I’ve gotten a couple of months behind on the 12 Moons videopoetry collaboration between Erica Goss (words), Marc Neys/Swoon (concept and directing), Kathy McTavish (music) and Nic Sebastian (voice), so here are parts X, “Hunter’s Moon” (above) and XI, “Trapper’s Moon” (below). About the former, Marc writes:
The wind in this poem led me to a film I used earlier; ‘Terror in the midnight sun’ (Virgil W. Vogel)
I created a ‘windy’ scape using blocks of sound Kathy provided me with, added Nic’s reading and started playing around with the footage. (Different grading, colours,…)
In the end I only used one sequence. Played with repetition… I added a light layer of flickering windows to emphasize the wind even more.
For “Trapper’s Moon,” Marc notes that
Kathy provided me with a beautiful soundtrack, full of nostalgia and melancholy. A perfect fit for Nic’s intense reading.
I wanted very simple and pure images to go with this music. Preferably nature. A forest. Solitude.
Ephemeral Rift filmed one of his winter walks, I edited out a few bits and played around with colouring and timing in a split screen.
Ironically, one of the reasons I got behind on sharing them was because I took almost two weeks off to go to the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in October… where one of the big draws was seeing all twelve films in order on the big screen, with both Marc and Erica in attendance to introduce them and answer questions afterwards. It was an utterly captivating experience; the films flowed really well one into another, which might not be obvious if you watch them individually on the web. I hope that won’t be the last time that the whole project gets shown in a theater.
This is not the first time that Nic Sebastian—known for her great reading voice—has made a videopoem with text-on-screen rather than voiceover, but it may be her most satisfying example of that sort of videopoem to date. The text, by New Orleans-based poet Charlotte Hamrick, comes from The Poetry Storehouse, and the soundtrack is by Matt Samolis.
Amid racial tensions in communities such as Ferguson, Missouri, and following the unwarranted deaths of young black men like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, two slam poets confront what it means to be black men in America and in their communities. Theo Wilson, once a victim of police brutality, delves into his internal struggle of dealing with the past encounter, remembering how powerless he felt in the face of his oppressor, and his ensuing resolve to change the rules of the game. Beneath the smoldering anger and aftermath of police violence is a growing disquietude toward the future of race relations. Jovan Mays, the poet laureate of Aurora, Colorado, uses his spoken word to express the turmoil of emotions and experiences inherently attached to growing up a black boy in America.
These two related poetry films are by Mary I. Stevens, an associate producer of digital video at CNBC. They deserve to be seen widely in the wake of yet another grotesque miscarriage of justice in the racist police state that the United States has become. Those of us who have the luxury of merely wallowing in outrage and not fearing for our lives (yet), simply because we happen to have been born with white skin, need to hear the testimony of the victims of police violence and humiliation, and ask ourselves whether our anxious calls for peaceful protest aren’t motivated more out of a desire to sweep unpleasant realities under the rug rather than to actually confront the glaring inequities in our society.
Jovan Mays and Theo E. J. Wilson, A.K.A. Lucifury, are members of the Slam Nuba team, who won the National Poetry Slam in 2011. The first film, an artful blend of interview and poetry, contains a few excerpts from the performance of “Burning House” featured in the second film, but devotes much more space to a poem recited by Mays, “To the Black Boys.” The song “Look Down Lord,” included in both films, is performed by Dee Galloway.
To mark the passing of legendary Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Shepilov Barry, Jr.—a unique figure in the American political landscape, to say the least—here’s a terrific performance poem by Kenneth Carroll, mixed with the drumming of a street musician named Vinzee. It’s from the “eclectic documentary series” The Angle Show from Park Triangle Productions and director Gemal Woods. (They do quite a bit of poetry, which is really refreshing for a documentary series.) The video was posted back in December 2011, and the accompanying text notes:
We wanted to have fun especially with this great piece by Kenneth Carroll. I think we did. He is a genius.
Vinzee…just met him traveling. He was gracious to share with us.
