Taking the Waters (videopoem)

This new film by Marc Neys (AKA Swoon) grew out of our shared experiences in Dunbar, Scotland at the beginning of August, where Rachel, Marc and I spent a great deal of time together, walking, talking, and taking the local beverages. (Unmentioned in the prose poem is the fact that a fairly major brewery, Belhaven, is located there. When we arrived at our campground that Thursday evening, the air was suffused with the sweet smell of boiling mash.) Since we were in town for the Filmpoem Festival, it seemed only fitting that a new filmpoem/videopoem should come out of it. However, Marc’s first attempt with footage he’d shot on the Dunbar shore used an old poem of mine with which I’d become somewhat disenchanted. In the meantime, I’d written the prose poem “Taking the Waters” and suggested he try working with that instead, and obviously that’s what he did — but with almost all new footage, shot not on the North Sea but high in the Austrian Alps.

Marc describes the whole process in a recent blog post at his new website. As he quotes me as saying in the post, prose poetry is closely associated with surrealism, but sometimes, as here, real-life incidents provide more than enough bizarre material to keep the prose from getting too prosaic. Rachel’s story about a man reading to the sea was obviously key to the success of the text, so I’m glad she has a major part in the videopoem as the primary reader. Marc himself is “our friend the musician.” It’s interesting that he ended up not using much of the footage he shot that weekend, but I think avoiding too close a correspondence between subject matter and film images makes for a more suggestive videopoem. There are still enough visual and auditory artifacts from that weekend in the film to make it an apt memento for the three of us without, I hope, coming across to other viewers as exclusive or overly self-referential.

It’s always hugely satisfying to collaborate with artists like this, despite or perhaps because of the fact that the results aren’t the sort of publications that more ambitious American poets climb all over each other to bag for their CVs. I can’t think of a filmmaker I’d rather have envideo my poems than Marc; he’s the most-published filmmaker on MovingPoems.com for a reason.

Mortal Ghazal: the videopoem

Via Negativa is proud to present a new videopoem by the Belgian artist and filmmaker Marc Neys, A.K.A. Swoon, and Luisa A. Igloria, with a text from Luisa’s new poetry collection, The Saints of Streets. Like many of the poems in the book, it debuted here at Via Negativa, with a prompt from an entry at The Morning Porch (July 12, 2012).

Marc and Luisa discuss their collaboration in a new post at Marc’s blog. Marc notes that,

Along with her recording, Luisa gave me some ideas and pointers where to look for possible images. One of the videos she proposed was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90qcjBE-jlA. The film is part of a collection of motion picture films that John Van Antwerp MacMurray shot during the time he served as American Minister to China (1925-1929). The 16mm silent movie was shot during a trip to the Philippines in October 1926, where MacMurray and his wife spent a few days at Camp John Hay, Baguio.

For her part, Luisa writes:

After getting more directly connected with Marc, I recorded three short poems from the collection that I thought might be good candidates. Marc selected “Mortal Ghazal” and I’m really happy that he did.

The poem’s recurrent rhyme is the word “everlasting” – it had started out as a meditation of sorts on a flower indigenous to Baguio, the mountain city where I grew up in the Philippines. The locals refer to them as “everlasting” flowers, but they are strawflowers or Helichrysum bracteatum (family Asteraceae). Locals wind them into leis and sell them to tourists. One of my dearest friends from childhood recently returned from a trip to Baguio, and brought a lei back for me.

Around ten years ago, this friend lost her only son, who grew up with my daughters in Baguio; and she has never really recovered from that grief; she has also just had surgery, and thinking about her and about our lives in that small mountain city so long ago, before we became what we are now, led me to writing this poem which is also a meditation on time/temporality, passage, absence and presence.

Click through to Marc’s blog to read the rest of their remarks.

