A gently surreal, subversive and affecting film by Jim Haverkamp, with narration adapted and lightly condensed from a prose poem by M.C. Biegner. Here’s how Haverkamp describes it on the front page of his website:
Not your typical History Channel biography, When Walt Whitman Was a Little Girl tells the startling, unuttered truth about America’s good gray poet. Starting out as an ordinary nine year old girl, Walt is soon catapulted into the world with her senses ablaze.
Based on a prose poem by M.C. Biegner, the film mixes drama, dance, puppetry, and oddball humor to portray the world through the eyes of a ‘sensitive kid.’ Walt awakens to the mysteries and wonder of nature, leaves her home to seek fame and adventure, is plunged into the horror of war, and finally begins to understand the unspoken poetry of childhood.
In addition to winning a raft of film festival awards, it was featured in the Summer/Fall 2013 issue of TriQuarterly.
Filipina American poet Luisa A. Igloria took an active role in collaborating with Swoon (Marc Neys) on this film in support of her new collection, The Saints of Streets, as Marc describes in a blog post. Much of the footage comes from a film Luisa found on YouTube,
part of a collection of motion picture films that John Van Antwerp MacMurray shot during the time he served as American Minister to China (1925-1929).
The 16mm silent movie was shot during a trip to the Philippines in October 1926, where MacMurray and his wife spent a few days at Camp John Hay, Baguio.
In the same post, Luisa has this to say about the poem and Marc’s film:
The poem’s recurrent rhyme is the word “everlasting” — it had started out as a meditation of sorts on a flower indigenous to Baguio, the mountain city where I grew up in the Philippines. The locals refer to them as “everlasting” flowers, but they are strawflowers or Helichrysum bracteatum (family Asteraceae). Locals wind them into leis and sell them to tourists. One of my dearest friends from childhood recently returned from a trip to Baguio, and brought a lei back for me.
Around ten years ago, this friend lost her only son, who grew up with my daughters in Baguio; and she has never really recovered from that grief; she has also just had surgery, and thinking about her and about our lives in that small mountain city so long ago, before we became what we are now, led me to writing this poem which is also a meditation on time/temporality, passage, absence and presence.
When I write poems, I am often guided first by images and their interior “sound” or texture, even before I can bring them to bear upon each other in some totally explicable way… What draws me in the first place to poetry is the sense it offers of mystery, of how not everything in language can be completely grasped, so that we can continue to think of possibility.
Therefore I love so much how Marc has been able to intuit the poem’s themes of recurrence and memory and render them in such a way that both sound and imagery, artifact and dream, loop one into the other in the video poem.
This was the grand prize winner of the 2012 Shanghai Tunnels Project International Video Festival. According to the festival page on the Unshod Quills website,
Renee Reynolds is a freelance writer from Chicago living and working in Shanghai since 2007. Olivier Wyart is a freelance designer from Paris living and working in Shanghai since 2009. The poem was compiled over the course of five years in China by an American expatriate scribbling in the subways of Shanghai. The video ventures to visually straddle the mishmash of East, West, history and future colliding in the text.
Swoon‘s latest film features Donna Vorreyer reading a poem from her new collection The Imagined Life of the Pioneer Wife. The footage is from a public-domain documentary. As Swoon says in a blog post:
Sometimes I collect images, keep them with me until the right poem comes along.
The same with certain tracks I create.
‘And So They Live’ (John Ferno, Julian Roffman, 1940) is a piece of archive showing poorly educated “mountain peoples” living in poverty and stricken with disease, it’s a public-domain documentary about life in the Appalachian mountains with some great looking shots but a typical and very patronizing narration.
I used some parts before more than a year ago in ‘Odds and Ends’. The images stayed on my ‘shelf’ since then…
In came Donna Vorreyer. We worked together before and I think she’s a very fine poet.
Donna has got a new collection out: ‘The Imagined Life of the Pioneer Wife’ (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013)
Almost every poem in that collection could have been used for this videopoem. Not because they’re all the same. Because they’re all so good!
There was one sequence in the film I really loved. Can’t explain why, but the feet in the snow worked on a whole other level. When I placed that sequence on the basis, the rest came naturally.