~ reviews ~

Review of Cadence 2024 for SeattleDances

A new online review of the Cadence Video Poetry Festival takes a deep dive into poetry films that incorporate dancing for SeattleDances, “an advocacy organization dedicated to supporting Seattle-area dance performance through in-depth journalism and free resources to dance artists and audiences.” Author Kari Tai took advantage of the festival’s hybrid format to engage with the films at home—an experience I’ve always likened to solitary reading, since the viewer can pause and/or re-watch as often as she likes. For example:

Each time I watch Antipodes, I glean something more of the yin and yang of relationships the poem describes. The scenes toggle between black and white and color underscoring the complementary interconnectedness the poem expresses. The choreography amplifies this tension as dancers pace facing each other across a field to the line The ebony magnetism of existence binds poles. Throughout the video, the spoken words rise and fall with the crescendo of the music and crashing of the surf as the dancers feet tattoo the earth–a demonstration of how choreography and poetry use repetition, theme and variation that stimulates empathetic waves of emotion in the viewer. The pace of the video editing between scenes acts like poetic punctuation or choreographic choices for stillness amid frenetic movement. 

Another film prompts this observation:

The festival literature remarks that throughout history poets have been persecuted for not writing the party line and it strikes me that dance also has often been outlawed as a subversive form of expression. When I think about how video is instantly shareable across the world via social media and how, like dance, it offers a form of communication that transcends spoken language, it is understandable how video has become a powerful tool of modern revolt. Exiles combines all three—video, dance, and poetry—a triple threat, an amplified way to shout out to the world.  

a still from Exiles (Exils), directed by Josef Khallouf

Why does dance work so well in videopoetry? Tai has some ideas:

I think one thing that is key to illuminating my empathetic response to watching Only is a principle I learned through my training as a Dance for Parkinson’s instructor. Scientists have discovered that watching someone dance pleasurably activates the brain’s movement areas. In the classes I teach, the participants feel a fuller movement experience just by watching the teacher even if they don’t express it on the outside. 

Perhaps that is why when we watch dance, even about topics we have not personally experienced, we can feel aligned with the “otherness” dancers can express. This happened for me watching Fairies, a video poem about growing up queer on a farm in the Netherlands.

Read the rest.

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.

ZEBRA 2022: The Cannes of Poetry Film Turns 20

Award ceremony – Zebra Poetry Film Festival 2022. Photo: Jane Glennie

Four days of events, readings and film screenings in one of the cultural hearts of Berlin was completed with the awards ceremony on Sunday 6 November 2022. In the fabulous venue of the Kino in der Kulturbrauerei, filmmakers and poets attended ZEBRA from far and wide – from Brazil to Ukraine by way of Ireland, UK and Switzerland to name but a few.

A wide-ranging and well-attended festival dedicated to poetry film is a marvelous thing. ZEBRA is the largest and longest-running festival of its kind, and the hosts were delighted to be fully in-person and without restrictions again. The event is welcoming, friendly and in a brilliant venue in a great part of a great city.

Film is often the first impression we get of a city in the world, and being from the UK, it took me a couple of days to get over the feeling of being in every Cold War spy movie I’ve ever seen that has passed through East Berlin. But I was lucky enough to be able to attend ZEBRA throughout the four days and soon felt relaxed and at home in this exciting, culturally rich city. It’s not physically possible to see all that ZEBRA has to offer because there are often events or screenings that take place simultaneously, but the film selection I enjoyed included animations, documentaries, spoken word films, and sign language poetry film. The programme committee want to represent the world in the films they choose for the International Competition, as well as a range of genres within films connected by the common thread of poetry or a poetic approach. They chose to have a focus on Ukraine with both films and poetry readings, and a retrospective of Maya Deren (born in Kyiv), but beyond the dreadful situation faced by Ukrainians, ZEBRA seem keen to use their platform to screen films that have pertinent and important messages to convey.