Kenneth Carroll doesn’t appear to have a website, but here’s his page at the Poetry Foundation.
(Hat-tip: Sandra Beasley on Facebook)
The last of the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest runner-up poems was written in response to the very same footage by Lori H. Ersolmaz that prompted the winning poem by Amy Miller. This time, the poet is Michael Biegner:
This ocean is a gray tidal yank,
That speaks with a blurred accent
of wild greens and blue – the yellow
skin, the sad-eyed light,
these make up the neurons of dark storms.
This frame is a blight of opaque water and dying
movement: go on and be brave.
Sea birds carry word of a drowning in the canals,
To all the lost faces,
To the pink buildings. Helium
lifts the mylar thinking. Salt drops are alive everywhere.
Slog on, unfocused – to the place
where breathing cannot be felt,
where it is not the kind of music we can play by ear.
The resulting film is, I think, quite different from Backward Like a Ghost — which suggests just how central the poem is to our experience of a poetry film. Peter Danbury is the reader.
Biegner described his writing process as follows:
Writing is a generative process for me. I chose Lori’s film because it was rich in composite images. I quickly realized that I could view her work as one views an abstract painting. I found a cozy corner in my favorite coffee shop one afternoon and played the video over and over, each time writing feelings, emotions, suggestive links that came to me as I watched the video and took in the soundtrack. I did not worry about line breaks (I tend to write for voice anyway, so most breaks occur during natural breath points).
After developing the mass of the poem, I began to whittle it away, almost like a sculptor chiseling away flecks of marble. I wanted the end piece to be stark, because the sound track made me feel a barrenness; its repetitiveness paints a great dearth.
The recurring theme of water in Lori’s work also finds its way into this poem. I start with the ocean tugging, suggesting muscle, gravity, a primal force. The drowning is an invented conceit implying the inherent dangers of water. It highlights the struggle of making one’s way (slogging) through primal forces that surround us.
The looseness of the focus of many of the shots connects me to memory: its fragility, its subjectivity. The flashing lightning reminded me of firing neurons of a brain. So when I was done, I had a poem that dealt with these two diametrically opposed aspects of humanity: the physicality of existence, and the realm of memory where we seem to dwell.
Muscle memory, of course, is the way the human body is able to repeat movements with little or no input from the brain. Lori’s video evoked in me the contrast of what we plan versus what we do; what we contemplate in action versus what we allow ourselves to do from some other parts of us.
Lori Ersolmaz has already written at length about the making of her first film from the contest, but had this to add about Muscle Memory:
I am honored to have been able to work with not one, but two wonderful poems from the Poetry Storehouse 2014 Anniversary Contest.
When I received Michael’s poem I re-read it numerous times and felt that it was important to let it breathe. The poem gave me the room to spread it out from beginning to end. I find it incredibly interesting that visuals can help stoke emotions across mediums in subtle, varied, yet common ways—vice versa! Michael’s poem provided a wonderful screenplay that in many ways touched upon my own emotions when I first created the film. For instance, at the beginning, “Yellow skin, sad-eyed light, these make-up the neurons of dark storms…” is a concept about capitalism that I often grapple with and captured my feelings perfectly. I wanted to allow that idea to merge with the imagery from the very beginning and is why there’s such a long break until we hear a voice again. Peter Danbury’s narrative arrived the night before I started editing and his inflection and annunciation of Michael’s poem clicked with me immediately and influenced my use of space within the three-minute film.
I am grateful for everyone who I had the opportunity to collaborate with on the Poetry Storehouse Anniversary Contest, but in hindsight I wish I had more time to actually spend conversing with the poets before I finished the composed pieces. I feel in the future I can gain additional perspective if I connect with them in advance of the final cut. Nonetheless, the process I experienced while working with and viewing all the poems and remixes for the contest will stay with me for some time.
Thanks again to all the poets and filmmakers who took part in this challenging and, I think, ground-breaking contest. We’re all the richer for it.