Posts Tagged: Motionpoems

Falling Lessons: Erasure One by Beth Copeland

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Directed by Anh Vu for Motionpoems, this interpretation of a poem by Beth Copeland has been winning fans by the score on both old and new media. It was featured on PBS NewsHour:

Sometimes, what a poem does not say is the most important part.

That’s what Beth Copeland found while writing “Falling Lessons: Erasure One,” a poem that explored her father’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease.

Before his death four years ago, Copeland wrote a longer narrative piece about the last few years of his life. But then, she did something unusual: she deleted most of it.

That process of erasure was a way to put herself in her father’s place, replicating what had happened as his disease progressed.

“I became interested in the idea of erasure, because I felt that the process of erasure is a reflection of what happens to people when they have memory loss,” she said. “I found out as I was doing it that the distillation process made the poems stronger.”

“Erasure One” is the first in a series of three pieces. In each successive poem, Copeland used the same technique, erasing parts of the previous poem and distilling it to the words that are left behind.

Writing the series helped her understand more about her father’s mind near the end of his life, she said. “I had time to really reflect on the process that he had gone through … I think I did learn more about my father’s experience,” she said.

Director Anh Vu, working with the organization Motionpoems, brought Copeland’s poem to the screen in a short film. The film interweaves images of the natural world with books, papers and other evidence of academia — a combination of her father’s passions, Copeland said.

Copeland wrote more extensively about her parents, who both experienced dementia, in a new manuscript titled “Blue Honey,” which is seeking a publisher. “Writing about what happened to both of my parents has been an opportunity for me to process a lot of the feelings that family members have when they have someone in the family with some type of dementia,” she said.

A Staff Pick on Vimeo, Falling Lessons: Erasure One was also one of the first two Motionpoems to be released on YouTube by Button Poetry, which has, I believe, the most popular channel for poetry videos, with 502,636 subscribers and 109,923,559 views to date. Almost all the videos they share on YouTube and on their Tumblr blog are straight-forward documentary videos of readings or recitations, many of which they produce themselves, with a heavy emphasis on material from the spoken word community. So it’s been interesting to see the enthusiasm with which their fan base has reacted to Falling Lessons: Erasure One, uploaded on March 17, and The Mother Warns the Tornado, the Isaac Ravishankara film based on a poem by Catherine Pierce, which they uploaded on March 4. The former has been played 15,206 times and the latter 22,037 times—about average for Button Poetry videos. What is perhaps more astonishing is that the comments for both videos are entirely positive so far—apparently YouTube trolls haven’t discovered Button yet?—suggesting that the supposed gulf between performance poetry and mainstream poetry may not actually exist, and that we all need to do a better job of reaching out to this most obvious and receptive new audience for poetry film. Typical reactions to the two Motionpoems videos include: “Utilizing the power of film and score with poetry was a beautiful idea”; “I absolutely LOVE these motion poems, the perfect combination of visual artistry and spoken poetry”; “I would love to see more videos that are actually stories to poems! I was left speechless at the end of this. The poem itself is amazing but the addition of the visuals made it that much more powerful”; and “Please make a million of these.”

Click through to Vimeo for the full credits. Oddly, the film has not been featured as an “episode” on the Motionpoems website just yet, so I suspect there may be some interviews or other bonus materials in the offing. Keep an eye out for that.

Creased Map of the Underworld by Kim Addonizio

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Kim Addonizio‘s poem was adapted to film by Thomas Bryan Michurski for Motionpoems, where one can also read interviews with the poet and filmmaker. Addonizio’s reaction to the film was very positive:

I (naively) thought there’d be some images from the poem. But like how the words are set against the simple actions & the mood it all creates.

Michurski talks about the attraction of working mostly in advertising, then describes his approach to filming:

I like to prepare, but I don’t like to plan. I have shots in my head that I want, but experimentation is essential for me. I always have my fingers crossed for that surprising moment or happy accident. It’s like carving a marble statue–something good is already in the scene, I just need to chip away and find it.

Can you describe the creative process behind the film for Creased Map of the Underworld?

It was the first poem I read and knew immediately I wanted to work with it. I was drawn to the “innocence of death” idea. At first I struggled with how I could visually play along with the vivid imagery in the poem. The treatment I created was much different, using high contrast black and white, with a much more diverse scene and shot list, more like a music video. I realized as I was in first edit that I didn’t need to illustrate the poem because it was powerful enough. I wanted to add to the idea and not distract from it.

Did you find it more difficult to create a “poetry in motion” as compared to your other films?

The difficulty was removing myself from the need to “make a film about a poem”. I had to separate myself from belief that it had to follow a style, thus becoming a parody of another film. Once I decided that I didn’t care if anyone liked it, it was much easier to let all of the expectations go and just let it be.

What prompted you to use a specific animal to symbolize death?

It was between the girl viewing the body of an older self or discovering an animal. I even entertained a version where those visuals alternated, but the idea of how death sees death gets too twisted and meta in that scenario. The deer works well because its size and innocence matches the girl’s.

What do you hope that the audience will take from watching this film?

I hope they pay attention to an amazing poem told from an alternate perspective. As humans we have an adverse, and sometimes unhealthy reaction to death and we don’t appreciate the necessity and fascinating beauty of it.

Annabel Hess is the young actress, the narration is by Jan Pettit, and David Schnack is credited with cinematography.

Steel and Air: untitled prose poem by John Ashbery

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Motionpoems commissioned this film from the Minnesota-based documentary production company Sparky Stories (Chris and Nick Libbey), who describe it on Vimeo as follows:

Steel and Air. Space and time. In the heart of Minneapolis there is an iconic blue and yellow bridge that crosses interstate 394 and connects the Walker Art Museum sculpture garden with Loring Park. Beyond its physical utility, the bridge offers a perspective to its crossers. A perspective of the interstate traffic, of the city, and of the viewer itself.

