It’s heartening to see South Carolina newspaper editors taking what poets have to say so seriously—an example of the general high regard in which writers are held in the South, I think. Yesterday I shared the video made from Ed Madden’s poem, which was reprinted in the Free Times and State newspapers. This poem by Nikky Finney appeared in The State on July 9, in text form as well as in the video by Matt Walsh, which incorporates footage of the previous days’ events.
[Finney] wrote the poem in the early morning hours of July 9, after House members voted to send Gov. Nikki Haley a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, realizing “I have been writing these 230 words all my life.”
It took me a couple of viewings to appreciate the genius of this deceptively simple videopoem, which hinges on the last, sung line of Ed Madden‘s poem. (For folks outside the US who might not recognize the line, it’s from the chorus of the South’s unofficial anthem, “Dixie.”) Brian Harmon is the filmmaker, and the description at Vimeo explains the circumstances:
The City of Columbia’s Poet Laureate, Ed Madden, reading his poem “When we’re told we’ll never understand” from “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015” written June 20, 2015. This poem was written in response to the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and in conjunction with the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the SC Statehouse grounds.
The poem was originally read as part of the Take It Down rally at the Statehouse on June 20, 2015 and reprinted in both the Free Times and State newspapers.
For the full text of this selection of the poem or the full longer version “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015,” visit the City of Columbia Poet Laureate website at columbiapoet.org.
Where does the poem end and the dance begin? I don’t usually include the filmmaker’s name in the title, but the collaboration between dance and video artist Kathleen Kelley and poet Sarah Rose Nordgren is so tight here, it’s hard to see how to credit the poem exclusively to Nordgren. In an email, she told me that “the poetry and choreography for this piece were done collaboratively, i.e. they were created simultaneously in response to each other.” The result is pure videopoetry.
Portlet is one of three films from their collaborative project Digitized Figures, which has a dedicated page on Kelley’s website where you can view all three as well as a live rehearsal video. Here’s the description:
Digitized Figures: A Practice of Choreographing Text is a collaborative project in development by poet Sarah Rose Nordgren and choreographer Kathleen Kelley. Set to premiere in 2015, Digitized Figures will create an interactive performance environment that weaves words and images through both digital and analog space to investigate the other face of digital technology: its mirrored relationship to organic and evolutionary impulses.
The final version of this installation will include 3 video projections that surround and react to the viewer, animating poems as living and responsive text. Visitors to the installation will be able to move through each of the projections, changing and redirecting them with their own gestures. In addition to the projections, there will be dancers performing live in the space, providing a geometric embodiment that works contrapuntally to the abstraction of the moving words. The viewers will be able to interact with the dancers using touchscreens that give the dancers qualitative and emotional directions.
I’ve featured poetry-dance videos on this website since its inception; it’s a fascinating genre. With the inclusion of “dancing” text animation and the incorporation of the videos into a live, interactive installation/performance, this project really pushes the genre forward.
Last week when I shared 2 Degrees by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner with animation by Jonathan “jot” Reyes, I mentioned that Reyes has also made a fully animated poem. This is that film, made for the poem “In the Dead of Winter We” by the Filipino American poet R.A. Villanueva, from his book Reliquaria,” which won the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.
The film was nominated for the 2015 Webby Awards in the Best Online Video: Animation category, and the write-up there reveals some fascinating details, including the fact that Reyes and Villanueva are brothers:
What inspired you most to follow your dreams/vision while working on this project?
There could be no other way than to follow my vision. By definition, the entire project was a dream, it was a vision interpreted. This wasn’t a commercial, not a branding package. There were no clients, no expectations. All the work, all the years my brother put into crafting his lines, I could do no less than put everything I had into it. It was a culmination of every skill I had learned to date, an exhibition of years worth of tutorials with a pure purpose.
What made your project stand out in your industry/field and unique from the rest? What obstacles did that present and how did you overcome them?
The was no budget allocated for this animation. It was created in a short amount of time. “In the Dead of Winter We” was completed in one week, worked on only during nights after I came home from my day job, and through one sleepless weekend. There was no money for voice over, so I called my brother and asked him to recite his poem for me as inspiration, not knowing it would be used for this. I actually think that worked out well as the tinny voice and ambient street noise added to the piece. A green blanket hung over my apartment’s front door served as my green screen. Restrictions force us into creativity.
When did you first know that this work was going to be something special?
Immediately. It had to be special. It was for my brother. It was intensely personal. It wasn’t just about me and family, it was for them. In our day jobs, we’re often asked to sacrifice personal goals for the sake of buzzwords: product, branding, experience, etc.. Clients strip away meaningful bits as they see fit, as if at a salon. They craft it in their image, in what they want to see. For this, there was no client, no expectation. Whatever I put out there would be my own interpretation, and it could be nothing less for my family. In the end, it became the fusion of my family’s collective creativity.