~ interviews ~

Conversations with innovative filmmakers and videopoets.

Interview with Edalia Day: poet, performer, filmmaker and much more

Edalia Day is the creator of a beautiful animated poetry film Duvet Days, made in collaboration with Kat Lyons, which some may be familiar with because it was selected for Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin.

Duvet Days from Kat Lyons on Vimeo.

And great fun is the presentation of The World’s First Animated Poetry Slam, a 25 minute animated project created during pandemic lockdown when in-person poetry slams had to be abandoned.

But most exciting and innovative are the shows Edalia Day creates with projection mapping. I first encountered Edalia describing her work in the context of an online talk about interactive projection mapping. I was hoping for inspiration for the possibilities of the technology, but totally unprepared to be quite so blown away by the multi-disciplinary nature of a body of work which moves so comfortably between spoken word, poetry, drawn animation, stop-motion animation, physical theatre, music, comedy, and probably a few more aspects that I haven’t yet named or put my finger on.

Not new as a process in the context of massive budget theatre and music venues, but Edalia’s projection mapping work is made in the spirit of much poetry film – small scale, small budget and created with great skill and passion, and as such, hugely pushing the boundaries of what can achieved at this scale.

I am delighted to say that Edalia agreed to answer some questions for me …

Jane: With so many skills and talents to draw on – from acting to mime to animation – do you consciously decide which to use when in a show or a piece of work, or do you just go with the flow?

Edalia: When it’s my own work I start with the aim of telling the story first and foremost and it could use none of my skills for all I know. I only use what’s necessary at first, but then I have all of these different skills to play with and inevitably I end up having a lot of fun playing with all sorts of them and finish with an eclectic mix.

Jane: When did you discover projection mapping?

Edalia: I’ve worked as an actor for 15 years and had worked with projection several times before deciding to use it myself. Though all of those times it had been in various ways disastrous so I pledged to myself that I’d never use projection in my own work. The first time was in 2008, playing the lead in a rock musical version of Hamlet that toured Italy. I had to hold a skull that was projected onto some gauze in front of me and in every venue the projection was in a slightly different position and i had no way of knowing if my hand was in the right place or not.

When I started making my own videogame inspired version of Hamlet though in 2016 I thought “if ever there’s a show in which I ought to try using projections it would be this.” I’ve animated for a hobby my whole life and if I hadn’t gone into acting would have done that, and when I got into projection, it opened all sorts of creative doors to me, and has ended up being a lot of fun.

Jane: Did you immediately see its potential for a hybrid medium that combined your visual creativity with your physical performances?

Edalia: It quickly became clear it could do that for me, yes. I did a 15 minute version of the show at the Cockpit in London which was very physical, and people said they thought projections would work well in it. I then did a rough 50 minute long version at Red Rose Chain’s theatre in Ipswich using simple pixel art animations such as me riding a kart in Mariokart and jumping from position to position in a character selection screen, and it became really fun finding creative ways to interact with the projections and move with them.

Jane: Super Hamlet 64 is a live theatre show but also exists as a poetry pamphlet with videos linked by QR codes. The show is broken down into films for each poem, song or scene, while the pamphlet is made in the style of a 90s video game instruction manual. I personally love Super Hamlet 64 because I love work that plays around with material taking it from one context or media and putting it into another and mimicking other forms. You have done that by putting Shakespeare into videogames into comedy and poetry, and into a poetry book. How does your work evolve into the different modes for you? Did you plan from the outset to have both the show and the pamphlet?

Edalia Day – cover of Super Hamlet 64 poetry pamphlet

Edalia: No. To start with, it was just the show. It was the second show I’d made myself and I hadn’t really been satisfied with the first show, so to start with I just wanted to have fun making a good show. Also I’d never published anything before and didn’t know how to approach that. Once I’d done one tour of the show though, and could see it was working well, I came up with the idea for the videogame manual style pamphlet and it became a real delight to work on too.

Jane: What would you do with your incredible talents and creativity if budget were no object?

Edalia: At the moment I’m making a series of YouTube animated sketch comedy pieces about trans “issues”.  Each takes about 6 months+ and is about a couple of minutes long. With enough budget I’d love to hire a team of animators to bring it to life in style. I’ve set up a Patreon www.patreon.com/edaliaday to help me some day reach that goal. It would be great to hire people to do all of the producing and fund raising and technical implementation of ideas too so that I could just focus on writing, performing and video design for my shows.

Jane: Do you hunt for new technology or software to play around with and see what you could do with it, or do you find it as solutions to creative problems?

Edalia: I mostly look for software to solve creative problems. Sometimes I get invited to work with theatre companies trying out tech and it can be fun, but the possibilities with such tech are huge and often they’re more interested in just playing with tech rather than actually using it to create something, and I often find that actually the most clever looking things can be done in very simple ways.

Jane: Who or what are key influences on your work?

Edalia: I love physical theatre companies like Complicite and Kneehigh, as well as those that use a lot of clowns like the travelling troupe Footsbarn. I trained at Lecoq in Paris and love theatre that’s full of vibrant physicality. In terms of projection I haven’t seen anyone doing the kinds of things I like to do with projection, but I’m always inspired each time I see what other people are doing with it, even if they’re not like my own style.

Jane: Tell us about what you are excited to be working on now or next?

Edalia: Like I said I’m making these animated comedy trans pieces. I finished my first one a month ago, about a couple trying to get cancelled so they can sell more books, and now I’m making a much more ambitious one about a transphobe who tries to misgender a group of friends but accidentally gets their genders right with hilarious consequences. I’m also making a young adult novel about a trans girl surviving the apocalypse, written in the style of a teenage diary, full of doodles and poetry, and 1623 have commissioned me to make a trans version of Shakespeare’s Pericles. For that one I’ve been having a lot of fun placing cameras on the ceiling filming myself on the floor and projecting that along with various animations. That’s a fun project to explore.

Edalia Day in a projection performance – Too Pretty To Punch


Edalia Day is a transgender spoken word artist, animator and theatre maker based in Norwich. Trained at Lecoq and Alra, her spoken word is full of energy and theatrical flair and her theatre combines comedy, live music and interactive projection mapping. She trained in classical acting at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London and in mime and physical theatre at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris.

After 10 years as an actor, she started writing and producing her own work in 2014 with In The Surface Of A Bubble, about a world of dreams, then Super Hamlet 64, a one person show about videogames and Shakespeare, and Too Pretty To Punch, about celebrating trans and non binary people.

Since lockdown started she trained as an animator and motion designer with School Of Motion and has produced several successful projects combining Animation and Poetry, working with the Young Vic, HOME, Harrogate Theatre, Theatre Royal Norwich and Lost in Translation Circus. Projects in development include: an animated online comedy series about trans people and Spectacular Spacebots: a play and a series of picture books for under 10s exploring neurodivergence, masculinity, and emotional well being.

Review: 10th Ó Bhéal Poetry Film Competition & Winner

Still image: James E Kenward – Borne

Lockdown and pandemic experiences have thoroughly honed and expanded Ó Bhéal’s experience of presenting events online (helped by their growing collection of technical kit that they have been fortunate to acquire over the last few years). The 10th International Poetry-Film Competition, and the wider Winter Warmer Festival it is now part of, was fully hybrid with all events running in-person at the beautiful Nano Nagle Place in Cork (Ireland), and simultaneously live-streamed. All events are available to watch indefinitely online.

The competition selected 30 films shown in two screenings. I left each screening with excitement, and a variety of films and filmmakers that I wanted to watch again or know more about. These are some of my personal highlights:

Selkie (Director Marry Waterson) had an unusual approach to image repetition. Rockin’ Bus Driver (Directors Mary Tighe and Cormac Culkeen) had a very satisfying, meaty voice in the soundtrack and a simple but effective graphic treatment of the visual material, while Borne by James E. Kenward had an incredible delivery of the voice – the pace and the pairing with the music were brilliant. The success of this partnership is perhaps explained by a YouTube of the recording session where you can watch James performing the text alongside the pianist. A brilliant way to create the soundtrack if feasible for a project. I particularly liked the lettering in There’s a Certain Slant of light (Director Susan McCann) – text cut from leaves and cast by shadows, and the words accompanied by just music. And as a final contrast to the varied treatments of sound in the selected films, there was Janet Lees’ powerful but silent film Descent.

Still image: Susan McCann – There’s a Certain Slant of light )

The effort involved in putting together a festival can never be underestimated, and Paul Casey and Colm Scully have done a brilliant job of making the selections as well as organising the event and keeping everything running smoothly and technically well throughout the day. My only desire as an in-person attendee is to be able to have more awareness of who in the room were filmmakers (name badges, stickers, or something more imaginative perhaps?) and little bit more time specifically programmed in to be able to meet and chat to them. Filmmakers were introduced and invited to stand at the end of the screening, but it is difficult to register everyone’s face (especially in a semi-dark room) and I think attendees do need the reward of interaction to make the in-person experience special. I noticed that the finalists of the All-Ireland Poetry Slam later in the day had the opportunity for a group photograph, and I think this would be an appreciated chance for the film competition too, for those that were there on the day.

Still image: Jelle Meys – La luna asoma

The winner of the competition was announced as La luna asoma (The moon appears), an animation by Jelle Meys of a poem by Federico García Lorca. I contacted Jelle to congratulate him on his win and ask him a few questions …

ME: The poem is read in Spanish, was subtitled in English, and you are Belgian. How fluent are you in Spanish? Were you aware of Federico García Lorca’s poem in a translation in your mother tongue, or in English? Which language version of the poem did you go to in your mind when you were thinking about the imagery for your animation?

JELLE: My mother tongue is Dutch, as I’m from the Flemish part of Belgium. When I decided to animate a poem, as a kind of practice, I hadn’t chosen a specific poem yet. So I just browsed through the poetry collections I own. One of those is an anthology of Federico García Lorca, with both the original poems in Spanish and their Dutch translations on the opposite pages. It was necessary to have the Dutch translation to ‘get the meaning’ (which is obviously relative with such metaphoric poetry), but I also wanted to stay true to the rhythm and the sounds of the original Spanish version. I can grasp quite a bit of Spanish, especially when written, because of my knowledge of French.

ME: In a YouTube video I saw, where you talk about your work (for another festival I think?), you mention that you are relatively new to animation but you have long been an illustrator … the sequence with the sea and the swimmers was just beautiful. Did you have a clear idea of how you wanted the movement of the bodies to happen before you began the animation?

JELLE: That YouTube talk was indeed for another festival, in Mumbai. Before getting into the animation, I drew a simple storyboard. So I did have some idea of what I wanted it to look like. But in the making of this film I learned a lot about animating, technically, which altered and influenced the final look. The swimmers sequence was a particularly tough one, because for that part I did have a clear vision in mind, and I didn’t want to compromise on it.

ME: What was your thought process on the colour palette that you chose?

JELLE: The colour palette was also very clear to me, pretty much right from the start. I’ve always loved the combination of brown and blue and considered it fitting for the somewhat melancholic tone of the poem. I also thought that a limited colour palette wouldn’t distract the viewer too much from the actual poem.

ME: The music is a perfect accompaniment. Was this pre-existing and if so, how difficult was it to find? Or was the music written or adapted for the film?

JELLE: My cousin, Michiel De Malsche, happens to be a composer and sound artist. He used samples and recordings from music workshops he had done in the past (hence why he didn’t ask for his name in the credits) and puzzled them together into a mesmerizing soundscape, which perfectly blends with that deep and warm voice of Joaquin Muñoz Benitez (a Spanish man living in Gent, Belgium).


Biography: Jelle Meys lives and works in Sint-Niklaas, Belgium. He studied Illustration and Graphic Design at School of Arts Ghent (2005-2009), where he also got his Teacher’s degree (2010). He currently teaches graphic design and illustration in high school, and works as a freelance illustrator, graphic designer and visual artist. He started taking film and animation classes in 2017, and has been infected with the animation bug ever since.

Projection mapped films: an interview with Lori Ersolmaz

Lori Ersolmaz

Lori Ersolmaz has a long and wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary career, including working as an educator, photographer, and documentary filmmaker. In 2014, she became interested in making poetry films. Public art engagement is a very important aspect of her practice, and her poetry film work has expanded into the arena of immersive experiences and projection mapping. Good Natured is a film series encompassing “kindness to animals, nature, the environment and humanity using poetry and poetic essays to address climate concerns”. Since 2020 it has been screened in a range of “immersive 2-and-3D public art exhibitions projected on buildings, objects and in pop-up gallery installations”.

How did your Good Natured Project and working with Mercato (the retail and restaurant venue in which many of the Good Natured films are featured) come about? Did the ideas come first, was it a response to a commission, or something else?

Shortly after moving to Florida from the northeast I began to see the effects of climate change on the Everglades and water quality on the west coast of Florida. White beaches with clear water from the Gulf of Mexico that had been teeming with birds and wildlife mysteriously became engulfed in a blue green algae outbreak and a familiar sign of fish kills. I took an out-of-town guest to the beach one day and as we set up our chairs I immediately had trouble breathing and started coughing. I heard other people coughing, too, and was confused about what was happening. I asked a couple walking by why people were coughing and they educated us about blue green algae. We left immediately as it was impossible to continue breathing-in the fumes. After going to quite a few public meetings with officials and learning more about the problem I realized I needed to do something.

Prior to moving to Florida I owned a production company and worked with non-profit organizations supporting advocacy and policy initiatives. While my experience in short documentaries has influenced me, I instead decided to take a different approach and created Good Natured, a film poetry series about climate change and environmental issues. In early 2020 I began pitching ideas to nonprofits and arts organizations about projection mapping my films as pop-up installations. Projection mapping is a technique using projectors to project media onto city buildings and other objects, transforming flat surfaces into dynamic visual displays at night. The people I spoke with were interested in the project and suggested I create mock-ups so others would understand what projection mapping was. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Once the pandemic hit I immediately switched gears from explaining and pitching to creating. The first three films were based on poems in an anthology, From the Ashes, edited by CS Hughes, about the Australian bushfires in 2019. I was affected by so many animals who lost their lives in those fires, and chose a few poems for my climate and environmental concept.

In August of 2020 I approached the marketing director of a large mixed-use shopping mall near my home. There were quite a few empty retail spaces at the time and I noticed one with community-based art displayed in the windows, so I had a feeling they would be open to my project. While Covid-19 shut down a lot of social activities, the situation provided me with a unique opportunity to launch my project. The marketing director, who is a progressive thinker and poetry fan, provided me with a pop-up retail space pro bono for National Art & Humanities Month in October 2020. The 1500-square-foot space was absolutely perfect, as it had multiple 3-D objects in the space which provided a cool look, and there was an excellent location in the window for projections on the nights that the space wasn’t open. On the weekend there was the full, open-door, walk-in installation, and during the week the projector was moved to the window without sound. The reception was positive and provided the documentation needed for others to see what projection mapping looked like in an indoor space.

You’ve got a long track record of making poetry films. At what point did you come across projection mapping?

I learned about projection mapping years before I started creating film poetry. Around 2008 I was considering how to use projection mapping to bring more people together for grassroots advocacy around addiction and prison reform issues. I wanted to show short documentaries in at-risk neighborhoods like Trenton and Asbury Park in New Jersey. It never got off the ground. Projection mapping has been on my radar for a long time, but I never had an opportunity to develop it until a few years ago.

Did you immediately see its potential for poetry film – either in general, or specifically for your own work?

This is an interesting question. I began experimenting with the genre in 2014 as an additional creative outlet and hadn’t considered projection mapping the film poems at that time. However, subconsciously I may have kept it in the back of my mind. Once I moved to Florida and decided to focus my creative expression solely on poetic films, the projection mapping became a major aspect of the work because I wanted to reach a wider audience of people with eco-poetry. I also wanted to amplify the work in my local community. Making an impact and encouraging citizens to stay engaged in democracy has been an overarching theme throughout my career. I think of projection mapping as a creative distribution system, like a billboard or advertising. Having a strategy, as well as understanding the place and audience are important in making public art, especially locally.

Lori Ersolmaz – Earth Day 2022, Florida

What excites you about projection mapping?

I’m willing to take risks at this point in my life. My creative mantra for projection mapping: highly experimental and imaginative, learn-as-I-go, and a high tolerance for the unknown and for failure. Projection mapping provides an unusual delivery system. The poetic films are the content. They have to work together and for me, while there’s anxiety attached to a high rate of failure, it tends to drive me to solve problems. Not everything works, and technically there are many variables. It requires thinking quickly on your feet. With 3-D objects there’s distortion, which makes me think about how to successfully create content to fit the spaces. Each location has different technical issues in need of resolution, literally and figuratively. I’m not simply creating images for projection, but meaning-making that offers multiple layers of thought process for the audience and also reads on the objects. Hearing people’s perceptions about the work can be satisfying, especially when whatever it is I’m aiming for with the content, they totally get, or they come up with an astute comment I hadn’t even noticed. Kids love it and I enjoy that as well.

Do you feel projection mapping contributes to the public engagement aspect of your practice?