Luisa just passed her 1000th day of writing a poem a day here (not to mention some additional poems that she’s also managed to write in her far-from-abundant free time). Many of the poems in The Saints of Streets have appeared in more prestigious organs too, of course, but I am proud of, and humbled by, the role that The Morning Porch and Via Negativa have played in eliciting this extraordinary creative outpouring from one of our (and the Philippines’) most talented and hardest working contemporary poets. I haven’t received my copy of The Saints of Streets yet, but here’s how poet Kristin Naca describes it:

Luisa Igloria’s The Saints of Streets overlays the landscapes we see with many more vanished. Houses, town halls, and cathedrals are held up by spires of memory; the past erupts and spills over when the poet focuses on particulars, “…nose pressed to the doorway between worlds/ lit by the same fire that singes the wings of bees.” Igloria begins, as we often do, with a yearning: followed by question, meditation—but the power of her gaze sets these poems apart. Observation magnetizes worlds into radical juxtaposition, and in these poems, measured, intuitive music splendidly unleashes the bewildering in the everyday.

Please visit the Books page on Luisa’s website for additional quotes and information on ordering.

12 Simple Songs: the videopoem

What a wonderful surprise from Nic S. and Marc Neys (who periodically ducks into a phone booth and emerges as artist and filmmaker Swoon). I am gobsmacked. And I’m very glad I placed a Creative Commons license on the collection that explicitly permits derivative works. (Not that Nic and Swoon couldn’t have just contacted me for permission — but that would’ve spoiled the surprise!) I love the fact that listeners to the poems now have the option of hearing them in a voice other than the poet’s, and — especially interesting for love poems — in a female voice. I tried to include enough particulars to make the people in the poems (Rachel and I) seem real, but not too many to prevent identification from readers who don’t know us. This video hugely advances that. And by deploying images that complement the images in the texts without attempting to merely illustrate them, the film preserves and extends the poem’s allusiveness and essential freedom rather than leaving it tightly bound to the writer’s original vision and voice.

Marc posted some process notes to his blog. Here’s a snippet:

Nic send me the audiofiles of her readings. Very good readings.
I wanted a track with a simple melody that pops up a few times against the backdrop of atmospheric disturbance. I went for this one;

and added a stream of atmospheric noises, clicks and crackles.

For images I went for a combination of simple images of nature, birds, the ocean, movement and structures. Most of it I filmed myself and I added a few pieces of footage by Matthew August, H.Hattori, Swee Sin Eng.
In the editing proces I chose to let slowed down footage of in and out of focus images (with a small touch of ‘zen’) go into battle with a sometimes frantic and nervous way of editing against the reading and the background noises.

And back on March 23, Nic was kind enough to blog about Twelve Simple Songs as an example of multi-format poetry publishing, something she’s been championing for several years. Nic also happens to be one of my favorite poets, so I’m pleased and humbled that she thought enough of my work to record it in her own voice and talk Marc into making a video. Now I just need to finish tweaking the PDF for the printer and order a second proof. If all goes well, a dead-tree version of the collection should be available to purchase at cost by the middle of the month.

Exit Strategies: a videopoem chapbook by David Tomaloff and Swoon Bildos

Exit Strategies (A bloodletting)

by Swoon Bildos
Videopoem chapbook for Exit Strategies [PDF] by David Tomaloff (Gold Wake Press, 2011)

Entry. We are submerged in motion, unable to stop or focus. A shadowy figure in the near background draws our gaze — the only still thing, until it starts slowly walking out through what look like waves. The colors are warm and the instruments in the soundtrack seemingly acoustic, though difficult to identify beyond genus. Simultaneous with the beginning of the poem recitation, a female face appears. She too eventually turns away from us and begins moving away. “Exit Strategies.” Is she the same as the first figure at an earlier point in time? Regardless, is this not how we perceive ourselves moving through familiar spaces, memories of previous journeys over-layering, adding thickness and nuance like ghosts of our own past? The poem says:

You are never alone in the being alone, and the wolves will open up, show you the light if you let them. … Steady now, and breathe. A circular motion. The turning of a screw. A radio going silent in the warehouse of a mind.