In the programme, the new director of ZEBRA, Katharina Schultens, said:

“Poetry and poetry films do not have a lot in common with the escapism of the entertainment industry and the consolation its products may offer. They reach much further than that. Yes, they can offer us comfort, too, but while doing so, they also pose the difficult questions we have to face… [such as] war and displacement … exclusion in societies … climate catastrophe…”

At this point in the week afterwards, reflecting on the films I have seen and the films I have missed, or been forced to miss because of simultaneous programming – this is where an online component would be hugely valuable, and I urge ZEBRA and all other festivals to consider the approach taken by the Women Over 50 Film Festival (WOFFF) in Lewes (UK) this year.  WOFFF took place in a hybrid format. All films could be watched in the online festival leading up to the in-person event. But the really valuable bit is that attendees of the in-person event were offered a voucher to watch more of the films throughout the week AFTER the in-person event. Talking to people during the in-person event, and through the connections you make, you meet or discover writers and filmmakers whose work you have missed, hear recommendations for someone else’s favourite film, see a film of a type that you didn’t know you were going to love and you want to explore more of, or recall something that sticks in your mind and you want to watch again to appreciate fully. Or simply your appetite has been awakened for the very first time and you want to see more than you thought you would …

Kino in der Kulturbrauerei, Zebra Poetry Film Festival 2022. Photo: Jane Glennie.

The winners of Zebra 2022 seem to reflect an overall philosophy of championing weighty subject matter. Or perhaps they reflect an understandable mood of seriousness in the world. (The list of winners and judges’ comments are available on the ZEBRA website and in their press release.) Personally, I was disappointed by the choice of both Black. British. Muslim. Other. and Terra Dei Padri (Fathers’ Land). While each had a very strong story to tell, one through a very immediate approach in the poet’s performance and direction, and the other through the use of archive images, I did not think either was a great example of their type. Far stronger in the use of language, image and filmmaking technique was the film given a special mention, Zyclus (Cycle).

The strongest film receiving an award was Imaginings. Written and performed by a collective of deaf poets, the film is poetry in sign language. The direction of the film by Anja Hiddinga and the energy given to it by the poet performers themselves made this an extremely compelling film to watch. I give a personal special mention to the typographic choices made for the subtitling. The words were placed over the centre of the chest of each performer as they signed. This meant that you did not need to take your eyes away from their hands and their signing. At times the type could be slightly difficult to read because it bobbed about as the poet’s body moved, but this added to the physicality of the language because their bodies moved more in, for example, moments of frustration.

The most interesting poetry film I saw was one of the selected three best interpretations of the festival poem Anderkat by Georg Leß. The poem is fascinating but very oblique. I personally found it impenetrable when I tried to imagine a treatment. At the Festival Poem event, when Georg Leß was introduced and he talked about his poem, his fascination and work with horror films came to light which then made a lot of sense in relation to his writing. I could let myself off the hook a little because I can rarely find a connection with horror in film. One of the filmmakers talked about expressing the uncanny and I think this was the key to this poem. The longlisted films shown before the three best failed to do this and, as a result, felt very unsatisfactory and weak in their choice of images. But I thought the film by Beate Gördes was stunning. Notable because it used no words, only very peculiar, uncanny images, it is one of the films I really want to watch several times over to appreciate its subtleties.

Two very enjoyable films in the event were documentaries. Spatzen und Spaziergänge (Sparrows and Strolls) was the beautifully shot and framed film by Maria Mohr with the poet Marko Pogačar, and the other was The Last Cuckoo by Mark Chaudoir about the poet Dennis Gould which managed to capture the personality of the poet’s life in a hugely engaging way. Also pleasing was the community project from Dublin, Dance till Dán which fused choreography with collectively created poetry.

Overall however, I would have liked to have seen more films that interpreted poems of the very highest quality with visual results that are more intrinsically a fused filmic/poetic experience in themselves than they are illustrative or performative. Perhaps those are the ones I happened to miss? On that note, I reiterate, please ZEBRA, do consider an online offering that extends after the in-person event.

Absurd Art House film festival 2022: review

The 2nd Absurd Art House film festival took place on Saturday 9th July, in Blue Town – a small area of Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey which borders the Thames Estuary and the Kent coast in southeast England. There was so much that was wonderful about the event but much was frustrating too.

First the wonderful – this festival encompassed a variety of categories including poetry film and the film selections were varied and there was plenty to enjoy. The event was hosted by a compere who introduced the categories and awards between each selection of films, and the interjection of a live person into the programme really helped the evening to feel engaging. The trophies were fab – each were topped by a banana because all the bananas for the UK are imported through the next door port.

