Videopoetry

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series The Temptations of Solitude

Watch on Vimeo.

The other videopoem that my friend Marc Neys AKA Swoon surprised me with at my birthday party (see yesterday’s post) was this interpretation of a poem I’d written in response to a painting by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, one of a series of ekphrastic poems I wrote in response to his series of paintings The Temptations of Solitude. (These poems were later collected along with the work of five other poets in a beautiful little anthology called The Book of Ystwyth: Six Poets on the Art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and you can watch the videos of our group reading at the 2011 book launch.)

I made my own videopoem with this text back in 2012, and while I wouldn’t call it a failure, I do think it rather pales in comparison to Marc’s. Nevertheless, it’s fascinating how the creative spark originally struck by Clive continues to give rise to new works of art. As Clive himself commented when I shared the video on Facebook last month: “I love the way art begets art begets art begets art. This is hauntingly beautiful.”

Sadly, this is among the last videopoems that Marc plans to make for a while. He told me he’s taking a year off from filmmaking to concentrate on other things—especially his music. Here’s hoping that when he does go back to making poetry films, it will be with new energy and fresh perspectives on the genre. His influence over the international videopoem and poetry film scene so far has been enormous.

For what it’s worth, I’ve added this and the videos I shared yesterday to the Plummer’s Hollow Poet channel on Vimeo, which is probably the best place to browse videos made with my own poems (since I don’t share those at my site Moving Poems).

This entry is part 29 of 29 in the series Conversari

Back in 2011 and 2012, Rachel Rawlins and I had a public dialogue in poems and photos between this blog and hers. Usually I would write a poem, and she would respond with a photo that commented on the text in some way. We called it Conversari. Recently two new videopoems have extended this exercise in ekphrastic call-and-response.

Back on February 27, the Saturday after my 50th birthday, Rachel and a bunch of other friends surprised me with a videopoetry-themed party in the upstairs room of a nearby pub in London. Our friends Marc Neys and Katrijn Clemer came over from Belgium for the weekend, and Marc—AKA Swoon—acted as VJ at the party with a whole program of videopoems by different masters of the art, including two new ones of his own using texts I’d written. One of them adapted the poem “Hit the Lights” from the Conversari series, with a voiceover contributed by Rachel, which significantly changed how I heard the poem. (I didn’t even recognize it as my own at first, which is always a pleasure.) Marc incorporated some great footage of brown bears, a choice which gains in significance as the film proceeds. It was a terrific videopoem all around, I thought:

Watch on Vimeo.

On my birthday itself, we had gone to the old resort town of Southwold on the East Anglian coast, and were blessed with unseasonably warm and mild weather. We stayed in a grand old hotel associated with Adnams brewery, one of my favorite British brewers. I’ve shared some of my still photos from that trip, but I also shot some video footage, including a couple of great, unscripted moments from Rachel, one in our hotel room and one on the beach. The other day I finally thought of a way to use it, tweaking another poem from the Conversari series (mainly adding a couple of lines to make a better fit with the imagery). Here’s the result:

Watch on Vimeo.

This entry is part 33 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

por un minuto de vida breve
única de ojos abiertos
por un minuto de ver
en el cerebro flores pequeñas
danzando como palabras en la boca de un mudo

for one minute of fleeting life
the only one in which eyes are open
for one minute of seeing
small flowers dance in the brain
like words in a mute person’s mouth

*

has construido tu casa
has emplumado tus pájaros
has golpeado al viento
con tus propios huesos

has terminado sola
lo que nadie comenzó

you’ve built your house
you’ve put feathers on your birds
you’ve struck the wind
with your own bones

