Nationality: United States

Patti Smith at the Punch and Judy Theater by Jim Daniels

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Patti Smith at the Punch and Judy Theater is the latest film from Matt Mullins, a collaboration with Michigan poet Jim Daniels.

Jim’s poem was inspired by the experience of seeing Patti Smith in the ’70’s at a small theater in the Detroit area. By coincidence, Matt went to the same theater to see movies as a child.

Since watching their film I’ve read Jim’s poem in print, and watched a live version of “Gloria” by Patti Smith.

For the film’s sound composition, Matt has sampled just the first powerful line of Patti’s voice in “Gloria”. In audio editing he rearranges the sung phrases to form a new, minimal, poem-song in itself. This is in sympathetic contrast to the printed words of Jim’s poem, which appear on the screen. It’s as if they are two poems side by side.

Matt says of his approach to making the piece: “It’s pretty raw intentionally as I was trying to catch that Patti Smith vibe.”

I find it hauntingly emotional, deep, original.

When We Get Lonely, It Will Be Together by Melissa Studdard and Kelli Russell Agodon

“Meet the Queens of Quarantine Poetry” is Houston Public Media‘s only slightly clickbaity title for this seamless blend of interview and videopoem. From the YouTube description:

In this time of quarantine and self-isolation, two friends have been co-writing a series of poems inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.

Houston poet Melissa Studdard and Seattle poet Kelli Russell Agodon connect across the miles through Zoom to read their poem “When We Get Lonely, It Will Be Together” and to describe what it means to create art during a pandemic.

Dave McDermand and Joe Brueggeman handled the recording and editing, and Catherine Lu did the interviews. Lu tweeted that it was “Possibly [the] coolest project I’ve done for @HoustonPubMedia.”

I follow both poets on social media and have been reading their collaboratively written quarantine poems with great interest, so it was wonderful to get some background on how the project evolved: out of their pre-existing habit of writing together in a virtual shared study space, using video conferencing software and reading each other’s drafts on Google docs. It’s great that they’re letting the rest of us read over their shoulders, as it were, especially given the pressure from literary journals to hide all one’s poetry away in order to keep it eligible for submission. I advise following Kelli and Melissa on Twitter, where they post the drafts as jpegs. Here are links to some of the more recent ones, posted on April 21, April 22, April 25, April 27, May 5two on that day, and May 8.

Twenty Times by Caroline Rumley

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This deservedly won the Audience Award at the 2020 REELpoetry/Houston TX festival in January, where I first saw it and was moved by the juxtaposition of disturbing imagery — either actual police body camera footage, or a very good simulacrum of it — with the speaker’s sedate description of her own backyard: a powerful indictment of the racism and class divisions permeating American society, where Black men risk death by police or vigilante shooting every time they go out the door, even into their own grandmother’s backyard. Rest in peace, Stephon Clark. I wish this videopoem didn’t still feel so necessary and relevant.

Twenty Times was runner-up in the Atticus Review 2019 Videopoem Contest. Marc Neys, the contest judge, wrote:

“Twenty Times” is a powerful political and poetic video. The use of ‘lo-fi’ imagery adds to the suspense and darkness of the video. The contrast with the every day life described in the poem sets the perfect base for the message.

Click through for a bio of Rumley, and visit her website for links to all her films.

Becoming the Other Becoming by Laura Mullen

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Perhaps I’m a bit too logocentric, but seeing the word “social” torn in half hit me like a punch to the gut.

There’s a “with poem” version of this (above) and a “without poem” version, the difference being the presence or absence of a voiceover. Laura Mullen is one of the more widely published American poets to also make videopoems. Shockingly, this is only the third video of hers I’ve shared here. Do browse her work on Vimeo.

Pregnant with the Dead by Susan Rich

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Director Tova Beck-Friedman calls this “A cine-poem about the space between suffering and life lived. It’s also about survival and the unforgotten pain.” Dancer Juliet Neidish’s interpretation of the poem, choreographed by Beck-Friedman, is juxtaposed with archival footage for maximum emotional effect.

