Videopoetry

My own videopoems, plus videos made by other people for poems that originally appeared at Via Negativa. This is a sub-category of Poems & poem-like things, but posts are also cross-listed to Video (which contains a few non-poetry-related videos, too). I maintain a separate blog devoted to videopoetry: Moving Poems.

Luisa’s poem from last Saturday seemed like a good match for a video I shot on my iPhone through the dusty window of a Greyhound bus as I was leaving Newark, New Jersey on Monday. The light was wonderful and evocative, as were the murals on the wall below the train tracks.

Footage shot from car, bus and (especially) train windows is exceedingly common in videopoetry, but I’m hoping my use of moving text saves this instance of it from cliche.

A quick, silent videopoem made with text-on-screen from the latest erasure poem. I’m indebted to a friend, Rachel Shaw, for commenting on the footage I’ve used here — a shot of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, which I posted to Facebook last night — that it was “weirdly beautiful with the sound off. Like anemones and seaweeds waving in the current.”

This comment was much in my mind as I selected lines for the erasure poem, which lo and behold turned out to be just the right length for a half-minute video. Enjoy.

During a visit to Kew Gardens the other week, I was charmed by the interactions of the visitors — a highly multi-ethnic crowd — with an installation called The Hive, by artist Wolfgang Buttress, which is designed to raise consciousness about the plight of bees and other pollinators. Looking at the videos I shot on my hand-me-down iPhone, I was reminded of an old poem-like thing that seemed to complement the footage rather well, which I later supplemented with a couple of other shots from Tate Modern. After extensive tinkering, I decided that the best soundtrack was simply the audio I’d picked up at The Hive, which generated a kind of ambient soundscape “triggered by bee activity in a real beehive at Kew.” Unfortunately, the gardens are right under the flight path of jets landing at Heathrow, but given the subject matter of the videopoem, that noise didn’t seem entirely out-of-place.

Since I’m spending the summer in London, where the wifi is blindingly fast compared to Plummer’s Hollow, it would seem like a waste not to make at least a few videopoems. My latest came out of a road trip this past weekend, in the course of which we visited the Flag Fen Archaeology Park near Peterborough and the John Clare cottage not far away:

The first lines came to me in a dream as I was sleeping in a room at the Bluebird Inn, next door to Clare’s cottage, where he worked as a potboy in the early 19th century. I didn’t get back to sleep for hours, which kind of sucked, but I’m fairly pleased with how the poem turned out. We stopped along the road the next morning to shoot the extra footage with which the video concludes. The first part of the video shows a section of the 3000-year-old preserved causeway at Flag Fen where bronze swords and other items were ritually deposited in the mud in a place which archaeologists believe was favored for its liminality — part land, part water. The John Clare poem quoted at the end is “Autumn,” which ends:

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

A week ago, I made a videopoem recycling an old text of mine to accompany some marvelous footage of a birder struggling through quicksand from an old home movie of unknown provenance. The metaphorical possibilities were just too good to pass up:

This followed a video I made for a poem by Sarah J. Sloat, also using old-home-movie footage in a kind of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage, as I wrote when I posted it at Moving Poems.

I included some rather detailed process notes that I hope might be of especial interest to poets who’d like to get into working with videopoetry. Sarah wrote,

This poem began with my wondering whether the word ‘amazon’ had anything to do with ‘amaze,’ and finding out it doesn’t. Mix in a little homesickness, lack of sleep and antipathy for insects, and it’s done. The poem was originally published in Crab Creek Review.

Australian singer and artist Marie Craven is one of my favorite makers of poetry videos, so I was flattered and pleased last month when she surprised me with a video based on one of the first poems in Ice Mountain:

Watch on Vimeo.

She used some of my own still photos for a slideshow-style video with the text in subtitles and an instrumental track by Josh Woodward. It all hangs together rather well, I think. Then today she released another video based on the book:

Watch on Vimeo.

This time, she collaborated with her composer friend Paul Dementio to turn my words into a song, and built the video around it using stock footage. Here’s the text:

7 March

paper birch trees can only bend
so far before they break
under the weight of freezing rain

rhododendron leaves
tough as old scrolls are stripped
by starving deer

but some always resprout from the roots
having who knows how many
lifetimes of practice

It’s always such an honor to have one’s words incorporated into other artists’ work. Thanks, Marie and Paul!

Visit Phoenicia Publishing for more about the book, and to order.

View on Vimeo.

Did you know that some people use “snowflake” as an insult? Apparently being unique and sensitive—i.e. being human—has no place in Trumpland.

Up until now, my attempts at videohaiku have mostly consisted of single, long shots followed by the text, in imitation of the stereotypical composition process: contemplation leading to an ah-ha moment. The much more popular approach is to make a video with three shots in imitation of the three lines into which haiku tend to be arranged (outside of Japan, where they’re traditionally written in a single line). But it occurred to me during a bout of insomnia this morning that two shots would better represent the grammatical structure of a haiku, which is nearly always broken by some sort of pause (often represented by a dash or colon in English). The interplay between this two-part grammatical structure and the three lines/units of morae is essential to the rhythmic effect of haiku.

Both the shots here were filmed with an iPhone 5S.

Belgian artist and musician Marc Neys A.K.A. Swoon is one of the most original makers of videopoetry (AKA poetry film) in the world, and when he offered to make a book trailer for Ice Mountain, I was thrilled. However, I think you’ll agree that the video he produced is much more than a mere trailer — it’s an original creation in its own right. I supplied most of the footage, but the choice of what to use and how to mix it was all his. He asked me to record a montage of lines and stanzas from the book, which he let me pick, then chose additional lines to display as text-on-screen. The music, which he composed first (and asked me to comment on before finalizing) guided the composition of the video.

Ice Mountain: An Elegy is due out on January 25. If you missed my earlier post, here’s the back-story. And if you’d like a further sample of the contents, I’ve posted a section at DaveBonta.com. (I still feel faintly ridiculous typing that URL!)

Late afternoon in a forest in autumn. A boy is standing with his head thrown back, looking up into the trees. He spots a large leaf spiralling down and runs forward to catch it. He holds the leaf in both hands and gazes at it thoughtfully. The next scene shows him carrying the leaf to a child’s school desk in the middle of the forest. He sits down, sweeps a layer of fallen leaves off the desk with one arm and smoothes out the leaf he caught. He finds a felt-tipped pen in the desk and begins to write on the leaf:

Dear
ground,
thank you for
always being there
for us. In my dreams,
sometimes you aren’t and
I go on falling until I wake.
Thank you for letting us sleep.
Thank you for your enormous
reserves of darkness, which
we have been burning to
keep the darkness at
bay, ashes to ashes.
Thank you for
letting us
all fall
down.

The voiceover is in a child’s voice at first, but after the word “sleep” it switches to the voice of an adult, and the boy turns into a white-haired old man at a full-sized desk, still writing on the same leaf in the same forest. The man takes the letter, folds it carefully along the seam, then again cross-wise, and keeps folding until it is an inch wide. He places it in his mouth, chews and swallows. He stands up, walks to a spot between the trees, lies down in a fetal position and closes his eyes. A time-lapse sequence shows his body being buried first by fallen leaves and then by snow, till he is little more than a bump. Cut to the final scene, in which the boy has just caught the leaf and is still gazing down at it. There’s an adult voice off-screen calling his name and saying that the park is about to close. He squats down and slides the leaf carefully under some other leaves, gives it a couple of pats, then stands up and runs off-screen toward the voice. Fade out as leaves continue to fall.