alone you’ve finished
what no one began

*

una mirada desde la alcantarilla
puede ser una visión del mundo

la rebelión consiste en mirar una rosa
hasta pulverizarse los ojos

a glimpse from the gutter
can become a complete worldview

rebellion consists of gazing at a rose
until your eyes are reduced to dust

Árbol de Diana (Tree of Diana), nos. 5, 16 and 23

One of the great advantages to being here in London is the super-fast internet. Without it, I doubt I would’ve seriously entertained the idea of making a bilingual videopoem with both the original poetry and the translation alternating in the soundtrack — it takes hours to upload a three-minute video file back home in Pennsylvania. Also, I was able to work closely with my co-conspirator here, Jean Morris, who came over to the house last week to record the the three Alejandra Pizarnik micropoems I’d chosen for the video (the first three from this post). In existing recordings of Pizarnik, the poet’s voice is slow, almost dreamy, and Jean tried with I think considerable success to imitate that quality without going so far as to actually mimic her Argentinian accent. I recorded my own reading later on, trying also to keep it slow and quiet. Jean also offered some valuable suggestions for improving my translations (she’s a professional translator; I’m a mere dilettante) and gave feedback on the imagery I’d had in mind to use.

The footage of the construction site at sunset had come first, shot out the back bedroom window. That made me think of these Pizarnik poems, which it seemed to me might form a unity with it. I shot the other footage purposefully for the project a few feet from the back door. (That rose had still been in bloom as late as December 15!) Finding the music was as usual a frustrating and time-consuming process, but at length I settled on a track at ccMixter which included some klezmer-like fiddle, a nod to Pizarnik’s Ashkenazi background. Enjoy!

Here’s a videopoem we made as a sort of New Year’s card to Via Negativa readers, similar to the solstice-themed videopoem we made last year. The footage is all stuff I shot since arriving in London in December (including the hardy soul swimming in the pond at Hampstead Heath—brrr!). I compiled it in rough form and Luisa wrote the following text to go along with it:

Song for Turning

What does the orphan
bird know, picking through the years’ detritus?

And what do worms know of melting glaciers,
as they burrow deeper beneath the last republics of trees?

And in the pond, glassy and riddled with green,
how will the fish translate the water’s

churning clockwork, the cities’ flimsy
defenses against the wind?

A line of buoys marks the space
where arms made windmills in summer.

Sometimes, the sun has the effulgence
of a bride in the middle of winter.

Luisa A. Igloria, 1 January 2016

The music is part of a track called “London in Winter” by The Passion HiFi, licensed Attribution-only under the Creative Commons.

Here’s wishing all who read here a healthy, happy, and creatively rewarding New Year.

This entry is part 32 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Watch on Vimeo.

A powerful new film from the Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe in response to a poem by the Uruguayan writer Rafael Courtoisie, which is included in the soundtrack. Jean Morris supplied the English translation used in the subtitles.

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Poets in the Kitchen

Here in central Pennsylvania, summer’s full bounty is upon us. SWEET CORN signs pop up along every road and highway, causing mini traffic jams rivaled only by those at the farm stands offering early peaches. In the woods, chicken mushrooms appear on random stumps and logs almost overnight, neatly stacked like piles of bright orange books, while in the meadows, blackberries are ripening so fast that the bears and human pickers together can barely keep ahead of them. Our neighbors’ free-range chickens are laying more than ever, though judging from their strident daily celebrations, the novelty of this creative act has yet to wear off. They’re watched over by a rooster named Clem who sounds the alarm at the first sign of a predator, even driving deer away from the neighbors’ big vegetable garden. His late rival is in the freezer, but this living rooster is likely to feed them ten times more.

All of which is to say I can’t imagine a better time of year to launch a new series featuring the intersection of poetry and culinary arts: Poets in the Kitchen. When I emailed Luisa about it last week, I was pleased to learn that she already had plans for a cooking-related writing project, so the series will give both of us a chance to try out some ideas. But we want to extend an invitation to guest contributors as well. If you’re a poet and there’s some recipe you’ve invented, inherited or otherwise made your own, we’d love to hear about it. Posts in this series will be centered on recipes (or recipe-like things such as instructions for hog butchering, pickling, or making maple syrup) written as plainly or as lyrically as you like. The recipes should be accompanied either by original poems (reprints are fine) or lyrical prose vignettes establishing some connection with poetry. Images, videos, and audio recordings may also be included. We don’t have a formal submissions process around here, but you can contact me or Luisa with any ideas you might have, and we’ll take it from there.