The venue was just brilliant – historic and intimate: The Criterion Blue Town:

“Originally the “New Inn” in 1868 the site became “The Royal Oxford Music Hall”. The following year the building became The Criterion public house, with a music hall called ‘The Palace of Varieties’ situated immediately to its rear. This offered “rational amusement for all classes” including in April 1876, a one armed juggler!”

Now it’s a community heritage centre and cinema where volunteers are welcoming and knowledgeable and intriguing artefacts abound. A friendly bar/cafe provided drinks and refreshments available all evening.

Best Student Absurd – Throng by William Clarke

Now for the frustrating … the time between notification of a successful entry and the event date itself was less than a week. It was luck that I was free to attend, but without some lead in time it can make it more difficult or impossible for many to come along. Or in fact, invite anyone else who might want to join. It’s a big shame the audience wasn’t larger – but you can’t just ‘build it and they will come’. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore (as of writing this) the website is not up-to-date for 2022 and at present the only complete list of films that were screened is from an Instagram post – which frustratingly doesn’t give a filmmaker name. So I can’t even go back and find people/films quickly by googling.

I know there was me with ‘Because Goddess is Never Enough’, Lee Campbell with ‘The Perfect Crime: A doggy whodunnit’ (because I follow him on Instagram, I spotted his post that he was selected and we met on the night), and Sarah Tremlett with ‘Villanelle for Elizabeth not Ophelia’ (because we’ve met before and I know her work). But I’d like to be telling you more about the other films that I liked – forgive me, I wasn’t taking notes and it’s not worth the detective work.

I can show you the winners – again from an Instagram post:

As for poetry film, the winning film was beautifully shot, read and performed. But it felt more like an advert for the Catalonia tourist board, with what looked like a very large budget (guessing from its numerous sponsors and associations), and the film felt out of place in this quirky Absurd Art House festival.

I would far rather events happen than not, and all of the frustrations are fixable while the core of the event is excellent. I understand the huge volume of tasks that pile up on the organiser of any event and there is always more to be done in less time than is available. I very much hope that Absurd Art House goes onward and upwards and builds a bigger audience for 2023 – the event and the venue deserve it.

Unseen Forces and the Protagonist’s Point of View

presentation at ZEBRA 2019

Whilst subjectivity often lies in the hands of the poet, the film-maker can double the affect. This can be through their narrative use of the lens in relation to the position of the protagonist, or narrator, particularly in response to unseen forces; placing the viewer or camera in interesting and even culpable positions. I have selected three pairs of films that utilize contrasting approaches to this technique. The first two generate comic pathos; the second two focus on man’s inhumanity to man; and the final pair on the difficult dramatic technique of intimating freedom from negative forces beyond the screen (this world which is not that world).

The Desktop Metaphor (2017), by British poet Caleb Parkin, with filmic interpretation by Dutch film-maker Helmie Stil, centres in content and form on the subtly humorous juxtaposition of the prosaic with the profound and mythical in relation to man’s position in a desktop universe. The light from a steadily repetitive photocopier plays central stage in this film, accenting the repetitions in the poem, where office products alongside Stil’s photocopied face are interwoven with concepts of the infinite – ‘The Great Stapler which attaches the night to us’.

On Loop (2013), one of the funniest films in recent years by British film-maker and animator Christine Hooper, also focuses on the impotence of man’s condition in order to create humour. However, in this case the viewer is given the point of view of the invisible protagonist, who is in bed and tossing and turning with insomnia. In a short space of time we get to know exactly who the protagonist is, without ever seeing her, since an imagination in overdrive lets slip the jumbled contents of her thoughts. These are married with a visually fractured room, and a hyper-alert voice-over (Susan Calman) that is so well chosen to dramatically accentuate, through the sharply rising and falling tones of the melodic accent, a disjointed, racing imagination. Placing the viewer in the physical and mental position of the protagonist is a clever device, the comic pathos doubled in affect.

Two contrasting filmic approaches to man’s inhumanity to man are found in Numbers (English and Piatek, 2016) and Hopscotch (Vilk and Aisha 2017). Numbers begins with the film-maker and the footage itself. Maciej Piatek asked Lucy English to write a poem to the footage centering broadly on someone trying to find their way in society. Lucy arrived at the refugee survivor’s narrative, which Maciej paired with a voice-over by a survivor herself.

