I hadn’t expected to be so impressed by Blackwater Falls. The West Virginia state park was just a place to camp, conveniently located close to two microbreweries in the towns of Thomas and Davis, not to mention a portion of the Monongahela National Forest which my hiking buddy Lucy and I planned to explore the next day. But we dutifully went down to look at the falls after pitching our tents, and were blown away (see the photo in my postcard). The tannic color of the falls (whence its name) was striking, and the location in a wooded gorge couldn’t have been more picturesque.
I made an audio recording of the falls, then switched to the video camera. At a certain point, Lucy — who has an excellent eye — drew my attention to the water spraying off a large boulder at the foot of the falls and suggested that might make a good film “for a poem by you or Nic Sebastian.” I saw immediately what she was talking about.
After several more days of relishing the unparalleled silence, breathtaking scenery and wilderness quality of the “Mon,” we made our way back to Central Pennsylvania, and I discovered to my shock that Via Negativa and all its associated sites had been down for two and a half days (sorry about that). But my gloom at the unreliability of my webhost was soon cancelled out by my excitement at seeing what other, more diligent online poets had been doing during my absence. Luisa had continued to write daily poems for publication on Via Negativa even without the benefit of access to The Morning Porch archives for prompts, which is especialy impressive considering all her other commitments. And Nic Sebastian, who had recently decided to close submissions to Whale Sound, her online audio archive of contemporary poetry, had just launched a new audio project called Pizzicati of Hosanna, featuring her readings of work by dead poets in English, French, Spanish and Italian. One poem, Neruda’s “Fábula de la sirena y los borrachos,” seemed like it might make a good fit for my waterfall footage.
I whipped up a fairly literal translation — good enough for subtitling, I thought. But finding the right soundtrack consumed quite a few hours more, using various search terms at Jamendo, ccMixter and Soundcloud. Part of the problem was I couldn’t decide on the mood I wanted to establish. But once it became clear it should be elegiac (rather than, say, angry or dissonant), I quickly found something I thought might work. I shared the result at a private Facebook group where a few of us aspiring videopoets critique each other’s work, and was encouraged by their positive reactions. Brenda Clews suggested I increase the sound of the falls after the poem ends. I decided to go a little further and include waterfall sound throughout the title and credits, using the higher-quality audio from my portable recorder rather than what was on the video.
Here’s my translation, for those with dial-up connections who don’t feel inclined to wait for the video to load:
Fable of the Siren and the Drunks
by Pablo Neruda
All those gentlemen were there inside
when she came in completely naked
they’d been drinking and they began spitting on her
fresh from the river she didn’t understand anything
she was a siren who’d gotten lost
insults streamed down over her smooth flesh
filth drenched her golden breasts
she didn’t know how to cry so she didn’t cry
she didn’t know how to put clothes on so she didn’t put clothes on
they branded her with cigarettes and charred corks
and laughed until they fell down on the bar room floor
she didn’t speak because she didn’t know how to speak
her eyes were the color of distant love
her arms were made of twin topazes
her lips were cut from coral light
and she went out that door as suddenly as she came
no sooner had she entered the river than she was clean
she shone like a white stone in the rain
and without looking back she swam anew
swam toward never again swam toward death
Listen to Neruda himself reading the poem at Palabra Virtual.
Incidentally, speaking of Brenda Clews, she’s just launched a weekly series of blog posts reviewing videopoems, “videopoem Fridays.” Here’s the first installment.