Absolutely. I specifically create the work to be in the public sphere and for the public good. The entire reason I’m creating public art exhibitions is to talk with people one-on-one who I would not meet otherwise. I decided not to wait for a museum curator to choose my work for installation. I’m confident about the quality of my films and I have a strategy to engage people. So, out to the streets I go with my Poetic Films.

Lori Ersolmaz – Earth Day 2021, Florida

How much do you think a more immersive experience contributes to drawing people in to watch poetry film who might not otherwise experience it (over and above other ways of presenting public art)?

People are curious, and since the popularity of the Van Gogh immersive installations, the technology has credibility and people get it. My audience isn’t paying admission (not yet) to my installations, so they can decide whether they are interested in the experience or not. Most people have no idea what film poetry even is. I’m educating them about a medium they aren’t aware of and they get to experience it in a unique way. If there’s a 20’x20′ dome in the middle of a public square, lit up with images and a voice, people want to know what’s happening inside. Sometimes they’re unsure, but once they go inside they more often than not appreciate it.

Lori Ersolmaz – projection mapped dome interior

Is there a novelty factor at work or does projection mapping really deliver a more engaging experience?

Projection has been around for quite a long time. It’s as novel as what has always made up the arts and sciences. Since the time of the Lumière Brothers films, people are captivated by moving images and cinematic storytelling. Spoken word poems are small stories and when combined with moving images in unusual spaces and objects there’s a unique and mesmerizing appeal which I don’t believe is simply a novelty. It’s a device to get people to see and hear in a different way than at a movie theatre or at home watching TV. It’s immersive, intimate, larger-than-life and allows for personal interpretation and meaning-making. Some people will only watch for a minute and others will re-watch a 5-minute installation repeatedly for 20 or more minutes.

How do you make your approach to public organizations in order to set up your events? How do you ‘sell’ your ideas to them? How difficult is it to get them on board with your ideas? How receptive are they about projection mapping?

Like anything else, there’s an audience type, depending on the community and location. Let’s take Florida for instance: in Miami projection mapping is common, there’s the Van Gogh immersive exhibit and Art Basel takes place annually. The Wynwood Art District is known for experimental and emerging artists. There’s an East Coast, hip, international crowd and vibe. Miami, and towns near it, have a long history of arts and culture. One can be more outrageous and push the envelope content-wise.

I live on the southwest coast of Florida where the audience is different. It’s an affluent, sophisticated community and while there are also international tourists, there are ‘snowbirds’ who come down during the winter months and return to their hometown around April. There are fewer full-time residents and it’s considered a vacation resort area, although that has been changing in light of shifts due to the pandemic. And not a lot stays open past 10:00 pm. From an arts and culture standpoint, the community takes a slower approach to green-lighting public arts projects. Receptivity depends on the perception of elected officials and business owners in the town or community. Recently, the city underwent an arts and culture study that is in support of arts as an economic stimulus for tourism. When a city spends money and undergoes that type of study with community feedback, more opportunities tend to slowly grow.

My approach is simply to understand my audience and what will appeal to them. I create multidisciplinary artworks and installations with a non-threatening approach. I select classic and contemporary eco-poetry that I feel will resonate with the community and people of all ages. In the past two years, I’ve had five installations and over 1,000 people have been engaged, receptive and appreciative of my work. Visitors and residents support what I’m doing and have told me they think I should have more projects/presentations throughout the city.

The reason I’ve had success with Mercato—the retail and residential mall—is because they are a privately owned development entity. I have found what makes projection mapping more difficult in a city is that the elected officials and the owners of the real estate have to provide permits and authorize imagery to be mapped onto the buildings. I am slowly in the process of expanding to other areas and pitching presentations. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and perseverance—like anything else.

What have been the biggest difficulties in the logistics and technology side of installation/projection mapping?

There are quite a few technology and logistics challenges to consider well in advance of the events. I spend a great deal of time in testing stages. I test the image quality numerous times especially when the objects are oddly shaped or will be projected on a darker color or highly texturized surface.

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Equipment.

The #1 challenge is the projectors. Depending on the project, you’ll either need short or longer throw projectors. I had a 3500 square foot space where I used ten projectors, including one outside. The equipment can be expensive to own or to rent, and in fact, this could be the #1 deal breaker for creating an event. The more ambient light, the more lumens the projector needs to clearly see the image, especially when projecting from 20-30 ft away.

  1. Sunset/twilight/ambient light.

Depending on what time of year it is, I have to wait until sunset/twilight to begin the tests and presentations, especially if the buildings are white, as that reflects the light for longer. Then there’s the ambient light from light posts for wayfinding and illuminating the streets and sidewalks. This requires coordination to decide which lights are casting too much light/shadows onto the subject/objects. When you are in a public space there are code provisions for lighting so it’s important to work with organizations and businesses to ensure there won’t be a code violation.

  1. Distortion and pairing the right content for the object being mapped.

Depending on the building scapes/facades or objects being mapped it requires a tremendous amount of testing out the imagery and then deciding whether it’s effective for the final presentation. What looks great on a flat screen or wall may not read in a dome shape, or highly angled architecture. More now than ever I need to consider these things while I’m shooting.

  1. Time/energy.

I have to wait until sundown to see a result, even indoors when there are storefront windows. For indoor installations I create separate content for each projector/computer/device and then work on mapping to columns, walls and ceilings. Bigger space, more projectors and devices to map. When working in an outdoor space, unless there’s a budget to professionally install for outdoor weather conditions and securing the equipment, installations are put up and taken down in the same evening. Break-down is often under darkened conditions. An inside installation is better from the standpoint that once it’s up I only have to go around and turn-on/off the projectors and there’s less physical activity until total breakdown.

  1. Foot traffic and safety.

A high profile location and well trafficked area is critical. However, it also presents a problem: safety and security. Children love the installations and dance around all over the place. With every projector comes a laptop or other devices to play the media. Barriers need to be in place in a space with a lot of projectors and equipment so no one falls, tips or obstructs the image. Sometimes shadows and obstructions are part of the presentation, nonetheless, the space needs to be secured. Friends and students help with installations to ensure people don’t wander or walk on equipment. Putting on a presentation can be a high anxiety production. Staying alert, in-charge and directing the public are all important. In the end it can be a lot of fun and I’ve met some interesting people.

Protecting the equipment and the public from each other with barriers

Have you had to solve technical issues yourself or did you have support from the organizations you partnered with?

Since 2020 I have handled the technical issues mainly by myself with some support from partner organizations. In the beginning I wanted to learn projection mapping on my own and experiment with ideas and situations. As I began presentations, it was clear support from the organizations was needed. I’ve had support with cutting/dimming and sometimes adding ambient lighting. Barriers are supplied by the organizations and their crew help set them up. While one wouldn’t think of parking necessarily as an issue, for an outdoor install/break-down in the same night, parking spots nearest to the install location is a must, as there are many components to having a successful outdoor presentation in a heavily trafficked area. On occasion I get additional A/V equipment, and the organizations help out the most when it comes to marketing and social media. They already have leverage with PR and relationships they’ve built with their own customers or patrons. I have also had signage donated and typically security people are available in case a rowdy situation arises.

What do you have to consider about the use of sound in public spaces?

Sound depends on the size of the installation space indoors and whether it’s competing with outside and peripheral ambient sound like musicians and music from restaurants. When I’m projecting on a building outside I also need to consider the mixed use of public spaces. In Florida, people are dining outside all year long and they may not want to hear a poem with eerie sound effects and music on perpetual loop during their dinner. There’s a fine balance to take into consideration.

What are the things to think about with projection mapping and subtitles?

Projection mapping distorts and obscures typography and imagery in general and largely depends on the backdrop material. Text and subtitles are tricky. I use Madmapper and VPT 8 software which provides control mechanisms to adjust for angles and distortion. In the end it is trial-and-error to get it as good as possible, not perfect. I use typography sparingly unless I’m projecting on a more simple 2-D wall. The size of the type is important; large, bold/heavy typographic face projected onto a flat, simple and light colored surface works the best for me. Otherwise, it could become a mind-bending challenge.

What is your next projection mapping challenge? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m now at a point where I’d like to rely on a technical director for the mapping, especially as I expand. I prefer to focus on the creative filmmaking and less on the technical side of things. There’s an additional anxiety in managing to do both. I’ve been fortunate to live close to where I’ve created the installations. More travel time will be added as I venture out to other locations, which makes me careful in deciding how to expand. I’ve been toying with the idea of possibly starting a poetry chapter of the Florida State Poetry Association to collaborate with local poets to add humanities/language arts aspect to my events and presentations. I am in the process of creating animations from cyanotypes of algae and botanical plants. The animations will be abstract, and conceptually I believe this approach will be a great conversation starter to talk about water quality in a different way.

Overall, I enjoy creating the poetic films more than anything else. Second to that is engaging the public in a dialogue in unusual ways to help them connect to nature and become better ‘local’ stewards for nature and the environment. Projection mapping provides the space to do both.


Lori H. Ersolmaz is an award winning filmmaker who creates poetic films combining contemporary poems and creative writing as a tool/modality for meaning-making, especially related to critical analysis of social, political and cultural issues. Her work is influenced by Jungian psychology which is concentrated in depth psychology, inner work, the conscious and unconscious mind, archetypes, dreams, synchronicity and symbolism. Lori encourages the viewer to consider a personal and collective act of responsibility for the past, present and future. 

With over 20 years of multidisciplinary experience, Lori has worked with leaders from Fortune 500 corporations, nonprofit/governmental organizations and policy think-tanks on varied media in support of policy and advocacy initiatives. In 2014 she became interested in combining poetry and visual moving imagery to convey emotions and feelings as a social commentary. Born out of short documentary work, experimentation led to collaborating with poets and writers to create poetic films.

Her work has been seen in New York City at Anthology Film Archives, in Minneapolis at the Weisman Art Museum, and at International film festivals, events, pop-up exhibitions and street art installations held in Australia, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Mexico, Nepal, Slovakia, United Kingdom, United States and West Africa. Her work can also be seen in the digital online environment, including literary and visual journals. 

From 2011-2016 Lori was an adjunct professor at Rider University where she taught film and media studies courses. She also worked with youth media-makers, and won an award from the National Association of Media Literacy Education for working with youth and adults to analyze and make media. She has also been an Assistant Examiner for the International Baccalaureate program marking Collaborative Film Projects and Film Essays.

 Lori is an active social justice, education, health, environment and media reform advocate with a Master of Arts degree in Media Studies and Film from The New School, a university with a history of progressive thought and service to others.

Interview: Lee Campbell – filmmaker, poet, performer

Press release image – SEE ME: (An almost) autobiography – Performance Poetry Films by Lee Campbell July 26–31, 2022. Pop-Up Exhibit – Fountain Street Gallery, Boston

I first came across Lee Campbell’s work by chance in a Margate (Kent, UK) shop window early in 2022. It was part of a two-person show with Bashar Ali in The Margate School (an art school resident in the long gone Woolworths shop building). I was initially attracted by Lee’s use of lettering in his film. I found him on Instagram and watched more of his film work on his website, and discovered recordings of his incredible Zoom performances. I decided to interview him and this is the result … Rather conveniently, a few days after Lee had responded with his answers we were lucky enough to meet in person at the Absurd Art House Film Festival in another Kent seaside town – and I could thank him in person.

His pop-up solo show will be in Fountain Street Gallery in Boston from 26-31st July 2022.

Congratulations on your solo show “SEE ME: (An almost) autobiography,” coming up in July in Boston (USA). Did you conceive the work in the show as a collection from the outset, or did it evolve into it?

Thank you! I am really excited about it as I am pulling these films together into one collection lasting just over an hour in duration for the first time – and to show these films in North America, in a city which I have been to, and love, is a real honour. No, the collection of works on show has evolved over time. Between 2019-2021, I made a series of short films which recycle my personal archive of artworks as an artist of 25 years into the present. Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019), Let Rip: The Beautiful Game (2020), Let Rip: Teenage Scrapbook (2021) and Let Rip: Bodies Lean and Ripped (2020) use the ‘rip’ as both metaphor, symbol and filmic structure to build upon existing work, create new forms out of ‘old’ practice and indeed show new versions of ‘old’ me. This meant creating surfaces and layers on the screen which I would appear to be ripping or tearing apart to reveal something about myself. Cascading through different time periods but really speaking to the present, these films play with the sensations of an image, aiming to capture how reality is constructed of images, images that are out there in culture but also personal images that I create myself. Creative green screen usage in films has been around forever and could be said to feel retro but in these films, as I do with most of my films, I have employed green screen to create textural surfaces and review history. In 2021, I then integrated poetry into these existing moving image works to become poetry films. These poetry films sat alongside a body of poems that I had written about my personal history of seeing and not seeing as a working-class gay British man, to confront the politics of seeing and underline how validating seeing can be, but also the difficulty of not being seen. Whilst I was gaining really positive responses from audiences of me reading these poems as I regularly performed them around various venues in London and further afield, at the same time I produced poetry films of my poems to sit alongside but to also use the visuals within them to offer new/alternative ways of understanding what is being said in the spoken poetry. I then started to make connections between the different poems/films that I was producing. I noticed that underpinning all the work is a love of the absurd, the humour and the comedy to be found in the banal, the mundane and the everyday, as well as ideas as I mentioned above pertaining to acts of seeing, being seen, not being seen etc. What become very evident as a common thread was the idea of relationships and my relationship to people, places, ideas, objects etc and I used this as a curatorial thrust to put together these films as one entity.  Now as a collection of both poems and poetry films combined, SEE ME presents a journey through different relationships including those as a teenager to my dad (e.g. in Let Rip: The Beautiful Game), grandparents (e.g. in See Shells), teachers, school peers, work colleagues (e.g. in Covert Operations and Head Boy) then adult relationship to gay community (SEE ME: A Walk through London’s Gay Soho …), alter ego (e.g. in Camp-Belle), my partner (e.g. in Nice Cup of Tea, Rufus) and spaces of queer imagination (e.g. in The Tale of Benny Harris, Cottage and The Perfect Crime: A Doggy Whodunnit). The collection also addresses a range of complex and tricky issues including body shaming and bitchiness within the gay community. Self-worth, doing things to ‘fit in’. Unrequited love, unobtainable love, unsatisfying relationships, fear of being left ‘on the shelf’ (e.g. in Spinach and Eggs), as well as internalised homophobia and confidence (e.g. in Reclaiming My Voice).[1]

Still from Let Rip – A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing

The Fountain Street Gallery shows a wide variety of work including straightforwardly saleable paintings and sculptures which isn’t an obvious fit with poetry film. I’m excited that a gallery like this is showing your work. How did the show come about?

The gallery has been really supportive of my work since 2021 when they selected one of my works, On Your Marks (Tension Lines) (2020), a silent short film for their Sidewalk Video Gallery programme and then earlier this year included my poetry film Let Rip: The Beautiful Game in a group show, Beyond Words curated by Gabriel Sosa, an exhibition of works by artists who use language.

My formal training background is actually in Fine Art Painting. Prior to receiving my doctorate in 2016 from Loughborough University, I trained in Fine Art Painting at Winchester School of Art (1996-2000) where I earned my B.A and Slade School of Fine Art (2005-2007) where I received my M.F.A. Whilst I’ve really enjoyed showing my poetry films in cinemas and alternative spaces, it feels great to be showing the work in the context of the white cube too. I actually think my poetry films are like moving paintings, filmic paintings that reveal themselves over time. When I used to make painting back in the 1990s/2000s and in fact any ‘static’ 2D image that I produced then and now, I’ve always been interested in ideas around time and duration within a static image and ideas and thoughts being ‘revealed’ over time, in acts of looking and duration involved in looking at supposedly ‘flat’ static surfaces whose form and content reveal themselves over time. Time, in relation to the (2D, static) works in my career portfolio underline that time can be understood beyond that of a durational work e.g. in film and moving image work, as time can also be considered as being an aggregate of thought.

Looking at the kind of work that Fountain Street supports, including that of its director Marie Craig, what struck me was how many of the artists play with surface tension in their work. Regardless of whether the work is time based or not (in the traditional sense), many of the artists create within their chosen art form, at times, fleshy layers seeping underneath and revealing themselves only to be interrupted by other sets of imagery or text coming through which brings layers of personal and collective memory and personal and collective history. Recalling Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), in which he erases an artwork by Willem de Kooning, but traces of the lost de Kooning artwork are still evident, just under the surface. The past and the present combust on the same surface, so the viewer is unsure what is past and what is present; works on one level contain a haunting quality and a modernity whilst still being archival/referring to the past/employing retro aesthetics. The compositional elements of my poetry films speak to these ideas, too, and more I feel. Thinking my poetry film work would be a good ‘fit’ for the gallery, I approached Marie about showing the films as a collection at Fountain Street and she kindly agreed to! [2]

What do you think we (as poetry filmmakers) can do to get work accepted into galleries or contemporary art events?