The black-and-white footage is from a laboratory, and I quote Maciej: ‘showing each stage of death of a human white blood cell, revealing the dying cells apparently trying to alert their immune system allies that they are dying’. He says he ‘looped and delayed in time the same piece of found footage to make it look like a disease outbreak. At the end of the film one can see in the left top corner the cell is actually disappearing’.

This film rests on the visual absence of the survivors themselves. The screen and the cells as human experiment are a surface to reflect upon, in the way that a tombstone in a graveyard focuses our thoughts. We are entirely tuned to the voice and its wholly credible narrative. However, the voice slowly disappears and the liquid vibrating aspect of the cells delicately suggests the negative role of water and the ocean in the stories. Although the survivor’s voice lets us know she survived, the screen tells us a different story. The film intimates what is not shown.

The next film, Hopscotch (2017), also intimates an insidious negative force, highlighting targeted, everyday abuse, particularly against Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in Scotland. It is based on a poem by Nadine Aisha, and is directed by leading film-maker Roxana Vilk, with executive production by AMINA – Muslim Women’s Resource Centre with support from Rape Crisis Edinburgh.

We are immediately drawn into the centre of the conflict. An invisible stalker hisses suggestive remarks to a girl who then retorts ‘he says to me’ placing us, the viewer, as her third-party confidante. At the same time the camera focuses on a girl strolling across the screen on a cold evening. Through this clever filmic device, we see from dual points of view – as both her friend and her assailant – creating dramatic tension.

We cut to daytime, on a bus, and she continues: ‘Sat on the bus with a stranger’s hot breath’ and we are there again, but from the point of view of the abuser sitting right behind her, just as Christine Hooper placed us in the mind and physical position of the insomniac. ‘I want you’ he hisses. We follow our prey through the streets, and the abuse continues ‘stuck up bitch’ ‘what’s wrong, can’t you take this’, ‘Slut, slag’.

Standing alone in a railway station as everyone else speeds past, we recognize the victim’s frozen isolation, and how such abuse robs us of an authentic, relaxed interaction in public places. She is left with the fallout of the words and an ensuing alienation: ‘clenched them tight in fists that now mark the imprint of nameless men trying to name me’. The film continues for nearly five minutes, exposing us, the viewer, to a sense of an unending and unpredictable persecution. Ultimately the stalking camera reaches a climax where the victim turns, takes the camera, and starts filming herself. For a moment she, as in everywoman, triumphs; but through the majority of the narrative Vilk has expertly drawn us in, to inhabit the obsessive mind of the perpetrator.

Roxana told me (email 11 December 2019):

One of the reasons I was drawn to the style I used was also about reflecting on the “male gaze” in cinema in the sense that it is often male directors behind the lens; and I wanted to parallel that to this harassment of women in public spaces. Then to give the poet/ protagonist the chance at the end to grab the camera and turn the lens on herself… so she could speak to the audience without the male gaze and take back ownership of the story.

Freedom from unseen forces beyond the screen provides the central tenet in the final two films. In Quarry (2019) with poem by American poet Melissa Stein and animated line drawing by British artist animator Josh Saunders, a dramatic narrative is placed squarely in front of us. With a delicate and charming line illustration, a girl and boy swim naked in a quarry. However, through the concise and well-placed choice of words which indicate brooding danger – for example ‘a girl is swimming naked in dark water’ – an undercurrent of impending loss of innocence emerges.

The narrative is told as if in the third person, but as it reaches the denouement the narrator enters the first person. It is at this point that we sense that the earlier controlled use of language might indicate a personal psychological burial, now being exhumed. Within the developing drama, Saunders’ figures swim with innocence and a fragile, vibratory naivety; dipping into and below the surface – at one with the water, the rocks and each other. As we realize this event actually happened to the author, so we adjust, and mentally include the invasive eye of an intruder. Achieving delicacy and innocence in a film is a difficult feat; however, with such restraint, both visual and verbal, the result is powerful and memorable, and shows how animation can add to narrative in dramatic ways beyond live footage.

