This unusual and ambitious poetry film, created for the seventh season of Motionpoems by directors Jamil McGinnis and Pat Heywood, includes words from five different NYC poets, as Heywood explained in an email (links added):
The film is an adaptation of the poem ‘Things I Carry Into the World’ by Cynthia Manick. It’s an abstract meditation on the body, the feminine, the everyday realities of being young and black, and the fragility between the manmade and the natural. We worked with an incredible nonprofit, Urban Word NYC, who teamed us up with four poets: Esther Aloba, Nkosi Nkululeko, Makayla Posely, and Trace DePass, the scenes featuring them are actually adaptations of their own poems, heard briefly in the opening scene. We ended up with moments from four separate films, crafted under the umbrella of Cynthia Manick’s original poem. We found adapting poetry into film to be creatively liberating. Sort of like putting together a thematic puzzle; juxtaposing images, observing, asking questions, and finding moments of meditation to digest the poem’s text. We had our theater premiere at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis on October 27 and our online premiere on NOWNESS on November 6.
The poems excerpted at the beginning are “untitled” by Makayla Posely, “Rule #1” by Esther Aloba, “band-aids & other temporary healings” by Trace DePass, and “From the Inside” by Nkosi Nkululeko. See Vimeo for the complete credits.
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.