Three poems from Árbol de Diana (Tree of Diana) by Alejandra Pizarnik

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I’ve been somewhat lax in posting new material here because of server instability at my webhost, which has resulted in frequent, short outages. I’m working to resolve this. In the meantime, here’s a video I made myself last week, which grew out of a translation project at Via Negativa, Poetry from the Other Americas. I posted some process notes there, too. The main thing I guess is that the footage of the construction site at sunset had come first, shot out the back bedroom window of the house where I’m staying in north London. The footage somehow made me think of these Pizarnik poems, which it seemed to me might form a unity with it. I shot the other footage purposefully for the video a few feet from the back door. Then I called on my friend Jean Morris for help in the voiceover, and drew on her superior understanding of Spanish to help polish my translations.

I’ve never seen a bilingual videopoem with both languages alternating in the soundtrack (though I’m sure someone must’ve done it before), so this was a bit of an experiment. I think it works—if it works—because the poems are short, and because each relates to the video imagery in a different way. But I suspect the same could be done with a single, longer poem if the languages were to alternate stanza by stanza. If anyone experiments further along these lines, do let me know.

Incidentally, if the post title seems a little familiar, that’s because the Spanish filmmaker Eduardo Yagüe has also made a film with three (different) poems from Pizarnik’s Árbol de Diana, Green Stones in the House of Night.

The Expiration by John Donne

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‘Breake off this last lamenting kisse, which sucks two soules and vapors both away.’ Inspired by John Donne’s poem, The Expiration is a beautiful, evocative, depiction of two secret lovers as they accept they must reluctantly part forever. This adaptation embraces the Renaissance concept of la petite mort that ‘to die’ was ‘to orgasm’ and explores the bittersweet moments of a love’s last breath.

That’s the description on the exemplary website for this new film by British director Lotus Hannon, released on the web today in honor of John Donne’s birthday. He’d be 544, which seems incredible to me because in so many ways his work seems so modern. As the greatest of the metaphysical poets, he’s been an indispensable touchstone for metaphor-obsessed 20th and 21st century poets in a way that most of his contemporaries have not. Oddly, however, I haven’t run across very many film or video adaptations of his works online, so let’s hope this one will inspire other poetry filmmakers to try their hand at a John Donne poem.

The Expiration was filmed by BAFTA Breakthrough Brit 2015 Cinematographer Anna Valdez Hanks and has so far been selected for the BFI LOVE season as part of the Cornwall Film Festival and for the StAnza International Poetry Festival in March. The actors are Azzurra Caccetta and Olivier Hubband.

In her director’s statement on the website, Hannon goes into some detail about how she came to make the film and why she chose the shots and setting that she did:

I was introduced to the love poetry of John Donne at high school and suddenly my literature class became a lot more interesting…suddenly his words made ‘one little room an everywhere’. I was able to channel my awakening teenage sexuality into becoming a metaphor sleuth, eagerly stripping away the layers of his work to discover hidden meanings. I found his observations of lovers and loving so beautiful, and The Good Morrow became one of my favourite poems.

John Donne’s honest exploration of life, love, sex, death – la petite mort, fascinates me. When I recently read The Expiration, I was captivated. There is nothing more charged than a ‘…last lamenting kisse,..’ nothing more precious than a love, ‘…which sucks two soules, and vapors both away.’ It was the sobering line “Turn thou ghost that one, and let me turn this,” that instantly brought an image of a couple that can no longer love one another, awkwardly lying close, sharing a bed, knowing they can no longer be connected. An overhead wide shot of a couple turning away from each other, lying back to back became imprinted in my mind,..from this, my ambition to bring it to the screen grew…

Originally I thought we’d shoot in an enclosed environment, inside a bedroom or a beach hut but as my vision for the piece developed, the poem’s earthiness, its grittiness demanded it be located outside. The title and the poem itself made me think of ‘lifeforce,’ or ‘chi’, which literally means breath, air, or gas. And as trees give us the oxygen that we cannot live without, I wanted to set it in the woods.

I wanted to capture the metamorphosis of a couple’s intoxicating sexual euphoria into a clear-headed, post-coital reality: Despite their passionate love, their relationship just cannot be. For me, The Expiration is not about a love that has just fizzled out. There is too much full-blooded passion, anger and too much raw pain. The act of passion creates life itself, and yet this is a love that has to be killed off. This led me to interpret the poem in the way I have. I hope to evoke the emotional effect this poem has on me, and to honour the wonder of loving and the bittersweet joy and pain it can bring.

Be sure to visit the Behind the Scenes page for the full credits list, complete with web links, and a series of snapshots of the filming. The website also includes a good biography of Donne as well as the text of the poem.

Une Mort Héroïque / An Heroic Death by Charles Baudelaire

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A fascinating, silent-film-style theatrical interpretation of Baudelaire by Ryan Kiggell of aya theatre company and Olivia Rose of GoodDog theatre company.

A fool, marked to die by a capricious king, is made to perform for the last time. A re-working of the prose poem by Charles Baudelaire; a modern parable on the place of art within the landscape of power and wealth. Both film and theatre, the piece was devised and filmed on a single evening in a public square in Paris.

