Just as the third Thursday in November is American Thanksgiving, the first Thursday in October is British National Poetry Day (albeit with less carb-loading, and poetry readings instead of American football). Given that live events have been severely curtailed by the pandemic, I thought we’d better help out by sharing something from one of our favorite British videopoets, Janet Lees. (Janet is Manx, so British but not UK. I checked, and yes, they do celebrate National Poetry Day there.)
Janet uploaded this film back in July, noting:
Poem, photography and animation by Janet Lees. Poem made from perfume brand names.
Music by Scott Buckley scottbuckley.com.au
Wonderful stuff. So many advertisements have appropriated poetry in recent years, it’s fascinating to see how successfully Janet has turned that around and re-purposed consumerist language for a found poem. It feels as if, in a small but significant way, poetry and truth-telling are reasserting their primacy. Decontextualized desires and impulses shape a Neverland of mutable landscapes, unreliable weather and continually shifting baselines. (Which is one way to characterize the entire Anthropocene.)
Among other things, this really demonstrates the importance of poets learning to make their own films. It’s hard to see how a videopoem like this would be made otherwise.
A new video from artist and poet Janet Lees, who calls it
A film poem for the end times
Words & imaging by Janet Lees, with thanks to Richard Heinberg for the title. Image taken on the last Thursday in April 2020.
Music, ‘On a Thursday in April’ by Crysalide Shoegaze
The piece encourages us towards a wider-awake vision, towards more sensitive ears, with attention facing both inwards and outwards, and on the perceptual spaces in between. True to the soul of our times, it is deeply moving and beautifully well-realised.
George Simpson is the creator of the soundtrack, providing a track called “Artemis”, from his album Still Points In The Turning World. Emotionally affecting, with an elegant and simple extended first movement, followed by expansion into expressive drama, the music coherently accompanies the visual and textual elements in an organic way.
All the elements of this video merge to become an audio-visual experience far more than any sum of its parts.
Isle of Man-based poet and artist Janet Lees has long been an important figure in the international poetry film scene, often collaborating with Terry Rooney, but recently she’s been experiencing a creative surge, she told me, and one only needs to visit her Vimeo page to see the evidence: a number of new, generally very short films that showcase her range of interests and stylistic approaches. One constant in her work is the preference for text-on-screen. She also often deploys just a single shot, which works because—as I’ve come to learn by following her on Instagram—she has a terrific eye. Her one-line description on IG: “everything is poetry”.
Janet Lees‘ latest poetry film: “Written & filmed by Janet Lees. Music – ‘Scriptures’ by Post War Stories. Edited by Glenn Whorrall.”
The music plays an unusually prominent role, but I found the interplay between the lyrics and Janet’s text on the screen intriguing. And because the music was so much a feature, the slow-motion single shot felt almost like an ironic commentary on the fast cuts and frenetic camerawork that characterize so many music videos.
U.K. poet Janet Lees and photographer and videographer Rooney are among my favorite poetry-film collaborative partnerships; every one of their too few videopoems is a small gem. Marc Neys profiled them back in 2014: “The Real and Pure Worlds of Janet Lees and Terry Rooney.” The above is a film he didn’t include in his piece, but to me it’s a great illustration of the poet’s dictum that less is more. Mayto Sotomayor is credited as editor.
“Written & filmed by Janet Lees. Edited by Glenn Whorrall.” Thus the Vimeo description. But there’s much more information on the British poet and artist (plus her regular partner in videopoetry collaborations, Terry Rooney) in the new “Swoon’s View” column up at Moving Poems Magazine. Marc Neys describes their films as “short and sharp as a razor … a breath of fresh air in these times of cultural abundance and profusion of advertising.” And Lees provides some background on each of the four films Neys has selected. About this one, she writes:
‘The hours of darkness’ features footage of flamingos that I took in a wildlife park in the middle of winter. I found the sight of the flamingos in this big gloomy shed electrifying – there was something both prehistoric and post-apocalyptic about it. In my mind, I knew there was only one poem for this film – ‘The hours of darkness’, which I’d written about a year before, inspired by the anodyne yet always to my ear potentially sinister messages contained within in-flight announcements and other forms of mass communication. Here, the repeated phrase ‘May we remind you’ assumes an increasingly dark, Orwellian tone.
Go read the rest (and check out the other three films).