Storm Song (2019) by young British artist (and Central St Martins graduate) Rebecca Hilton is also set in water, but underwater, accompanied by two poems. On the surface, it appears to be a lyric, moving abstract painting where mermaid-like figures (some fully clothed and with long trailing fabric) unwind and intertwine, being both the ink and the brush. However, this film contains an underlying tension, and, rather than making a loud political statement, uses space, language and embodied gesture to subtly deny the constricts on the surface of enforced identities and ideologies from the powers that be – ‘for all we understand is power’.

Alongside an enigmatic voice-over, the viewer’s gaze finds itself broken by frequent black ‘rests’ – a technique I haven’t seen except with intertitles. These black spaces, in a ‘ma’-like way, inspire reflection on what has just been said. And just over halfway through the two poems interweave with each other. The themes in ‘Ghost Ribbon’ (2019) explore return from failure, whilst ‘Cataclysmic Storm’ (2019) investigates the weight of authoritarian power and control ‘Suspended up up up until you breathe’.

Whilst in Quarry we are taken on a developing narrative that intimates in its dramatic unselfconscious innocence a dark denouement, in Storm Song, the darkness gradually filters through, as a continuous invisible, quiescent force.

An earlier version of this essay appeared on Liberated Words.

REELpoetry 2019: Review and Compendium

REEL poetry/Houston TX 2019, Houston’s first international poetry film festival, produced by Public Poetry, was impressive in its inaugural year, and already promises to be back next year, and then either annually or biannually after that. The three-day event included live poetry performances, a panel discussion, and a workshop, in addition to featuring more than fifty films, ranging from documentaries and poetry films to videos extending poetry in all directions, from calligraphy and graphic design to dance and art performances, wordless narratives, concrete poetry, and abstract animation. Rather than trying to distinguish poetry films (films of poems) from film poetry (whose lineage derives from early 20th century experimental film and the “pure cinema” of dadaists and surrealists, such as Man Ray), REELpoetry advocates a big-tent approach, preferring an expansive canon rather than a narrow one.

REELpoetry’s eclectic curatorial vision produced a diverse and lively program of 36 films, some of which have already been featured on Moving Poems, or in other poetry film festivals, but also others that highlight new voices and disparate inspirations. Most of the films are available on the web, so what follows is a compendium with links, so that you can watch them in one place. When a particular film is unavailable, a link to the filmmaker/poet’s website or social media is provided instead.

The festival itself commissioned one film, which opened the cinepoetry screenings: 7 Seas, by Kyra Clegg, based on excerpts from Emily Dickinson’s poems about bodies of water.

The festival also gave out two awards with cash prizes, the judges award, which went to The Opened Field (Helmie Stills, filmmaker; Don Bury, poet), and an audience choice award, which went to I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast (Dan Sickles, filmmaker; Melissa Studdard, poet).

Houston is a diverse and eclectic city that is proud of its support for the arts, and both REELpoetry and Public Poetry benefit from that climate, enjoying strong community interest, institutional support, and grant funding. Media coverage for REELpoetry 2019 was impressive, including articles in the Houston Chronicle, Houston Public Media, and Arts and Culture Texas. The festival also provided lodging for poets/filmmakers who attended the event, and the schedule included times and places for mingling and sharing ideas. The inaugural festival set a high bar, and promises even better next year.

Cinepoetry festival program

7 Seas, Kyra Clegg, UK, artist and cinepoet
I could not locate 7 Seas on the web, but there are some short videos on her Vimeo page.

Shiver, Mark Niehus, Australia, filmmaker, composer, and poet
Watch on YouTube.

The Shadow, US, Jack Cochran and Pamela Falkenberg, filmmakers; Lucy English, UK, poet
Watch at Moving Poems.

Echoes, Finland, Hanna-Mari Ojala, cinepoet
Watch on Vimeo.

America Is Hiding Under My Bed, David Mai, director; Barbara West, performer; Julia Vinograd, poet
Watch on YouTube.

Mrigtrishna (Mirage), India, Rantu Chetia, director and poet
I could not locate this film on the web, nor much information about the filmmaker/poet, but I did learn that the film has shown at non-poetry film festivals, and located this brief write-up:

“Mumbai has been the city of dreams for ages. Millions, from every nook and corner of India, come here every day to try their luck in the film world of Bollywood. Only a handful gets their dreams realised though. The rest are left to face the harsh realities of life and the dilemma of their existence. The primary question that constantly hounds them is the motive of their life in Mumbai. The poem tries to portray this very existential query of the protagonist, who is a struggling actor and has left behind the joyous and playful life of the village,” said the director about the film.

