This is Filmpoem 50, a collaboration between Scottish filmpoet Alastair Cook and 20 other poets hailing from Scotland, England, Ireland, the U.S., South Africa and Belgium. I have a rule against posting films containing my own poetry to Moving Poems, but in this case my lines account for only 1/20th of the poem, so I decided not to be precious about it. Besides, it’s too important a poetry film not to feature. The composition process involved Alastair sending each writer a snippet of found film. To quote his original email:
You can be trite, erudite, short or shorter (no more than three or four lines) but the brief is this—Americana, the 1950s, travel.
All the clips are from the same batch of film and the artistic conceit is that a narrative will thread through these. This batch of film has this family move through America over the years, these boys grow up and some of the footage I have is heart-wrenching, always tinged with the salient and sombre fact that I source these from house-clearances, that the death of the filmmaker releases this footage to me.
The official description, from Vimeo and the Filmpoem website, reads:
Watch Alastair Cook’s brand new film, three years in the making, with new writing by twenty of the world’s best poets, sountracked by composer Luca Nasciutia and read by poet Rachel McCrum – screens worldwide from Autumn 2016. New ekphrasis work by poets John Glenday, Vicki Feaver, Stevie Ronnie, Janie McKie, Brian Johnstone, Jo Bell, Andrew Philip, Linda France, Dave Bonta, Angela Readman, Michael Vandebril, Gerard Rudolf, George Szirtes, Emily Dodd, Ian Duhig, Rachel McCrum, Robert Peake, Polly Rowena Atkin, Pippa Little and Vona Groarke.
This was originally planned as Filmpoem 40, but got delayed for a number of reasons, during which I believe the concept changed and matured a bit. I list Alastair as the chief poet here because it was his concept from start to finish, and he edited and moved around the submissions after they all came in. The decision to have a single narrator was, I think, a good one, but it’s amazing how well the conjoined text holds together on its own. Clearly, this is an approach to filmpoetry/videopoetry composition deserving of further experimentation. Alastair had been building on what he learned in making his Twenty Second Filmpoem back in 2012, which also involved 20 poets and some found footage.
In other Filmpoem-related news, I see that there will be a fourth Filmpoem Festival, or series of festivals, dubbed Filmpoem Sixteen, though it doesn’t sound as if we can expect an open call:
Filmpoem Sixteen will focus on a series of invited curated events. The first of these is at the Hauge Centre in Ulvik in Norway, where Alastair is artist in residence in May. Alastair has directed The Sword, a new film working with Hauge’s incredible landscape poetry, alongside readings by John Glenday, cinematography by James Norton and sound by Luca Nasciuti; the film will premier on May 12th. Alongside this new film, the Hauge Centre will screen a Scottih retrospective of Alastair’s work and selected works by others from the Filmpoem Festival submission archive.
Check back for further announcements as our new director Helmie Stil brings her own flavour to Filmpoem.
To make up for my prolonged absence (I’ve been relocating to the UK for the winter), here’s a whole triptych of filmpoems from Filmpoem itself: the crack team of filmmaker Alastair Cook and composer Luca Nasciuti, working in commission for a fascinating project from Northumberland-based poet Stevie Ronnie.
In July 2013 writer and multidisciplinary artist Stevie Ronnie visited the High Arctic as part of the Arctic Circle international residency programme. Arctica is a year-long series of interlinked artworks on the subject of climate change that Stevie has made in response to that experience.
These works are interdisciplinary in nature encompassing literature, performance, photography, artist’s books, film and a public art installation.
[…] The films also feature Arctic footage shot by US-based artist Michael Eckblad alongside found footage from Alastair’s collection.
‘What I Should Have Said’ is the first Filmpoem of the Arctica triptych. It takes us into the air as we settle in to listen – then brings us back to ground in the Arctic. This is a love poem to the family that Stevie left behind, originally composed shortly before he set off on his Arctic journey. ‘What I Should Have Said’ appears in Stevie’s collection of poetry ‘Manifestations’ (Red Squirrel Press).
‘Time and the Two Year Old’s Hands’ is the is the second Filmpoem of the Arctica triptych. It reaches the midway point of the triptych and turns back on itself, the hourglass turning over, injecting an urgency into this plaintive call for the survival of our children. The poem ‘Time and the Two Year Old’s Hands’ was composed as a creative response to the IPCC report on Climate Change that was commissioned by Tipping Point, the Free Word Centre and Spread the Word for the publication ‘Weatherfronts: Climate Change and the Stories We Tell’.