Moving Image work is embraced within the context of the white cube as a relatively new player against the historical canon of painting and drawing. Checking out the opportunities section of videoclub’s newsletter (www.videoclub.org.uk) can be useful. Visions in the Nunnery is an open call that happens every two years at the Nunnery gallery in Bow, London which I have been part of and highly recommend.

Your work shows in both poetry film festivals such as REELpoetry and a very wide variety of film, poetry and art festivals and events… Do you modify how you describe yourself and/or your work for different audiences in order to step into the contemporary art scene, the poetry scene or the poetry film scene?

Someone once told me that I occupy a space that is equivalent to a diamond in terms of my practice, with one arm of the diamond: poetry, and the other arms, comedy, performance and art. They did then make some generalisations, that in poetry, the brain does the theatricals and audiences don’t need anything else (i.e., visuals), that in comedy people just want to laugh and in art, people just want emotional/profound experiences. I did think these were sweeping generalisations, but they did make me think how these different media/artistic forms influence what the audience take away from what I do. I like straddling across all these ‘scenes’.  I don’t like being pigeonholed or me/my practice being taxonomized as that feels very reductive.  You will know by watching several of my poetry films like Spinach and Eggs and Bears with Bananas and Bubbles in Their Boxers, which talk about how the gay male community likes to label me, that I have a real issue with identity labelling more widely. Inhabiting different scenes, poetry one night, comedy the other, indeed, I may change the emphasis a little for each ‘scene’ but without diluting what I do or running the risk of ‘selling out’. Sure there are some events that I have attended that are less open to the experimental, interdisciplinary nature of what I do (they like poetry, comedy etc in the traditional sense of these terms). When I do find spaces/events/nights like these in London that I regularly attend—Incite! run by Forum +, New Poetry Shack run by Jack Shamash and The Word Zoo run by Teige Bigman Maddison—that embrace interdisciplinarity, then I’ve struck gold.

A night that I particularly enjoy is Paper Tiger Poetry that is held monthly at the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall, London hosted by Jason Why. The night has been a brilliant support for me to showcase my poetry and develop my skills as a performance poet since I first performed there back in June 2021. Yes it’s billed as a night for performance poets but there is also a fair share of poets like me including Tom McColl, Frankie Calvert, Redeeming Features, Keith Bray and many others who fuse everything from biting satire, anarchist punk, ventriloquism and visual art with comedy elements into their poetry performances. It’s a creative melting pot where I’ve met poets who perform poetry, in the expanded form! And I also run my own night in South London called POW! Play on Words where I encourage artists to come together who, like me, play promiscuous across varied artistic forms, by me providing a space for poetry performance to occupy the same space as poetry film, experimental comedy. In fact, labels are pointless here, as what underpins everything that I programme is how artists embrace and play with language in subversive, surprising and unexpected ways.[3]

When did you come to poetry filmmaking? Did either the poetry or the filmmaking come first or did they naturally come together from the beginning?

The filmmaking came first. Bear in mind that I also have a long history of creating performance art which often included spoken word/verbal language elements but not what I would necessarily consider as being ‘poetry’ or ‘performance poetry’ for that matter, but that’s open to interpretation! Many of the films that I created within the Let Rip series I referred to above actually begun life having written text placards embedded within them rather than me speaking poetry that I had written as a voiceover (I’ll refer to this point again later in the interview). Artist Clunie Reid, when watching Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019) in November 2020 commented that the written placards within this film needed to be spoken/performed/read aloud by me rather than written as I have a particular voice from a particular point in London’s queer history. She suggested that my voice and my accent evidence my life so clearly – a specific voice that gives me a specific identity to a specific place. She said this at a time when London (where I live) and so many parts of the world were in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I liked what she suggested but could not imagine the conditions at that particular time of me ever performing (physically) in public again.

It was a cold and dull Sunday in late November 2020. An advert for an online poetry mic called PoetryLGBT on Zoom popped up on my Facebook feed. I was caught by the graphics of the advert initially but then thought this would be a good chance to read out those written placards above as ‘poetry’, a context and a scene that I had not ventured into before. What’s the worst that can happen I thought. If they all think what I read out aloud is sh*t then I’ll just press ‘exit’ on my laptop. What have I got to lose! Little did I know that this Sunday afternoon online open mic, was going to change the direction of my practice forever.

I remember the experience well. The host Andreena Leeanne was so supportive and welcoming to everyone. I was enthused by her energy and passion for the poets performing. I listened to the poets including Barney Ashton-Bullock, Lantern Carrier, Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Carriere and Paul Frewer-Lepper perform before me and enjoyed their poems. I was so nervous when it was my turn. My legs trembling, my stomach was in gut wrench, I had performer’s butterflies in the stomach feeling for the first time in a long whilst as this was the first moment I was performing live to an audience and sharing very personal details with an audience who I could not see on Zoom, which probably helped with my nerves. Their response to my performance however was incredible. They loved the comedy and humour in what I was saying, and could really relate to and empathise with the experiences that I shared. I had found a new platform for my work and was very excited about the possibilities.

Excavating text from my Let Rip films to create live spoken word poetry pieces, I then began regularly writing poetry about my identity as a gay, working class British man and read these aloud for the first time at regular LGBT-centred open-mics including PoetryLGBT that were all taking place online at the time because of lockdown restrictions. Sometimes doing three or four online open mics a week, with me performing from the spare bedroom in my flat, just to gain the audience’s reaction and for me to try things out in this new context for my work. Growing in confidence, I started to incorporate props into my then performances including cassette tape recorders and hand-drawn pencil drawings of a dog called Rufus to add a visual element to what I was doing. Whilst it was a great experience to get audience feedback on my poetry, the language I was using and how what I was saying evoked certain images/pictures in the imagination of the audience, I began to think much more about the visual aspect of me performing. Me working in poetry film came around late 2021 when I combusted the practice of me generating live Zoom performances (which I refer to below) and my history of working within artist moving image practice together.

I love your use of lettering on screen in films such as ‘The Tale of Benny Harris’ and ‘Cottage (Perusing the flower bed)’. Can you tell me something about your ideas or your process around your lettering? I’m guessing you’re using your own hand lettering?

Thanks, I like the brutal simplicity that I feel I have achieved with the felt tippery effect of the writing that appears graffitied over the screen in these films and also in Head Boy, Covert Operations and Reclaiming my Voice. As I said above, the earlier versions of the Let Rip series of films contained written placards rather than spoken word.

These placards were generated using the Titles option within iMovie (the software that I use to create all my films). The font that I used (Helvetica Neue), although giving a very clean and crisp finish to the lettering, also made these films feel and look very corporate and PowerPoint-y in their appearance. Some viewers of these films liked the tension that this created. On the one hand, the films are a personal exploration for me to discover what I can do to the image in an affective way. Me creating almost fleshy, visceral layers to images appearing on screen, with each film recycling my personal archive as an artist into the present, and by doing so, building up a sophisticated linguistic system of collaging images from my personal archive of artworks, mixed in with found ephemera and moving image footage (for example football matches in 1990s on YouTube). There was a real sensitivity about the [content of] the writing and imagery.

But then on the other hand, as my friend artist Harun Morrison commented upon about this aspect of the work when I spoke to him in December 2020, there was no sense that the typography I was using was grounded in the work at all, and that the PowerPoint feel and look in these films inevitably evokes managerial and administrative culture which, as he reminded me, are some of the most oppressive forces in the world. Harun said he found that when watching these earlier versions of these films, he was constantly distracted by why I was using this PowerPoint style-format, because I am talking personally about escaping certain kinds of restraint and personal acts of emancipation (e.g. emancipating myself from 1990s homophobic Britain). He suggested that as soon as I started to make things look and feel like PowerPoint or display the text in the way that I have done in these films, I am putting my thoughts on a track which is why it’s such an oppressive piece of software. He suggested that I think then at that time more about the typography within what I was doing as another space to put accents on the texts especially since the work is so much about zine culture and other kinds of material that I was seeing. He recommended that I then work with a graphic designer to think through how that text operates, especially in reference to different materials and that maybe I employ a singular font all the way through my films that could be handwritten or speak to different sources that I talk about in the films. For example Playgirl (which I refer to in one of the films) has its own distinct font and so does Television X.  I could use different fonts evoked by the references, even employing the handwritten, which whilst making things feel makes it very diaristic can also depend on one’s handwriting.

All great suggestions from Harun, but then I remembered the font that I had designed myself when I was doing my MFA at the Slade fifteen years prior, which I called See Me. See Me is  a font that looks like old computer writing from the 1980s/1990s. I used this font as part of a new film that I was making at the time, SEE ME: A Walk through London’s Gay Soho in 1994 and 2020, and it really got me thinking about how I could design another font which spoke of the personal within my films and not appear deadening or just sitting on the surface without making much/any connection to the imagery and sounds around it. I was concerned about using my own handwriting as I didn’t want the work to look diaristic in the way that artists can often use their handwriting and then the work looks overly confessional to the point of being self-indulgent.

Photo of performance of The Tale of Benny Harris, BOLD Queer Poetry Soiree, London June 2022

The lettering that appears in these newer films, like, as you mention, The Tale of Benny Harris and Cottage, is generated by me screen-recording myself creating words using the pen/pencil drawing option within Notes on my iPad, and then using the recording as a green-screen layer within the films. I like the way the words reveal themselves sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly across the screen and how they don’t just sit on top of the imagery but often become images within themselves. Especially so I think when you can see the underwater imagery ‘through’ the surface of the letters in Head Boy and the way they bleed into the imagery within Reclaiming my Voice during the ‘dipping my toe in but never my feet’ section. You can see the words ‘dipping my toe in’ on the screen but only just. This corresponds exactly to what I say in the poem, about my straight mate Danny experimenting with his sexuality (dipping his toe in) but not going as far as being a ‘full time full-blown gay boy’. The appearance of the black text on the white background in the following sequence in the films containing the words ‘never my feet’ underlines Danny’s affirmation that he is straight (or so he claims) in black and white, full stop.

Although I really love the effect of the animated lettering throughout my latest film Covert Operations, which at the start recycles the written placards used towards the end of Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019) and from other films, I am also loving using the iPad drawing recordings to compose imagery so as not to overdo it with the lettering. I really enjoyed creating the drawings of the moustache, the well-spoken but very attractive posh boy I worked with in McDonalds aka Grammar School Guy being undressed on screen, Gavin aka Black Eyeliner Boy, and Mike with his chest hair poking out of the top of his Nirvana t-shirt that all feature as hand-drawn animations at the start of Covert Operations.[4]

Your live Zoom performance ‘Clever at seeing, without being seen’ is just incredible. For many people just getting used to speaking to someone on Zoom has given them the heebie-jeebies. How much did you experiment to get your set-up to do what you wanted? 

Thank you! It’s been quite a journey developing forms of live poetry performance practice that, contributing to my ongoing critical digital pedagogy research project Technoparticipation,[5] use Zoom as an immersive autoethnographic storytelling prototype. Emerging as a positive of using Zoom under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, I’ll try and summarise the main points in terms of how I have explored the possibilities of Zoom to really enhance my creativity and combine my performance, poetry and live cinema practice to create new hybrid forms.

 A month before I had my ‘epiphany’ moment during the PoetryLGBT open mic in November 2020 I spoke about above, my first venture into performing live in front of an audience since the outbreak started was at a time when the U.K was under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions — ‘our bodies and minds were restricted but our creativity was not. Everyone was in the same predicament’[6] . I was invited to create an online solo performance to be performed via Zoom as part of activity I was engaged with at the time, as part of Conditions artist studio programme. When thinking about the set design for the performance, when experimenting with the green screen effect on Zoom, rather than using one of the pre-defined video backdrops made available by Zoom, I then made a new piece of moving image work to be used purely for the purposes of Zoom green effect. Having just discovered the green screen video option on Zoom only a couple of hours before the performance and with no rehearsal time available before the performance entitled Polari Puppet,[7] my innovative usage of Zoom’s green screen during the performance had an incredible reception with viewers commenting that they had never experienced anything quite as immersive ever before on Zoom. With Polari Puppet, I really wanted to push Zoom’s visual aesthetics as a means to frame, act as a visual container and play with different levels of order and chaos through the visual confinement achieved.

As a result of the success of me creating the personalised Zoom backdrop with Polari Puppet and the success of my film work being screened internationally (remembering that these films were not poetry films at that point), I then wondered what would happen if I combined the two and (with a bit of tweaking) repurposed the short films that I had made as green screen Zoom backdrops to explore what it may mean to remediate, excavate and bring back to life past artworks through the medium of moving image in the films that I was making, and then remediate and re-plug those films, those remediations, through the medium of live performance via Zoom to generate multi-layered multimedia sociocreative live poetry performances that are colourful, immersive, textured, organic and disorienting montages of young queer experience told through my own personal autobiography.

Over the course of 2021, I created numerous poetry performances online, using the past films as video backdrops for my poetry, complexifying each online performance with each new iteration performed. When interviewed by Matt Skallerud in April 2021, Andreena Leeanne of PoetryLGBT remarked, ‘I love how Lee fuses the poetry with the filmmaking, really creative and everyone appreciates him when he comes to PoetryLGBT, he brings something different, he’s been able to use Zoom to enhance his creativity and that’s been amazing to see’. In his May 2021 review of Spoken Sessions, an online poetry reading event by Write Out Loud, Greg Freeman wrote, ‘I tuned in on Thursday night to watch open mic performers Francis Golm, Pip McDonald, Lee Campbell, and Jaden Morton make full use of their opportunity, often employing the extra potential of online visuals to great effect – especially in Lee Campbell’s case. He was able to show us what we missed when a glitch prevented us from seeing the full range of his experimental and innovative visuals at the Write Out Loud fundraising night in January’. In a more recent review of my headline set for Creative HE Open Mic (June 2022), Dr Aspa Paltoglou wrote, ‘I loved the final performance where auto-ethnography, identity and art came together to create a spectacular spectacle and an opportunity for the performer to bring together different parts of themselves that they kept apart before. As a former Greek musician and a current British (as I somewhat delusionally like to consider myself) academic psychologist, I know how important it is to bring together different identities, and this is helpful both for good mental health and creativity.’

Still from live Zoom poetry performance Spinach and Eggs

By summer 2021, with many Zoom performances under my belt, I then fused many of my short online poetry performances together into one longer performance (each one not lasting any more than five minutes as that’s the standard timeslot for an open-mic), to create longer performances including Clever at Seeing without being Seen and Peer.[8] These performances, as a form of expanded live cinema, pull together several poems/several performances that existed as individual scenes to create a bigger narrative. This new duration is important (beyond the initial early iterations at under five minutes). Through a lengthier duration, the viewer is shown the complexity of the layers, what’s in them and how they interact, and they are being shown that again and again and again, and it’s never the same.

These performances have since been included in prestigious festivals and events including Disturbance#2, Ugly Duck, London, Festival ECRÃ Edition 5, Rio de Janeiro, the Immersive Storytelling Symposium, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, and Rise Up! Reconnect, Rebuild, Recreate 10th International Digital Storytelling Conference, Loughborough University.

Co-curator of Festival ECRÃ Ana Albuquerque remarked:

Lee Campbell’s Clever at Seeing without being Seen and Dina Kelberman’s The Fan May Not Be Changed, You Just Don’t Know The Future turn platforms like Zoom and Teams into stages where the curtain never falls. Artifices once used for the furtherance of neoliberal productivity slavery become spaces of creative potential in the hand of our artists. The possibilities are endless. The performances in this edition prove that the exploration of the body, space and canvas does not cease with physical distance, and prove that the pandemic is more a challenging environment than a scenario of infertility.

Whilst audiences may or may not pick up on all the many references here (related to my personal experience of discovering my identity, internalised homophobia, etc.), I intended that they would, at base level, have a sensory/elusive view of the work, as one viewer described on seeing Clever on Zoom in June 2021, ‘a block of amazing visual and auditory input’. Often in my performances, as is the case throughout the entire duration of Polari Puppet, I perform with my back to the audience where my back operates like a screen/projection surface, exploiting the fragmented-ness and inaccessible feeling of turning your back to the audience. A tape recorder acts as an extension of my body and offers another set of voices to that of mine performing and other voices heard elsewhere. Green screen effect employed with a constant repetitive video being played ‘projected’ onto my back gives the impression of text and imagery superimposed over my body, that I am wearing text/imagery like a garment, that of a body that has been layered with fragments of text/images/ history. Sounds that can be heard throughout the performance are textured, glitchy and uncomfortable deliberately to give a sense of layer.

The audience is never sure what is live, what is pre-recorded and what is playback of what has been recorded during the live performance. Pre-recorded sounds play in the background on iTunes shuffle which I react to there and then in the moment of liveness. Some viewers of the documentation of these performances have mentioned that they are completely unaware that they were watching documentation of a live performance. Some have suggested that the writing on my back is happening live too. One audience member commented that the live performance of Polari Puppet was the first time they had seen left-handed text being written.

