Wild Whispers: New Mexico by Sabina England and Chaucer Cameron

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Watch on YouTube.

Last week we shared a film from the series of 12 that were created for the Wild Whispers project. Each video was made in response to a poem by Chaucer Cameron in the UK. The poem went through a number of ‘blind translations’ in a film-making chain across the world, each video uniquely expressing the poem’s transformation through languages.

This film in the series is by Sabina England, whose brilliant Deaf Brown Gurl appeared on Moving Poems back in 2015. She says this about her Wild Whispers film:

When I first read the poem, it made me think of Native Americans and how much their ancestors had greatly suffered through history. As a Deaf Bihari/South Asian American, I wanted to highlight the themes of suffering and refuge of the poem by showcasing Native American culture(s) and show that despite centuries of cultural genocide, settler colonialism and violence, Native people and their cultures still thrive and resist to this day. I also wanted to draw a parallel between the sufferings of Native Americans with refugees from all over, including Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. As an immigrant in the USA, I wanted to honour Native Americans by showcasing the beauty of the Navajo language and Pueblo cultures in New Mexico.

Lastly, Plains Indian (Native American) Sign Language was a major influence on American Sign Language, which I used to perform the poem with Navajo voice over.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico
Country and place of production: New Mexico, USA.
Languages: Navajo, American Sign Language and English.
Filmmaker and editor: Sabina England.
Translators: Meryl Van Der Bergh (Dutch to English translation), World Translation Center (Navajo), Sabina England (American Sign Language and improved English prose).

Breaks and Tunnel Vision by Kate Tempest

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No one straddles the line between music and poetry better than British spoken-word superstar Kate Tempest (website, Wikipedia page). Here’s a live performance in the studios of Seattle’s KEXP radio station of the closing tracks from Tempest’s 2016 album Let Them Eat Chaos. The video was edited by Justin Wilmore for KEXP’s popular YouTube channel.

Tempest’s band members are Kwake Bass on drums, Dan Carey on synths and Clare Uchima on keyboards. I wanted to contrast her extremely passionate and intense performance style, which is more than enough to carry a video, with the following film interpretation of “Tunnel Vision” on Tempest’s own channel:

London-based director Akinola Davies Jr (bio here) told mxdwn Music that it was “an honour to collaborate with an artist like Kate and be entrusted to make visuals that we both think best reflect and fit with the body of work she has created. She is an exceptional artist and the positivity of her team has been inspiring.” For the full credits (which are extensive: a reminder that professional music videos are typically made on a much higher budget than poetry films!) see the YouTube description. The video also appears on Davies’ Vimeo page.

It Would Sound Like a Dream by Camille Rankine

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New York City-based poet Camille Rankine recites her poem in a new film directed by Irish photographer Matthew Thompson.

This is from a new YouTube channel of poetry videos from something called The Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation, which “aims to expand access to poetry and educational poetry materials, gathering outstanding poems from across places, eras, and traditions for audiences worldwide to enjoy.” Thompson has directed all of the films so far, and they all feature either the poet or other readers reciting and, as it were, inhabiting the poems. The films were produced in association with the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and Poet in the City, London, so there’s a good, transatlantic mix of poets.

I imagine the project was already planned before the pandemic hit, but it’s a great model for others who want to produce these kind of performance videos, especially for poetry that isn’t necessarily performance poetry, and therefore may be more writerly and difficult to convey in one reading. I’ve watched almost all the videos in their “Read by” series, which are exclusively voiced by the authors themselves, and didn’t see any that were marred by the sort of boring recitations or “poetry voice” that are often the norm in live readings — and mar all too many poetry channels of this kind. I don’t know how much of that is down to the care that producers have taken in choosing whom to film, or whether poets may have received coaching from voice actors. (I can tell you from long experience of mostly unsatisfactory performances myself that reciting poetry well is not easy!)

