“You can make any expression to yourself except surprise.” A new videopoem. (Watch at 720p or higher if you can.)
A new videopoem. I’m grateful to Marc Neys for composing the original soundtrack (in response to a draft form of the video).
The poem is presented as text-on-screen, in a kind of call-and-response fashion, and was inspired by the footage, which I shot on my aging iPhone this summer. So I hesitate to extract it from that context, but here it is nevertheless for the benefit of those with impaired vision:
It is still light where I sit
reading the lines you are touch-
typing in the dark.
The planet’s curves
are always coming between us
her ceaseless spinning
her magnetic field
her core of molten rock.
But it’s the state that says stop
behind arbitrary lines
the border force that says stand still
for security screening
and if you’re poor, stay out.
The earth is always knitting
us together. Her forces
are centripetal and convergent.
Even now she works to mend
each fraying thread.
Changes of State. That’s the working title of my book-length manuscript of prose + micropoetry, which draws equally upon my lived experience, dreams, and nightmares. In the last category, I have a section of seven untitled found texts from the CIA’s Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, which was used to train right-wing counter-insurgency interrogators throughout Latin America during the last and most brutal phase of the Cold War. I extract a haiku-length erasure poem or two from each text and place them below it, haibun-style. Last month, an online journal called The Other Bunny, which specializes in experimental haibun, published a selection of these under the title “Human Resources.” Then two days ago, the Australian multimedia artist Marie Craven surprised me with this damn-near perfect video version. I strongly recommend expanding it to full screen and using good headphones:
Marie describes it on Vimeo as “A video about mind control and hidden meanings.”
The original text here is sections of a CIA document from the 1980s, concerning mind control techniques. […] The video is made up substantially of this text on screen, overlaid on a delirious blend of movie images from the Prelinger Archives. I chose to ‘mash up’ two different films for this background. The first, and most visually recognisable, is ‘Duck and Cover’, a famous documentary film from the 1950s containing advice on how to take cover in the event of a nuclear blast. The second film is ‘Destination Earth’, an anti-communist animation also produced in the 1950s. Both films were ‘doubled up’, making four superimposed layers, sped up considerably, with some parts appearing in forward motion, others in reverse, and some images rotating so that they appear at odd angles throughout the piece. The rapid melee of images is designed to express the hallucinatory effect of mental confusion engendered by mind control. The music is a psychedelic piece by The Night Programme (aka Paul Foster), with whom I’ve collaborated musically for over a decade, all via the net (he’s in Wales, I’m in Australia). The track is entitled ‘Cxx2’, from his album, ‘Backup 010318’. In a contemporary sense, the poem and video seem timely in this era of rampant fake news and unabashed propaganda.
Human Resources is Marie’s fifth videopoem based on my poetry. This is the sort of collaboration the web was built for, I think, and it’s always deeply gratifying to me as a writer to have been able to inspire an artist of Marie’s caliber.
This video may not be terribly interesting if you’re not friends or family of me or Rachel… unless you like porcupines, which were so much in evidence before, during and after our wedding, I thought I had to include one in the video as well. I also think our home-spun, self-uniting ceremony says something about the use of poetry in these kinds of major life events.
It may seem odd, me being a poet and all, that I hadn’t really given much thought to reading poetry at our wedding, but we were focused on getting our documents in order and writing our vows. So it was only on the day of our wedding that I mentioned to Rachel that I had a poem in mind to read, and it seemed that she did, too.
Interestingly, we both chose well-known poems from the canon (though the e.e. cummings one isn’t as well known in Britain, Rachel tells me). The trick as I saw it was to pick something that was simultaneously meaningful to me, relevant to the occasion, appropriate to the natural setting, and accessible to the audience. I love the Bible, and part of me wishes we still lived in a society that had such a powerful, ancient text in common to help unite us on ceremonial occasions or in times of crisis, but let’s face it: the poetic texts that unite us as a society these days are the pop, rock and rap songs we grew up with… the secular “high church” counterpart of which are certain poems such as Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” and yes, e.e. cumming’s “I carry your heart with me.”
As for the video, I used mobile phone video footage by Rachel (via tripod) and my cousin Heidi Suydam, with additional photographs by Heidi and her daughter Morgan. I couldn’t resist including some snippets from Aaron Copland’s ballet about a newly married couple in the wilds of western Pennsylvania, Appalachian Spring. Credit is also due to Joseph Brackett, composer of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts” that Copland drew upon in the most famous portion of the suite. Since many people unfortunately know this tune only in its bastardized form (as the faux-Celtic “Lord of the Dance”), I want to quote the original lyrics:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
Amen to that.
Swoon (aka Marc Neys) is a Belgian video-artist and soundcreator who is, in the words of Dave Bonta, one of the most “prolific and (obviously) fast-moving, …one of the most inventive and interesting artists working in the medium” today. I have so much respect for his work, and also the great good fortune of having Swoon produce a book trailer for my new collection out this week from Phoenicia Publishing, The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Mid-Life Crisis.
I am also eternally grateful to Via Negativa founder and co-blogger Dave Bonta for making possible the connection to Swoon and a host of other creatives all over the world. It’s going on the eighth year of my daily poetry writing practice at Via Negativa— let me just say that when I started, I couldn’t even imagine how many full length collections and chapbooks would come out of it.
Swoon and I have collaborated before on at least 5 other video poems, which are viewable at Moving Poems— including “Foretold,” a poem I wrote in response to a “first draft” of Swoon’s video used as a prompt in the Poetry Storehouse First Anniversary Contest; and “Trauermantel” (which he turned into a triptych of video poems to include my 2 other poems “Mortal Ghazal” and “Oir.”
This is the book trailer that Swoon (Marc Neys) produced. I hope you enjoy it, and that you will follow more of his work and visit his blog. Please also visit Phoenicia Publishing for information on how to order the book.
As the green drains from the leaves, why doesn’t it pool underground like a reservoir of eternal summer?
Why don’t the green, leaf-shaped katydids turn brilliant colors before they die?
When lovers intertwine, why don’t they fuse like roots from adjacent trees?
If a human falls in a city and there are no trees around, does it leave a hole?
An early snow prompts memories of last year at this time: three haiku-like things.
the sky is falling:
autumn leaves turning
white with snow
white supremacists elect
an orange leader
it’s not winter
it’s white springtime
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.
A mash-up of audio and video propaganda from the mid-20th century. Because apparently our leaders are determined to drag us back to the Cold War, one way or another. I guess some dystopias never grow old.