Poet: Nicelle Davis

The Poster Reads by Nicelle Davis

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The latest poetry animation by artist (and Moving Poems Magazine columnist) Cheryl Gross illustrates a poem by her long-time collaborator Nicelle Davis. Additional credits include “Voice: Robert Fisher, Music: David Michael Curry, Performed by: Willard Grant Conspiracy.” Cheryl’s succinct description is also worth quoting:

This video poem tells of the emotional impact that terrorist drills, conducted by police, have on a non affluent community.

A powerful, affecting poem. I like how the viewer/listener gradually comes to understand that what originally seemed like surrealist hyperbole is in fact all too real — though Cheryl’s drawings keep our attention focused on just how wrong and bizarre it is.

The First Hour of Being Buried Alive in the Walls of a Half-Built Cathedral by Nicelle Davis

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Like Betsy Newman’s video for Ed Madden’s “Red Star”, or film interpretations of Jade Anouka’s poems by Mickael Dickes and Sabrina Grant, this collaborative effort from filmmaker Anita Clearfield and poet Nicelle Davis shows how to include the poet as an actor while still keeping the main focus on the poem. I was alerted to its existence by a post at Davis’ blog, The Bee’s Knees: “Collaboration: The Walled Wife.”

The Walled Wife is a project that has haunted me for the past six years; it is my retelling of a story about a woman who is buried alive in hopes that her soul will hold up the walls of a church. “The Ballad of the Walled-Up Wife” is a folk song at least 1,000 years old; it is one of the most famous in the world, according to folklorist Alan Dundes. In an interview Dundes explains, “the song has inspired more than 700 versions — mainly throughout eastern Europe and India — as well as countless essays by scholars.”

Countless, he says.

Countless, I questioned, and so began exploring the many cases of women being buried alive. I compared variations of a song sung across the globe. The lyrics go: a wife is buried so a structure can rise—it implies a room is worth more than a woman, and as a place she approximates value.

I started to wonder if the architecture of intimacy is dependent on violence—if art is the ultimate form of violence—if women, especially in the role of wife, are worth anything (or nothing) at all? Countless being the inverse of priceless, it would seem that this ballad proves that we are not worth much at all. It shows that the easiest thing in the world to replace is a wife—it says a woman is a thing.

Read the rest to learn how Davis attempted over the years to re-create the experience of being walled up or buried alive, what she learned from it, and how she came to collaborate with Clearfield and composer Silke Matzpohl. The post also includes the text of the poem, which first appeared in Manor House Quarterly.

In the Circus of You (four poems) by Nicelle Davis

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Cheryl Gross’ animated films for poems by Nicelle Davis are the focus of this month’s Swoon’s View column by Marc Neys at Awkword Paper Cut. I realized I’d never shared In the Circus of You, so this seemed a good opportunity to do so. Neys writes:

You want to take your time with these. The poetry is clear and Nicelle’s voice works smoothly with the music. At first I thought these were too literal, yet I couldn’t stop watching them over and over again. Cheryl’s illustrations are just stunning and they allow the audience to comprehend and recognize the significance of the words. But it’s the way she weaves drawing after drawing combined with typography around the soundtrack that reels you in. You feel surrounded by the images, overwhelmed by each pen stroke. The drawings appear to be simple, but are alive and full of detail.

In the Circus of You serves a dual purpose as a poetry film and a trailer for a poetry collection of the same name, with animations of four of its poems: “Down the Trapeze of Bird Bones,” “The Clown in My Gut,” “I Know How to Bark,” and “Entering the Big Top of the Self Requires Help.” According to a page at the author’s website,

In the Circus of You morphs cultural clichés into living language again. This collection deals with themes of sanity, motherhood, monogamy, creative impulse, appropriation, and self-creation to create a sideshow of abnormalities that define what it is to be human. Poet Nicelle Davis and illustrator Cheryl Gross create a grotesque peep-show that opens the velvet curtains on the beautiful complications of life. The poems and images in this collection create a novel in verse where dead pigeons talk, clowns hide it the chambers of the heart, and the human body turns itself inside out to born again as a purely sensory creature.

This circus will be brought to you by the good people at Rose Metal Press in Spring of 2014.

Becoming Judas: five poems by Nicelle Davis

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These poems are from Becoming Judas by Nicelle Davis, forthcoming from Red Hen Press. The wonderfully whimsical drawings by Cheryl Gross are animated in a fairly basic style which the description at YouTube dubs “motion graphics.”

Cuba and Coltrane by Nicelle Davis

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A new Moving Poems production in support of the Whale Sound audio chapbook Studies in Monogamy: Poems by Nicelle Davis. For more about Nicelle, see her bio on the site. The reading is by Nic S., and the music is a cover of John Coltrane’s “Naima” by The VIG Quartet, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license and uploaded to SoundCloud. I blogged about the making of the video at Via Negativa.