The channel also includes a shorter series, Words We Share, “a limited series for spring 2020, in which poets and actors at home share poems of solace and resilience and thoughts on creative practice during unprecedented times.” Here’s Camille Rankine’s contribution to that series:

Lost by Caroline Reid

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Lost was written by performance poet Caroline Reid in South Australia, teaming up with film-maker Pamela Boutros to produce this warm and frank video. The notes on the Vimeo page describe it this way:

A playful fusion of poetry, visual art and film in which a reflective middle-aged poet discovers that life’s interruptions to writing poetry are the very substance from which poems emerge.

Caroline was one of the top five Australian Poetry Slam finalists in 2018 and 2019. Her bachelor’s degree is in theatre and writing. This collaboration with Pamela Boutros brings together its creative elements so well.

garden by Caleb Parkin

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A film adaptation of Bristol-based writer Caleb Parkin‘s poem by Marius Grose, who shares some process notes on Poetry Film Live, where it first appeared two weeks ago.

The poetry film garden was made during April 2020 which was the beginning of the Corona virus lockdown in the UK. This meant that the production process was a bit different to how I would expect to work in normal times.

Caleb and I had discussed making a film towards the end of March and when lockdown happened, we suddenly had time to start a project. Using the internet we were able to work remotely and to collaborate using email, Zoom and the telephone.

As the poem is set in a garden we did not need to go out to get footage, so we could work and maintain the lockdown rules.

For me the main challenges were learning to use my DSLR camera to shoot movie footage and finding visual equivalences to the images in the poem. Household objects, from feather dusters, plastic tubing and dental floss, were pressed into service.

In discussions with Caleb the blurring of boundaries between the human body and nature became a theme that influenced how I approached the edit. Layering of images, keying and masks are central to the look of this film.

Hard to believe this is Marius’ first poetry film! But he’s worked in TV postproduction for decades, and says this was “a bit of a kid in a sweet shop experience.” Go read the rest of his remarks — and check out more of Poetry Film Live while you’re there.

frog_poem_text.doc by Annelyse Gelman and Chaucer Cameron

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frog_poem_text.doc is a videopoem from Annelyse Gelman in Berlin, whose earlier film-making and poetry have featured at Moving Poems over some years.

This film was made as part of Chaucer Cameron’s marvellous Wild Whispers project, which involved an array of artists around the world. Chaucer’s original poem was sent on a transformative journey through different nations, in a chain of writing, translation, reinterpretation and finally film-making. The project inspired very interesting and varied videos, reflecting the shifting ways we understand and express language, both textual and filmic. At its completion, Wild Whispers had inspired 14 distinct texts in 10 languages and 12 unique poetry films.

Annelyse’s film came towards the end of the two-year process of the project’s evolution across cultures. The words are almost unrecognisable from the original poem, more like a deconstruction and reconstruction of it. She arrived at this via Google Translate. The voice is synthetically generated. She has written about her approach:

I was interested in maintaining some of the imagery and observational eye of the original text while transforming its sensuousness and sentimentality into something cold and mechanical, and in working with a software collaborator that can produce, but not understand, language. (read more)

Of the 12 films in Wild Whispers, this one may have the closest relationship to a history of experimental cinema starting in the early 20th century. Still now this is a movement often abandoning populist or classical approaches to text, whether narrative or poetic, and with a similarly expanded and exploratory approach to making films. It is a movement that continues to be strongly allied with avant-garde art.

Shadow by Alice Oswald

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Alice Oswald is a very well-known and loved poet, especially in the UK, her native land, where she has been Oxford Professor of Poetry since October last year. Her poem Shadow is at the heart of this video commissioned by The Poetry Society, also in the UK.

The video is by Defacto Films based in Texas. There is no information to be found on the web about the people involved in Defacto. In any case, this is a beautifully simple audio-visual accompaniment, intimately evoking nature as a bed for Oswald’s voice. The image stream is again of green nature, creatively literal and well-edited in way that adds new feeling to the poem.

Oswald’s list of major poetry prizes is long and it’s easy to see why. With Oswald’s voice, the film’s sounds and visions of nature, the overall piece is darkly profound and beautiful.