The key underlying principles in early video art were the body and the performance object, and that was the thing that signified its liveness and differentiated it from the history of cinema /avant-garde film. Polari Puppet as a back projection performance comes from the history of video art (Vito Acconci, Valie Export, early Nam June Paik, Robert Morris’ film Mirror etc.) where the camera becomes like a mirror or a viewer that can be controlled.

The video being live and able to feedback on itself is similar to my Zoom usage here. On the one hand, the work is like a flashback 45 years but now bought into the present due to the now unprecedented, familiar use of Zoom as a desktop communication tool because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Zoom attempts to put bodies in a room at times when you can’t have bodies in a room. People have become much more familiar with it to a point of fatigue in terms of, amongst other things, how it promotes a disembodied embodiment. In this Zoom explosion, primary importance has been given to the face and the way that we are looking at each other now even to the naming of an app like Facetime (similar model to Zoom just different name) and not as Matthew Noel-Tod, when in conversation about this work, wittily remarked, called ‘Backtime’.

The face is hugely significant in all this technology, so me turning my back is a simple yet powerful reversal of that. All we have now on Zoom is (usually) the face, shoulders, and chest, so turning the back to audience is erotic as I am giving the audience something that they do not usually see. A viewer once suggested that my turned back appears almost demonic. Whilst it could be said to turn one’s back on an audience is a deliberate act to conceal oneself or block the audience, that’s not what is happening here either. A friend commented upon seeing an iteration of the Zoom performance Clever that her favourite part was when I turn around to check if the audience are ‘still there’. I like the fragmented-ness and the inaccessible feeling of turning your back to the audience BUT I also want to gauge their visible reaction so in latter performances using Zoom, I went half and half (half the time with my back turned to the audience and the other half, not). By turning my back to the audience at certain moments in a performance, I really made a statement, i.e. ‘I don’t want to see you and I don’t want you to see me (my face)’.

I have come to enjoy the uncertainty, the danger of performing, not entirely in full control of how the green screen would operate throughout the duration of these live Zoom performances. The effect of the moving imagery appearing on my body and me achieving that sense of immersion for the viewer for the performance to ‘work’ is somewhat dependent upon how much light there is in the space/room that I am performing in, and whilst I had perfected the lighting level in the room I perform (my spare bedroom reconfigured as a space for me to perform in and for my partner to create paintings in during the pandemic lockdowns) to achieve the ‘optimum’ effect, I can never fully control it so it ‘works’ every time.

However, this serendipity, this state of being in a ‘radical not-knowing’ was really important to me at the time. Sometimes, I could only achieve half the screen space/viewing area/my body ‘catching’ the green screen imagery. In reality, this imagery that appeared not ‘projected’ on my body’ was the green screen trying to operate on what was behind me/what I stood in front of: a white emulsion painted wall in the bedroom. With a lot of practice, I carefully manipulated the light in the room (using cardboard to black out the skylight window and placing my laptop which I used for the performance at a very specific position under an artificial ceiling light). Despite all my efforts, sometimes the effect just did not ‘work’, but I learnt to accept that and indeed capitalise upon it, which I shall refer to later. As much as I enjoyed making the short films around the same time, everything within them was neatly ordered into a timeline and I could pretty much control everything (although I could never fully control the green screen layering effect which I loved), so having this aspect of real uncertainty to what I was doing with Zoom was strangely appealing at the time.

The Zoom performances have taught me a lot about some of the complexities surrounding polycontextuality—being in more than one space at the same time. In terms of the somewhat, at times, awkward spatial dynamic I set up to create my Zoom performances where my body and the space that I am performing ‘in’ is liminal; neither entirely physical nor wholly virtual/online. But there is another awkwardness at play here in what I have identified as an interesting relationship between what I am saying in my poetry, the slippages of the sonic, bits where I am typing/turning on technology etc., and resonances that are happening at home. The spare room that I use to make these performances backs onto the lounge area of my flat and directly behind the (thin) wall, which I refer to above, that I stand in front of whilst speaking/performing is a sofa which Alex, my partner, often sits on whilst I am performing my poetry, sometimes speaking very loudly, in the room adjacent. How much can Alex really hear behind the wall I wonder? A lot of the time I share really personal details (and some quite intimate about me and Alex’s relationship) which I have never shared with anyone else before. Alex claims he can’t hear what I am saying but I reckon he must catch certain things. And rather than seeing this as a problem, I’ve come to embrace this and remind myself of my love of the serendipitous nature of working with liveness, of me being the poet-performer-autoethnographer harnessing live Zoom performance as a space of radical not knowing and its disruptive potential, I have learnt that I cannot replicate in any way possible the visual effects I can on anything else but on Zoom. Beyond post Covid-10 lockdown restrictions as we head out of a ‘Zoom world’ and into physical/hybridised spaces, I am well aware that my usage of Zoom is more than a convenient (and for a long time only) form to show/make work, but Zoom entirely underpins the aesthetics within what I do, and for me to accept and embrace that I may not be fully in control of exactly what the audience sees/being able to replicate the visual/audio appearance of the Zoom green screen for the audience when live.

As part of the Immersive Storytelling Symposium, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham in Autumn 2021, I was invited to create a live Zoom performance at the venue in physical space. I must admit I hesitated at first as, at the time, I was nervous about what I thought I needed to make the performance ‘work’ (I had not come to accept at that point that the effect ‘not working’ can also be intrinsically part of the work). Would I be able to achieve the lighting levels required, maintain a certain distance between me and the laptop screen and a white wall behind me ‘catching’ the green screen, would I be able to stand in a certain way for imagery to appear to be projected on me? But then I asked myself, ‘Does this work only exist in my spare room, in the bedroom at the back of 96a Devonshire Road, Southeast London and nowhere else because that’s where I control things to my “desired effect”‘? I recalled a remark that Graham Barton, who I work alongside at University of the Arts London, made as part of the successful Digital Pedagogies Open Studio project I initiated last year with Natasha Sabatini and Richard Parry. In speaking about how the move to teaching and learning online was a form of disruption when Covid-19 lockdown first hit in 2020, Graham suggested that now in respect to moving back into the physical world from the digital/virtual, ‘The disruption is in the return’. But there was also something potentially very liberating about me not being in the bedroom at the back of 96a Devonshire Road, Southeast London – Alex won’t be there, and so I could potentially say what I like throughout my performance without fear of upsetting him (but why would I want to upset him anyway).[9]

With the encouragement of Alex, I took the plunge and headed to Nottingham. It was a wonderful experience in terms of performing the work elsewhere and the audience/performer spatial dynamics that were set up. Whilst I performed live via Zoom in one room of the venue, another audience watched online and another audience watched physically, watching me perform on a livestream projected on a large screen in the theatre space, only a few steps away from the room where I was performing. Upon seeing documentation of my performance, I had only achieved the green screen superimposition on my body and not in the background, but I didn’t care; the content of the performance, Clever at Seeing without being Seen, is all about the difficulties gay people experience in terms of seeing, looking, being seen etc so in this way what I did underlines form is content.[10]

Have there been any unexpected results?

My Zoom performances have opened up unexpected ways of me being able to explore and discover new ways of seeing (both pedagogically and artistically) through the Internet as a very specific and nuanced kind of viewing platform, and how these may in fact correspond with ideas of (in)visibility experienced by the LGBT community.

To explain, as a practical embodiment of what I refer to as techno-empathy, in December 2021 I invited members of the University of the Arts London (UAL) LGBTQ+ student network to attend a presentation of my Zoom performance Clever at Seeing without being Seen which nails a specific talent queer people need to acquire – the title. The performance was as an iteration of the Digital Pedagogies Open Studio mentioned above. Having watched the performance, audience members feedback how they could feel empathetic to so many of the personal experiences that I shared throughout the performance, as they had encountered similar experiences themselves. The performance generated a space of empathy to break down hierarchies between student and tutor in two ways. First, in terms of me and the students as mutual practitioners by me demonstrating how to combine physical and virtual forms in terms of my usage of physical props during the performance that bring to life certain parts of the poetry, including cassette tape recorders from the 1990s and photocopies of a large scrapbook I made as a teenager between 1993-1998, and secondly, in terms of the autobiographic content of the poetry that I shared throughout the performance. During the post-performance feedback discussion, students said they appreciated the level of honesty that I shared with them in terms of revealing, at times, quite difficult personal subject matter but subject that they themselves could relate to.

Still from live Zoom poetry performance Clever at Seeing without being Seen

Attending numerous online events since lockdown in March 2020 designed for the LGBT community to share their experiences using spoken word and poetry, including PoetryLGBT and Incite!  run by Forum + and hosted by Hannah Chutzpah, paired with the move I went through in my teaching practice to online-only modes of teaching delivery, I noticed that a platform like Zoom, or Blackboard, can facilitate a person’s social interaction, and sharing ideas/stories with others which may not have happened offline/IRL. These platforms can be an effective means of encouraging those who do not wish to be identified, are too nervous to ask a question or share an idea to participate in group discussion. Someone can often gain heightened confidence digitally as opposed to when they would sometimes have previously held back during activities in the physical world. In many ways, the confessional booth of chat windows on Zoom resembles a Freudian couch; when you are not necessarily making direct eye contact, you can actually share more in some ways. The virtual environment, to some extent, may hold us hostages but we are liberated – we have a freedom to imagine. By sharing our personal stories online in an anonymised, optically restricted manner, we may be able to begin to heal traumatic experiences.

Returning to the discussion referred to above with the UAL LGBTQ+ student network members, we went further in our evaluation of Zoom, and began to explore how the optics at work for both audience and performer/speaker when engaging in Zoom may be (re)considered in terms of potentially opening up ways of thinking about the content of these performances: queer (in)visibility. We began to think together how certain aesthetics afforded to the online digital environment may offer a way to (re)think about optics and how this investigation may also relate to issues of (in)visibility within the queer community.

The virtual encounter is a sort of crossed gaze in a way – you are looking but you are not being looked back [at]. Online parties cannot look at each other in the eye — this kind of direct visual encounter with another human is interrupted completely, in addition to the delay in reaction time (another resumption lag, albeit a technological one). We found a relation to how queer people see and are seen and identified a relationship between my specific usage of the form and aesthetics of Zoom (optical one-way street, interruptions, disruptions, interferences etc.) and queer storytelling in relation to ideas of (in)visibility. In tandem with Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 provocation: ‘the medium is the message’, the students enjoyed thinking about how I employ the form and aesthetics of Zoom within my performance as a means to underline the content of what I share in my poetry; personal stories of the difficulties of being seen, not being seen etc.

How precise can you be between your live reading and what is happening with the images? Are you controlling the changes in film sequences – for example from football to Brighton – live as you speak, or can you time your performance perfectly to something that runs from beginning to end?

There will always a be a slight second lag between what is seen on screen and what is heard when the work is performed on Zoom. However, that quality is not seen as a negative in the context of these performances where the importance and clarity of hearing and understanding is deliberately obscured/ intentionally difficult to decipher; an intentional confusion to suggest that the audience may not understand what’s going on. As I refer to above, the possibility of lagging and buffering, interferences, interruptions etc. create a texture that has resonances with some of the difficulties queer people can experience in being heard/seen and is a textural quality that I embrace in my poetry storytelling to underline a point. Especially so in terms of when I talk about queer people including myself discovering our sexuality at a young age in spaces/ places where being anything other than heterosexual is frowned upon/not accepted. Obstacles are often deliberately put in someone’s path to coming out or feeling they are unable to express their (queer) sexuality directly/clearly or express it in any way at all. Whilst the green-screen background acts [as] a base, each live iteration containing so many levels of improvisation means that a performance/film screening can never be repeated twice. Containing so many visual and audio clashes and dizzying sound levels for texture and difference, the layering subsides in places and towards the end, and the taunts are heard more clearly. Whilst there are moments throughout the performances where I make everything super clear, then I go back out, one audience member commented that the discomfort weirdly enough made him feel like he was in the room with me and that the ‘interruptions, craziness, and everything being so distorted visually made it better than it being smooth otherwise it would have felt like a slide show. I loved love the fact that it is not perfectly synchronised’. Extending these qualities when I perform the work now more often IRL, with the imagery on a screen / on a projection near me where I read my poems, I deliberately engineer a slight ‘out-of-syncness’.

What do you feel are the differences for yourself as performer and/or for the audience between the live events married with film and the works that have been made as complete films?

I guess for me it has something to do with me performing my poems live and me being present in the moment with an audience, be that online or in the physical space. During the live performance, I often incorporate a sense of improvisation within the work to whatever degree I feel/ how I am triggered by a particular audience. At present this only extends to the poems that I am reading and not to the visual imagery. To explain, as I perform, I go ‘off script’. I don’t mind if the moving imagery is out of ‘sync’ with what I am reading as a result of me going off-script as that adds to the performance. It also shows to the audience that I am present with them and responding to the mood and feel of the room, much like what a stand-up comedian does. [11]

When I go off-script I often give the audience ‘insider’ details about something that I have just said in the poem. For example, when I performed my poem Nice Cup of Tea at Gobjaw the other week in London, I stopped reading towards the end, came out of my ‘poetry-voice’ and told the audience that after all those cups of tea I had been drinking mentioned in the poem, I really wanted to go the toilet (which I knew was what a lot of people in the audience were wondering!). But more provocatively than that, at other times, I self-interrupt my performances and say things that I would never be able to say to anyone at the time (my teenage years in the 1990s) that a lot of my poems are set in. I remember stopping during a reading of Covert Operations recently just after the line where I say ‘Mr Suputo, my sexy Italian teacher for Geography Phwoar. My imagination in your class took me everywhere’ to tell the audience exactly what I found attractive about said teacher; that I thought Mr Suputo had a great bum despite those rather baggy cream coloured chinos popular with men in the 1990s that he wore, and that I am convinced he clocked me having a peak at said behind which I think he quite enjoyed from the cheeky (no pun intended) smile he gave me. And don’t start me off on what I once shared with the audience during a reading of Covert when I talk about secretly fancying Grammar School Guy ‘through the flames of my griddle’!

Sure, there can be times during a film screening that I am present at with an audience that I can share these more intimate details after the screening but there’s nothing like sharing those details live with an audience as the poem unfolds.

At present, as I am speaking out my poems aloud with the moving imagery behind me/to my side, the imagery will be set.[12] However, I am now exploring live ways to remix that imagery in future performances by adding another layer (a ‘live’ layer that could have more than one video feed) by using VJ software and live feeds. I love working within the field of moving image because of the levels of control that I can have and the (creative) restrictions of the confines of the iMovie timeline. Yet, this sharply contrasts with my prior performance work which often had an improvisatory nature and could be characterised as having a high degree of unexpected/chance elements. To explore this axis of working between control and the unexpected/unplanned/improvisatory initially, I’d like to gain knowledge and understanding of working with VJ software and live feeds where I import clips into VJ software so I have no control in terms of the running order those clips will appear during screenings of the films.

The situations above recall a conversation with University of Nottingham’s Susannah Goh, after my aforementioned Immersive Storytelling Symposium performance above, where I was performing in one room and the audience sat watching me in a theatre on a giant screen. Susan expressed that there was almost magical quality about the different spatial dynamics at force during what I did. Paraphrasing her ideas, Susannah suggested that the moment that I walked out of the room where I had conducted the performance and into the theatre only feet away was ‘as if by magic’ I appear from my performance digital reality into another (real-world) reality, almost like a person on television stepping out of the TV set and into the living room (physical space). ‘All of a sudden, you appeared!’, Susannah mentioned with gusto. She then mentioned that one of the audience members watching my performance live in the theatre, the audience had witnessed, for her, what was a deeply personal raw experience through someone else’s eyes. And then, as if by magic, that individual (me) appears as a (physical) person like me on television appearing/stepping out of the screen. Consequently, the audience had to relate to me in a completely different way. I entered the theatre to answer questions from the audience and break things down. Susannah appreciated this as the actor(s)/performer(s) being present to take questions, explain things etc. immediately after the performance in the same space as the audience is not what you (always) get in a theatre and therefore the audience superimpose what they think the performance was about.

I am also currently exploring incorporating a live performance element and generating a live cinematic experience where live performance ‘interacts’ with the films. For example, as the film Let Rip: Personal History of Seeing (2019) is being screened, all of a sudden, performers start coming in, re-enacting what is on screen creating a mirroring what’s on screen so there is a liveness to proceedings. These performance interruptions echo moments in the films. Actual football players enter the space carrying McDonalds’ bags and then pull out their jockstraps; a football player in a jockstrap winking at me, etc.

Artist Jeff Keen used ripping, cutting and burning in his films and also integrated drawing and performance. Like Jeff, I’d like to paint onto the (projection) screen then rip the screen as something is being projected and then rip the screen with another screen behind it. Or maybe that I use Zoom to do the interrupting? In other words, in the same manner as I have segued Zoom recordings into my poetry film, as I have done so with my 2022 poetry film version of Let Rip: Teenage Scrapbook during moments in my physical performances where ripping takes place, there are Zoom interruptions which the audience are not sure are recorded or taking place live.