Wave. In this second video, the movement is more frenetic, swooping, diving, but there’s a pattern to it, a kind of Tourette’s. The colors are darker and redder; it might be sunset. “Maybe the trees will take us for granted. Maybe they already have.” First a fire plug and then a bulbous water tower dance in and out of view. “You and I … you and I…” The refrain-like structure of the poem is echoed by the film’s repeated sequence of a flag or stringless kite billowing and falling to the ground. “Nearer to the edge of the forest” says Tomaloff, and there are trees visible on the screen. This unusual conjunction of word and image seems like an accident, maybe an oversight comparable to Swoon’s misspelling of the publisher’s name in the credits. In the poem, you and I might be returning with our weapons. This might be a poem in which we are stealers of souls.

Drag. (Swoon notes in a feature on this series at the Atticus Review, “I wanted each video to have a title that was a single word from the text of its poem. Those words/titles gave me a first direction about where to go to with these.”) The most painterly of the videos so far, with soft colors and textures. As for the text, it’s my favorite of the six poems.

The buildings are silver bullies in the daylight, hulking graveyards by night. Please send a flare, a map, or a compass. Send me a slingshot, or a prayer. … There is a flood on the horizon tonight, and the guards have begun to desert their towers. THE WATER HAS REVEALED US IN WAYS WE COULD NEVER HAVE IMAGINED.

That last line puts me in mind of New Orleans after Katrina. But throughout the series of videos I feel underwater or at sea. Fortunately, I enjoy that sort of thing — surrendering to time and chance, getting good and lost. At the very end of this video, a snippet of found sound: “Actually trusting my body to do what it’s supposed to do,” a woman says in an unplaceable American accent. She could be from anywhere or from nowhere — which is to say, the suburbs.

Asylum. Black and white, this one, with intrusions of color — a pastel blue, shockingly out-of-place, which turns out to be the dress on a walking figure. Creaking noises in the soundtrack while Tomaloff hints at an interrogation from “the authorities.” Oases of blurred, almost-stillness in which someone might be going out or coming in. Then back to the nervous motion, the walker’s legs crossing thin lines of shadows which, due to the video treatment, seem almost to pierce them. If I didn’t know the text came first, I might’ve thought it was a commentary on the filmmaker’s technique:

I drew pictures of women and men doing their best to relate to one another, like lines drawing lines upon lines, over and over again, insecure. … The rafters are humming; bullhorns, relentless; the fields are dividing; they know me by this name: Penance. Vibrant lights scribble non sequiturs across cracked plaster.

We catch brief glimpses of a face in full color appearing to study something. “The men in plainclothes finish cigarettes while we wait.”

Attic. An uncomfortable head-on gaze of a male face behind the usual elusive moving surfaces, which this time include many brief artifacts from old movies. “Some sort of perdition, some rules for the road.” And: “A team of ghost prayer horses.” Just after the conclusion of the reading the soundtrack begins to catch and stutter, as if overwhelmed by the glut of textures.

Sum. The orchestral beginning almost evokes the swelling soundtrack in a classic movie as the lovers ride off into the sunset. And indeed we are travelling, possibly by train, among soft blurs and warm colors. The fit of text to image is as good as it gets in these videos. The poem begins,

O SOLEMNLY STAY THIS, MY FILM PROJECTOR HEART. I WROTE THAT SENTENCE FOR A FIRE ONCE. I built a fire from a forgotten friend. I drew ghost water from a lover and took it to bed, a train. This is my machina, with its gears softly turning beneath the rolling of a forest floor.

Brief moments of sharp focus startle. Which might be just about the most realistic thing I’ve ever seen in a film, because isn’t that in fact the way we experience our lives? Always dreaming of exit strategies, and very seldom pausing long enough to see where the hell we are. In these videopoems, as in the e-chapbook that spawned them, coherence is fleeting but all the dearer for the effort we must make to achieve it. And the dialogue between filmmaker and poet makes me listen more carefully to poems I might otherwise have dismissed as hopelessly obscure.


