“Meet the Queens of Quarantine Poetry” is Houston Public Media‘s only slightly clickbaity title for this seamless blend of interview and videopoem. From the YouTube description:
In this time of quarantine and self-isolation, two friends have been co-writing a series of poems inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.
Houston poet Melissa Studdard and Seattle poet Kelli Russell Agodon connect across the miles through Zoom to read their poem “When We Get Lonely, It Will Be Together” and to describe what it means to create art during a pandemic.
I follow both poets on social media and have been reading their collaboratively written quarantine poems with great interest, so it was wonderful to get some background on how the project evolved: out of their pre-existing habit of writing together in a virtual shared study space, using video conferencing software and reading each other’s drafts on Google docs. It’s great that they’re letting the rest of us read over their shoulders, as it were, especially given the pressure from literary journals to hide all one’s poetry away in order to keep it eligible for submission. I advise following Kelli and Melissa on Twitter, where they post the drafts as jpegs. Here are links to some of the more recent ones, posted on April 21, April 22, April 25, April 27, May 5 – two on that day, and May 8.
This may be my favorite Motionpoem to date. The title poem from Melissa Studdard‘s new collection is impressive in itself, but it would’ve been so easy for a filmmaker to ruin it by choosing conventionally “cosmic” imagery, or by illustrating some of the more quotidian images in the text. Instead, as director/producer Dan Sickles told Rosemary Davis in an interview,
My way into this poem was an experiential familiarity. It’s an articulation of a moment of utter presence, where a mundane activity provides a portal to divine contact. The poem is elemental, and speaks of nature, life, and death. I wanted to aid in an ethereal, celestial experience of Melissa’s words through film, to inspire a feeling rather than a literal interpretation.
What was the first image you thought of after reading this poem?
The first image I thought of after reading the poem was a shot of the entire planet floating in space. Ultimately, that inspiration boiled down to this idea that size, a juxtaposition of micro and macro shots, and fluidity/liquidity in camera movement were the basic ground rules for how we approached production. […]
I was in Puerto Rico for the premiere of my last film, Mala Mala, which we shot on the island over the course of three years, and that’s when we shot this, the day after our premiere. I was after a particular tone expressed in the poem, which I felt could be best represented by the raw, dense, natural landscape in Aguas Buenas and surrounding towns outside of San Juan.
And his approach resonated with Studdard, as well:
I love it! In fact, it is specifically because they avoid the predominant metaphor and related images that they are able to so skillfully tease out subtext. I felt much more understood than I would have if they’d simply shown someone eating a pancake and drinking tea. By pairing the textual imagery with this new visual imagery, they further elicit the sense of creation, sustenance, and elemental divinity at the heart of “I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast.” Rather than timidly toeing the periphery of the poem, they brave the thick inner brushland and cut new paths back out. That is as it should be. They’re not here to merely represent my poem. They’re here to create a new work of art.