Nationality: United States

My Geology by Sheila Packa

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

A text from Sheila Packa’s new book Night Train Red Dust: Poems of the Iron Range.

These poems are about the Iron Range in Minnesota, the Vermilion Trail, and they are stories of travel and derailment about mining, radical politics, unionizing, accordion music and strong women. The book brings together history, geology and the community of people with iron in their veins.

Video artist and cellist Kathy McTavish, Packa’s regular collaborator, describes this as “a screen recording of a database driven web film,” and Packa talks about how that intersects with her writing style in a post at her blog:

I strive to re-create the flows of the northeastern Minnesota landscape, and I borrow metaphors that express the pattern of change in individual stories and narrative poems: the erosions, floods, migrations, lightning strikes, industrialization, excavation, mining, roads, and harbors. Night Train Red Dust will become part of a new transmedia media project, and I can’t wait to get started! [...]

My Geology is a poem that taught me how powerful is our landscape. I placed it first in my book, Night Train Red Dust. The places where we walk enter into us; in my case, as a child, I walked across the vein of iron and taconite on the Iron Range. There is an ASCII art image behind the video in My Geology that rotates on a near/far axis, evoking a map or contract or a train car. In this section, numbers were entered into the input box, and they cascade like taconite down a chute into the hold of a freighter. [...] The music used found sound (a soprano sax, both notes and the musician blowing air through the instrument) and cello by Kathy McTavish.

I’ve also been encountering the text incrementally in a dedicated Twitter feed, @nighttrainred — another example of Packa and McTavish’s interest in innovative technological reproductions of “flows.”

To Brooklyn Bridge by Hart Crane

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

This is “Proem,” the famous introduction to Hart Crane’s book-length poem The Bridge. The poem has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, committed to memory before I even knew what half of the words meant. What great nostalgic pleasure, then, to watch this animated version by Suzie Hanna with a reading by Tennessee Williams in the soundtrack! I think this is an excellent example of how animators can get away with something that directors of live-action poetry films usually cannot: direct illustration of a text. Well, in part that’s because there’s rarely anything “direct” about good animation, which is almost by definition an order of magnitude more abstract than a live-action illustration would be. In addition, poems like this one, where the language is intensely rich and far from the vernacular, can really benefit from a visual connection to the narrative thread (to the extent that there is one). Not every casual consumer of poetry is as comfortable with bafflement as are those lucky few of us that grew up with difficult poems, and so I think a good animation can get people to lower their guard.

At any rate, here’s what that the folks from Liberated Words posted at Vimeo about the animator:

Professor Suzie Hanna has been teaching in Higher Education for over two decades, specialising in the subject areas of animation and sound design. During this time she has developed international academic and industry networks, as well as maintaining her own creative practice. She engages in diverse collaborations with other artists, performers and academics to create original films.

Her current research includes the creation of animation from documentary material, and the study of parallels in animation, poetry and sound design. Suzie also designs and animates commissioned innovative theatrical and site specific animation ranging in scale from puppet theatre to architectural projection. She presents papers at international symposia and industry seminars as well as contributing to academic journals and other publications.

The soundtrack is by Tom Simmons, and led to the film taking 1st Prize for Best Music/Sound at Liberated Words III, judged by Rich Ferguson and Mark Wilkinson. It also won 2nd Prize for Best Editing. In a post at a closed group on Facebook, Sarah Tremlett quotes Ferguson and Wilkinson:

We found the visual treatment in Proem to be arresting and original; clear in its intentions and unified in its design as it evolved visually throughout the piece. A balanced and elegant pairing of spoken words and moving pictures.

Hanna’s description from her own upload of the film to Vimeo is also worth quoting:

Suzie Hanna animated the film using hand cut stencils imitating some graphic aspects of contemporaneous 1920s New York artists who were in Hart Crane’s coterie, such as Joseph Stella and Marsden Hartley. She also referenced Vorticism to capture vertiginous aspects of the verse. The voice of Tennessee Williams, who was an ardent admirer of Crane, is taken from a 1960 recording. Tom Simmons has built this into a resonant dramatic soundscape which interprets the materiality of the bridge, the surrounding land and waterscape and the ‘prayerful’ qualities of the Proem. He embeds sonic references to Hart Crane’s ‘shamanic process’ in which the poet played records on his Victrola, including Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, loudly and repeatedly, whilst drinking heavily and typing phrases in manic bursts.

