our first crowdsourced voiceover! Thanks to our voiceover artists John W. Goodman, Jeannie Elizabeth, Louis Murphy, Amy Miller, Jennifer Jabaily-Blackburn, Veronica Suarez, Carrie Simpson, Michelle Meyer, Juliet Patterson, Will Campbell, and Clare McWilliams.
Debaveye’s description on Vimeo:
Feeling empty. Null and void. Finding a new identity.
“At Thirty”, a visual poem about this feeling of being there but not being present.
Non-existent silhouette of ordinary people as they go about their lives in everyday chores.
The title poem from Meghan O’Rourke’s Once (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), adapted to film by L.A.-based directors Angela & Ithyle for Motionpoems. Logan Polish is the actor, Patrick Jones the director of photography, and John Hermanson of Egg Music composed the original score.
The Motionpoems website includes an interview with the directors, conducted by poet Jake Lans, that’s really worth checking out, because I think it’s fascinating to see how filmmakers used to working on commercials approach a poetry film assignment. Here’s a bit of it:
Many motionpoems utilize a voice actor to help convey the poem; you chose text. What inspired that decision?
As we were listening to different voices, we realized that any voice actor that we chose would really influence how the poem was understood by the viewer. As we talked about it, we realized that for us the imagination was triggered more authentically by reading than by hearing the poem performed. We really enjoy reading poetry and wanted to stay true to that feeling.
What moved you to choose Meghan O’Rourke’s poem? Did you consult with her while you were adapting?
It’s so young and nostalgic. We decided not to talk to Meghan about the poem because we had a lot of questions about the deeper context of the piece but felt that we needed to go with our own gut reaction after reading it, as one would do when reading a poem normally. We felt that having a greater insight into the poem, having all of our questions answered, would tie us too much to a “real” narrative.
When working with an organization like Motionpoems, how does the creative freedom differ from some of the other projects you have worked on?
It was a lot of fun to have the parameters of the poem and then just go for it. Most of our work is done for products or companies where we have objectives of the client and their culture to really think about (we do a lot of work in other countries) and with this, we could really explore our own motifs and personal mythology.
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. 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).
This delightful film by Tom Jacobsen (Pixel Farm) was one of the winners of Motionpoems‘ Big 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.
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.
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.