In terms of developing my poetry film further, I am also planning to make a new film which has both the narrative arc of a football match and the same length: 90 minutes. This is to question: 1) How much of myself would I disclose in terms of the personal given that duration (90 mins)? and 2) How much time do you give yourself as a viewer to work that you know is difficult psychologically or emotionally or physically to engage with?  Whilst still wishing to incorporate archival footage and employ the same green screen effect I currently use to achieve seductive layers seeping through to ‘compel’ the viewer, by creating new mantras/rituals, I want to explore repetition and the ‘musicality’ / the sound design of the film to compel and ‘repel’ the viewer. My film Tackle has a musicality, but its sonic complexity doesn’t go far enough. Let Rip: The Beautiful Game only reveals limited personal details about me because of its short duration. Using sonic visual attacks associated with my love of the YouTube Poop phenomenon, I want to now produce a film so unlistenable but at the same time involves/seduces the listener/viewer.

You’ve said that the “performative filmic backdrop … involves me creating a bridge between video, poetry and performance and, in turn, proposing a new way of thinking about what the somewhat tired term ‘collage’ may be.” I’m very interested in this idea of creating a bridge between communicative formats and your exploration of collaging and layering. For me that is developing between video, poetry and the page and a new way of thinking about graphic design. Does your work appear on the page? Is this an interpretation you’ve thought about?

I’ve had several of my poems published in journals and magazines including The Atticus Review, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Powders Press, Otherwise, You Are Here – The Journal of Creative Geography and Queerlings – A Literary Magazine for Queer Writing and where possible a link to the poetry film accompanying the respective poem is provided and/or artworks that I have made to accompany the poem. I haven’t really thought too much beyond that at the moment but is definitely something I would like to work with in the future.

Particularly so as the ‘static’ printed page, for me, also represents a space which can be thought of in terms of time and duration if we recall comments that I made earlier about static things and objects revealing ideas and thoughts over time in just the same way as durational work e.g., in film and moving image work do in the more traditional sense of them being ‘durational works’. In 2020, I made a 2D collage work using felt tips on paper, Fag in your Face. Its composition sets up a relationship to depth, surface and text where the writing interrupts the image thus setting up a dialogue between interiority, superficiality and surface and depth.[13] Cut lines and ripped lines combine with one text layer on another text layer. The writing is direct whereas the image is less direct. The writing over the image determines its meaning.  There is an oscillation between something that is overwhelmingly simple but actually quite complex. It could be said that the writing interrupts that in many ways. The text seems quite blunt first off but not over time. As a collage drawing, different layers make the viewer explore idea around shininess, smoothness, texture and intimacy. The ripped pages have a grainy texture. On a sensorial level, it feels like there’s’ more depth to something; the shinier something is the more impenetrable it is in many ways, the less that it reveals about itself. The imperfectness of it not being perfectly smoothly stuck down gives it a depth. The repetition of the figure that is turned away from you. Aggregation of time is coming through in the sense that you can still feel the rip even if you can’t see it or hear it. The gentle tears and violent rips of the collaged-together drawings that form Fag directly reference my moving image work, where ripping is used a device to both reveal and conceal.

Developing this work, I thought that maybe the writing and the faces in opposition with each other could be more explicit. I could decentre the text or rethink its placement, so the writing is a layer in itself beyond just being a vehicle for meaning / getting a message across like a protest placard. Maybe the writing could get more diffuse and indeterminate as to create a third meaning with the images rather than underlining the meaning of the work.

The ideas above about Fag could act as a starting point for how I start to work with the page more to present my poetry in a time durational manner in the ways I suggest. I like the ideas of the words to my poems written on the page in ways that make them illegible/hard to make out/indeterminate in places as to underline the content within a lot of my poems. Words that are folded into the texture of images. Certainly an interesting avenue to explore!

Lee Campbell

Bio: Dr Lee Campbell is an artist, poet experimental filmmaker, writer, Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts London, curator of regular performance poetry night POW? Play on Words in South London and founder of Homo Humour, the first of its kind project on contemporary queer male film and moving image practices that explore humour and LGBTQ+ storytelling. His experimental performance poetry films have been selected for many international film festivals since 2019 including Queerbee LGBT Film Festival, The Gilbert Baker Film Festival, Kansas 2020 and 2021, HOMOGRAPHY, Brussels and STATES OF DESIRE: Tom of Finland in the Queer Imagination, Casa de Duende, Philadelphia, USA, 2020 WICKED QUEER 2021, Boston, USA, FilmPride – Brighton & Hove Pride’s official LGBTQ+ film festival, Brighton, UK, Splice Film Festival 2021, Brooklyn, USA and Darkroom Festival, London.


[1] You can read more about my usage of the rip in these films here in this reflective account I wrote this year for Moving Image Artists Journal https://movingimageartists.co.uk/2022/03/25/let-rip/  You can view all of these films mentioned in this paragraph here: https://filmfreeway.com/LeeCampbell

[2] Details of On Your Marks (Tension Lines) (2020) as part of Sidewalk Video Gallery programme can be found here: https://www.fsfaboston.com/the-sidewalk-video-gallery/campbell-milosevic

[3] You can find documentation of past POW! Play on Words events here: https://leecampbellartist.blogspot.com/p/curatorial-lee-campbell-projects.html

[4] Compare the text on screen in Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019)  https://filmfreeway.com/LETRIP with the hand drawn text animations at the start of Covert Operations (2022) https://filmfreeway.com/COVERTOPERATIONS

[5] Details of this project can be found here: https://leecampbelltechnoparticipation.blogspot.com

[6] These comments were made by Esther Moreno Morillas during her presentation ‘Porn Festivals During COVID-19, An Online Approach’, at Moving Image, Popular Media and Culture Research Seminar on Wednesday 9th March 2022.

[7] You can view details and watch a recording of this performance online here: https://filmfreeway.com/POLARIPUPPET2020

[8] You can view details and watch a recording of these performances online here: https://filmfreeway.com/CLEVERATSEEINGWITHOUTBEINGSEEN2021 and https://filmfreeway.com/PEERLIVEZOOMPERFORMANCE

A live Zoom performance of Peer is taking place on 17th July as part of Festival ECRA: Details here: https://www.festivalecra.com.br/6fecraperformances-1/par

[9] You can read about The Digital Pedagogies Open Studio I co-set up at University of the Arts London in ‘Technoparticipation’ article I wrote, recently published in Performance Research journal issue ‘On Interruptions’:

[10] To see documentation of the performance and the spatial set up I mention here, visit: https://leecampbelltechnoparticipation.blogspot.com/2021/11/clever-at-seeing-without-being-seen.html

[11] For an example of this, see when I performed my poem Rufus last year at Monkey Business Comedy Club in Camden:  https://youtu.be/EGfvcbTLJTQ

[12] For examples of this, see when I performed at Bold Queer Poetry Soirée, Above the Stag Theatre, London in June 2022 https://youtu.be/UrQlOEZH7do and at Runt of the Litter in London, May 2022 https://youtu.be/n5iXKBQQMeU

[13] This work was made as part of The Daily Winds Map of Brighton https://brightoncca.art/event/the-daily-winds-map-of-brighton/

Hover over the area around George Street on the map and Fag in my Face will appear with accompanying description.

How to find festivals for a poetry film: an interview with Adam E. Stone

A recent post about calls for work in festivals elicited a comment from filmmaker Adam E. Stone. We corresponded and this turned into a interview about the advice, ideas and strategies that Adam employs to get his work out into the world.

an entombing(dis)entombing (2020 – HD) from Adam E. Stone on Vimeo.

Jane: Apart from targeting the festivals known specifically for poetry films, how do you go about choosing which events to enter?

Adam: Well, budget is always a consideration, so I look first at the reasonableness of the submission fees. In addition to that, I look for festivals that are run by people who seem to be passionate about independent film, and who seem to be guided by an artistic, poetry-like aesthetic, even if they do not specifically have a category for poetry films. Onirica Film Festival in La Spezia, Italy is a good example. They have a very “dream-like” vibe, which to me is consistent with many, perhaps most, poetry films. Festival Fotogenia (which translates on FilmFreeway to Photogenic Festival) in Mexico City, Mexico is another one I discovered by searching for festivals with that kind of vibe. It did not have a separate poetry film category at the time I found it and had one of my poetry films accepted for screening there, but now it has added one, which is an exciting development for us all, and I hope to screen there again in the future.

Jane: What is your search strategy to find appropriate non-poetry film festivals?

Adam: I develop a list of non-poetry keywords that I believe characterize the film, then use the search function on FilmFreeway (found at the top of the “Browse Festivals” tab) to see what kind of festivals are out there that may be interested in the film. The results can be surprising. For example, there is a great little festival in Anglesey, Wales, UK called the SeeMor Films Festival that only screens films that have either a dialogue reference, or a visual reference (or both!), to the sea. Both of the poetry films I made in 2020–“an entombing(dis)entombing” and “Elegy for Unfinished Lives”–had such references, so I submitted both, and they both screened at the festival in 2020. Likewise, my 2021 one-minute poetry film “If Any” is partially filmed from a bicycle, and the narrator refers to riding a bicycle, so I did keyword searches for “bicycle,” bike,” and “biking,” and found quite a few festivals. Some are high-adrenaline, adventure-biking kinds of festivals, which I don’t think are good fits for the film, but I found a handful that seem to be more eclectic and have potential, so I will try them out.

I also think that sometimes you have to think outside of the box with your keywords, and really trust your instinct. “Elegy for Unfinished Lives”–which I describe as a ghost poem film–is such a strange and disjointed howl of angst against injustice and against mainstream pop-culture that its text, as well as its visual content, made me wonder if some of the more experimental horror film festivals might be interested. So I did a keyword search for “ghost,” found and submitted to a few horror festivals, and ended up with screenings at Delirium, Dreams, and Nightmares (Southsea, England, UK), as well as at Qosm Film Festival (formerly known as Vidi Space, and located in Reston, Virginia, USA), Canted Angle Film Festival (Harrison, Arkansas, USA), and Haunted Garage’s Horror Fest 2021 (St. Louis, Missouri, USA).

And finally, don’t neglect the more obvious choices: if your poetry film is a one-minute film, search for all of the festivals that specialize in one-minute films (and there are several of them!), because you definitely have a good shot at screening with some of them. Most poetry films are fairly short, so be sure to search for “micro-shorts,” which often includes films up to three minutes, or even up to six minutes, depending on the festival. The Haiku Amateur Little Film Festival (also known as the HALF Festival) is a festival in Palakkad in the Kerala state of India that doesn’t have anything to do with haiku in the poetry sense, but only screens films that are five minutes or less. It is run by a group of distinguished Indian filmmakers who love short film as an art form, so in my opinion it’s a great potential fit for poetry films, and in fact I have had both poetry films and dance films screen there in the past. Some years it is on FilmFreeway and some years it isn’t, but it is on there for submissions for its September 2022 event, so I’d encourage everyone to check it out and submit if you think it’s a good fit for you.

Jane: Do you search any sources other than FilmFreeway?

Adam: Yes, I check the “Calls for Work” section of the Moving Poems website once or twice a month. This year I made a feature-length poetic essay film called “Atmospheric Marginalia” that I wanted to submit to some big fests that are not on FilmFreeway because they use their own internal submission systems (like Cannes, Berlinale, Busan, and Telluride), so I had to research those individually and submit individually. That’s very time-intensive, but sometimes you have to do it. Overall, I’m grateful that so many festivals (including big ones like Sundance, Slamdance, and Raindance, to name but a few) are on FilmFreeway now. When I started using FilmFreeway in 2014, it was still an open question whether they would be able to compete with Withoutabox. Obviously, they out-competed them, and overall I think they have a very good system that is very user-friendly to independent filmmakers. When all else fails, you can always Google “poetry film festivals” or whatever term fits your film best and see what you get from the web at large.

Jane: Given a budget would you rather spread it more widely on cheaper entry fees or on a few more expensive festivals if they are more prestigious?

Adam: I try as much as possible to have the best of both worlds. A lot of festivals have lower entry fees if you submit early in their selection process, so I do that whenever I can. Keeping a running list of potential festivals, and monitoring it year round, is what works best for me. If I finish a film at a time when one of the festivals I want to submit to is near its final deadline, and therefore the submission fee is high, I’ll usually just wait for the next year and submit then, as long as they don’t have a strict completed-by date restriction. Overall, my goal has always been to try to get my films in front of audiences that will appreciate them, and although that sometimes means a bigger, more prestigious festival if it seems like a good fit, often it means a smaller, narrowly-focused festival, like a poetry film festival. Fortunately, most poetry film festivals have very reasonable submission fees, and several are free to enter.

Jane: How do you choose categories to enter (other than poetry film) if it’s open to interpretation? Short film, art film, experimental film, narrative film?

Adam: That can be tough, but I read their descriptions closely and try to find the best fit I can. Most festivals state in their rules that they will move your film to a different category if they think there’s a better fit for it, so I trust them to do that. As with everything else in the selection process, it is very subjective, with a lot of room for individual interpretation. If I really have a hard time deciding, and I’m using FilmFreeway, I might use their cover letter function to put in a brief note telling them I wasn’t sure which category to enter, and that I’m open to them putting it wherever they want to.

Jane: What do you think makes a film an experimental film?

Adam: That’s a great question, and I think if you asked 10 different festival directors and programmers, you would get 10 different answers. Personally, I love the fact that it’s a wide open concept. It’s a turn-off for me if a festival tries to give a rigid definition of what makes a film experimental – that’s a little too elitist and snobbish for my taste, because I think it can lead to an unhealthy hegemony of self-appointed gatekeepers. Often, the best art is wild art, and I think that attempts to nail it down or control it are unfortunate, especially among those who profess to love art. An art form can move forward–can grow and flourish–only when the most experimental of its artists push the boundaries. Certainly, if a festival wants to focus on traditional, classical types or genres of films, they have every right to do that, but I would hope that if a festival actively seeks experimental films, they would be open to diverse interpretations of what “experimental” means. To me, it can refer to form, content, or both, and is often about asking viewers to reconsider long-held and deeply-ingrained ideas about how the world works, structures of power, the nature of reality, etc.

Elegy for Unfinished Lives (2020 – HD) from Adam E. Stone on Vimeo.

Jane: What do you think festival directors think their categories mean?

Adam: In my experience, when festival directors or programmers have a strict or regimented idea of what each of their categories mean, they usually make that very clear in their descriptions, and if they do, it’s good to pay close attention to that, so you don’t waste your time and money on something that is not a good fit for your film. However, a lot of times they leave their categories pretty wide open, or specifically mention that they are open to all genres of shorts, or features, or whatever, or state that they reserve the right to move your film to a different category if they accept it. That tells me they recognize that many films are hard to categorize, and that they want the flexibility to place your film where it fits best with the other films they are programming. Personally, I prefer festivals that are very open and free with their categories, because in my experience they tend to be more open-minded about film in general, and to see film as a very subjective, exciting, and expansive mode of expression.

Jane: How many festivals did you enter last year?

Adam: I tend to have multiple films on the festival circuit at the same time, so it’s hard to say exactly, but I think that on average, I submit to approximately 100 festivals per year in total.

Jane: What would you estimate is your success rate for entries?

Adam: It is interesting to me how much this varies by film. I think it really shows that even among the most independent film programmers, there are certain films that connect with them more than others. My work tends to go very much against the mainstream, and definitely leans more toward the highly experimental and boundary-pushing, and I have found that the more offbeat the film is, the lower the acceptance rate generally will be. For example, my 2018 short poem film Gods Die Too is admittedly provocative in its rejection of mainstream, Western notions of “heroism.” Its festival acceptance rate was roughly 10%, although it screened at some great festivals, including the final presentation of the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival, and at the 7th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece. On the other hand, my 2020 one-minute poem film an entombing(dis)entombing has a festival acceptance rate of 30% and is still going strong on the circuit. I actually consider it to be quite subversive and countercultural too, but maybe it’s just a little less in-your-face about it than Gods Die Too was. Or maybe it’s just a better film, who knows. If one of my films has an acceptance rate of 20% or higher, I consider that quite good, in light of how competitive the well-curated festivals are, and how subjective programming decisions are. But really, to me, if you are happy with your film, and you feel like it expresses what you set out to express, then you shouldn’t worry about the acceptance rate. Some films, by their nature, are going to have smaller audiences, or resonate with fewer people, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important films, especially to the people with whom they do resonate.

Jane: Have you ever tried to modify what you create in order to try to fit into a festival?

Adam: No, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that. If you feel like the modifications are small, and that they don’t negatively impact the overall integrity of your film, I would say go for it, because it may create an opportunity for a screening that otherwise would not exist. Likewise, I’ve never made a film specifically for a certain festival (such as, for example, making a film around a festival’s theme, or using their designated poem for a poetry film), but I think it’s great if a person can do that, and it’s another excellent way to get your work out there in front of an audience, and to get some name recognition among festival directors and programmers.

Jane: What makes a good festival to enter?