I feel even more insecure about my film reviewing than I do about my poetry reviewing, but given that this is probably the most ambitious online videopoem chapbook anyone’s yet made, I couldn’t let the month go by without attempting to say something about it, no matter how incoherent. And in case you’re thinking I got off easy today since there were only six poems in the chapbook, I did watch them three times in succession, only reading the text after the first viewing.

Do watch the videos yourself, and check out the feature on the first three at Atticus Review. (I’ll be posting them all to Moving Poems soon.)

How to mourn, Belgian-style

This entry is part 19 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to mourn from Swoon on Vimeo

Swoon’s fourth video for my Manual series takes a different tack. “No more bacon,” as he puts it in his blog post, “but peace, contemplation and coffee.” In an email, he explained the associations of coffee for Belgians in this context:

We have a thing called ‘coffeetable’ (koffietafel), when someone is burried the family invites friends and relatives to the ‘coffeetable’ after the burial and serves them coffee and sandwiches.

I wanted to have an absurd, yet subdued, take on that fact. It needed different sounds too.

How to listen: the movie

This entry is part 13 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to listen from Swoon on Vimeo

This is the third and final video in Swoon’s “bacon triptych” (my term, not his) — see the other two here, if you missed that post. (He does say at his blog, however, that there’s a good chance he’ll be making more videos for my Manual series.)

In an email exchange, I told Swoon I thought he had a real gift for absurdism. He responded, “Absurdism is a Belgian thing I sometimes think… so it comes naturally.” Which immediately made me long to hail from a country where something like absurdism could be a general predilection of its citizens, rather than, say, self-righteousness and extreme credulity.

Manual: How to make videopoems, courtesy of Swoon

This entry is part 8 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to wait from Swoon on Vimeo

Manual: How to walk from Swoon on Vimeo

If you follow my poetry video collection Moving Poems even a little, you’ve probably watched more than one videopoem by the Belgian video-artist and soundcreator Swoon — and I haven’t even posted all his work. Not only is he prolific and (obviously) fast-moving; he’s one of the most inventive and interesting artists working in the medium. I like the music he composes as well. So I was thrilled when he asked me, this past week, if I’d mind him making some videos for my new Manual series.

He’s also kindly provided an English translation of his blog post about the videos as well as a short bio, which I have tweaked just a little with his permission:

Poetry, words and dreams form an important basis for the work of Swoon. As a stranger in our midst he recycles “virtual” internet images, shoots his own, creates soundscapes and makes dreamlike, moving paintings out of it all — a dream made real out of vague bits. Swoon’s work has been selected for several festivals around the world. He’s an autodidact.

Swoon writes:

For “Manual” I wanted to create, first of all, a track that I could later adjust with each new episode.

Listen on SoundCloud

For images I wanted to do something with what Dave said on Facebook: “My biggest influences on the writing in this series, by the way, are the Serbian poets Vasko Popa and Novica Tadic. That’s the level of absurdism I’m trying to mine — a challenge for my somewhat too-logical mind.”

So I needed to go away from my usual way of setting up a project. I was not going to use layers; the feel of the films needed to have a slight touch of absurdism.

For “How to wait,” I wanted to film two bare feet standing/waiting. When I used a piece of bacon (lying around, waiting for lunch) to set focus and I looked at the test-footage, it struck me. This works. I love it when coincidences like this take a lead.

All I had to do was follow my trail of thoughts. Keep it simple. Film at home with what you can find in the kitchen.

For editing, I created three “storylines” of film for each text. Then I edited three different versions (backwards, …) of those three into a “nine-screen.”


Swoon adds that more videos will probably follow. How exciting! I think the bacon works in part because of the English expression “bring home the bacon” and related phrases such as “save one’s bacon” and “chew the fat.” According to the U.K. site The Phrase Finder, “bacon has been a slang term for one’s body, and by extension one’s livelihood or income, since the 17th century.” So to me as a viewer, the bacon in these videos seems to symbolize the generalized object of striving or attention. In any case, I think Swoon’s use of it is a good demonstration of the Zen dictum, “first thought, best thought.”

Listen to Swoon’s audio compositions on Soundcloud, watch his videos on Vimeo, follow his blog and visit his website.