Dark and like a videopoem


Watch on Vimeo.

Yesterday, my dad spotted a cecropia moth — newly eclosed, from the looks of it — on the side of one of the black walnut trees in the yard. This is the largest moth in North America, and it’s in the same Saturniidae family as polyphemus and luna moths (which have appeared on this same tree or its immediate neighbor two years in a row, in early August). I shot some video footage of it right away, but figured it wouldn’t be flying until after dark, so I went back at dusk with a flashlight to shoot some more footage.

This morning, it occurred to me that the nighttime footage might make a good fit with one of Nic S.’s poems from her recent nanopress chapbook, Dark And Like a Web: Brief Notes On and To the Divine, edited by Beth Adams. Nic had given me “blanket permission to use any and all of my stuff out there, any time” in a comment on my post about the new videopoetry album, so I didn’t have to worry about the fact that she’s off on vacation somewhere and probably not reading emails. The poem I had in mind, “on being constantly civil towards death,” is very short, but I’ve made at least half a dozen videos for haiku poems, and this is twice the length of a haiku. Would the text and the footage make a good pair? Maybe. It would depend on what I did with the soundtrack.

I downloaded the MP3 link off the chapbook’s website and listened to it a few more times. Due to the poem’s brevity, each line does a lot of work, so the first order of business was to make sure they didn’t go by so quickly that they wouldn’t register with a viewer. I could have slowed down Nic’s reading — my audio software has a function that lets you change the speed of a track without altering its pitch — but unlike many poets, Nic already seems to read at just about the right speed. So instead I lengthened almost every pause, a strategy that seemed to work well with the first poem of hers I did a video for, “the wanderers’ blessing.” This made the poem half again longer, though it was still pretty brief.

After listening to a bunch of Creative Commons-licensed pieces of music at Jamendo.com and ccmixter.org, I decided not to use any background music this time — it just didn’t seem to fit a poem dominated by a “great black stillness.” But from one death-metal track with a telephone ring in it, I got the idea of turning the poem into a phone call. It seemed appropriate for the overall theme of Nic’s chapbook — attempting to commune with a perhaps unreachable Other. This was good, because I conceive of the video not just as Moving Poems material, but also as something akin to a trailer for the book. (It helps that, as a paying customer of Vimeo, I now have the ability to conclude embedded videos with a clickable link.)

But yes, I did briefly consider using death metal in the soundtrack. Which is why you should probably be very careful about giving someone like me blanket permission to monkey with your work.

24 Comments


  1. A brilliant combination of poem and video

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    1. Yeah, I love short poems like that, which I like to think of as Transtromeresque.

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  2. Fantastic. I love how the flashlight glances over the body rather than staying static. And Nic reading anything is beautiful. Thanks for including your process of putting this together – I have recently gotten into photography/video as well (strictly amateur!) and this has given a few ideas I’d like to gnaw on for awhile.

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    1. Cool. I usually include some process notes (click on the videopoetry category link to browse others), but it’s been a while since I’ve gone into quite so much detail. In general I feel a poem or videopoem should speak for itself, so I tend to be a bit hesitant about posting process notes and becoming like the annoying person at a poetry reading who gives ten-minute intros to 30-second poems, but since I’ll be posting the same video to Moving Poems tomorrow, I figured I had to write something here to justify a separate post!

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  3. I am on vacation but reading email still! Love this, Dave – thanks much!

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  4. Very wonderful–poem, video, and videopoem. Thanks, both of you.

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  5. Nic’s brief poem is poignant. Lighting a candle to see the rich colours of darkness is the core of the poem—civility towards death. The moth and light in the video said it all. Out, out brief candle. Like a moth’s life thereafter. Bravo, Nic and Dave.

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    1. Civility towards death is such an alien concept in modern American culture, isn’t it? In this poem, as in so many of hers, Nic seems to be tapping into a deeper and more originary way of knowing.

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  6. I love this! The visual complements the words wonderfully. And I learned a new word–eclose, which surely must appear in a poem someday. Thanks Dave and Nic!

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    1. Thanks, Risa! That is a cool word, isn’t it? I originally wrote “emerged,” but then I thought, why let the risk of obscurity deter me from using the proper word? Besides, I figured the meaning would be fairly obvious from context.

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  7. Wonderful! It’s amazing how well you two collaborate. I have now seen two little films you’ve made of her poems, and I think they really work terrifically.

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    1. Thanks, Robbi. I think my typical strategy of using footage of other animals to illustrate poems about people is a particularly good fit for Nic’s work.

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  8. I first saw this yesterday, and it’s stayed with me. Such a great pairing of video with poem. It makes me want to try this for myself–with no experience at all. Thanks!

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