Nationality: United States

Situation 5 by Claudia Rankine

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One of a series of “Situation” videos created by Jamaican-American poet Claudia Rankine in collaboration with her husband, the photographer John Lucas, for Rankine’s book Citizen: An American Lyric (2014).

Note that Rankine refers to the Situation series as “video essays” on her website. But as she said in a 2009 interview at Poets.org, she thinks

less in terms of genre and just in terms of writing in general. My background, my education, has been in poetry, so I feel that many of the layers in whatever I’m doing are coming out of a world of allusions that are located in poets. So, no matter what I’m working on, I like to call it poetic in some way, because the poets that I’ve read and that I love, their work tends to infuse it.

In a more recent conversation with Lauren Berlant at BOMB Magazine, Rankine discusses her collaboration with Lucas on the Situation videos.

The scripts in chapter six seemed necessary to Citizen because one of the questions I often hear is “How did that happen?” as it relates to mind-numbing moments of injustice—the aftermath of Katrina, for example, or juries letting supremacists off with a slap on the wrist for killing black men. It seems obvious, but I don’t think we connect micro-aggressions that indicate the lack of recognition of the black body as a body to the creation and enforcement of laws. Everyone is cool with seeing micro-aggressions as misunderstandings until the same misunderstood person ends up on a jury or running national response teams after a hurricane.

The decision to exist within the events of the “Situation videos” came about because the use of video manipulation by John Lucas allowed me to slow down and enter the event, in moments, as if I were there in real time rather than as a spectator considering it in retrospect. As a writer working with someone with a different skill set, I was given access to a kind of seeing that is highly developed in the visual artist, and that I don’t rely on as intuitively. My search for meaning—“What do you think that means?”—is often countered with a “Did you see that?” from John. That kind of close looking, the ability to freeze the frame, challenges the language of the script to meet the moment literally second by second—in the Zidane World Cup piece, for example—to know as the moment knows, and not from outside. The indwelling of those Situation pieces becomes a performance of switching your body out with the body in the frame and moving methodically through pathways of thought and positionings.

The photographer Jeff Wall writes about moving into moments of eroding freedoms. He describes racism as “determined by social totality” that “has to come out of an individual body.” In his photographs he brings his lens to existing “unfreedoms.” I am interested in his decision to reenact, to stage moments that happen too fast for the camera to capture. On some level he can’t let what he saw go: “Did you see that?”

The difficult thing about this “immanence” or indwelling is that it holds and prolongs the violence of supremacist spectacle in a body and shuts it down in other participatory ways. The reality, moment, narrative, or photo locks down its players and gets read as a single gesture.

Read the rest.

One Stop by Robert Peake

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We often, perhaps inevitably, envision history unfolding as a sort of cartoon, and our perceptions of combat these days are liable to be colored by video gaming. This new film-poem by Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier turns that on its head, with live-action footage of World War II glimpsed from a present-day machinima world, through the windows of a moving train. See Peake’s blog for the text of the poem. He adds:

Our recent film-poem collaboration “One Stop” was nominated for best music/sound at Liberated Words III in Bristol, where it premiered. The original soundtrack was composed and performed by Valerie Kampmeier. The film commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. [...]

I sourced archival colour footage of WWII, and composited this into an animation that I created using Blender 3D. I recorded journeys on the tube with an X1 Zoom, and mixed this under Valerie’s music and my voice reading the poem.

There’s a decade-long tradition of using machinima in cinepoetry (the term usually preferred by filmmakers in that tradition), but it’s not well represented here at Moving Poems because I don’t often find the results terribly compelling. I’m not sure how much Peake was influenced by that tradition, but his use of machinima here was ingenious, I thought. Kudos also for finding a new twist on the footage-from-a-moving-train motif so prevalent in poetry films.

Incidentally, there’s a lovely interview with Robert Peake at Geosi Reads conducted by Ghanaian blogger Geosi Gyasi. In one exchange, Peake talks about the Transatlantic Poetry on Air series of live video readings he coordinates. Then he reflects on technology and poetry in general:

Geosi Gyasi: As a technology consultant, do you think technology has influenced poets and poetry in any particular way?

Robert Peake: I think it has influenced the audience for poetry by shortening our attention spans, and I think poetry is always influenced by its audiences. That said, technology may also be the saving grace of contemporary poetry, because even as the fan base has dwindled since the advent of rock-n-roll, the ability of poets and poetry-lovers to connect and engage all over the world has expanded. The global audience for poetry today is therefore many times the size of what many poets enjoyed as a regional audience one hundred years ago. I think it is therefore a kind of “Invisible Golden Age” for poetry–with more availability than ever, despite the perception of scarcity.

Read the rest.

A Day in Ohio by James Reiss

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A one-minute videopoem that still somehow manages to seem very spacious. It’s the work of filmmaker Lori H. Ersolmaz, reader Michael Dickes, and poet James Reiss. The poem was first published in Esquire, and Dickes and Ersolmaz found it at The Poetry Storehouse.

Jubilee by Traci Brimhall

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A Moving Poems original, made with a text from The Poetry Storehouse, my own reading, some gorgeous free footage by Jeff at Beachfront B-Roll, and Creative Commons-licensed music by SonicSpiral*Selections s on SoundCloud. I must admit that this was a case of my falling in love with the footage first and then hunting for a poem to fit it (and the Poetry Storehouse archives are large enough now for that to work). But Traci Brimhall is a first-rate poet, and I’m very pleased I was able to work with one of her poems. Thanks also to Poets & Writers for sharing it on their video blog last week.

Like the other videopoems I’ve made lately, this has closed captioning, which can be turned on via the button on the bottom right. To see how Brimhall arranged it on the page, though, please refer to her page at the Storehouse.

My Geology by Sheila Packa

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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

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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

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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.