Why poets? In the first place because Via Negativa is a poetry blog, but also because we are fascinated by the contrast between the abstract—some would say spiritual—nature of writing and the essential corporeality of preparing food. And the manner in which these two types of creations are intended to be consumed couldn’t be more different. Or could it? Is it possible to cook for the ages? Can we say with Rumi that our poems are like manna, made for such immediate consumption that “Night passes over them, and you can’t eat them any more”? We want to probe connections not only between writers and what they cook or eat, but also the larger relationship of writing/literature to appetite and desire.

To whet your appetite, and perhaps suggest avenues of exploration, over at Moving Poems Magazine I’ve assembled an annotated gallery of “Ten Culinary Poetry Videos.” Here’s one of them, Thomas Lux’s “Render, Render” as animated by Angella Kassube—a poem about writing that uses metaphors from the kitchen:

This entry is part 11 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Watch on Vimeo.

Story of My Death

I dreamed of death, and it was very simple:
I was cocooned in a silk thread
and at each of your kisses
another loop unwound,
and each of your kisses lasted a day
and the time between two kisses
lasted a night. Death was very simple.

And little by little that fatal thread
was unwinding. There was no longer more
than a single loop held between the fingers…
When suddenly you became cold
and no longer kissed me…
and I loosed my grip, and my life was gone.

Historia De Mi Muerte

Soñé la muerte y era muy sencillo;
una hebra de seda me envolvía,
y a cada beso tuyo,
con una vuelta menos me ceñía
y cada beso tuyo
era un día;
y el tiempo que mediaba entre dos besos
una noche. La muerte era muy sencilla.

Y poco a poco fue desenvolviéndose
la hebra fatal. Ya no la retenía
sino por solo un cabo entre los dedos…
Cuando de pronto te pusiste fría
y ya no me besaste…
y solté el cabo, y se me fue la vida.

*

Leopoldo Lugones - photo by Eduardo Vargas Machuca
photo by Eduardo Vargas Machuca

I translated this poem (with some invaluable assistance from Alicia E-Bourdin on Facebook) specifically with the intent of pairing it with that footage of cabbage white butterflies—which, when I shot it last week, I already recognized as having a certain Lugones-like feel. So it was just a question of finding the right poem. Running the Spanish and English side-by-side on the screen is a new experiment; I don’t know if anyone else has done it before. But most books of poetry in translation published in the U.S. include the original poems on the verso pages, so it’s tried-and-true approach for print.

Of all the early 20th-century Latin American poets in the Modernismo movement, Leopoldo Lugones may be my favorite. Even if he weren’t, I’d still feel obligated to include him in this series; his influence on Argentinian letters was inescapable. The English Wikipedia article on him is pretty threadbare, but the Encyclopedia Brittanica does a decent job.

Leopoldo Lugones, (born June 13, 1874, Villa María del Río Seco, Arg.—died Feb. 19, 1938, Buenos Aires), Argentine poet, literary and social critic, and cultural ambassador, considered by many the outstanding figure of his age in the cultural life of Argentina. He was a strong influence on the younger generation of writers that included the prominent short-story writer and novelist Jorge Luis Borges. His influence in public life set the pace for national development in the arts and education. […]

Lugones was director of the National Council of Education (1914–38), and he represented Argentina in the Committee on Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations (1924). He was also noted for several volumes of Argentine history, for studies of Classical Greek literature and culture, and for his Spanish translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

An introverted man who thought of himself primarily as a poet, Lugones was genuinely uneasy about the prominence that he had achieved and the public responsibilities that it entailed. He became a fascist in 1929. Under great emotional strain in later years, he committed suicide.

This entry is part 9 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

[untitled]

A small gesture would be enough,
made lightly and from a distance
for you to come with me
and for me to hold you forever…

Basta-me um pequeno gesto
feito de longe e de leve
para que venhas comigo
e eu para sempre te leve…

*

Farewell

For me, and for you, and for the others
wherever the others are,
I’m leaving the raging sea and the quiet sky:
I want solitude.

My road is without a sign and without a landscape.
So how do you recognise it? — they ask.
— By the absence of words, the absence of images.
Not a single enemy and not a single friend.

What do you need? — Everything. What do you want? — Nothing.
I travel alone with my heart.
I’m not wandering lost, merely un-met.
I carry my course in my hand.

