Jonathan Tel‘s Commended poem from the Poetry Society‘s National Poetry Competition 2014, as read by Alastair Cook in a film directed by Corinne Silva, with sound by Vladimir Kruytchev. A particular challenge for this film was how to represent the Chinese characters included in the text. I also found the low-key camera work and natural sound a good counterpoint to the poem, which takes the form of a somewhat discursive letter. The statement from competition judge Zoë Skoulding reads:
‘Ber Lin’ connects places by exploring coincidences of sound and sense. The carefulness of expression intriguingly gives the feeling of a translation, even though it is not one. This distancing effect makes us see how language is always on the move, living in juxtaposition with other languages. At the same time the poem gives a sharp sense not just of place, but place as it is imagined and remembered.
Considering that Jonathan Tel is himself American, the choice to have Alastair read it adds another layer of linguistic juxtaposition.
I see by the way that the Poetry Society has a really nice page now for its commissioned poetry films, including a sub-section for the National Poetry Competition 2014 Filmpoems, so if you’re impatient at my slow rate of sharing them here, you can go there and watch them all.
Sarah Blake‘s poem appears in her debut collection Mr. West, an “unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West” which Evie Shockley calls “tender without being sentimental, funny without being cruel, and obsessive without being exploitative.” Check out Arisa White‘s interviews with Blake and Altinok at the Motionpoems website. Blake says, in part:
I love the film. I felt like [Ayşe] made me a version of Kanye West’s music video for his song, ‘Flashing Lights’—a version of it just for me and my poem.
And Altinok notes that she deliberately chose a shorter poem with lots of room for cinematic exploration:
“Less words, more story” is very interesting to me in any discipline. I didn’t want to explain the poem, I wanted to duet the words and the meanings explored in the text. When I read the poem, I immediately saw the 14-year-old girl and her world. It wasn’t a struggle to bring her to life. It was a very relevant subject to me. I love youth culture and also visual poetry; this was a heavenly project. […]
After I read the poem I immediately started writing a script. It was more of a shot-list at first. I didn’t bother writing the happenings in a poetic way, I thought the poetry was already written by Sarah Blake, so I only put ideas on paper in a very practical manner. It was literally a list of scenes. I definitely knew my character needed to be the 14-year-old, rather than the woman who is the pregnant narrator. She didn’t seem too interesting to me, like myself—I can never make a film about me, but I want to make films about things I like. Rather, things I find fruitful (story-wise). I also thought my writing sucked, so at that point, I turned to photography. I started looking at pictures, mostly portraits, and created this character, and give her an identity. I felt very free—that was the best part of working with a poem.
In terms of script, though, I had to structure it in a way that felt compelling, and with a sense of beginning, middle, and end. It was a fragile story, I didn’t want to make a big statement, but I didn’t want to create just fluff, with a bunch of beautiful images and no thread, either—it was a gentle balance, not too much story that kills the poem, but not too freestyle that loses its meaning. I wanted people to feel what it’s like to live this character’s life, rather then me telling them how to.
Spanish filmmaker Eduardo Yagüe has once again taken the difficult route and produced two entirely different films for the English and Spanish versions of a text. The author is U.S. poet Laura M Kaminski. For Considering Luminescence, Yagüe used the voice recording by Maureen Alsop at The Poetry Storehouse and music by Fourhands Project, and worked with the actress Gabrielle Roy. Consideraciones Sobre la Luz features Yagüe’s own translation and voice, music by Martin Rach, and the actor Faustino Fernández. Both films were shot this May, the first in Madrid and the second in Gijón.