The Flame in Mother’s Mouth is a collaboration between poet Dustin Pearson and film-maker Neely Goniodsky. It is another film shared here at Moving Poems as among the best from the Visible Poetry Project.
As a participating film-maker in this year’s project, I had the good fortune to read this emotionally affecting poem before it became a film. At the start of the production process, we considered about 200 poems by 60 writers before indicating the poet we’d most like to be our collaborator. This process may have happened in the reverse too, with the writers considering the work of many film-makers. It would be interesting to know. Either way, The Flame in Mother’s Mouth was in the top three poems from all I read, and Neely Goniodsky has done a fabulous job with her animated screen adaptation. My only hesitation is the very abrupt ending. I even wondered if this might be a technical error in the rendering of the film.
Since 2017, VPP has been releasing a video a day during the month of April—National Poetry Month in the USA. Various celebrations of poetry also take place around the world at this time, many of them involving daily writing prompts. One poet I know does most of their writing at this time of year. Another began writing in April 2018, with one of his poems now published in an anthology. All in all it’s a good time of year for poetry, and via the VPP, for videopoetry as well.
The call for entries to poets and film-makers around the world for their 2020 season is online now, officially opening on 1 September and closing on 31 October. I highly recommend filling out the simple application form if you are a poet or film-maker interested in expanding skills, both as an individual artist and in collaboration.
The visual stream is jazzily constructed of “found footage” from various free sources. This is in sync with the sample-based hip-hop and house music referred to but never heard in the film. Narration is by the poet, who appears in the film as well, accompanied only by the warm sound of vinyl static—warm like her strong, expressive voice.
The poem is beat-driven, funky. It conveys myriad elements of cultural identity, past, present and future:
Who we are is undefined. Might be infinite. Variable. A mystery unsolved, but not yet ready to exit.
Gen.er.a.tion X, n. People born between 1960 and 1980. Some were alive with the last survivors of enslavement.
Danielle Eliska describes herself as a “black archivist”, her life’s work to tell stories of powerful women, the Black Diaspora and the state of Black culture. She is the founder of multimedia production house Meraki Society.
Shalewa Mackall belongs to a community of artists embracing Sankofa, a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to “Go back and get it”. The term relates to the Asante Adinkra symbol, often represented by a bird with its head turned backwards while its feet face forward, carrying a precious egg in its mouth. This symbolises moving forward in full awareness and embrace of what has preceded, historically and culturally.
The piece was written by Christina Rau, who describes it as “sci-fi fem poetry”. As a lover of astronomy, this possibly self-invented genre intrigues me, especially as it is expressed in this fresh poem, unusual in choice of language. As if to demonstrate the generic form in its title, Christina’s collection, Liberating The Astronauts (Aqueduct Press), was published in 2017, the year before the making of Kepler’s Law.
Among cultural involvements such as teaching and facilitation of writer’s groups, Christina serves as Poetry Editor for The Nassau Review. Dana’s animated videos are designed to appeal to his young daughter, who inspires his current creative work.
Rich posts daily at his blog, RichRant. The constant stream of inspired writing is marvelous, some of it existential, some political, some funny, frequently all three, and almost always on key.
The selection and editing of archival film is the work of a master. Any film-maker who has worked with footage from the Prelinger Archives will appreciate the countless hours that must have gone into finding all the shots, that are then cut to the fast rhythms of Rich’s voice.
Chris’s virtual home is at Patreon, where can be found a blackly hilarious account of his life and aims as a film-maker/writer/human. The synopses of his short fiction are alone worth the visit.
The ongoing collaboration between Rich and Chris has produced several videos so far, of which a small collection can be found on this playlist at YouTube.
A video collage by multi-media artist, Donna Kuhn, set to composer David Hahn‘s piece, “Make America Great Again”, addressing the contemporary political and cultural landscape of the USA, while alluding to historical ideologies of identity that have led to its present condition.
In a rhythm reminiscent of beat poetry, Hahn voices his own text in a rapid stream of hackneyed national slogans, turned upside-down and inside-out to powerfully convey the deranged zeitgeist experienced by so many US residents, and by masses around the world. His feverish mantras climax in the distilled and obsessive chant, “America, America, again, again, again, America, again, again”.
The video is made up of a kinetic array of visual elements including animated text, digitally-drawn art, abstracted numerical sequences, cartoon images, and superimposition of iconic movie clips with footage from World War II.
Hahn has been composing for 30 years, beginning as a performer on lute, guitar, and mandolin with groups such as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony and Opera Orchestras, Boston Musica Viva, the Seattle Symphony, Musica Nel Chiostro in Florence, and the City of London Festival. He served on the faculty at the New England Conservatory, where he co-founded the Boston Renaissance Ensemble, which toured extensively in the US and Europe.
Donna Kuhn’s experimental videos have exhibited internationally since 2004 at film festivals, museums, art galleries and online on literary and poetry sites.
The title of the piece is given on its Vimeo page as “Make America Great Again”, with the titles on the video itself suggesting the alternative name, “Slogan”.
This is Semi-Automatic Pantoum, directed by Matt Mullins, made to accompany the collection Semi-Automatic Pantoums: A Collaboration on Gun Violence [PDF] by the Chicago-based collective Poetic Justice League. According to their origin story,
In 2018, in the season of Donald Trump and longing for another time, Chris Green was driving down a Chicago road to see his poetic super heroes Jan Bottiglieri, cin salach, and Tony Trigilio. He proposed The Poetic Justice League, a group for poetic non-silence on the big issues of the day. They dreamed up PJL to unfold group poems, to wake up poets and readers to a sense of newborn responsibility. [links added]
The pantoum is one of those forms with repeating lines, which makes it a good if macabre fit for the subject of semi-automatic weapons and the semi-automatic reactions of various political factions to the American epidemic of mass shootings. Matt Mullins added some lines of his own to the video, but otherwise the text is the same as “There Are Bullets in This Poem” (page 5 of the collection). As Matt said in an email on Monday,
It’s intensely disturbing that these horrific mass shooting events just won’t stop happening (I write you this the morning after we realize that families can’t even go to a food festival without being murdered by someone with an assault rifle.) American gun violence has gone far beyond insanity, and yet, as we all know, the politicians in the palm of the NRA will do nothing.
To write your own semi-automatic pantoum, see the collective’s instructions for teachers.
The Poetic Justice League hopes that high school students form their own PJL chapters! You will receive a PJL hat and will be included in all publishing and promotional ventures . . . and we will continue to include you in all future PJL political poetry adventures.
The only requirement is that students contribute their own collaborative political poems modeled after PJL projects. For now, we’re seeking semi-automatic pantoums–we will post the pantoums on our site.