What I did this summer, Part 2: Poetry videos galore!
[See Part 1] Since I was spending the summer in London where the wifi is blindingly fast compared to Plummer’s Hollow, it would’ve seemed like a waste not to make at least a few videopoems, as I noted in a post at Via Negativa on July 31. I ended up making seven main videopoems, plus two, just-for-fun experimental extras. Three were remixes of old home movies in the public domain (which involved also taking advantage of the lightning-fast download speed to grab clips from the Internet Archive), and the rest were from short videos that I shot on my hand-me-down iPhone 4S and edited on my laptop (using Magix Movie Edit Pro and Audacity). Here they all are in order, with brief descriptions mostly cribbed from posts I wrote at the time.
My first videopoem of the season, one of those two experimental ones I mentioned (though they’re all experimental, really), is a whopping six seconds long. I happened to be filming tendrils of wisteria waving at the top of the back-garden elder tree while Rachel was on the phone to her dad, and I thought this snippet of her conversation worked great as a fragment of found poetic text:
Purely cosmetic! You don’t actually have to be able to see at all.
It’s also just a fun challenge to find something that will work when played on a loop at Instagram.
Next up was this remix, which (as I noted on Moving Poems) matched poet Sarah J. Sloat‘s evocation of travel in the tropics to a beautifully decayed old home movie in a sort of lazy person’s homage to Stan Brakhage. The soundtrack was courtesy of the bird-sound library xeno-canto, from recordist Rodrigo Dela Rosa in the Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. The footage had been lightly edited from a single movie at the International Institute for the Conservation, Archiving and Distribution of Other People’s Memories (IICADOM). (And then I added three more paragraphs of process notes which you can read there, if you’re interested.) I remain really proud of this effort, though I’m not sure it quite measures up to my earlier remix of a Sarah Sloat poem, Grassland. (Which was screened at the MIX 2017: Writing Digital conference this summer at Bath Spa University. Yay me.)
And that remix was so much fun, I had to make another:
Ornithology recycled an old text of my own to accompany some marvelous footage from another old home movie of unknown provenance. A birder struggling through quicksand becomes a metaphor for our mostly fruitless efforts at transcendence, as I wrote when I posted it on Facebook. I was gratified to see some my birder friends like and share it.
A road trip to the Flag Fen Archaeology Park near Peterborough and the John Clare cottage not far away led to this attempt to imagine the fens as someone in the Bronze Age might’ve seen them. It got the fewest views of any of my major efforts this summer, which I think speaks to the somewhat obscure subject matter for anyone not up on British archeology. The first lines came to me in a dream as I was sleeping in a room at the Bluebird Inn, next door to Clare’s cottage. I woke up to write them down, and in the morning we stopped along the road to shoot the extra footage with which the video concludes, so for once this video was kind of almost planned out — without going so far as to storyboard it or anything crazy like that. The first part of the video shows a section of the 3000-year-old preserved causeway at Flag Fen where bronze swords and other items were ritually deposited in the mud in a place which archaeologists believe was favored for its liminality — part land, part water. The John Clare poem quoted at the end is “Autumn,” which concludes:
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.
OK, so that was all maybe a bit too high-concept there.
Next came my most ambitious remix and found-text experiment of the summer. With all the nuclear brinkmanship from the Trump and Kim regimes, not to mention the US establishment’s apparent desire to return to some kind of Cold War with Russia, I somehow got the idea of remixing the audio from a 1930s film about the forest products industry with atomic test films and a US government propaganda film about nuclear war from the 1950s. Fun! The result may or may not be lyrical, but it fits the broader definition of videopoetry, I think. Also, male omniscient narrator voice-overs from the mid-20th century just have the most awesomely portentous quality, don’t they? I’d wanted to do something like this for years.
Another found-text quickie. This time, the text took the form of large letters from an outdoor installation at Tate Modern. Despite the jokey title/text inEPT, my managing to hold the phone camera as still as I did for half a minute demonstrated a rather surprising degree of eptness, I thought.
Like Ornithology, Falling recycles an old text, delivered via voice-over. This one went through multiple edits as I prepared it for entry to a couple of contests (which right there demonstrates the value of contests, I suppose). My biggest innovation was adding a brief introduction — the sort of thing I might say at a live reading. Despite the poor resolution of that (I hadn’t realized that the selfie setting on an iPhone shoots at lower quality, and my attempts to redo it with Rachel filming fell flat), I think it’s an attractive approach and one I plan to come back to. As for the clips and audio for the poetry portion, here’s what I wrote at Via Negativa. I hadn’t meant for the video to seem quite as topical as it ended up being, what with monster hurricanes and Trump’s rescinding of DACA in the news.
A quick, silent videopoem made with text-on-screen from what was at the time my most recent erasure poem based on an entry from Pepys’ Diary. I’m indebted to a friend, Rachel Shaw, for commenting on the footage I used — a shot of London’s Notting Hill Carnival, which I’d posted to Facebook as-is — that it was “weirdly beautiful with the sound off. Like anemones and seaweeds waving in the current.” Her comment was much in my mind as I wrote the erasure poem, which lo and behold turned out to be just the right length for a half-minute video.
My last videopoem of the summer was also my first since coming back, and thus helped me reacquaint myself with the somewhat more, um, deliberate pace of things here in DSL land. A recent poem by my Via Negativa co-blogger Luisa A. Igloria 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 my way home. The light was wonderful and evocative, as were the murals on the wall below the train tracks. And I learned how to do new things with semi-animated text — a fun conclusion to a season of experimentation, discovery and occasional break-throughs.