Poet: Sarah Sloat

Bloodshot Cartography by Sarah Sloat

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The latest in an occasional series of Moving Poems productions matches Sarah Sloat‘s evocation of travel in the tropics to a beautifully decayed old home movie in a sort of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage. The soundtrack is courtesy of the bird-sound library xeno-canto, from recordist Rodrigo Dela Rosa in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. The footage has been lightly edited from a single movie at the International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM).

Since one of my main motivations in producing videopoems like this, apart from simply having fun, is to demonstrate to other poets just how easy it is, let me give a few more detailed process notes. The whole idea was prompted by viewing the footage (which was silent, like most old home movies, and therefore I think easier to imagine juxtaposed with poetry). I thought it might be interesting to pair it with a text that dealt with decay and/or travel somehow, and after messing around with some Elizabeth Bishop recordings — “Sleeping on the Ceiling” was one strong possibility — I remembered that Sarah Sloat had written something that might work.

I’m in London for the summer and my copies of Sarah’s chapbooks are back home in Pennsylvania, but a web search turned up the likely poem title (from Heiress to a Small Ruin), and since I’d worked with her before, it was simply a matter of emailing to ask for a copy (and of course permission to mess around with it). I experimented with a news ticker-like scroll of the text along the bottom of the screen, and shared that with Sarah via a private upload to Vimeo, but she felt that it was too distracting for a viewer to concentrate simultaneously on the text and the rapidly changing images, and offered to supply a voiceover instead.

I asked Sarah for three readings so I could pick and choose the best bits to combine with the rainforest soundscape (editing as always on Audacity, which is excellent, free, and easy to use). Then it was simply a matter of cutting and splicing the footage to fit. (I use MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, which is a cheaper and somewhat more sophisticated alternative to novice-friendly software such as Adobe Premiere Elements. Its widespread adoption means that most questions one might have about its use are addressed in tutorials on YouTube.) The biggest change I made was to apply a warm filter to most of the footage — all but the “northeast” portion of the poem, which retains the original, cooler look — for that “bloodshot” effect. That might seem like an essential edit, but in fact it was the last thing I thought of, and the video worked almost as well without it. It’s always tricky to decide how much literalism to allow in a videopoem, but given the abstract nature of most of the images, I figured I could get away with some pink, blood-vessel-like webbing here and there.

Grassland by Sarah Sloat

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A Moving Poems production in which I experimented with some abstract live footage meant to evoke animation. I sourced the
text—by American poet Sarah Sloat—from The Poetry Storehouse, where I also used one of the sound recordings, a reading by poet Amy Miller, to pace the titling, but then removed it from the soundtrack.

This replaces an earlier video I made for the same poem that I was never quite happy with, because its point of departure from the text was a bit too obvious and clever for my taste. (That one never made it onto Moving Poems.) The footage this time is a clip of fiber optic tips from Beachfront B-Roll, source of some the least generic free stock footage on the web, and the soundtrack is a public-domain field recording from Freesound.org of a prairie in eastern Oregon, complete with meadowlarks.

Speaking of Freesound, they’re currently on a fundraising campaign to cover their development and maintenance costs, which I’m guessing are not insignificant. Please give if you can. They’re a great resource for filmmakers and audiophiles.

Dictionary Illustrations by Sarah Sloat (2)

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I’ll end the week with a poem by one of my favorite poets, Sarah Sloat, interpreted by one of my favorite poetry-film makers, Marie Craven, in what I think is one of the most effective examples of the kinestatic style in videopoetry that I’ve seen. (Kinestasis is properly defined as “an animation technique using a series of still photographs or artwork to create the illusion of motion,” but I use the term, in the absence of a better one, a bit more broadly, to refer to any faster-than-slideshow series of still images in a video.) Craven’s masterful deployment of images from the Brockhaus Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (1890-1907) unfolds to music by Podington Bear and the Poetry Storehouse voice recording by a young boy identified only as DM. Someone on Facebook described the overall effect as “sumptuously austere.”

This isn’t the first poetry film to use this text; no less than Marc Neys AKA Swoon has also tried his hand at it. But Craven definitely gave him a run for his money here. Sloat’s text seems especially ripe for videopoetic adaptation, given its musing on the relationship between words and images. Pen-and-ink illustrations in a dictionary break up the columns of text, Sloat says, “like little windows opening / from one side of the brain // to the other.” That’s exactly what happens to me whenever I watch a good videopoem.

Dictionary Illustrations by Sarah Sloat

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Sarah Sloat is an American poet who works as journalist in Germany, and whose poems appear widely in print and online journals—including at The Poetry Storehouse, where Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon found the text for this film. As he notes in a recent blog post, it’s the first in a series of at least five films based on Poetry Storehouse poems that he has in the works.

I really loved the poem (the visuals) and the reading (so good) by DM.
Making a track for this reading was fun;
[listen on SoundCloud]
Broken rhythms crashing in a fleeting piano. Not much more was needed for this.
For the visuals I wanted to go back to my childhood.
As a kid I loved hanging ’round the local market. The colours, the noise, the shouting, the smell,…
I thought it might be a good idea to match this poem/soundtrack with images and footage from IICADOM.

Combining images from different market places with shots from local animals filmed at several travels. It gives the video the right amount of colour and naïve amazement I was looking for.

A reminder, for any poets who might be reading this: the deadline for submissions to The Poetry Storehouse is coming up on February 28. After that it will transition to archive mode, adding new remixes (including videos) only up through September.