In this startling animation of Muriel Rukeyser’s “Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars),” two lives unfold in split screen, one during the tumultuous world events of 1968, the other 50 years later against a new landscape of uncertainty and ever-present digital technology.
The film was produced by the Poetry Foundation just last year, part of a new focus on poetry videos on their website, which I was excited to discover recently. When I started this website ten years ago, the Poetry Everywhere series of animations produced by the Poetry Foundation (in association with docUWM at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) was one of the major caches of poetry animations on YouTube, and though they were made by university students and therefore not as sophisticated as the series of Billy Collins animations that had been produced by JWTNY a few years earlier, they were plentiful and my standards were low, so they had a lot to do with turning Moving Poems from a short-term gallery into a long-term blog. I’d always hoped that the Poetry Foundation would devote more of its considerable endowment to producing poetry films some day. It looks as if that day might finally be here.
This quietly terrifying 8mm short by Andrew Theodore Balasia is a video trailer for Laura Theobald‘s new book, What My Hair Says About You, from Sad Spell Press. According the publisher’s description,
These poems break down the self—plucking the sun out of the sky, throwing bones at the void—while courting issues of identity, gender, sex, love, and loss in biting, blunt vernacular. What My Hair Says About You is a jilting confessional debut, with an ear pressed to a flowery, bone-littered floor.
In the summer of 2016, Maggie Smith sat in a Starbucks in Bexley, Ohio, and wrote a poem. “Life is short, though I keep this from my children,” it began. Smith had no idea that she was setting down the first lines of a work that would seize the mood — and social-media accounts — of so many people in the tumultuous year that was 2016.
A year later, Director Anais La Rocca teamed up with Maggie Smith to bring this poem to life in the short film “Good Bones”.
Good Bones is a heartfelt work that grapples with pain, injustice, unfairness and disillusionment— all in a fantastical story told through the eyes of a six year old girl and the voice of her mother.
Written, directed, produced and post produced by an all female team, this film embodies the power, strength and courage within women, and our responsibility to pass on and teach this courage to our little girls.
In the film, the mother takes on the role of a real estate agent: “I am trying/ to sell them the world. Any decent realtor, walking you through a real s***hole, chirps on about good bones: This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.”
If you liked This is America, the Childish Gambino rap video by Hiro Murai, you’ll be riveted by this latest film from Motionpoems. Serbian-American director Jovan Todorovic‘s interpretation of a Danez Smith poem is surely one of the most searing and impactful poetry films in Motionpoems’ history. See Todorovich’s website for the full credits.
The film debuted online not at Motionpoems but at Nowness, which included this quote from the director:
America and the American dream is an emotion, and it used to be an attainable dream. This sentiment is quickly dissolving. My wish is to address this despair purely on an emotional level. This is a poetic short film that explores what has happened to the idea of the American Dream… a visceral meditation on the idea of death and decay… and finally, rebirth.
They go on to interview Todorovich “about social sickness, alienation, and poetry’s relationship to film.” It’s worth reading in full; I’ll just quote the last bit:
NOWNESS: A poem is such a mercurial, elusive thing. What was it like turning a poem into a film?
Jovan: It was an exciting and specific process for me precisely because the inspiration was a poem. Because this poem creates feelings through the juxtaposition of very sensory pictures, scenes and moments I was inspired to construct the film similarly. Rather than writing by consciously building meaning I turned to some of my dreams and built the script and scenes around what I feel about the world today. This kind of ‘open’ process of building scenes allowed me to work with all authors on the film in a way where they would have space to put their own experiences and feelings about the theme while staying in line with the emotional tone and context that I’ve initially based the scenes upon.
The poem originally appeared in Buzzfeed on November 9, 2016—the day after the election of Donald Trump—and was reprinted in Smith’s celebrated 2017 collection Don’t Call Us Dead. It’s the latest episode in Motionpoems’ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President,” which has been pretty sensational so far. Kudos all around.