Memory has flown from my head.
Flown my love, my imagination…
Maybe I’ll fade before the horizon.
Memory, love and all the rest, where are they?

Here I leave my body, between earth and sky.
(I kiss you, my body, all disillusioned!
Sad flag of a strange war…)

I want solitude.

Despedida

Por mim, e por vós, e por mais aquilo
que está onde as outras coisas nunca estão,
deixo o mar bravo e o céu tranqüilo:
quero solidão.
Meu caminho é sem marcos nem paisagens.
E como o conheces? — me perguntarão.
— Por não ter palavras, por não ter imagens.
Nenhum inimigo e nenhum irmão.

Que procuras? — Tudo. Que desejas? — Nada.
Viajo sozinha com o meu coração.
Não ando perdida, mas desencontrada.
Levo o meu rumo na minha mão.

A memória voou da minha fronte.
Voou meu amor, minha imaginação…
Talvez eu morra antes do horizonte.
Memória, amor e o resto onde estarão?

Deixo aqui meu corpo, entre o sol e a terra.
(Beijo-te, corpo meu, todo desilusão!
Estandarte triste de uma estranha guerra…)

Quero solidão.


Film by Swoon (Marc Neys) in memory of his mother, using the above translation and reading. Read Marc’s process notes on his blog.

*

Serenade

Allow me to close my eyes,
I’m so far away and it’s so late!
I thought you were merely delayed,
and I began to wait for you, singing.
Allow me to change now:
adapt myself to being alone.
There’s a soft light in the silence, and the pain is of divine origin.
Allow me to turn my face towards a sky bigger than this world,
and let me learn to be as docile in dreams as the stars in their wandering.

Serenata

Permita que eu feche os meus olhos,
pois é muito longe e tão tarde!
Pensei que era apenas demora,
e cantando pus-me a esperar-te.
Permita que agora emudeça:
que me conforme em ser sozinha.
Há uma doce luz no silencio, e a dor é de origem divina.
Permita que eu volte o meu rosto para um céu maior que este mundo,
e aprenda a ser dócil no sonho como as estrelas no seu rumo.

*

Read the earlier post: “Contrary Moon: three poems by Cecília Meireles

This entry is part 2 of 34 in the series Poetry from the Other Americas

Watch on Vimeo.

Green enchantment of every human life,
mad hope, delirious golden fever,
convoluted sleep of the sleepless
where dream and treasure are equally elusive;

soul of this world, leafy senescence,
decrepit fantasy of green
that the happy call today
and the unhappy, tomorrow:

let those who wear green glasses
and see everything just as their desire paints it
chase your shadow in search of a new morning.

For my part, I’ll give fate the greater latitude,
keep eyes in both my hands
and look no farther than I can touch.

My translation of the sonnet “Verde embeleso de la vida humana” (1688) by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. I first shared it in a blog post back in 2007: “Through green glasses.” Rather than simply re-posting it, I decided to add value by making a videopoem, and roped in my Via Negativa co-author Luisa Igloria to contribute a reading for the soundtrack. The norm for videopoems of translated texts is to put the original language in the soundtrack and the translation in subtitles, but I decided to reverse that here, just as an experiment. I wanted to make the poem feel less foreign to an English-language audience.

I thought of the poem only after I filmed the meadow footage featured in the video. (That’s my parents’ front lawn. Dad always waits to mow until after the dandelions and ajuga are done blooming; they share my general preference for weeds over boring grass.) I love films with long, stationary or slowly panning shots in which the world is simply going about its business, and the original plan for this videopoem was to have that, the titling, and nothing else. But mid-way through the editing process, I woke up early one morning with the idea of adding crowds of people as an overlay. One thing led to another, I found some crazy-ass 1960s TV ads in the Prelinger Archives, and by last night I finally had something I was happy with. For the music, I used a public-domain guitar interpretation of Albéniz from Wikimedia, reasoning that something from the 19th century would help bridge the gap between the 17th and 21st centuries. For the same reason, I used a contemporary-looking font with serifs.

