Entry. We are submerged in motion, unable to stop or focus. A shadowy figure in the near background draws our gaze — the only still thing, until it starts slowly walking out through what look like waves. The colors are warm and the instruments in the soundtrack seemingly acoustic, though difficult to identify beyond genus. Simultaneous with the beginning of the poem recitation, a female face appears. She too eventually turns away from us and begins moving away. “Exit Strategies.” Is she the same as the first figure at an earlier point in time? Regardless, is this not how we perceive ourselves moving through familiar spaces, memories of previous journeys over-layering, adding thickness and nuance like ghosts of our own past? The poem says:
You are never alone in the being alone, and the wolves will open up, show you the light if you let them. … Steady now, and breathe. A circular motion. The turning of a screw. A radio going silent in the warehouse of a mind.
Wave. In this second video, the movement is more frenetic, swooping, diving, but there’s a pattern to it, a kind of Tourette’s. The colors are darker and redder; it might be sunset. “Maybe the trees will take us for granted. Maybe they already have.” First a fire plug and then a bulbous water tower dance in and out of view. “You and I … you and I…” The refrain-like structure of the poem is echoed by the film’s repeated sequence of a flag or stringless kite billowing and falling to the ground. “Nearer to the edge of the forest” says Tomaloff, and there are trees visible on the screen. This unusual conjunction of word and image seems like an accident, maybe an oversight comparable to Swoon’s misspelling of the publisher’s name in the credits. In the poem, you and I might be returning with our weapons. This might be a poem in which we are stealers of souls.
Drag. (Swoon notes in a feature on this series at the Atticus Review, “I wanted each video to have a title that was a single word from the text of its poem. Those words/titles gave me a first direction about where to go to with these.”) The most painterly of the videos so far, with soft colors and textures. As for the text, it’s my favorite of the six poems.
The buildings are silver bullies in the daylight, hulking graveyards by night. Please send a flare, a map, or a compass. Send me a slingshot, or a prayer. … There is a flood on the horizon tonight, and the guards have begun to desert their towers. THE WATER HAS REVEALED US IN WAYS WE COULD NEVER HAVE IMAGINED.
That last line puts me in mind of New Orleans after Katrina. But throughout the series of videos I feel underwater or at sea. Fortunately, I enjoy that sort of thing — surrendering to time and chance, getting good and lost. At the very end of this video, a snippet of found sound: “Actually trusting my body to do what it’s supposed to do,” a woman says in an unplaceable American accent. She could be from anywhere or from nowhere — which is to say, the suburbs.
Asylum. Black and white, this one, with intrusions of color — a pastel blue, shockingly out-of-place, which turns out to be the dress on a walking figure. Creaking noises in the soundtrack while Tomaloff hints at an interrogation from “the authorities.” Oases of blurred, almost-stillness in which someone might be going out or coming in. Then back to the nervous motion, the walker’s legs crossing thin lines of shadows which, due to the video treatment, seem almost to pierce them. If I didn’t know the text came first, I might’ve thought it was a commentary on the filmmaker’s technique:
I drew pictures of women and men doing their best to relate to one another, like lines drawing lines upon lines, over and over again, insecure. … The rafters are humming; bullhorns, relentless; the fields are dividing; they know me by this name: Penance. Vibrant lights scribble non sequiturs across cracked plaster.
We catch brief glimpses of a face in full color appearing to study something. “The men in plainclothes finish cigarettes while we wait.”
Attic. An uncomfortable head-on gaze of a male face behind the usual elusive moving surfaces, which this time include many brief artifacts from old movies. “Some sort of perdition, some rules for the road.” And: “A team of ghost prayer horses.” Just after the conclusion of the reading the soundtrack begins to catch and stutter, as if overwhelmed by the glut of textures.
Sum. The orchestral beginning almost evokes the swelling soundtrack in a classic movie as the lovers ride off into the sunset. And indeed we are travelling, possibly by train, among soft blurs and warm colors. The fit of text to image is as good as it gets in these videos. The poem begins,
O SOLEMNLY STAY THIS, MY FILM PROJECTOR HEART. I WROTE THAT SENTENCE FOR A FIRE ONCE. I built a fire from a forgotten friend. I drew ghost water from a lover and took it to bed, a train. This is my machina, with its gears softly turning beneath the rolling of a forest floor.
Brief moments of sharp focus startle. Which might be just about the most realistic thing I’ve ever seen in a film, because isn’t that in fact the way we experience our lives? Always dreaming of exit strategies, and very seldom pausing long enough to see where the hell we are. In these videopoems, as in the e-chapbook that spawned them, coherence is fleeting but all the dearer for the effort we must make to achieve it. And the dialogue between filmmaker and poet makes me listen more carefully to poems I might otherwise have dismissed as hopelessly obscure.
I feel even more insecure about my film reviewing than I do about my poetry reviewing, but given that this is probably the most ambitious online videopoem chapbook anyone’s yet made, I couldn’t let the month go by without attempting to say something about it, no matter how incoherent. And in case you’re thinking I got off easy today since there were only six poems in the chapbook, I did watch them three times in succession, only reading the text after the first viewing.