‘From Arctica’ is the is the third Filmpoem of the Arctica triptych. It brings us back from the Arctic to Northumberland and was originally composed in response to the tragic and unexpected death of a child in Stevie’s local community. This difficult and moving ending to the tryptich is about the about the acceptance of the unspeakable, the unthinkable and those things that are around us that we choose not to see. ‘From Arctica’ is an extract from a yet to be published poetic narrative that explores climate change, light, dark and our relationship with death against the backdrop of the Arctic landscape.
Watching them back to back, there’s a definite gestalt effect for me. Also, these filmpoems certainly put my own difficulties adjusting to a more northern latitude (London! Yowza) in perspective.
This new collaboration between filmmaker Marc Neys (Swoon) and poet Stevie Ronnie is the result of a unique writing contest at Awkword Paper Cut, which challenged submitters to write a new poem (or re-purpose an old one) in response to footage that Neys provided. Ronnie’s winning poem was one of seven finalists chosen by a distinguished panel of seven judges. The contest results page includes some process notes from Neys:
Footage: The woman in the video is my mother, holding a bust made by my sister of my dead father. Originally, the footage was shot for a video about ‘Roots’ (Heimat). I had made shots of my mother in places that were significant in my youth – our old driveway, my favorite forest, the place I secretly smoked my first cigarette, my first school, etc.
Soundscape: It’s a re-edit of a scape I made inspired after reading James Salter’s All That Is, about an older man looking back on his life and (lost) loves.
There’s also a full-length interview with the poet. Here’s a snippet:
The words were written in direct response to Swoon’s video. I watched it several times without writing anything down at all and then lines began to appear. The poem went through several iterations before falling into its final form. My approach is such that I tend to write without putting too much thought into the intended result but it did feel important to start with the video. I was also conscious of the need to avoid being overly descriptive; to leave some slack between the video and the text for the viewer’s imagination to slip into. I can see the advantages of starting with the images and soundtrack and I’d be keen to work in this way again. I think starting with the video forces me to let go of some of the control that I would usually have when writing a poem. Because I could sense the emotional weight that the video would bring to the final piece I was layering onto that as opposed to inventing the entire world of the poem with my words alone.
Congratulations to Stevie Ronnie, to the other finalists — and to Awkword Paper Cut for a successful and well-executed outcome to this innovative contest.
Twenty Second Filmpoem (the 22nd Filmpoem) is twenty 20 second Filmpoems; it was conceived when I was asked to do a pecha-kucha.org night. An interesting concept, you present 20 slides for 20 seconds; I thought I’d do something a little different, actually create some work for the event. I commissioned 20 writers, all listed below, to write flash fiction against some 1960s found footage I’d edited. It’s ambitious and inevitably some bits work much better than others, but for me it is imperative to push this a little, to leave my comfort zone. And invariable, all the writing is superb, and for that I am thankful.
I also took the opportunity of using Vladimir Kryutchev’s binaural field recordings, for which I thank him. His amazing binaural map of Sergiyev Posad in Russia is here: oontz.ru/en
See the rest of the description on Vimeo to read all 20 short poems. The poets are: Andrew McCallum Crawford, Mary McDonough Clark, Al Innes, Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown, Elspeth Murray, Janette Ayachi, Jane McCance, Donna Campbell, Ewan Morrison, Angela Readman, Gérard Rudolf, Zoe Venditozzi, Jo Bell, Sally Evans, Pippa Little, Tony Williams, Robert Peake, Stevie Ronnie, Sheree Mack and Emily Dodd. Dodd blogged about her part in the production. A couple of excerpts:
I received a link with a password for my film, it was number twenty (password twenty). The film was 1960s found footage and it was beautiful. Alastair had edited it to tell a 1 minute story.
I watched a woman in a white dress on her wedding day. She kept looking at the Best Man. I wrote my initial thoughts down and came back to watch it again, two days later.
My brief was to respond with a piece of flash fiction that could be read aloud within 10 seconds. Alastair wanted it to be short, two or three lines maximum, he said just a haiku in length.
When I was first commissioned I’d thought along the same lines as the bride… is this really me?
- What if I watch the film and have no emotional response?
- What if I can’t do flash fiction?
- What if my piece ruins the whole presentation?
And all of this ran through my head while waiting for a response from Alastair.
Thankfully, I had this reply within a couple of minutes:
No it’s bloody perfect x Baci x