Hanna, Simmons, and producer Sally Bayley all teach at British universities, Hanna at Norwich University of the Arts, which features the film on its website and adds some information in a news story:

The work is part of an ongoing collaboration with Dr Sally Bayley of the University of Oxford and Tom Simmons of the Royal College of Art researching into representation of poetic metaphor. [...]

Proem has been selected for screenings at the Laugharne Castle Poetry and Film Festival Wales, the Filmpoem Festival in Antwerp, Belgium and the Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival and conference in Bristol. In March Professor Hanna and Dr Bayley gave a masterclass titled ‘Poetry in the Making’ at the Oxford Literary Festival.

An article on ‘Thinking Metaphorically and Allegorically: A Conversation between the fields of Poetry, Animation and Sound’ by Professor Hanna, Tom Simmons and Dr Bayley was published in 2013 in the Journal of American Studies, and a further installment has been commissioned for publication in 2014.

The film is also due to be screened at Visible Verse in Vancouver next month.

Today I will be a compensated spokesperson by Dustin Luke Nelson

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

To me, this is gorgeous, though possibly also “a blinding punch to the eyelids,” as the first line of the source text by Dustin Luke Nelson says. Swoon (Marc Neys) discovered the poem at the Poetry Storehouse, and describes his process in a blog post.

The idea for the visuals came fairly easy… I saw failed pictures, heard white noise, thought of a stream of incomprehensible and random images (randomly plucked from the net, as if some kind of collective memory) against clean cut footage of high office buildings. Once I collected the images I wanted, I edited and alternated to the pace and rhythm of the soundtrack.

Nelson also blogged about the video.

The wonderful Marc Neys, aka Swoon, has posted a new videopoem that uses, as text, a poem of mine that was originally published in Opium titled “Today I will be a compensated spokesperson.”

I really like what he did with it. It’s a beautiful collage and soundscape that makes me think about the poem a little differently.

That’s the scary thing about posting work to the Poetry Storehouse (see below) for anyone to remix. You don’t know what will emerge from their work. It’s out of your hands. You hope that it goes well, but passing off something you care about makes you (read: me) instinctively believe that things will go terribly awry. This piece, for me, represents one of the great potentials that exists in that Not-Knowing: it might produces new associations, new juxtapositions to tease something different out of the text than how it existed on the page/screen. You might find something unexpected in your own work.

My poem was taken from The Poetry Storehouse, a platform for multi-media artists to find poems for raw material and remixing. I have done a couple videos with other poets’ work from there as well. It’s a good place with good poems and good videos.

White Birches by Jennifer Martelli

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

A new Moving Poems production. I was browsing recent clips at the Beachfront B-Roll blog and was taken by a plume of rising smoke, which struck me as just the right sort of image for a poem I’d just read at the Poetry Storehouse that features a small forest of white birches. The author is Massachusetts-based poet Jennifer Martelli. After searching SoundCloud and the Free Music Archive in vain, I finally found a track on ccMixter that seemed to fit. I was going for a Tom Waits kind of vibe, and I’m delighted to report that Martelli (with whom I’d never previously communicated) liked the video, and said some kind things about my reading as well. It really does take a leap of faith to submit one’s poems to the Poetry Storehouse and let random strangers mess around with them.

A few technical process notes: I’m now using MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, following a recommendation by Marc Neys, and am finding it to be a better fit for my needs and abilities as an amateur filmmaker than what I’d been using before, Adobe Premiere Elements. After uploading the finished video to Vimeo, I decided to add closed captioning, inputting the poem line-by-line as it appears in the published text so that even people with normal hearing can still benefit from turning on the captions (CC button, lower right) and seeing how the poet chose to arrange her words. I also discovered that the WebVTT file generated by Amara can be subsequently tweaked in a simple text editor (I used Notepad) to correct typos or finesse start and stop times before uploading it to Vimeo. While I like the results, this is a poem with a lot of enjambment, so I’m not sure whether my desire to display original line breaks should have trumped the need of viewers for a potentially smoother read. I welcome feedback on that point.