Semechki, UK, Eta Dahlia, filmmaker; Iris Colomb, gestural drawings
Watch at Moving Poems.

Wishing Well, Canada, Mary McDonald, filmmaker; Penn Kemp, poet
Watch on YouTube.

Moments, UK, Brett Chapman, director and writer
Watch on Vimeo.

I Remember, US, Lisa Seidenberg, filmmaker
I could not locate I Remember on the web, but you can learn more about the filmmaker on her website.

As We Embrace, Taiwan, Amang Hung, filmmaker and poet
The runtime for the version shown at the festival is listed as 4:36; this longer version is available at Vimeo.

Turkey Teacher, US, David Mai, Director; Barbara West, performer and poet
Watch on YouTube.

14 Sentences, US, Carolyn Guinzio, filmmaker and poet
Watch on YouTube.

Scarce Shelter in the Red Storm, UA, Cindy St. Onge, multimedia artist
Watch on Vimeo.

Home, Ireland, David Knox, filmmaker; Erin Fornoff, poet
Watch on YouTube.

Body Language, US, Margo Stutts Toombs, filmmaker; Roslyn (Cookie) Wells, graphic artist; Lydia Hance, dancer and choreographer; Loueva Smith, poet
Watch on Vimeo.

Ice Fog, US, Vanessa Zimmer-Powell, filmmaker and poet
I could not locate this film on the web, but you can visit her Facebook page, check out her book, or hear her read a poem in Houston for National Poetry month.

I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, US, Dan Sickles, filmmaker; Melissa Studdard, poet
Watch at Moving Poems.

A Lost Penny, France, Madeleine Clair, cinepoet
Watch on YouTube.

The Names of Trees, US, Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, filmmakers; Lucy English, UK, poet
Watch on Vimeo.

Plasticnic, Canada, Fiona Tinwei Lam, producer, narrator, and writer; Tisha Deb Pillai, animator; Tinjun Niu, sound designer
Watch on Vimeo.

The Wanderers, US, Ted Fisher, filmmaker; Aoife Lysol, poet
Watch on YouTube.

Hanging, Finland, Hanna-Mari Ojala, cinepoet
Watch on YouTube.

The Opened Field, UK, Helmie Stil, filmmaker; Dom Burt, poet
Watch at Moving Poems.

America, US, Lisa Seidenberg, filmmaker; text by Gertrude Stein
Watch at Moving Poems.

Wind and Plaster, Germany, Burak Kum, filmmaker; Nazim Hikmet Ran, poet
Watch on Vimeo.

Capricorn, UK, Eta Dahlia, filmmaker; Andrey Novikov, original score; Nik Nightingale, calligraphy
I could not locate a film with this title, but you can watch three films on Dahlia’s Vimeo page.

Silicon Valley, Canada, Mary McDonald, filmmaker; Penn Kemp, poet
Watch on YouTube.

Instructions for Soldiers Back From War, US, Jed Bell, director; David Mai, cinematography and editing; Barbara West, performer; Julia Vinograd, poet
Watch on Vimeo.

New Note, US, Ally Christmas, cinepoet
Watch on Vimeo.

Aral, UK, Eta Dahlia, filmmaker and poet
This title could not be located on the web, but the filmmaker does have a Vimeo page.

Without Distortion, Australia, Mark Niehus, director, producer, composer, and poet
Watch on YouTube.

My Cloverfield, Finland, Hanna-Mari Ojala, cinepoet
Watch on YouTube.

Untitled, US, Lisa Maione
I was unable to find this film on the web, but there is a Vimeo page, a website, and an artist’s page where you can learn more about the filmmaker.

Leisure, UK, Derk Russell, cinematographer; Al Barclay, actor; A D Cooper, writer
Watch on Vimeo.

A Family Recipe That Cannot Be Followed or Written Down, US, Elaine Zhang, Director; Tiana Wang, poet
I was unable to locate the film itself on the web, but the project does have a Facebook page.

