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:
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
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!
Just a quick videopoem using a few seconds of footage I shot with my iPhone on this morning’s walk.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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: