Hope is the thing


Watch at Vimeowatch at YouTube.

This is not the video I intended to make. When I contacted Nic S. on Tuesday to ask if she’d be willing to record a reading of Dickinson’s poem, I’d just seen the one hundredth example of someone trying to illustrate the poem with a video of a goddamn bird, for christsake. I’d just shot some good footage of a toad that afternoon, and I thought, why not use that? Then this morning, I got some further inspiration and shot a dandelion sead head (that’s “dandelion clock,” for you Brits) blowing in the wind. It was gorgeous. It had “thing with feathers” written all over it.

The problem is, when I went ahead and made a videopoem with Nic’s reading over-top a recording of a wood thrush with the toad and dandelion clips, it was just too… you know. Too pretty. Dickinson wrote the poem in 1862. 1862! Hope was in pretty short supply that year.

So I took an hour’s nap, and when I got up, the solution was clear. Fortunately, the Prelinger Archives obliged. God, I love the internet! But not as much as I love Emily Dickinson.

11 Comments


  1. That’s amazing. I want to say that it changes the whole context of the poem, but maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it just puts it in a historical context that I’ve never thought of before. That was really great, Dave.

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    1. Thanks. It occurs to me that this must have been influenced by that great scene in Good Morning, Vietnam where Louis Armstrong sings “What a Wonderful World” over scenes of carnage and devastation.

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  2. Wow – I like this thought-provoking juxtaposition very much. Part of it is definitely the contrast with how we are used to seeing or expect to see this poem made concrete – this departs from that norm and in doing so, provokes thought. Thanks, as always!

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    1. Well, thanks for the reading! And I’m glad you weren’t able to get it to me right away, because as I said in the post, my original idea didn’t turn out so great, but somehow did lead me in the right direction.

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  3. Dave,

    This is truly great.
    Incredible footage and the sound of that bird that keeps on going, and going…just like the images.
    That against the great reading of Nic.
    Really good job.
    The kind where I say: “wish I had that idea”

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    1. High praise. You know I don’t consider my work in the same league as yours, so I really appreciate your saying that.

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    1. Glad you liked, Peter! I thought of you and your interest in the Civil War as I was making it.

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  4. Fine work, indeed, and a skyhook rescue of this poem from the fridge-magnet crowd. The continuity of the bird’s song, uninterrupted by human carnage, is astringent and reminds me of the pervasive disinfectant odor of an operating theater.

    Nic’s reading is masterful. Dickinson is so condensed and elliptical that her work seems impossible to read aloud, much like the unplayable late string quartets of Beethoven. But Nic invests each word with a different weight; she doesn’t play with expectations, but transcends them.

    Surely this one is a must-show at AWP-related events.

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