When we’re told we’ll never understand by Ed Madden

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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.

Alle Tage by Ingeborg Bachmann

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The postwar Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann‘s voice and words are featured in the latest film from Swoon (Marc Neys). He used a sound recording from Lyrikline together with some footage he shot on his recent trip to Finland and back home in Mechelen, Belgium, according to the process notes on his blog. The English translation in the subtitles is by Monika Zobel, guest-edited by Ilya Kaminsky. There’s a Dutch version of the video with a translation by Paul Beers and Isolde Quadflieg. The music, as usual, is Swoon’s own composition. (And if you liked it, you can support him by buying his music on Bandcamp. He includes “Alle Tage” on his latest album, Timorous Sounds.)

Late Love Poems 1: Spring by Steve Griffiths

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This performance-style poetry film is interesting not just for its content (which, as someone who just fell in love in my late 40s, I kind of identify with), but also for the very well thought-out publication strategy of which it is a part. As the YouTube description says:

‘Spring’ is the first of 30 Late Love Poems by Steve Griffiths going up on YouTube weekly from 27 July, culminating in the book of the same name to be published by Cinnamon Press in time for Valentine’s 2016. Find out more from www.latelovepoems.com.

‘Spring’ is filmed in the Mortimer Forest in Shropshire, in the very landscape of the poem’s beginning, and at the same time of the year.

Funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Eamon Bourke (Park6 Productions) directed and edited, with sound, camera assisting and photography by Jules May. There’s a good biography of Griffiths on the Late Love Poems website, which also features his thoughts about the project on the About page. This is especially interesting because of what it suggests about the power of active collaborations between poets and filmmakers:

The feeling that I’d made something life-enhancing fed my desire to share these poems in a new way. I hope that with these films we’ve created a format with an intimacy, an immediacy, and something of the quality of a live reading, but which is retrievable and can be savoured and shared.

Thanks to the support of Arts Council England, I’ve had a great team for this project – and it’s certainly been a voyage of discovery for us. My initial flatness in our first experiments in front of a camera made me work hard once again on my poems, and I rediscovered intonations, insights, glancing emphases, that were there when I first worked on the lines, but had somehow gone missing over time. I’ll always be grateful for that: after all the preparation for standing in front of a camera, I can’t say how much I learned about the quality of attention to a line of poetry in performance. And hearing my wife read my poems naturally and beautifully in rehearsal as I worked to learn them reminded me of the multiplicity of voices that can own a poem – but of course, especially hers.

Over months, it took on new forms, with the visual dimensions and echoes glancing off the poems’ imagery from film-maker Eamon Bourke – and glancing off the map of my face in close-up – and the unexpected gifts of music from two friends I’d known for more than thirty years – one old, one young, and their meeting again in these films, responding to my poems, bringing sensitivities from spectacularly different worlds to enrich my work.

Finally, I must say I’m impressed with Cinnamon Press‘ commitment to this project, going so far as to hire an excellent PR consultant to get the word out. I wish that more of the really ambitious poetry-film and videopoetry projects that I’ve seen in recent years had had that kind of backing. The trouble is, most poets, filmmakers and video artists I know are really crap at promotion. It’s the one area where the DIY ethos isn’t of very much use.

Portlet by Kathleen Kelley and Sarah Rose Nordgren

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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.

Black Hole by Chris Woods

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A fine, narrative-style poetry film by Ben Mottershead. The text is by Lancashire poet Chris Woods, who’s been unusually fortunate in having terrific films made from his poetry. Here’s the description from Vimeo:

‘Black Hole’ tells of Jack; an alcoholic determined on self destruction in the wake of his wife’s death.

Made for the Bokeh Yeah Poetry Challenge and adapted from Chris Woods’ poem, courtesy of Comma Press.

Filmed with the 5d Miii using the Magic Lantern Raw Hack.

Directed, Shot and Cut by Ben Mottershead
Jack – Kevin Harper
Kate – Serena Ryan
Jack’s Wife – Maya Ozolina
Sound Recording – Kenneth James
Assistant Director – Marta Nie
Make Up Artist – Faye Aydin Le Jeune
Production Stills and Production Assistant – Darren Mcginn
Behind the Scenes and Production Assistant – Tristan Mayer
Runner – Keeley Knight
Voiceover Recording – Chris Taylor
Music, Sound Design and Sound Mix by Tim Gray
Colourist – Paul Willis
Thanks to
Adele Myers
The Castle Hotel
Comma Press

Tripping on Mt. Olympus by Yesha Townsend

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Bermudian poet Yesha Townsend in an exemplary performance-poetry film by Alyson Thompson. The poem lives up to its title, so the low-key camera work (no cliched “trippy” effects) provides just the right balance, I think.

High Windows by Philip Larkin

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An animation of Larkin’s famous 1974 poem—knowing the date is key to understanding what now seems like a somewhat dated text. And yet this is the first of three films that the Paris-based studio Troublemakers.tv have produced so far for a futuristic poetry-film project called the Poetry Movement, whose creators appear to believe they’re breaking new ground:

The Poetry Movement is the ‘adolescent’ chapter within The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation. It stands as the next logical step in terms of the way we consume verse and will grow and develop into a creative space that encapsulates the beauty of imagination and inventiveness. Within today’s technology lead landscape now sits a place in which timeless literature can be reborn and set free. The Poetry Movement is a radical and accessible platform for brilliance, creativity and vision.

Acting as if they’ve invented the genre is of course not unique; the folks at Motionpoems too are often guilty of that. But there is definitely something different about the three films produced for the Poetry Movement so far. Watch their adaptations of Plath’s “Death & Co.” and a section of “The Wasteland” and you’ll see what I mean. The idea I guess is to appeal to a generation raised on video games. “High Windows,” literal as it may be, at least does not make me laugh uncontrollably, and treats the poem with respect. Onur Senturk directed. The recitation is by Harold Pinter. (See Vimeo for the rest of the credits.)