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I made this videopoem sort of by accident, which was good because it led me to break some of my own rules and branch out in a new direction. This is the opening poem to Nic Sebastian’s nanopress collection Forever Will End On Thursday, and “condense[s] seemingly out of nowhere,” as Amy King has characterized Nic’s approach to storytelling. It’s a great poem, even if it isn’t what I originally had in mind.
I spent all morning and half the afternoon under the impression that I was going to make a video haiku today, which for me typically means about 45 seconds of footage followed by the haiku in text form. I was going to use this great footage of a tiger swallowtail I’d shot around 9:00, and I even wrote the first draft of the haiku. But when I finally went to look at the footage on my computer, I discovered it wasn’t there, and the two clips I’d uploaded earlier consisted mainly of blurry, accidental shots of the ground. Clearly I had pressed the record button when I shouldn’t have, and what’s worse, had failed to press it when I should have. So there went that idea.
I’d already spent an hour locating some music I liked, though: a couple pieces from a series of electronically deconstructed studies of various instruments by a guy named César Alvarez, who uses the handle musicisfreenow on SoundCloud. I had been searching for Creative Commons-licensed clarinet tracks, but I liked what Alvarez did with the banjo even better. Then I noticed that a section of my blurry driveway footage was visually kind of compelling, and on impulse started typing the text for the second stanza of Nic’s poem overtop it. I applied a simple animation effect to each line and found I liked the result, even though I often find text-only videopoems tiresome to watch, and text-plus-voice videopoems annoyingly redundant.
I figured I’d work out the inconsistencies in my approach later, though, and concentrated on finding other clips from video I’ve shot over the past few months. Footage of a juvenile indigo bunting shot through a screen door seemed to work well for portions of the poem. I remembered a video of a London street performer, and found a four-second clip from that which seemed like a particularly good match both for the choppy music and for the edgy content of the poem. It didn’t take a whole lot more poking around to find two more clips that kind of made oblique reference to the imagery in the poem. I did the text animations and cut the video to fit.
Finally, the most laborious part: chopping up Nic’s reading to fit the video, which itself was modeled after her arrangement of lines on the page. Since her line-breaks don’t normally track with her pauses for breath, I knew this would be a challenge, but again, the choppiness of the music seemed to license it. At some point it also occurred to me that, since the text would appear on-screen, I could leave the music at normal volume, something I’ve never been able to do for a videopoem with spoken word before. The result: a strange hybrid of poem-as-text and poem-as-voice, a bit of a hippogryph.
My usual procedure, of course, is quite the opposite: I make the soundtrack first and cut the video clips to fit. I like to tell myself that this is the best way to go, and perhaps it is, but it also happens to be far easier and less time-consuming than the approach I took with this video. It doesn’t hurt to do things the hard way sometimes.
In defense of my method here, I would note that, to the silent reader, the line-breaks in unpunctuated poems like Nic’s do help create a kind of uncertainty or anxiety about meaning which is a fruitful part of the reading experience — and which a naturalistic out-loud reading does away with. Why not try and preserve some of that semantic uncertainty in the video? If I ever re-do it, though, I think I may use a more legible and somewhat smaller, narrower font. Having to break the two longest lines in the middle damaged the integrity of Nic’s poem-as-text, and rendered this experiment a little less successful than it might otherwise have been, I think.
UPDATE (August 11): Nic made me a fresh recording with ample pauses between the lines to avoid some of the abrupt cuts in the original, so I’ve re-done the soundtrack. I took the opportunity to re-do the title and credits with a more legible (filled in) version of the Courier font, but decided not to mess with the font otherwise. I think this is a keeper now.