I’m really pleased with the results of David’s piece—in terms of its quality of production and fullness of vision—and I’m honored that he examined and expanded my poem with such attentiveness to detail. The film captures the speaker’s dependence on her surroundings to make sense of her sensual experience, and it offers surprising visual nuance.
The unfurling of color and movement that the amaryllis provides feels necessary. Though in many ways the amaryllis serves to represent the lyrical speaker driving the poem, it feels like a surreal presence, which I quite like. I’m also really interested in the quivering soundtrack. It expresses the omnipresence of the snow and seems to hold the melt within it. Kellie Fitzgerald’s lush reading captures a longing that’s definitely present in the poem, and she gives it a force that makes me blush!
The November selection from Motionpoems is by their co-founder Angella Kassube, and I think it’s one of the best they’ve ever made. The minimalism here really works for me, in part perhaps because I like Dean Young‘s poem so much. The soundtrack (by Carly Zuckweiler) is a perfect match to Tim Nolan’s reading.
Good to see a major player in American poetry film use a reading from someone other than the author. It’s kind of surprising to me that poetry film makers rely so heavily on poets’ own readings, given that all too often we are the least inspired oral interpreters of our own words.
The September offering from Motionpoems is an animation by the co-director herself, Angella Kassube. Visit their website for the text. This is another selction from Best American Poetry 2011. Bridget Lowe is a young poet from Kansas City with a first book due out next year from Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Motionpoems’ free email newsletter quoted Kassube on the making of the film:
“From the beginning I knew I had to use the correct face and the correct eyes. But the line ‘World, there are two baskets / on my back’ – I didn’t know what to do with that. I built the section several times. I knew I didn’t want to use images of two baskets and fill them with something. I had already thought about how many definitions there are for the word ‘WORLD,’ and I had decided that World should be inside her head. There are the city and other images that represent outside influences on her world, but it is how she reacts to those things that creates her World. I realized she could look in two different directions and that could be a way to interpret the two baskets.”
The use of those eyes also stood out to Bridget: “The beautiful illustrations Angella used to tell the story (the eyes–so perfect!) balance explanation and mystery impeccably. Her timing as a director is likewise inarguably impeccable. Angella’s vision has compelled me to rethink how I read, and therefore present, my own work. What a gift.”
Here at Motionpoems, we’re always excited when we learn one of our films has inspired a poet to consider her work in a new light. Bridget continued, “The thing that most surprised and excited me about Angella’s interpretation was her ability to illuminate a playfulness in the poem that I hadn’t previously noticed fully. I knew the poem was one of pleading and desperation, but Angella’s version cut through some of that heaviness and landed in a place more like wondrous awe, which is what the poem announces itself to be from the beginning. I thought that was brilliant.”
The Motionpoem for July is short and sweet, the work of Scott Olson and Jeff Saunders. Visit the post at Motionpoems.com for some interesting viewer reactions (and to leave your own). And as usual, the monthly email sent out to subscribers included statements from both the poet and one of the filmmakers. Hirshfield said, in part:
“The Cloudy Vase” is very short–the whole video takes perhaps 20 seconds. Yet somehow, falling into the glass of the vase in the film is also infinite and outside of time. That mirrors perfectly what I myself find so paradoxical and thrilling about very short poems–the collision of brief and large. And the brutality of having to throw out a beloved’s gift of flowers is in there too.
I visualized the poem existing in its own space and time, stripped of any unnecessary visual connotations, distractions, or references, where any and every viewer/listener could step directly into the experience and be totally present for a few brief moments, hear the words, and be taken in.
See the Motionpoems website for the text. The animator and director is Adam Tow. As with April’s Motionpoem, the free email newsletter contained additional content not archived on the website — an interview with Tow.
Motionpoems: What made you choose this poem to work with?
Adam Tow: After reading all the poems available for this year’s event, ‘Thoreau and the Lightning’ was the piece that I had the strongest connection to. As I read it, I was reminded of my grandfather’s home in the country and the land around it. He was a hard working midwestern man that for some reason I felt had a lot in common with the character in the poem.
MP: What is this poem’s most important moment for you?
AT: For me, the lines that ask if he should “feel humbled” and “give thanks” are the crux of the story. The moving truck and estate sale sign are references to my experiences watching my grandfather’s estate being sold as his health deteriorated. Visually speaking, the tree exploding is my favorite shot.
MP: What was the biggest challenge in turning this piece into a film, and what was your solution?
AT: I struggled with how I wanted to interpret the final sentence of the poem. I had two ideas for what meaning to imply with the visuals (one involving a hearse, the other a moving truck). As far as how to depict things, I wasn’t sure how to show both the positive memories of the past as well as the farm’s abandoned state at the same time. I decided to use a shimmery effect to illustrate his memories overlaid on the farm’s present day appearance.
MP: What did you find most surprising in this process?
AT: It was interesting to see how much you can change the implied message of the poem just by altering a seemingly minor visual element. Also, hearing the music and voiceover for the first time was one of the most exciting moments I’ve had in the last year.
MP: Is there anything else you want to add?
AT: I have to give loads of thanks and credit to Scott Yoshimura (music composition/performance, voiceover) and Logan Christian (audio recording and mixing). I intentionally gave them zero direction and they knocked it out of the park, as I knew they would. Also, many thanks to David Wagoner for agreeing to let me humbly interpret his poem.
The latest release from Motionpoems, and the first of theirs, I think, to mix in some live footage of the poet alongside the animation (which is by Juan Delcan, who was responsible for the most popular of the Billy Collins animations, “The Dead.”). The text appears in Mark Strand’s latest book, Almost Invisible, which is a collection of prose pieces; the poem part of this video is the only lyric poem in the book.
By the way, if you join the Motionpoems free monthly email list, you get additional content which is not included on the website for some reason. This month’s installment expanded on the making of the video, and included some thoughts by Delcan and Strand:
For this motionpoem, filmmaker Juan Delcan shot live video of Mark Strand in his New York City apartment. He combined that video with drawings inspired by those of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. “I shot [Mark Strand] in 30 minutes and animated the piece in one afternoon,” Delcan told us. “Sometimes not having time to over-think it is the best.”
Delcan also spent time thinking about the purpose of the relatively new genre of poetry films. “I know there are a lot of purists that think that animating poetry is redundant and stops the reader from picturing its words in their own minds, and that the poem should be left alone. And in a lot of cases they may very well be right. But in the particular case of the poems I’ve worked on I feel they retrofeed each other, bringing it to a different genre.”
In response to the motionpoem, poet Mark Strand told us, “I liked the film’s simplicity, which is very much in keeping with the poem, or so it seems to me.”