Inscribed in its lintel is a poem commissioned by the highly-achieved poet, John Ashbery. This poem discusses, in typical Ashbery obscurity, one’s place in the movement of time. The film, Steel and Air, aims to capture and enhance Ashbery’s poem by chronicling a man’s journey through life and the wonderful, boring, and ultimately finite experiences that come with it. And then it got very cool.

The poem first appeared in Ashbery’s collection Hotel Lautréamont (Knopf, 1992).

Bicycle Love Poem: Midtown to Canal by Jessica Jacobs

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https://vimeo.com/144395508

This delightful film by Tom Jacobsen (Pixel Farm) was one of the winners of MotionpoemsBig Bridges Film Festival in Minneapolis last year. Sophie Jacobsen is the actress and Jesse Marks provided the sound mix. The many nods to selfie culture recall some of the best video work of Alt Lit poet Steve Roggenbuck.

For more on the poet, Jessica Jacobs, see her website.

The Long Deployment by Jehanne Dubrow

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In honor of Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, and in the U.S., Veteran’s Day, here’s a poem by Jehanne Dubrow adapted by Nicole McDonald for Motionpoems, whose monthly email newsletter describes it as “a love letter to all who’ve had a loved one overseas.” The poem is from Dubrow’s new collection The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press, 2015). Read interviews conducted by Jenny Factor with both the poet and the director on the Motionpoems website. I was impressed by the depth of the McDonald’s feeling for the poem and for literature generally:

The poem itself is so lush, so I experimented tremendously…I felt texture and light was key. A balance of dreamy, stark, and intimate shots. And so the wardrobe also needed to be balanced with this thinking. I adore the dress Britt Bogan wears in the last section, as it captures light so beautifully in its delicate textured details, just as Britt’s character does. […]

Homer has always had an impact on my art, especially his use of Dawn as a character (“rosy-fingered dawn…” I adore those visual transitions.). And Penelope of course was the role model of undisputed patience and blind faith. Buuut, I’ve often wondered what kind of life she lived while she waited? What did she miss out on because of those virtues? Are they virtues…? When do we release the pause button and press play?

I also liked this quote from Dubrow:

I was thrilled that the filmmaker created a visual vocabulary for the villanelle form. She repeats and overlaps images (particularly of a woman who often uses the same gestures or movements again and again) to embody the musical refrains and interlocking rhyme schemes of the villanelle. In this way, the film is a great teaching text; it offers a visual representation of the fixed form, enacting the villanelle’s obsessive rhetoric, its maddening desire to solve the unsolvable.

Be sure to read the rest (and see Vimeo for the full credits).

Somewhat parenthetically, I can’t help noticing that in a year of poetry films produced in partnership with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, this is one of the few that also has a female director, which presumably reflects a gender imbalance in the filmmaking industry at large. In the international poetry-film and videopoetry scenes specifically, however, many of the most innovative directors and animators right now are women: people such as Kate Greenstreet, Kathy McTavish, Martha McCollough, Lori Ersolmaz, Cheryl Gross, Kate Sweeney, Helen Dewbery, Marie Craven, Ebele Okoye, Nissmah Roshdy, Susanne Weigener, Anzhela Bogachenko, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Motionpoems’ own Angella Kassube. It will be interesting to see whether this continues to be the case as poetry film attracts more attention, or whether men will gradually take it over as so often happens when an art or profession becomes more prestigious. I hope that those of us who care about the genre can help prevent that from happening by making special efforts to enlist, reward, and draw attention to female directors.

Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge by Leonard Gontarek

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UPDATE: Read Lori Ersolmaz’ essay on the making of the film at Moving Poems Magazine.

This is Fourteen Photos from the Bridge, the winning film from last month’s Big Bridges poetry film contest, sponsored by Motionpoems and the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, and I’m pleased to say that the filmmaker is someone we’ve regularly featured here: the New York-based, grassroots multimedia content producer and visual storyteller Lori H. Ersolmaz. Here’s some of what she says about it on her website:

My submission was based on the winning poem by Leonard Gontarek, Thirty-Seven Photos from the Bridge. Expressing fourteen of the thirty-seven stanzas, I used original footage shot in Paris and Belgium and filmed locally during summer 2015. I’m especially excited about this award as it provides me with an alternative visual storytelling approach to social issues. I submitted the film in an effort to open dialogue about the current need to address structurally deficient bridges and infrastructure.

There’s a good bio of Leonard Gontarek at the Poetry Foundation.

How Not to Need Resurrection by Michalle Gould

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Motionpoems are really going from strength to strength these days. October’s offering is a powerful, highly effective film based on a poem by Michalle Gould. The film was directed by Diego Vazquez Lozano and Statten Roeg of Detachment East with a talented cast of actors and original music by Lozano and Claudio Aguilar Riquenes. (See Vimeo for the full list of credits.)

Motionpoems also produced a short video of Gould discussing her reaction to the film—


as well as a longer, text interview about the poem, conducted by Kevin Danielson. The whole thing is worth checking out, but I particularly liked Gould’s concluding remarks:

I really enjoyed the experience of seeing my poem made into a film. What I love about poetry is that there are so many different ways to read a poem, and having a film made out of your poem is a really unique way to view someone else’s perspective on your work and what they get out of it. Because I wrote this poem so quickly and instinctively, I’m not sure I had ever really sat down and reflected on what I actually meant by it, and I think this whole process has helped me understand it better than I did before.

Gould also blogged about the premiere of Motionpoems’ 2015 crop of films last May.

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