Susan Rich is the poet, and I was stunned to read an open letter on her blog detailing how the film was commissioned by the Visible Poetry Project and then censored at the very last moment, apparently for being insufficiently pious about the Holocaust! An astonishing and outrageous decision. All the more reason to share it here, then, of course (though I’d intended to anyway, before I’d read Rich’s post). I’ve been happy to see it getting well-deserved attention on social media, as well. As Rich notes in her open letter,

If there were ever a time to support each other, that time is now. The best art pushes and challenges us to the point of discomfort.

Chant for a Pandemic by Finn Harvor, Dee Hood, et. al.

A project of the online group AGITATE:21C, where Florida-based experimental video artist Dee Hood pulled together video contributions from around the world, including a text by Finn Harvor, an American artist, writer, musician and filmmaker based in South Korea. The other contributors were Maria Korporal, Sandra Bougerch, Tushar Waghela, Muriel Paraboni, Lisi Prada, Eija Temiseva, Ian Gibbins, Jutta Pryor, Sarah Bliss, Darko Duilo, Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Erick Tapia, Lori Ersolmaz, AvantKinema, Sarahjane Swan, Roger Simian, Lino Mocerino, Francesca Giuliani, Luis Carlos Rodriguez, and Willow Morgan. In the Vimeo description, Dee notes:

This is a collaboration between video artists around the globe. We wanted to share our common experience with this pandemic. There are no boundaries for anxiety, fear, grief and frustration. We are all in this long wait together. Today the world is on hold but we will be back. Thanks to all the artists for giving us a glimpse of where they live.

Your Dog Dies by Raymond Carver

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When I saw this videopoem by the Spanish director Juan Bullón the other week, I immediately knew I had to include it in a screening I was curating for REELpoetry/Houston TX called Poesía sin fronteras / Poetry Without Borders. Though otherwise focused on Latin American poetry, the theme of the program was “translation, otherness, identity and death in cinepoetry from across the Americas”, and it made sense to close with a gringo poet’s take, especially given how well Bullón’s choice of mirrored images echoed some of the other films in the program. Also, it was good to end on a slightly lighter note than some of the more melancholy, slow-moving films. I’m happy to report that the audience loved it.

As part of the extensive notes in the online version of this program, I asked directors to share any thoughts they might have on translation and/or poetry filmmaking. Here’s what Juan told me:

I’m a Spanish film maker and writer. I write with creative, narrative or poetic intention for about twelve years. I come from the audiovisual world (television and advertising mostly). In recent years I have attended several creative writing workshops. Now, far from audiovisual as a profession, I dedicate myself to writing and coordinate a creative writing workshop in Seville. It is a workshop to experience the fact of creating and feeling literature. We try to go beyond writing or correct narrative, poetic, autobiographical or reflective texts, beyond knowing techniques and writing tricks. Creativity is the goal without end. We give great importance to reading aloud as a way to recognize and work the literary voice of each one, and also, we experiment with the audiovisual format as another way of learning to know how to interpret our texts, to voiceover them, and act on them. Video-poems are another part of the creative process and the recognition of each as an author, it is another way of creative knowledge. The essential is to pose, think and act, and in our case, create from writing to let go and leave our point of view, and be able to share it. And this ability to narrate and tell should be transferable to another means of expression, as another complement, as another revelation of our creative capacity.

Transferring our texts (or those of other authors) to an audiovisual format, relying on the image and music to create these video-poems is a challenge where the fundamental is the literary burden of the text. We do not consider it as a struggle between the greater or lesser relevance of the image, music or text. The written is the important, it’s essential, then, the interpretation and performance of these texts with a suggestive audiovisual dress. The direction and production of these video-poems must be guided by the simplicity and speed of creation in the event that they are self-produced or by taking advantage of what the internet offers with the royalty-free images and music that can be used and shared, with that democratization of the media. In turn, the video-poems we make are posted on the internet for anyone’s free enjoyment, helping to fill in that great library of Babel.

Moving the texts to an audiovisual format is a part of the creative process, a moment of enjoyment and self-knowledge. The important thing is to act, to be and to write it.

Visit Juan Bullón’s YouTube channel to see more of his and his students’ work.