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.

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.

One of my favorite poetry-film makers, Australian artist Marie Craven, just released this delightful video adaptation of one of my recent Pepys erasure poems. She says on Vimeo that the images are by Elisa Schorn circa 1900 (via Double-M at Flickr) and the music is by Adi Carter.

To my mind, this is one of the best things that can happen to a poet — way more fun than merely placing a poem in a magazine somewhere. It’s such an honor to have another artist incorporate one’s work into their own composition (and it’s why I license my poems under a permissive Creative Commons license, so they’ll feel encouraged to just go ahead and remix). Thanks, Marie!

Here’s a new videopoem I’ve been working on this week, incorporating text from two recent Pepys erasures. Both were written under the influence of heavy metal, so it seemed necessary to find a metal-ish soundtrack. Fortunately, there are some good bands still using Soundcloud and releasing content under permissive Creative Commons licences, and the Dublin-based industrial metal band Voxillary is one of them. For the images, I used a combination of some recent, off-the-cuff videos of my own and clips from a marvelous old home movie in the Prelinger Archives, brought to my attention by a link several weeks ago on Twitter from author and Twitter humorist Steve Huff.

I thought about recording a reading to combine with the music, but in the end went with text-on-screen, which has been my choice more and more of late, I’m not sure why. But if you want to hear a version of the song with lyrics, it already exists. And good lyrics they are.