filmpoem back in 2012, which also involved 20 poets and some found footage.
In other Filmpoem-related news, I see that there will be a fourth Filmpoem Festival, or series of festivals, dubbed Filmpoem Sixteen, though it doesn’t sound as if we can expect an open call:
Filmpoem Sixteen will focus on a series of invited curated events. The first of these is at the Hauge Centre in Ulvik in Norway, where Alastair is artist in residence in May. Alastair has directed The Sword, a new film working with Hauge’s incredible landscape poetry, alongside readings by John Glenday, cinematography by James Norton and sound by Luca Nasciuti; the film will premier on May 12th. Alongside this new film, the Hauge Centre will screen a Scottih retrospective of Alastair’s work and selected works by others from the Filmpoem Festival submission archive.
Check back for further announcements as our new director Helmie Stil brings her own flavour to Filmpoem.
New Orleans-based poet Carolyn Hembree and director John Lavin (Bloodrush Films) have collaborated on a videopoem that really raises the bar for poetry book trailers. The book, Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague (Trio House Press, 2016), has already won two awards as a manuscript: the 2015 Trio Award, selected by Neil Shepard, and the 2015 Marsh Hawk Press Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award, selected by Stephanie Strickland. The trailer is equally impressive, featuring Hembree’s dramatic, incantatory voiceover and a spellbinding blend of unsettling images. As beer writers like to say about exceptionally tasty brews, this is very moreish. And just a bit inebriating.