Meet John Ashbery

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker: ,

John Ashbery probably needs no introduction to fans of contemporary American poetry — or does he? Has his very eminence led many to ignore him in favor of younger, more fashionable poets? Williams Cole and Lily Henderson of Open Road Integrated Media, Inc. made this brief, highly watchable film portrait to celebrate the release of 17 books of his poetry in ebook form. The New York Times took note.

When John Ashbery, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, first learned that the digital editions of his poetry looked nothing like the print version, he was stunned. There were no line breaks, and the stanzas had been jammed together into a block of text that looked like prose. The careful architecture of his poems had been leveled.

He complained to his publisher, Ecco, and those four e-books were immediately withdrawn.

That was three years ago, and digital publishing has evolved a lot since then. Publishers can now create e-books that better preserve a poet’s meticulous formatting. So when Open Road Media, a digital publishing company, approached Mr. Ashbery about creating electronic versions of his books, he decided to give it another chance.

Last week, Open Road published 17 digital collections of Mr. Ashbery’s work, the first time the bulk of his poetry will be available in e-book form. This time, he hasn’t asked for a recall.

“It’s very faithful to the original formatting,” said Mr. Ashbery, 87, who is widely recognized as one of the country’s greatest living poets.

The article goes on to examine the current state of poetry ebook publishing — in particular, how publishers are handling the formatting. This is, incidentally, something I’ve long been interested in myself. Basically, as the article says, two different approaches have evolved: stick to PDFs or other static files to preserve text arrangement (which of course forces people on mobile devices to do a lot of scrolling), or hand-code every line so they collapse into hanging indents on smaller screens, following the printers’ convention of displaying lines too long for a page. This latter approach, thankfully, was the one Open Road chose.

The poetry of Mr. Ashbery, who often writes in long, Walt Whitmanesque lines and uses complex indentations, was difficult to digitize. “Many of my poems have lines that are very long, and it’s important to me that they be accurately reproduced on the page,” he said. “The impact of a poem very often comes down to line breaks, which publishers of poetry often don’t seem to find as important as the people who write the poems.”

After his first misadventure, Mr. Ashbery was reluctant to sell his e-book rights again. But then two years ago, his literary agent met with Jane Friedman, Open Road’s chief executive, who was interested in publishing digital versions of Mr. Ashbery’s work. She assured Mr. Ashbery and his agent that the e-book formatting would preserve his lines.

After a courtship that stretched on for about a year, Mr. Ashbery agreed to sign over digital rights for 17 collections.

The e-books took several months to produce. First his poems were scanned, digitized and carefully proofread. Then Open Road sent the files to eBook Architects, an e-book development company in Austin, Tex. There, the text was hand-coded and marked up semantically, so that the formal elements were tagged as lines, stanzas or deliberate indentations. When a line runs over because the screen is too small or the font is too big, it is indented on the line below — a convention that’s been observed in print for centuries. The technology is still far from perfect. Mr. Ashbery’s poems retain their shape better on the larger screen of the iPad, and are squeezed, with more lines spilling over, on a Kindle or an iPhone.

Poetry scholars say such minor discrepancies are a small price to pay to ensure Mr. Ashbery’s legacy in the digital age.

“John Ashbery is our T. S. Eliot, our Gertrude Stein,” said Robert Polito, president of the Poetry Foundation. “It’s vital that his work be authoritatively available in as many different formats as possible.”

Line by Line, E-Books Turn Poet-Friendly” by Alexandra Alter

As for the filmmakers here, it’s worth noting that Lily Henderson was recently named one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” by Filmmaker Magazine.

Their Names by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

A film by Lori H. Ersolmaz, incorporating Nic Sebastian’s reading of a poem by Sally Bliumis-Dunn at The Poetry Storehouse. Two other video remixers have also tried their hand at this poem, Paul Broderick and Nic Sebastian herself, but Ersolmaz’s film is in a class by itself.

Clothesline by Kathleen Kirk

Poet: | Nationality: | Filmmaker:

The words and voice of Kathleen Kirk (via The Poetry Storehouse) meet the ear and eye of Marc Neys, A.K.A. Swoon.

The visuals took me some time to figure out.
Different approaches, different ideas resulted in at least three completely different videos.
None of them were what I thought was needed.
Number four hit all the right notes:
Sunlight, straight lines, bright colours, slightly experimental and a strange overall atmosphere…
Happy with this one.

12345...96