Adam: Just as independent musicians often find their most dedicated and appreciative fans in small, intimate performance venues, independent filmmakers sometimes can find the same in those small, labor-of-love film festivals that cater to people with an appetite for original, non-mainstream films that push the boundaries of the art form. Certainly that includes poetry film festivals, but many other types too. The tricky thing, as we’ve discussed, is finding them. It takes a lot of research time, but it’s worth it when you feel like your film has connected with an audience that appreciates it.

Jane: What makes you avoid a festival?

Adam: I avoid festivals that appear to be interested in presenting only mainstream, orthodox points of view, because I know my films won’t be a good fit for them, or vice versa. I also avoid festivals that are vague about when and/or where their screenings are going to be, or have generic descriptions of themselves and what kinds of films they seek, or that seem to exist only to collect submission fees. If I’m not sure about a festival, I go to their website to see if it looks like a real festival, and beyond that, I’ll often Google the festival to see if it has gotten coverage from legitimate media sources, like the local news outlet in that area, because authentic festivals, even if very small and grassroots, are going to be doing everything they can to engage their local communities, as well as wider independent film communities specifically related to their festival, to try to attract attendees, promote the films they have selected, and build a following for themselves for future festivals they plan to hold. Likewise, I search to see if they have used social media to promote their prior events, which is another indicator that it is a real festival that is trying to create excitement for its screenings. That said, I don’t avoid a festival just because it is new, or hasn’t yet attracted a big following. I recognize that takes time, and as long as the festival directors and programmers seem to be genuine lovers of independent film who are doing their best to create a unique and interesting festival, I’ll submit, because to me, in the end, it’s all about trying to get my films out there to people who might appreciate them, wherever in the world they may be, and no matter how large or small the screening may be. You never know when or how your film may make a positive impact on someone’s life, and to me, that’s a big part of what independent filmmaking is all about.


Bio: Adam E. Stone’s poetry films and other films have screened at many prominent festivals worldwide, and have won numerous awards. His latest film is the feature-length poetic essay film Atmospheric Marginalia (2022). He also is the writer, producer, and co-director of the feature-length fictional essay film Abstractly You Loved Me (2013), and is one of the co-producers of, and conducted many of the interviews for, the feature-length documentary Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story (DVD 2019). In 2012, he wrote and produced the spoken-word ballet A Life Unhappening, about the impact of one woman’s Alzheimer’s disease on three generations of her family. In 2010, he wrote, directed, and produced the DVD novel Cache Girl Saves the World: A Novel in Visions. He is also the author of three conventional print novels. He currently lives and works in the United States in Carbondale, Illinois.

How to start a major new videopoetry festival: an interview with the co-directors of Cadence

Dave Bonta: Seattle’s Cadence: Video Poetry Festival is one of the most exciting new poetry film festivals in North America. I love how many different activities you have, and the tie-in to Poetry Month, but most of all I like the way you present the genre, right at the top of the festival website: “Cadence approaches video poetry as a literary genre presented as visual media that makes new meaning from the combination of text and moving image.” This is especially striking coming from a group called Northwest Film Forum—one would expect the festival to take a more conservative, film-centric approach, foregrounding directors and treating the film adaptation of pre-existing poems as normative. So I’d like to know what’s behind this: How did each of you come to videopoetry, and what led you to want to put on a videopoetry festival like Cadence?

Rana San: The collaboration came about organically, as does much of the multidisciplinary programming staged at Northwest Film Forum, a film and arts space centering community programming. We first floated the idea of starting a video poetry festival in late 2017. It was my first week on the job and over Thai food Chelsea was lamenting the lack of outlets for exhibiting video poetry in our region and beyond. So the following week we began our research, brainstormed festival titles, and started reaching out to potential collaborators. Seattle is a UNESCO City of Literature with a tight-knit filmmaking community, it felt important to offer a space for this hybrid genre to shine on its own.

Chelsea Werner-Jatzke: As a literary artist, I was sort of confused about what to do with it once I had created a video poem. The video was presented at a couple visual art events, I submitted it to online journals and I wanted to present it at festivals. It became apparent rather quickly that the large majority of these festivals were international. I was excited by this different presentation format—not a reading but a screening. My piece was accepted at Video Bardo in Buenos Aires in 2016 but I was unable to find a translator for it in time and it wasn’t shown. At that time, I thought Seattle would be a great city to host a video poetry festival and Northwest Film Forum does so much interdisciplinary programming that it seemed a natural fit. It was a passing idea that started to take real shape once Rana began working at the Forum.

Dave: This is your second year for the festival, but I believe the first to open up the contest to poets and filmmakers from anywhere in the world. How did that transition go? Were you satisfied with the quantity and quality of submissions?

Rana: We honestly didn’t expect the volume of submissions we received in the festival’s first year from the Pacific Northwest alone. In fact we didn’t even use a submission platform and just invited interested parties to submit via email. Moving the application process to FilmFreeway both enhanced the festival’s visibility globally—we received works from 17 countries—and freed us up to do concentrated outreach to community partners. We were thrilled by the quality of submissions and had to make some tough choices to whittle down our final selections.

Dave: It’s always interesting to see what categories the organizers of a videopoetry or poetry film contest will come up with. Cadence has four categories, each with a different judge: Adaptations/Ekphrasis, Collaboration, Video by Poets, and Poetry by Video Artists. Why these four, and not, for example, style- or subject-based categories (Best Animation, Best Political Videopoem, etc.)?

Chelsea: The most common question we are asked is, what is video poetry? Over the last two years we found that using these categories as examples helped people better understand what we meant. I struggled with whether the categories were too restrictive or limiting and got a lot of differing feedback on this. One of our judges really liked the categories while one of artists felt like they really didn’t know where to place themselves. Like all things with the festival, we may handle this differently next year and see what we get back. There are a lot of people out there making weird poetic video work and we are hoping the categories will help the video poetry weirdos identify us as a place to submit.

Dave: A standard film festival can be a pretty passive experience for the attendees, with a hard and fast line between creators and viewers, but the 2019 Cadence program included two videopoem workshops, one for children and one for adults, with a screening for the results. How did that turn out? Were you able to convert some of the viewers into makers, and vice versa?

Rana: The workshops are one of my favorite parts of the festival, serving as an opportunity for seasoned and emerging artists alike to generate and exhibit new work. The youth workshop, designed to support the next generation of makers, was led by our first Cadence artist-in-residence Catherine Bresner and they had so much fun working with stop motion! Scholar, poet, and book artist Amaranth Borsuk led the adult workshop in which participants created a collaborative video poem—a triptych written, voiced, shot, and edited as a collective. Completing the creative process with a group of strangers was truly transformational and distinct from last year where each participant predominantly identified as either a poet or filmmaker and developed an individual piece. Our hope is that once participants get a taste of the possibilities that video poetry presents, they continue to make work on their own.

Dave: A lot of poetry film festivals kind of do their own thing, but one of the striking things about the  Cadence program is just how many partnerships you’ve already formed, in your second year, with local publishers and arts organizations on one hand, and other international festivals on the other. Why is this important to you?

Chelsea: Building connections between organizations that might not otherwise overlap feels like a natural side effect of offering a festival in an artform that connects two seemingly disparate mediums. There are many people, publishers, and orgs in Seattle working in ways that connect to the art form of video poetry and Rana and I have worked to offer a wider interpretation of the form than just our perspectives since the festival started. This is why we had a panel discussion in 2018 to discuss the definition of video poetry. This year we asked other orgs to present mini-showcases as opportunities to share a larger diversity of work.

Rana: Partnerships are at the core of our work as a community-based organization, we consistently seek co-presentation opportunities with organizations whose missions align with NWFF programs, and this effort extends to Cadence as well. We have much to learn from each other. The more we build alliances to support each other’s work in meaningful ways, the better equipped we are to incite public dialogue and social change through the arts.

Dave: I’ve seen some poetry film/video festivals that exist entirely online, and others with barely any web presence whatsoever. On the one hand, it seems a shame not to take advantage of the nearly worldwide reach of video streaming platforms, but on the other hand, if everything is available online, many festival directors feel audiences won’t show up. What are your thoughts on the proper balance between web and IRL where festivals are concerned, and do you plan any additional online efforts to share the videos screened or produced at Cadence?

Chelsea: I think this is similar to watching a movie at a theater versus streaming it online. Or looking at a photo of a painting as opposed to standing in front of it at a museum. A lot of the audience at the screenings are the writers, filmmakers, their friends, and other artists. I don’t think that has to do with material being available online. You see this in the audience across media at gallery openings, literary readings, etc. What’s cool about a video poetry screening in comparison to a literary reading, is seeing more cross over between artists of varying media in attendance. I think there’s also value to experiencing the selection of works presented by a specific festival.

Rana: This is a delicate balance indeed and one that NWFF faces daily. Our preference has been for participating video poets to determine whether and when to make their work available online. In contrast with digital platforms for consumption, the festival is intended to bring people together for a shared cinematic and artistic experience under one roof. Nothing can really replace the gripping silence that befalls a crowd during a film without sound or the accumulative laughter that lingers long after the credits.

Dave: What’s next for Cadence? Will the 2019 program be touring anywhere? What if anything will likely change next time? And do you plan to keep it an annual event?

Rana: Selections from Cadence 2019 are already touring poetry and arts festivals in the region and will continue to as we lead into the 2020 edition. We’ll continue to pursue collaborations and resource-sharing with local organizations and international video poetry festivals, as our combined efforts are truly a service to the artists we represent. The generative workshops may take place the month prior to the festival next year, to allot sufficient time for getting pieces festival-ready.

Chelsea: So far we screened works from the festival at the Cascadia Poetry Festival in Anacortes, WA in May and just shared a showcase of video poems from the 2019 line-up at the Arts in Nature Festival in Seattle. Next year we are talking about shifting the screening schedule and allowing more time for the production of new work as part of the festival’s output. Talking with other festival directors has been very useful in looking at what we’re doing and how we can switch it up to the benefit of the artists involved.

Submissions for Cadence 2020 are scheduled to open in January via FilmFreeway: https://filmfreeway.com/CadenceVideoPoetryFestival
To be added to the contact list, please email rana@nwfilmforum.org. For more information about the festival, visit nwfilmforum.org/cadence.

Rana San is an artist and arts administrator who, prior to stepping into her role as Artistic Director, served as the Community Programmer at NWFF, co-creating programming driven by and for the community. Rana co-directs the annual Cadence: Video Poetry Festival, the only video poetry festival in the PNW and one of three nationally.

Drawing on her background in performing arts and cultural management, she has developed and produced cultural festivals, museum programs, and intimate creative salons in Seattle, Istanbul, and Barcelona. Her creative practice melds dreamwork, written word, body in motion, video poetry, and analog photography. She’s interested in the ways we relate to ourselves, each other, our surroundings, the unknown, and the new meanings that are made in spaces where artistic mediums meet.

Rana’s first stop motion animation short disarmed screened at Local Sightings in 2016 and she serves on the short film committee for the Seattle Turkish Film Festival.

Chelsea Werner-Jatzke is the author of Adventures in Property Management (Sibling Rivalry, 2017) and Thunder Lizard (H_NGM_N, 2016). She is co-founder and director of Till, a literary organization that offers an annual writing residency at Smoke Farm in Arlington, WA. She is outreach coordinator for Conium Review and was previously managing fiction editor at Pacifica Literary Review. She has received support from Jack Straw Cultural Center as a writing fellow, from Artist Trust as an EDGE participant, and from the Cornish College Arts Incubator. She’s received writing residencies from Vermont Studio Center and Ragdale Foundation. Werner-Jatzke has taught creative writing through Seattle Central Community College and served on the board of Lit Crawl Seattle. She received her MFA from Goddard College, during which she was editor-in-chief of Pitkin Review and founded Lit.mustest, a now-defunct reading series.

Bios copied from the NWFF website.

“A free-form, open-ended communal play experience”: poetry, film, and the Typewriter Underground

an interview with Marc Zegans

Marc Zegans is a poet, spoken word artist, and creative development advisor to artists, writers, and other creative people. He’s the author of five collections of poems, La Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere (AKA Felt’s First Folio from The Typewriter Underground), The Book of Clouds, Boys in the Woods, The Underwater Typewriter, and Pillow Talk; an e-book, Intentional Practice and the Art of Finding Natural Audience; and two spoken word albums, Marker and Parker, with the late jazz pianist Don Parker, and Night Work. He has been the Narragansett Beer Poet Laureate and a Poetry Whore with the New York Poetry Brothel—which Time Out New York described as “New York’s Sexiest Literary Event,” and has performed everywhere from the Bowery Poetry Club and the American Poetry Museum to the San Francisco 40th Anniversary of Punk Rock Renaissance.

As an immersive theater producer he created the Boston Center for the Arts’ CycSpecific “Speak-Easy” and Salon Poetique: A Gathering of the “Tossed Generation.” He has also been MC and co-producer, with Aaron Shadwell and Brendyn Schneider, of The No Hipsters Rock ’n Roll Revue, and co-producer, with Karen Lee, of Burlesque for Books.

His latest project, The Typewriter Underground, is a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice, spawning not only a print publication—the aforementioned La Commedia Sotterranea della Macchina da Scrivere (Amazon), but also a number of films, live performances, and even a thriving online community of fans taking on the roles of living characters in its universe—a brilliant example of life imitating art, since the central conceit of this collection of verse fragments and collages is the spontaneous emergence of a subcultural phenomenon. According to the publisher’s description, the verse fragments appearing in La Commedia have the quality of the early gospels—personal accounts of authors who lived contemporaneously with the Underground, and were among its early apostles.

Marc tells me that the Typewriter Underground is at its heart an invitation to participate in an open world of infinite jest. But when I interviewed him by email earlier this week, it quickly became obvious that he’d put a lot of serious thought into the larger issues at play here.

When did you first start working with film- and video-makers, and how did that come about? It looks from your website as if that interest somewhat predated the Typewriter Underground.

It began when I wrote a poem called “Woodshed” that functioned as a musical score when turned on its side. I shared it with Peg Simone who’s a multi-talented recording artist, filmmaker and publisher. She loved the poem and the challenge of translating its score into an arrangement, and a recording. The music Peg recorded inspired her to create an absolutely mesmerizing stop-motion video of the same name.

My next foray into this world was with Jenn Vee, a wonderful visual poet working out of Oakland California. I met Jenn when she videotaped a reading I did for Nomadic Books. A short time later, I invited her to direct a film of a poem from my collection, The Underwater Typewriter. Jenn created a remarkable video called Broken Lines. Her film  hooked me on this sort of collaboration, because she made the poem entirely her own, visualizing it in a novel way that lent depth, resonance and meaning to the underlying text.

When Jenn reads Broken Lines in voiceover, her character becomes the poem’s fictive “I.” In doing so, she dramatically expands its possibility space. She gives us a female voice narrating the experience of a female character. One watches without any inkling that the poem on the page is by a man, voiced when I share it at readings at readings in a distinctly male voice. The film makes “Broken Lines” her story. There’s something wonderfully expansive about that.

For the Typewriter Underground, which came first, the texts or the films? If the former, were there instances when they were modified by the exigencies of filmmaking?

The texts definitely came first. I wrote them with the hope that they would stimulate activity by filmmakers and other artists. Regarding your second question, the simple answer is, yes, the poems were modified. The interesting bits are why and how.

In Ellen Hemphill’s and Jim Haverkamp’s remarkable films Manicotti and The Danger Meditations, from Archipelago Theatre/Cine Productions, the filmmakers hew strictly to the text.  Yet the poems are inevitably modified by their translation of the poems from words on the page to words-in-air. The narrator’s pacing and emphasis in these films sharply reduces the range of possible interpretations available to the viewer, because the vocal component of the film is a reading, not the poem itself. The relationship of voice-over to visual imagery further bounds the interpretive space of the poem. In the film, the poem is more fully imagined than on the page, making it both more accessible, and more limited because its setting and characters are explicitly defined on screen.  The film perhaps, though, is more provocative, more memorable and more emotionally connected, as a consequence of its direct appeal to the senses.

Eric Edelman’s animations of the first two verse fragments from the Typewriter Underground modify their source poems quite differently.  In each of these films, text from the poems is displayed visually, rather than delivered by voice-over. A Clack in the Tunnel opens with the poem’s first stanza traveling onto the screen from right to left like a pronouncement from the Oracle.. It hovers shakily long enough for the viewer to read and partially digest its contents. Later on, the poem’s second stanza rises from the bottom of an arched window casement and remains long enough for the viewer to make some sense of it. In the film these stanzas are represented as sentences, disregarding the line breaks that I employed in the poem. Edelman’s use of the text in this instance adheres strictly to its original content, but not to its form. Perhaps more significantly, the film visually incorporates only the first two stanzas of a nine-stanza poem.

While I would describe the visual representation of the text directly employed in the film as a modification of the original, I would characterize its use by the filmmaker as an appropriation. Edelman appropriated the elements of the poem that enabled him to realize the film’s purposes as he saw them, rather than simply seeking to realize the poem qua poem in animated form. Via appropriation of critical elements, Edelman, like Simone and Vee, takes ownership of the poem, and yet, his nominally incomplete rendering accurately establishes for the viewer the fundamental meaning that required nine stanzas of text on the page.

Edelman’s next film, Typewriter Underground Second Fragment, introduces the poem’s text in a different fashion, a scrolling background to an elaborate, animated scene set outside a train station. While the film presents the entire text of the poem, its function as a stage-rear scrim, backing lively action in the foreground, and its introduction in scrolling sections does not preclude, but hardly encourages, its complete reading. We see the text here as both source of and context for the action, providing us with passing clues to what’s going on in the larger underground, without bearing the burden of the telling the whole story.

As filmmaking strategy Edelman’s move is brilliant, calling attention to the text as frame for the visual world he has established, while placing the film’s vital action outside the text. Edelman took my premise of text as catalyst to heart, rendering this meta-function in the film itself.

The other films from the Typewriter Underground are closely keyed to the underlying text in their visual design and progression, and one, Incomplete Sentences, superimposes a single line from the poem on the action, but none of these poems directly communicate the body of the text to the viewer either by voice or words on screen. This can be accounted for in part because the films were produced to be elements in a theatrical production with live readings of the source poems on stage, but the films function well as silent entities with no direct reference to the text. Accordingly, one might read these as coherent visual responses to the underlying poems, a procedural reversal of ekphrasis in which a poem describes a scene or a piece of art.

How did the collaborations come about? Was film part of your vision for the Typewriter Underground from the outset?

Film was definitely part of the vision for the Typewriter Underground. The project envisions an entirely subterranean culture, one that invites participation in its rendering and in its ongoing life. My aim was to stimulate art, music, theatre, dance, film and community.

These particular collaborations came about because Janice Blaze Rocke, the director of the Typewriter Underground’s first theatrical production, integrates film with live action in her literary performance art. (That’s one of the reasons I wanted to work with her.) Janice and I agreed that I would reach out to half a dozen filmmakers, and invite them to make films that would stand on their own, but could  be fully incorporated into the larger production.

In fostering these collaborations, I was interested in variety. I wanted people of different ages, filmmaking styles and genders, hailing from different parts of the country, so I reached out to people whose work I respected and invited them to make films from my poems. I was fortunate that the folks who signed on delivered superb films that traveled stylistically from film noir to theater of the absurd.

What was the role of live performance in shaping both the poetry and films?

That’s a great question. Live performance was crucial to shaping the poems in three ways. First, I constantly voiced the poems as I built them. I tend to process language best when I can hear it, so voicing poems in in development is a natural element of my process. Second, part of my strategy in bringing the Typewriter Underground to life was to introduce the poems in live readings well before making the films, staging the show (and subsequent theatrical experiences), and publishing  the book. I did this most consistently in readings at the San Francisco and Los Angeles Poetry Brothels, but also at poetry readings in more conventional settings like bookstores, cafes, and Venice Beach’s legendary literary venue Beyond Baroque.

Live performance was an element in some of the films, and an anticipatory component in all. The films were designed so that they could be incorporated into a live show with a full-sized cinema screen positioned above the stage on. To give you a sense of what this involved, here’s a single photograph from the show at Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. Jenn Vee’s film Hypergraphic Dakini-Prolixity (top half of the frame) is playing in parallel with Carri Newhouse’s live interpretation of the same character directly below.

photo by Sean Shadwell

What can digital poets, including videopoets, learn from the physicality of typewriter production?

A critical lesson is that verse can drive and can inspire physical action. A second lesson is that verse admits to physical interpretation. As I mentioned earlier, such interpretation both animates and delimits an audience’s experience of the underlying material. That being the case, if you want to make poetry that inspires creative action, it’s worth considering with care whether the language you’re shaping invites physical interpretation, and what paths that interpretation might take. The aim in this is not to prescribe the one right way to bring the poem to life, but rather to provide structure and cues that generate fruitful interpretation and that defeat translations and visual renderings that would do it harm.

In The Danger Meditations, I was struck by the images of blindfolded people air-typing, which seemed so to resonate (and contrast) with the way legions of people interact with their screens in public now. Was this your idea, or the invention of the filmmakers?

That was the invention of the filmmakers. As part of her preparation for the film, Ellen Hemphill, who has decades of experience in dance, studied how people go about typing on manual machines, isolated their movements, and then amplified them in the air-typing sequences you see on screen, turning the characters, like the machines they fetishize, into a gathering of typists as the undead—typewriter zombies.

In both Manicotti and The Danger Meditations, transcendent creative geniuses exist somewhat apart from a transgressive underground scene. Is this mainly an exercise in nostalgia for past avant-garde movements dating back to the Romantic revolt, or do you see it as a pattern of continuing cultural relevance? I ask because a new generation of extremely ambitious, prosocial, digital-native poets seems to be challenging many of the guiding assumptions of the poetry establishment, while in practice continuing to compete as lone creators for the same narrow, conventional goals (prizes, print magazine publication, books, academic tenure). Are there serious lessons for poets (and filmmakers) in the Typewriter Underground?

I feel definite warmth toward the bohemian communities of yesteryear.  The characters in the Typewriter Underground are clearly driven by a yearning for the freedom, community, and scruffy life represented by those subcultures. The outstanding figures of the movement share with the Romantic revivalists an indomitable drive toward uniquely individual creative accomplishment, while, as you note, the transgressive scenesters who permeate the Underground are not particularly original, and rather parasitic.

At the same time there are important differences between the Underground and the avant-garde. Avant-gardes were creative movements consciously seeking to reconstruct art and culture on novel terms. Their central motive was to be out ahead of the culture, and they advanced their agenda in dialectical fashion via manifesto. In this sense members of the avant-garde were part of an expressly modern system dynamic. By contrast, the larger world that members of the Typewriter Underground inhabit is post-modern, networked, digitally mediated, increasingly virtual, massively subject to hive mind, and characterized by exponentially accelerating technical innovation. In such a context, the notion that art’s meaning lies in subverting static social convention is absurd.

Consequently, members of the Underground seek meaning and validation by other means, in particular their rejection of the virtual in favor of the tangible. Typists in the Underground do not find solidarity in a quest to be ahead of the crowd, but in an urgent desire to return to the self, to intimate acquaintance, and to passionate pursuit of individual expression, although their aims with respect to the latter range widely. For some, individual expression is a vehicle for making sense of one’s experience (as Mechanical Rust strives to do in the Danger Meditations); for others, a means of arriving at and communicating one’s truths; for a few, like Prolixity and others that you’ll discover in the First Folio, it is a path to transcendence, and for others, simply a form of exquisite indulgence.

There’s a meta-question implicit in your query about continuing cultural relevance: “Why do I make these damaged, driven creative geniuses central figures in the life of the Typewriter Underground? What am I trying to accomplish by putting them there, giving them life, cataloguing their experiences, describing their accomplishments and the social effects of their actions?”

I put these people in the scene because I believe fervently that in a world shaken loose from its foundations, we urgently need strong poets in the way that the late philosopher and cultural critic, Richard Rorty (following Harold Bloom) talks about them. We need determined individuals who aim not to look ahead, but to be real, to be true, to be themselves—not in a dissipated consumerist sense, but in the sense of active cultivation, realization and full expression of their creative potential. And who possess the capacity to do so with the fiercely ironic awareness that everything they do (and everything they believe) might, in the end, be wrong. Such self-possession flies directly in the face of the careerism that you attribute to the ambitious new poets you’re observing in the digital realm. These folks, on your account, are driving radical shifts in form, poetic method, and standards of evaluation, but are procedurally guided by conventional pathways, incentives and rewards. I conceived the Typewriter Underground as a humorous partial answer to that concern, one which, despite its lightness of touch, I hope and believe, will have durable relevance.

How so?

First, by demonstrating the project’s underlying premise that verse can be a creative catalyst for others, rather than simply an exercise in efficient rendering of language; control of the tongue; language and form presented for critical consideration, or, by its tools, tricks and devices,  a song to be enjoyed. Not that these are bad aims, but for me, they are not enough. As cognitive linguist George Lakoff has made plain, our reason is grounded in metaphor. Consequently, as poets, I feel that we ought to make our metaphors count, and that I can make them count best by offering them as the basis for new thinking, fresh imagining and novel action, and by actively inviting others, especially those who work in other media, to explore them with me.

Second, by illustrating in practice how a working poet can make verse catalytic. In the case of the Typewriter Underground, I aimed to do so by imagining a recent, but lost, subculture that is revealed by surfacing fragments of verse. The material that appears is decidedly incomplete, and in places obscure, self-contradictory, laden with references and allusions, not all of which are readily attributable to their original sources. By consciously leaving such gaps, I’m inviting creative minds to fill them, to flesh out the stories, to fully imagine the characters, to dig into the material as a treasure hunter might—exploring where the maps, artifacts and trails of crumbs might lead. I think that’s why these poems appeal to filmmakers and artists.

Underneath this particular procedure lies a deeper set of choices about poetry’s aesthetics and operations. Undertaking this project, for me, entailed a commitment to using verse as a stimulus for a free-form, open-ended communal play experience. In order to invite and secure participation—and for the verse fragments I had created to work their effects—this project had to be funny, but it also had to be fun. Funny is something that makes you laugh in the first instance, fun is something you arrive at through active participation. Given vastly limited resources, for the project to succeed in lowering defenses, provoking curious inquiry, and prompting active creative engagement, it required a rather cracked and deeply layered sense of humor. (In much the same way that the tiny budget for Monty Python’s Holy Grail drove the filmmakers to substitute coconuts for horses in one of the film’s funniest and most memorable gags.)  You can find a lot in Felt’s First Folio if you do the spade work and really dig into the verse.

A central implication of my commitment to using verse as catalyst was that I had to step back from the conventional role of a poet and embrace a different set of challenges and anxieties. If I merely presented this material in book form, then I would be offering it as a book solely to be read, not as evidence of something larger to be engaged, discovered, and explored. If I bound myself to conventional standards of poetic accountability, I would have to make sure that the work was witty, concise and precise, free from stumbles, devoid of cheap puns and other crude devices, and that it pointedly put language first. I could make it playful, but as a “poet,” I would have to take it out of the realm of play.

While that would have been more familiar and far safer, doing so would have destroyed the project’s innovative potential and larger relevance. So I stepped back, and offered the collection as a set of verse fragments, varying in quality, method and style, penned, supposedly, by a group of largely anonymous authors. Rather than putting my name on the cover, and presenting the material as a collection of my verse, which, at the outset, would have demolished the project’s premise, I gathered some of the verse fragments into a First Folio putatively published by a dandy named Swizzle Felt, and his partners in crime Horace Nepenthe Jones and Edamame Phelps. By withdrawing  from convention in these ways, the collection and the verse it contains force us to engage with difficult but promising questions: “What is this thing? And how do I make sense of it?” That’s where the fun begins.

Achieving that kind of fun, and enabling lots of people to join in, isn’t an easy task. Not everyone is going to know where to begin, how to unpack the mysteries or fill in the gaps. For the premise to work, additional operations and procedures are necessary—but what kind?

The obvious strategy would be to turn the Typewriter Underground into an old-fashioned, manifesto-driven movement, but that would take it out of the realm of play and place it squarely back in the realm of aesthetic dialectic. The next close-to-hand strategy would be to make the Underground into some kind of game, adding structure and rules that showed people how to play, in addition to giving them well-delineated points of access, clear boundaries, modes of collaboration and meaningful choices. Turning the Typewriter Underground into a game, though, would undercut its deepest purpose, which is to draw people into a world of strong poetry, and perhaps discover the strong poet in themselves.

“What if instead,” I said, “I see the verse as seeding a larger conversation—and a variety of activities that grew out of this conversation?” The success of the verse would be determined then not by its linguistic efficiency, its elegance of form, or the beauty of its music, although those might be necessary to its effectiveness, but rather by how it was taken up, and what was done as a result.

Who, then, in particular, might be willing to take up verse in this way? Who might want to join in the fun? The answer for me was people who wanted that kind of play experience, people who wanted to explore the bohemian side of life—hence reading to patrons of the Poetry Brothel—and artists, living that life, who might find in the verse and the premises that spawned it vital sources of inspiration.

Marc Zegans at the Los Angeles Poetry Brothel (photo by Amanda Hoskinson)

The idea of using the verse to seed a larger conversation, meant, to my thinking, that I’d have to invite folks to come play in the Typewriter Underground and start contributing to its legend and lore before the book came out. That’s what led me to invite the filmmakers and other collaborators to get on board more than a year before the book was released.

The project, as it turned out, also needed a watering hole, a durable place where people could meet, participate and join in, so about a year ago I created a virtual watering hole in the form of a Typewriter Underground group on Facebook. Ironic? Definitely. It took me a while to take this step because it seemed so counter to the world I was describing, and that I had invited other artists to help me fashion, but I had grown up in the days of punk rock, and during the early years of modern skateboarding. Those experiences significantly influenced my decision to proceed.

A favorite film of mine is Stacy Peralta’s Dogtown and Z-Boys, which documents the origins of the skateboard scene in Santa Monica during the 1970s. There’s a great line in the film delivered by Craig Stecyk, the photographer who covered the scene as it was unfolding. He describes the kids involved as appropriating the urban infrastructure and bending it to their purposes, much as Eric appropriated stanzas of my verse and turned it to his ends. So I said, let’s do the same thing and adapt this piece of social media infrastructure to our purposes, creating a widely accessible portal into the Typewriter Underground. At this point, the group numbers just under 800 people, not huge by social media standards, but man are they real, and man are they interesting. More importantly, the conversation in this group has led to tangible Typewriter Underground activity in real watering holes, most recently in the form of a vaudeville that incorporated several of our films at the Normal Bar in Athens, Georgia.

Returning with a full sense of irony to your point about ambitious digital poets competing to achieve conventional goals within the rather rigid validation structure of the poetry world, the Typewriter Underground is winding its way through those channels as well; it’s just not limited or controlled by them. That I think is a key lesson for poets and filmmakers. Meet this apparatus on your terms, and to the extent that you engage it do so for ends that you value.

Crafting a novel play experience, especially one that isn’t rule-bound, requires more than defining a premise, supplying content, inviting people to play, and giving them a place to hang out; it also demands active nurture. People must feel welcomed, artists well met and appreciated, and stories about shared experiences must be told. As a founding artist, you have to breathe life into your people and the project until it can breathe for itself.

At the end of the day though, the decision to build the Typewriter Underground around an aesthetics of play, rather than elevation of language, and the operational strategies I developed as a consequence would not have been effective if the world, the story and the characters I created did not connect. The people I work with have taken the Typewriter Underground to heart because I’ve introduced them to them strong characters—people with profound limitations, disabilities, and damaged souls; wounded outsiders, who nonetheless have it within them to travel deep underground and emerge from the rubble as strong poets. These are qualities that as people and a culture we will always need. So are these characters and the life they embrace relevant? Yes, now more than ever.

This has certainly been an amazing project, and I love that it’s taken on a life of its own and spawned maybe the first fully formed fan poetry (as opposed to fan fiction) community. It will be interesting to see what other creative projects emerge from that. But what’s next for you as a poet? I mean, where do you go after something like this? I think if it were me, I might just retreat to the proverbial garret and try my hand at a crown of sonnets.

Your idea of retreating to the garret and writing a crown of sonnets has great appeal to me. I did something similar after last summer’s theatrical activities were over, and the book was not yet out. I wrote a very spare chapbook called The Snow Dead.  The method was bone-bare minimalism, extraordinarily careful word choice, and a very precise form.  In contrast to the aesthetic of fun that animated the Typewriter Underground, The Snow Dead’s governing principles are purely poetic. It is innovative, though, within the tradition.

The collection can be read either as twenty-two very brief poems, each on its own page, or as an extended poem, each line, or cluster of lines, placed in a field of snow, its design visually echoing the chapbook’s subject matter and content.  It would be interesting to see how a filmmaker translated this material to the screen. I could imagine a variety of approaches, one would be something very spare and elemental, natural in a Japanese style. I’m very open to ideas about that. Meanwhile, I’m presently in discussions with a fine publisher, and hope to have the collection in print before too long.  I’m also interested in what will happen next in the world of the Typewriter Underground. I do have verse ready for a second folio, am having conversations with theatrical producers on the East Coast, and am eager for new collaborators who want to join in the fun.

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: Mike Galsworthy and Corinne Weidmann

Short collaborations can be either a godsend or a total bust. I myself have teamed up with Nicelle Davis on several projects. It is as if we can read each other’s minds. The best part of it all is that we don’t get in each other’s way. She writes and I illustrate. Being a professional illustrator and dealing with clients can be frustrating and mind-numbing at times. So when a collaboration falls into place, it’s well worth all the crazy clients one has to deal with.

Recently I came across another collaboration, between Mike Galsworthy and Corinne Weidmann. Actually, Mike found me through Vimeo and whatever publicity was going around. I read and viewed On a White Horse and found it intriguing. I asked him who the illustrator was, since the works fit so well together. It would be interesting if they could incorporate actual animation into this particular project. I think it would make a stunning video poem. But let’s face it, as it stands now it’s pretty beautiful. Here is what Mike has to say.