To my mind, a videopoem that doesn’t reinterpret the text in a manner different from what its author intended isn’t a real videopoem. But as Lorca much later showed, verde (green) is one of those words with an almost unlimited number of connotations. So this is more than a translation; it’s a complete re-imagining. Then again, human nature hasn’t changed in the last 400 years, and deciding to live in the moment rather than living in hope is, if anything, wiser than ever.

I made this videopoem a few days ago as part of an on-going effort to explore how haiku might best be translated into film. In brief, though we think of a haiku as a three-line micropoem with 17 syllables, neither of these attributes is as fundamental as its asymmetrical, two-part structure: two related but often quite different images separated by a semantic break usually represented as a dash or colon in English. (I’m also of the school of thought that says that 17 syllables is too long compared to the amount of information that can be conveyed in 17 of the Japanese syllable-like sound units known as mora, but never mind that for now.) My insight in regards to videopoetry, helped along by a comment from Tom Konyves on an earlier post here, was that a brief shot could be substituted for one of the two parts — that the relationship between the two parts of a haiku is quite analogous to the relationship between text and imagery in a classic, Konyvesian videopoem. Experimenting with this approach, I made three videohaiku: flower with James Brush, court with Rachel Rawlins, and visitor.

The next step, I decided, was to make a proof-of-concept videorenga. Haiku, as we now call it, developed from a tradition of Japanese linked verse (renga), specifically haikai no renga or renku. These were multi-author, collaborative improvisions in which each two adjacent verses could be read as if they were two stanzas of a longer poem. Again displaying the Japanese aesthetic preference for asymmetry, verses of 17 mora alternate with verses of 14 mora. Native land attempts to do something vaguely similar, stitching together videohaiku of unequal lengths, with lines in intertitles completing a verse (videopoetic unit) begun with the preceding shot. But each line or couplet could also be read as the first part of a verse concluding with the shot that followed it. Realizing that this ambiguous connectivity might easily be lost on a first-time viewer, I decided to make two versions of the sequence, cleverly titled “obverse” and “reverse.”

Native land deviates from Japanese linked verse tradition in two significant ways: it doesn’t have multiple authors, and it’s too thematically unified. The second deviation might be a direct consequence of the first, actually. Had it been made by two or more people, it would be less likely to bear the stamp of a single poet’s didactic concerns. I would argue that it does contain a strong element of multi-authorship, though, inasmuch as I sourced the video footage from six different anonymous home movies in the Prelinger Archives, presumably shot by (at least) six different people. I also decided to make the invitation to remix implicit in my usual “copyleft”-style Creative Commons licence a bit more explicit, so that native land might become part of a larger exchange among videopoets. And much to my delight, the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven took me up on it:

Her native land remix preserves and extends the reversibility of the videorenga in a novel way I find compelling. Instead of intertitles, she moved the text to subtitles below a split screen, in the process changing the juxtapositioning of text and imagery in a creative and thought-provoking way. The text feels a bit more fragmentary, but also liberated in a sense. She explained some of her thinking in an email:

My approach was similar to electronic music remixes I’ve been involved with, in which there are no rules or guidelines as to how the original be treated.

On viewing and reviewing your video many times over during the process of remixing, it became apparent how elegant the structure of your video is, with the linkages between the ‘verses’ being provided by following images. I like how it works like this in reverse too. I missed this on the first viewing but I think it may depend on knowing your intentions to ‘get’ this aspect of the video. I’m often thinking about general audiences in this way when making videos these days (most of mine seem very obscure to a lot of my net friends even still). My ideal is to strike a happy balance between accessibility and exploration.

And in native land remix, that last line about smallpox-infected blankets truly comes last and hits like a hammer. As a meditation on dispossession and genocide/ecocide, I told her I found her film more more powerful than my own. She responded,

The themes of the video are your own but I relate to them. As you would know, Australia has a terrible history of dispossession and genocide (including instances of poisoned blankets). It’s a frighteningly racist place to be right now too, especially seen in the horrendous treatment of asylum seekers arriving by boat and general hostility to Muslim people in the community.

So where to next? There are still logistical concerns to be worked out, but I’m thinking that videorenga co-authors might usefully imitate the old surrealist game of exquisite corpse, where each participant sees only the shot or line(s) contributed by the previous participant, except possibly for an over-all project coordinator or instigator. Stay tuned.