The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Poem of the Spanish Poet”

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Strand (1934-2014) gives an amazing delivery of the reading of his poem, Poem of the Spanish Poet, caught on film by director Juan Delcan and animated by Delcan and Yun Wang.

Let me begin by saying that overall this is a stunning piece. It is beautifully shot and captures the intensity of Strand’s persona while he reads and dreams of a more romantic existence as a Spanish poet, rather than an American one. Again handsomely shot and exquisitely designed, the animation is without question a wonderful addition. Within its simplicity, Poem of the Spanish Poet evokes a feeling of melancholy we so often dwell in and fall in love with.

I really love the piece as it is but I feel it’s divided. Starting with the animated title, I wanted the drawings/animation to be the backdrop of the video. At first I was a bit disappointed but because the cinematography is so stunning, I readily accepted the switch. Then suddenly halfway through we are back to watching an animation. The question is do we need both, or should the artist just have chosen one or the other? In using both, can the video be blended in a way where the switch isn’t as abrupt? I have watched this several times and I want the director to tell me what aspect of the piece is more important, film, animation or both?

Another question is: do we need to switch back to film and see the poet at the end, or can we just be satisfied with his voiceover flowing across the illustration? When combining film and animation, one runs the risk of it being a crap-shoot—it can be wonderfully woven or a complete disaster. Needless to say it is not an easy task to accomplish. Delcan chose to give equal time to both art forms. This in my opinion breaks the continuity of the piece.

However, upon further interpretation, perhaps this division was part of the overall game plan. According to the poem, the poet moves into writing a poem, giving us a poem within a poem. This may be the reason why the video is deliberately divided. It’s as if the poet is a time traveler stepping from reality into the abstract. In which case this would make perfect sense. As I said before, combining genres can be very tricky. I for one would like to see a smoother transition.

Juan Delcan is best known in poetry-film circles for his animation of The Dead by Billy Collins, which has over 800,000 views on YouTube and won the main prize at ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival, Berlin, 2008.

The Dead possesses a certain charm that is lacking in Poem of the Spanish Poet. Again, this may be due to the way video and animation were combined in the latter. In The Dead, Delcan fully employs movement and camera angles, whereas Poem of the Spanish Poet feels a bit stiff and contrived.

I suggest watching Poem of the Spanish Poet more than once. You be the judge.

Thanks to Motionpoems.

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