Mike Galsworthy: Inspiration for the poem: I had been reading old English ballads – those centuries-old magical poems that had been passed down as oral traditions with no known authors. I was cooking up one of my own about a rider riding through a dark forest grabbing at leaves when I suddenly thought of this as a metaphor for industry relentlessly destroying the environment and creating an apocalyptic world. The rest wrote itself very quickly. The rhythm mirrors the horse rhythm and the repetition is deliberately modeled on the dark poetry of Poe, whose work I love for its fluid lyricism.

I had always wanted to tackle climate change and environmental destruction, but addressing it directly left me bored and cold. This angle gave me a route to explore the morality and drivers of selfish destructive behaviour and delusions of safety within a different world. A modern caution in an old-world format.

The collaboration: I was contacted out of the blue by a Swiss artist living in Canada (Corinne Weidmann). She said she loved the poem and because it was so vivid in her mind, she’d love to do an illustration of it. I said “yes, of course”, of course! She was actually due to come to London to live, so we met up lots of times to discuss how we both visualised it. The overlap in mental imagery was strong, but we also both had little touches in our minds that came together well (she had the idea of the horse passing people/workers through its system and out its rear end, and the rider in stove-pipe hat and industrial revolution attire; I had the mental image of the “burning famine” people with hollowed-out stomachs with fire in their place, etc). Anyway, I took her ’round some poetry gigs over the months that she was working on it and the piece was developing. It was designed to be one poster based on Swiss folk art style, with the story told in overlapping/interlinked images. I suggested to her that when it was ready, I could turn it into a YouTube video. I thought we could scan it in, then take the story section-by-section as I narrated.

When it was done, that’s exactly what I did. Corinne sent me high-res scans and I just got busy digitally editing with the tools I had… Microsoft Paint and Windows Movie Maker. I had to make some visual edits so that I could get the 16:9 pictures clean (free of overlaps from different parts of the image). And there were also some bits missing for the sake of the narrative (rain, lightning and poisoned rivers running overland) so Corinne did some new, separate pics for those.

With the sound recording, I did it all myself, ripping horse hooves and spooky sounds off YouTube then mixing and looping them to suit.

Corinne Weidmann: The first time I came across Mike Galsworthy’s poem On a White Horse was on YouTube. I was not particularly interested in poetry at that time, but I liked how visual this poem was. Mike raised a topic that was not new, but the way he did it was slightly different to what I’d heard before.

I simply wanted to illustrate it – just for fun. There was no intention of publishing it, nor anything else, but I thought that at least I would let the author know. He liked the idea and a collaboration turned out of it. I guess it also helped that I moved to London from Switzerland at the time.

The majority of my artworks and illustrations are done manually. It is the process of trying new techniques and experiments that I love the most. I count myself very lucky that my clients are usually well up for that.

For On a White Horse I chose to work with scraperboard and a knife.

I wanted it to become an old folk tale, or even a myth. A legend that everyone has at the back of their minds – omnipresent, but only frightening in the dark.

The style is based on traditional Swiss paper cut. Folk art is humble and honest. It tells stories about the daily lives, beliefs and worries of mostly farmers – those whose lives directly depend on nature and who are already affected by the impact of climate change.

The whole artwork is cut into a big piece of black scraperboard. The idea to make a video out of it emerged much later on. I didn’t intend to go into moving poetry, but I have a curious mind and hardly ever say no to a new direction.

My creative universe is called Iuna, named after a black Amazonian bird – Tinta simply means ink. Iuna Tinta is a bridge between illustration and art, with a pinch of typography thrown in.

The work is inspired by ancient mysticism, indigenous art and sinister fairytales. Professionally I often work for board sports companies such as Quiksilver and Roxy Snowboarding. Apart from that I exhibit and indulge in many personal projects. One is collaboration with a group of scientists and artists, based in Brisbane, Australia. Our aim is to convert conservation science messages into art, make them more accessible and to raise awareness concerning this combination.

The goals I have as an illustrator/artist is to continue doing what I am doing right now. To be able to let this visual universe expand naturally and in a way that feels right.

Mike and I were thinking of doing more projects together, but so far these are merely loose ideas. We do have very matching minds, which is rare – but at the same time we also have busy lives.

Corinne Weidmann's illustration "On a White Horse"

“Embrace the happy accidents”: an interview with filmmaker Lori H. Ersolmaz

This is the 20th in a series of interviews with poets and remixers who have provided or worked with material from The Poetry Storehouse — a website which collects “great contemporary poems for creative remix.” This time we talk with Lori H. Ersolmaz.

1. Would you briefly describe the remix work you have done based on poems from The Poetry Storehouse?

My first remix was with Claudia Serea’s poem, The Moon and I was first drawn to it because of the subject, but I also fell in love with Nic S.’s voice. Narration is an art, and the smooth, soulful, sometimes sensual quality of Sebastian’s voice touched me immediately.

I am in the process of finding my own film poetry voice. I’ve been making short documentary films for almost ten years, but I get great satisfaction from creating remixes. I love filming and collecting footage which now finds a home in my remixes. With each new piece I reach for an abstract expression using image and sound. The first remixes I produced were more literal than I wanted and I prefer playing with the material—molding and shaping it. I have always loved print collage and I’m trying to experiment similarly with video. I tend to embrace the happy accidents I sometimes make and interrogate them in multiple ways. Jim Murdoch’s poem As Is, again with Nic S.’s narration, allowed me the freedom to express and insert some film accidents. The Poetry Storehouse 2014 Anniversary Contest also gave me the freedom to follow my instincts. It will be exciting to see what poem gets paired with it, as it was a different process than the other remixes I’ve done, which begin with the poetry.

2. How is The Poetry Storehouse different from or similar to other resources you have used for your remix work?

Other remix resources I’ve had experience with are Freesound, Flickr Creative Commons and the Internet Archive. I find my experimental work is more successful when paired with a narrative, and poetry helps to inspire me to produce an experience based on the words I encounter on the page. I try to transform imagery, sound and audio effects with a strong narrative voice to hopefully create an altered meaning. Without a license to use the poetry the filmmaker has more production work to do, so Poetry Storehouse alleviates time and energy on what sometimes can be a lengthy process.

Poetry Storehouse’s model is fantastic because it’s free of any license to use the material and is an inclusive community of people who love poetry and want to see the audience for it expand. It’s a progressive idea to make poetry more accessible by marrying audio-visual techniques with narration to create a multimedia experience. We are a visual society and the synchronicity of the mediums can create a successful partnership. But I can also see how it could be gut-wrenching for the poets and I try to stay sensitive to their work.

3. What specific elements do you look for when you browse offerings at The Storehouse (or, what is your advice to poets submitting to The Storehouse)?

I look for poems that resonate with me and I can potentially make a social commentary. Instead of going on a rant about a problem, for instance; trying to find a workman who can fix things in my 1920’s house, I was actually able to articulate my own experiences through a James Reiss poem, A Day in Ohio. Michael Dickes’ gritty voice had the perfect tone to deliver the narration and I merged my own footage with what I found on Internet Archive to say exactly how I felt about the matter, and although it may be a bit more of a literal depiction, I made my commentary nonetheless.

4. Talk about how the remixing process comes together for you — for example, does your inspiration start with a poem, or with specific footage, for which you then seek a poem? How does sound play into the picture for you?

I always start with my mood and a poem that seems to fit it, or what’s happening at the moment. I’m constantly shooting new material because I also use my smart phone everyplace I go. I’ve always been a believer that creativity isn’t about the tool—it’s about an idea. If I see something, I stop and shoot immediately. Recently, I shot footage of two fish tanks at a local hospital when I was there for routine tests. At the same time we were bombarded by news reports about the outbreak of the Ebola virus. When I read Tara Skurtu’s poem Some Days Begin Like This, again it just jumped off the page for me. I immediately felt I could place it up against the fish tank imagery because the concept emulated my feeling about being in a fishbowl. I emotionally sensed the poem, having myself been in the hospital feeling somewhat anxious about the potential results. So far it’s my favorite piece, along with As Is. I was so happy to hear Tara Skurtu say that she “loved the remix.” I feel a responsibility to honor the poet and it’s terrific to get feedback, either way because I can learn more about the process and the audience’s reception.

I’ve always felt sound is extremely important, but I save it to the end. I play with multiple tracks laid over each other and create whatever intuitively feels right to me. I think my love of imagery sometimes overtakes the time I spend on the audio component.

5. Most Storehouse remixers are video-makers who combine a poem with video footage and a soundtrack, but all in very different styles. What have you learned from seeing how other remixers work?

I’m new to this genre and am humbled by the great work of the poets and filmmakers. So far I’ve tended to produce more abstract work, but I’ve seen smart Storehouse films that showcase people and I’d like to include more people/figures into future remixes. Since I interview people so much for documentary work, I tend to move in a different direction for the remixes. Poetry Storehouse and Moving Poems are my go-to places for my personal educational awareness and to see new film poems, both on their websites and Facebook. There is just so much material to review and the articles, films and discussion are highly inspiring. I initially came to enjoy the genre three years ago after seeing a screening of several Nathaniel Dorsky films, which are without sound. I find the genre to be spiritual, lyrical and utterly sublime. I watch and make poetry films to stimulate creativity and to partake in a spiritual, “Zen-like” journey.

6. Is there anything else you would like to say about your Poetry Storehouse experience (or anything related)?

I would like to encourage poets and others to provide narration for poetry remixes. I dislike my voice, so I prefer to not to record my own narrative. The Storehouse is a wonderful asset and I’m thrilled to be part of a community of talented and serious artists and poets. I was welcomed with open arms from the very beginning and since I started remixing, Nic S., Dave Bonta and the Storehouse poets have been very encouraging and supportive. Poetry Storehouse is a true gift to me, and I look forward to many more collaborations in the future, as well as finding ways to give back to the community.

Martina Pfeiler on poetry film

Martina Pfeiler is a German scholar of literature and American studies specializing in, among other things, the history of poetry and technology. She’s the author of the book Poetry Goes Intermedia: US-amerikanische Lyrik des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts aus kultur- und medienwissenschaftlicher Perspektive. We spoke in the garden of the Pfefferbett Hostel in Berlin on October 19, 2014, during the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival.

Reference is made to the following films:

The conversation was wide-ranging (and I’ve edited out more than half of it—please excuse all the jump cuts), covering such topics as how poetry film fits into the larger context of poets’ use of technology, how poetry films may be used in the classroom to introduce students to poetry as a whole, and how the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival has changed (or not changed) over the years. My favorite thing that Dr. Pfeiler said was this:

I could see myself going to something like an international poetry museum, where you have different rooms where you can explore a poetry film, or poetry films, either theme-based or throughout the last century, and interact with it again—just me and the film. So that experience: like an installation, where you take time, you sit in your little installation box, it’s all black, maybe some other, four or five people are sitting on the floor but you don’t necessarily know where they sit.

Yes! I love watching videos in art museums. Someone needs to do this. Surely there’s a billionaire out there looking to put his or her name on a new, unique museum?

“Even people who do not read poetry become entranced”: an interview with Laura M Kaminski

This is the 19th in a series of interviews with poets and remixers who have provided or worked with material from The Poetry Storehouse — a website which collects “great contemporary poems for creative remix.” Anyone who submits to the Storehouse has to think through the question of creative control — how important is it to you, what do you gain or lose by holding on to or releasing control? This time we talk with poet Laura M Kaminski.

1. Submitting to The Poetry Storehouse means taking a step back from a focus on oneself as individual creator and opening up one’s work to a new set of creative possibilities. Talk about your relationship to your work and how you view this sort of control relinquishment.

I’m not sure I think of “my work” as mine. Most of the poetry I write is responsive—ekphrasis, conversation poems, nature poetry—poems that try to pay tribute and call attention to whatever inspired them. And frankly, I didn’t recognize that until earlier this year when reading the blurb Jose Angel Araguz wrote for the back of my collection last penny the sun. It would be fair to say I didn’t know what I was doing until another poet put words to it.

But I wouldn’t know that there’s such an amazing thing on this planet as a cuttlefish if Temple Cone hadn’t put one in a poem. And if Ayla Yeargain hadn’t written about the scent of honeysuckle at sundown, I wouldn’t have, literally, “stopped to smell the flowers.” How do I even begin to pay back the people who have brought such wonder into my life? I can’t. I can only try to pay it forward. I’m indebted to The Poetry Storehouse for creating a “scenic route” for poetry—it’s all about pointing and sharing the wonder here.

2. There is never any telling whether one will love or hate the remixes that result when a poet permits remixing of his or her work by others. Please briefly describe the remixes that have resulted for your work at The Storehouse and your own reactions to them.

Nic S. and Marie Craven both remixed “Joining the Lotus Eaters,” and both films used Nic’s reading of it since I wasn’t able to provide a recording with my submission. Nic’s film is haunting to me; I’ve spent a good part of my life in isolated areas and high-desert scrubland, and Nic’s remix uses mostly black and white footage of a young woman hiking alone in high desert, interspersed with short, full-color close-ups of nature at its most lush. My reaction to it was tears — how could she possibly know what it was like for a desert-rat like me to smell honeysuckle for the first time? But there it is, on film: it was just like that.

Marie Craven’s remix uses stills, mostly flowers, that seem to vibrate and dilate in time to the percussion in the soundtrack. It’s all lush, mesmerizing, intoxicating—the heady enchantment of those fragrances, and you can’t stop breathing in. Someone I know who doesn’t usually read poetry watched it and said “I could watch stuff like this all day.”

Nic reached into the poem and somehow extracted and showed me myself, like Jose did in the book blurb. And Marie, she’s serving lotus-blossoms, yes? Even people who do not read poetry become entranced and cannot leave.

3. Would you do this again? What is your advice to other poets who might be considering submitting to The Poetry Storehouse?

I’ve already gained far more than I’ve given in my relationship with The Poetry Storehouse. I’d certainly encourage others to be a part of this adventure in any way they can.

4. Is there anything about the Storehouse process or approach that you feel might with benefit be done differently?

I think the number of participants that have been drawn to The Storehouse in its first year—poets, readers, film-makers—validates the approach. The collaborative atmosphere and opportunities are exciting. It’s working! It’s working!

5. Is there anything else you would like to say about your Poetry Storehouse or any related experience?

It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to “hate” a remix—I’m simply in awe of the courage it must take to remix a poem and show it to the poet for the first time. Any other poets who’ve borrowed from Homer want to go back with me and show him how we’ve remixed his work? I’m not sure I’m brave enough to go alone.

Editor’s note: Since this interview was conducted, two more filmmakers have released work made with Kaminski’s poetry. We’ll probably post them to Moving Poems eventually, but in the meantime you can watch them on Vimeo: “Facing the Wall” by Swoon and “Ghosts” by Jutta Pryor.

Thomas Zandegiacomo Del Bel on ZEBRA and poetry films

Directly following the awards ceremony at the end of the 2014 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, I sat down with ZEBRA’s artistic director, Thomas Zandegiacomo Del Bel, for a brief chat. I wanted to learn a bit more about how he and the other members of the program committee (Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck, Heinz Hermanns, Ulrike Almut Sandig and Heiko Strunk) chose the films to be screened, and how Literaturwerkstatt Berlin manages to plan and produce such a big festival. And snce Zandegiacomo is something of an expert on the history of poetry film, I wanted to ask what trends or fashions he’s seen in recent years, and where he sees the genre going in the future.

Mention is made of another Literaturwerkstatt production, lyrikline — an online archive of audiopoetry comparable to PennSound in the U.S., but many times larger and more international in its focus. They just added their 1000th poet on October 18.

As for my own impressions of ZEBRA as a first-time attendee: I found it very well-organized (albeit with a few technical glitches), intellectually and aesthetically stimulating, and a bit overwhelming. It was impossible to attend all the screenings, readings and other events even with a number of repeat screenings in the schedule — especially if one also took advantage of the opportunity to drink beer network and socialize each night. As I say in the video, I liked the way filmmakers were invited on-stage for brief interviews with the moderator after their films were aired, though I did hear other attendees complain that this interrupted the flow. As a web native, I suppose I have a pretty high tolerance for interruptions and distractions. But the folks at Literaturwerkstatt Berlin take the “werkstatt” (workshop) part of their name very seriously; craft talks are part of their core mission.

I was very impressed by the three-person jury (Cornelia Klauss, Alice Lyons and Michael Roes). Each of their four choices was a challenging, unconventional film-poem, in contrast to some of the more mainstream prizewinners from past ZEBRAs. I got the impression that 100% of the prize money goes to the filmmakers, but perhaps some of them will split it with the poets whose work they used, as I heard one animator in the awards ceremony audience vow to do if she won. I liked the themed screenings and was frustrated that I couldn’t attend more of them, but fortunately the paper edition of the festival program includes every film, so I can watch all the ones that have been uploaded to the web (probably at least half of them).