Made by Ryan Kiggell and Olivia Rose, with GoodDog Theatre Co.
Produced by George Moustakas for aya and Green Rooms.

“An Heroic Death” forms part of a longer film, “The Last Songs of Lucan”, based on the poetry collection “Le Spleen de Paris” by Charles Baudelaire. This is a 17 minute silent film accompanied by live percussion by Jamie Misselbrook.

I don’t usually share poetry films or videos that include so little of the referenced poem, but this piece really captured the essence of Baudelaire’s melancholy text, I thought. Two English translations of “Une Mort Héroïque” are available online through Google Books, one by Aleister Crowley and another by Louise Varèse.

Af’a Gilgamesh / Gilgamesh’s Snake (excerpt) by Ghareeb Iskander

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A great poetry film by Roxana Vilk, combining videopoem (with an English translation in subtitles by John Glenday) and a brief explanation of the poem by its author, Iraqi poet Ghareeb Iskander. This combination is one Vilk has used to good effect in other films, too, but for some reason I missed this one until now, when I spotted it thanks to its inclusion in the ZEBRA Poetry Film Club channel on Vimeo. The unusually complete Vimeo description includes Vilk’s description of her process, so let me reproduce it in full:

This film is a result of a commission from Reel Festivals as part of Reel Iraq 2013 and funded by Literature Across Frontiers and the British Council.

Based on a poem by Ghareeb Iskander, Directed/Produced & filmed by Roxana Vilk, Edited by Maryam Ghorbankarimi and Sound Design & Music Peter Vilk, Poem translation by John Glenday, bridging translation by Lauren Pyott and Assistant Director James Sadri.

In January 2013 I was invited to create films inspired by poets and poems I encountered from both Iraq and Scotland as part of the Reel Iraq festival in Erbil. It was an incredible trip and an honour to work with Reel Festivals again.

I first heard Ghareeb Iskander’s poem, during a magical evening in the mountain village of Shaqlawa when the poets were sharing the fruits of the first days of translating each others works over a glass of wine.. or two….

As John Glenday read out in English his translation of Ghareeb’s poem, I was immediately struck by the imagery in it and how the sentiment resonated with how I felt on coming to Iraq for the first time – a mixture of feeling the weight of the history mixed with an aching sense of loss.

I should also add at this point that the poem in the film is an extract of a much longer work (in three acts) on Gilgamesh.

Image wise I was drawn to empty sites across Erbil. First of all the many building sites that lay scattered across much of the city and how they had this haunted quality – almost like abandoned old theatres.

I was also drawn to filming in the empty ancient Citadel in the centre of Erbil which dates back over 3,000 years and had 3 years ago been emptied of its inhabitants to be preserved as a UNESCO site.

Both these locations resonated with the emotional landscape in Ghareeb’s poem for me and also lent visual space to house the images he was creating in the language.

It was pouring with torrential rain for most of our trip which seemed fitting in some way with the sound world of Ghareeb’s poem and one morning I asked him to walk through an empty building site, reciting his poem in his mind, as the rain dripped loudly on the floor of the empty site.

In terms of colour I wanted to reflect back Erbil exactly as I encountered it in January – devoid of much colour and somehow the locations had a monochromatic feel. So our ever sharp eyed editor Maryam Ghorbankarimi and I worked together strip the images back of colour and then use just touches of colour to create contrast.

Sound designer and composer Peter Vilk used the found real location sounds I had recorded Iraq ( such as the rain) which he then treated and manipulated with his software to create his sound design score, alongside a melody he wrote on the piano.

For those interested in technicals – I filmed on a Canon 7D and captured separate sound on a Zoom stereo Mic, synching the sound later in the edit.

Commissioned by Reel Festivals as part of their Iraq Project 2013 and funded by Literature Across Frontiers and the British Council.

For more of Roxana film works please visit roxanavilk.com

Iskander explained the two-step English translation process in an interview at Arabic Literature (in English).

Bicycle Love Poem: Midtown to Canal by Jessica Jacobs

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This delightful film by Tom Jacobsen (Pixel Farm) was one of the winners of MotionpoemsBig Bridges Film Festival in Minneapolis last year. Sophie Jacobsen is the actress and Jesse Marks provided the sound mix. The many nods to selfie culture recall some of the best video work of Alt Lit poet Steve Roggenbuck.

For more on the poet, Jessica Jacobs, see her website.

National Service (with added talky bits) by Luke Wright

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British performance poet Luke Wright notes on YouTube,

Four months into my six month driving ban I’m getting nostalgic about motorway service stations. I miss rating my toilet experience.

This very basic video shot with a stationary camera is rendered thoroughly engrossing by Wright’s entertaining performance and the innovative (though deliberately not seamless) co-mingling of rhyming poetry and explication.

For women who are difficult to love by Warsan Shire

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An atmospheric video by New York-based artist BriAnna Olson for Warsan Shire‘s widely circulated poem.