Nationality: United States

The Mother Warns the Tornado by Catherine Pierce

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Motionpoems‘ latest release is a film by Isaac Ravishankara that transforms Catherine Pierce‘s poem into something that, save for its brevity, approaches a blockbuster movie in style and and emotional impact, complete with a very real-looking tornado at the end. MP’s “citizen journalist” Maggie Roy conducted interviews with both the poet and the filmmaker. Here’s some of what Pierce told her:

On April 27, 2011, the day of the tornado outbreak that killed over 300 people and injured many more, I was in Cullman, Alabama with my husband and infant son when an EF-4 tore through that town. Those moments of waiting while the tornado passed (we were huddled in the lobby bathroom of a Days Inn) really crystallized for me both the intensity of love I had for my child and what real, immediate fear felt like—not fear of something that might happen in the future, but a visceral fight-or-flight fear.

I’d been sort of stuck, writing-wise, since the birth of my son (the sleep deprivation wasn’t helping, either), but I’d been planning to write a series of poems from the point of view of a tornado; after that day, I realized that the scope of that series had to be big enough to include not only the tornado but the lives it impacted. […]

I think the film is incredible. I’m bowled over by how powerful and visceral it is, and also by how beautiful. There are so many small moments here—the lizard, the shot of the boy’s feet, the mother opening her eyes—that just undo me each time I see them, and I love the way the film slowly ratchets up the tension. I knew, from talking with Isaac at the outset of the project, that he connected with the poem exactly as I hoped someone would, but what he ended up making surpassed what I could have imagined. I just love everything about this film, and am so grateful to have been introduced to Isaac’s work.

It’s evident just from watching the film that a lot of care, attention and hard work went into it; the interview with Ravishankara suggests just how much:

I first spoke to Catherine Pierce about the project in the fall of 2014. I knew from the second I read the poem that I wanted to make this piece, and I knew from that moment that it needed to show a mother with a child who was actually her son. It wasn’t until March of this year that I was introduced to Dianna [Miranda] and her son Gus [Buck]. I knew from the moment they invited me into their home that they would be the family around which we would build this piece.

The real feeling of the piece came together in post production. There is absolutely NO WAY this film would have come together the way it did without the amazing insight from our editor, Jamie Foord at Rock Paper Scissors, who just kept making it more and more and more EMOTIONAL with every edit. And then we still had NO IDEA how we were going to make this feeling so tangible, but the team of artists at A52 not only dreamt up the tornado, but made it REAL. Of course, there are the shots where we SEE the thing, but they made sure we FELT it in nearly every shot leading up to the conclusion.

Read the rest. (And here’s the text of the poem.)

Indian Prince by Trevino L. Brings Plenty

Videopoetry minimalism done right. Trevino L. Brings Plenty wrote and directed, Myron Lameman and Sky Hopinka shot and edited, the voiceover is by Chenoa, and the actors are Chaz and Andy, say the credits.

Homeopathy by Nina Corwin

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A film by Lori H. Ersolmaz using both voiceover and text-on-screen for the poem by the Chicago-based poet and therapist Nina Corwin. Ersolmaz found the poem at The Poetry Storehouse and the archival footage at Pond 5 and the Internet Archive.

After the Calm by Paul Nemser

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A film by James William Norton in collaboration with Filmpoem. The poem by Paul Nemser was commended in the 2014 National Poetry Competition from the Poetry Society, who commissioned the film as part of a series of NPC 2014 filmpoems. NPC judge Roddy Lumsden said of the poem:

‘After the Calm’ is a mix of deliciously frothy language and mysterious narrative. It is angsty and slippery. It tempts us to solve that restricted narrative but keeps our attention. It shifts between straightforward lines and unusual phrasing (‘dizzily companionable wane’, ‘angels powdering the breezes’). Intriguing, somewhat disturbing, it impresses with its dark charm.

Entropic Void by Payson R. Stevens

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It’s always fun to find poetry films made by innovators working in isolation from others in the field, since they bring a completely fresh outlook and approach. In the case of Payson R. Stevens, his unique background in science/science communication on the one hand and art and design on the other included helping to

pioneer the field of interactive multimedia starting in 1987. He produced and directed ten acclaimed educational CD-ROM titles on Earth science and environmental subjects, two of which debuted at the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 Ocean Planet Exhibition. In 1994, InterNetwork received the Presidential Design Award for Excellence from Bill Clinton for the CD-ROM science-journal prototype, Arctic Data InterActive.

The above video is an example of a new type of work that Stevens has trademarked: Video Tone Poems.

In October 2013, a trip to the spectacular Ajanta and Ellora ancient caves in the state of Maharastra, India catalyzed a new integration of my creative expression through video, poetry, photography, and music. I call this work Video Tone Poems™ (VTPs). A tone poem is classically defined as a piece of orchestral music, usually in one movement, on a descriptive or rhapsodic theme.

I believe the Video Tone Poems™ may be a new auteur genre, using all the visual, poetic, and musical tools and technologies to express a unified vision of one individual’s expression in multiple creative arts. Of course, living in the isolation of Behta Pani/Flowing Waters (our Himalayan retreat), I may be deluded or perhaps watching my shadow reflecting on my studio walls…while Plato laughs.

Stevens divides the VTPs into three categories based on the type of message. Entropic Void belongs in the “Afflicted Messages” category, “meditations on the human condition, the environment, and technology, all interacting in this, The Age of Anthropocene (described as the global impacts of human behavior which include climate change, species invasion and extinction, etc.).” Stevens told me in an email, “I screened the VTPs in New Delhi last October and at the San Diego Museum of Art in Feb to a full house and enthusiastic response.”

I’m not sure how I feel about message-oriented poetry in general, but I like this videopoem a lot. There is nothing remotely touristic about his gaze; the people shown are just people, not exoticized others, in keeping with the poem’s hortatory “you.”

Juan Felipe Herrera’s winding path to poetry + Five Directions to My House

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Following last week’s announcement that Juan Felipe Herrera would be the next U.S. Poet Laureate, PBS NewsHour sent their arts correspondent to Fresno and produced this pair of videos.

Juan Felipe Herrera is the author of more than 20 books of poetry, novels for young adults and collections for children, most recently “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes.” He is the son of migrant workers from Mexico, and today he becomes the first Latino to serve as poet laureate of the United States. Jeffrey Brown travels to the poet’s home in California’s San Joaquin Valley.

In the Air by Kate Sweeney

A unique poetry film: a hand-drawn animation of poets’ hands from interview snippets that can also be seen as a remix videopoem. Kate Sweeney explains in the Vimeo description:

Created from short elliptical sequences taken from archived interviews with four Bloodaxe poets. I wanted to isolate the gestures used when explaining the poetic, the abstract thoughts they couldn’t express in words alone. Gesture is communication that is also a kind of drawing in the air.

C.K Williams, in his interview with Ahren Warner, muses that “In a sense the final version of any work of art pretends to be an improvisation; even a painting. First the painter puts down the ground on the canvas or the wood then he puts down another layer of something then he begins to put the blocks in and then the last layer, little brush strokes, that look like improvisation”. The archive offers a window through to all those described layers. It tracks the process of producing a poem, a book and in a way, a poet. Inspired by my research in the archive, the animation includes the smudges, rips, mistakes and corrections, of the paper it was drawn on, revealing and incorporating the process into the final version.

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