Wings of Desire is a Poetry Film

Every Angel is terror. And yet,
ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly
birds of the soul.
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies

When I read that Swiss actor Bruno Ganz died on February 15 of this year, I immediately recalled the iconic photograph of him as the angel Damiel, the character Ganz played in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film, Wings of Desire. Dressed in a black trench coat that hangs past his knees, Damiel stands on the edge of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, looking down on the city of Berlin. Huge white wings erupt from his back.

Wings of Desire is an extraordinary film on many levels – the cinematography, acting, and directing are all of the highest quality. The film’s success, however, is not the result of any of these. The film succeeds because it’s based on poetry.

Poetry determined the film from the beginning. In an article published in the Criterion Collection, Wenders states

I really don’t know what gave me the idea of angels. One day I wrote ‘angels’ in my notebook…Maybe it was because I was reading Rilke at the time—nothing to do with films—and realizing as I read how much of his writing is inhabited by angels. Reading Rilke every night, perhaps I got used to the idea of angels being around.

Needing a screenplay, Wenders approached his old friend and frequent collaborator, Austrian writer and poet Peter Handke. Handke, worn out from having just completing a novel, told Wenders, “I’m completely drained. I don’t have any words left in me. Maybe if you come down here and tell me your story, then I can help you out with a few scenes. But no more; nothing structural, no screenplay.” Wenders and Handke “spent a week thinking up a dozen key situations in a possible plot, and Peter started writing on the basis of that.”

From that initial meeting, the screenplay evolved from weekly dispatches Handke sent to Wenders: “I would get an envelope full of dialogue, without any direction or description, like in a stage play. There was no contact between us; he wrote, and I prepared the film.” Their process sounds remarkably similar to the way in which many video poems arise: one person, usually the filmmaker, creates a film using an existing poem. There is generally little or no contact between the poet and the filmmaker until the film is completed.

Wings of Desire starts with Damiel writing and reciting the opening lines from Handke’s poem, “Song of Childhood:”

When the child was a child
it walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

Gradually, the plot emerges: Damiel (Ganz), weary of his existence as a supernatural being, longs for the messy, sweaty world of humanity. Sitting in a car with his friend, the angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) Damiel imagines what life would be like as a human: “To come home after a long day and feed the cat like Philip Marlowe,” – “to have a fever” – “to get your fingers black from the newspaper” – “to lie – through the teeth!” None of these is enough to convince Damiel to make the plunge; that decision comes when he falls in love with the beautiful Marion, an angel-winged trapeze artist performing in a cheesy, one-ring circus.

As Damiel becomes infatuated with Marion, he begins to hover, unseen, around her, influencing her thoughts and moods (the angels in Wings of Desire possess the ability to read people’s minds). In a couple of unsettling scenes, he enters her circus trailer and watches her undress, once reaching to touch her bare shoulder. Since he’s an angel, we assume that he is completely harmless, but once he’s developed feelings for Marion, his presence in her private sphere seems at least somewhat improper. In abandoning his immortality for the love of Marion, Damiel demonstrates that he shares that view: he can’t keep hovering around, spying on her. He must take his chances in the real world.

Wings of Desire is not only a love story between angel and human, but also a film-poem of place: Berlin in the late 1980s. Angels move freely on either side of the Berlin Wall, a privilege not allowed the city’s human population until two years later. Considering its affect on both the film and the city, the Wall imposes limitations as if it were a poetic form, forcing the filmmakers to create within its boundaries. As Nick Bugeja writes in “Discord and new beginnings in Wings of Desire,” “the Wall towers over the lives of those living in Berlin and Germany, physically and metaphorically constraining them.”

Handke’s “envelope(s) full of dialogue, without any direction or description,” form the overheard thoughts of Berlin’s citizens, edited into poetic snippets. I.e., in one scene, a man with a baby in a backpack thinks, “The delight of lifting one’s head out here in the open” while in another, we hear the thoughts of a woman riding a bicycle: “At last mad, at last redeemed.” When Damiel and Cassiel communicate vocally, it’s in elevated, cryptic speech. To quote Bugeja again, “The effect of Wings of Desire is startling. Its poetry seeps from every frame, as feelings of loss, impotency, and later renewal and warmth spill out.”

Poetry gives Wings of Desire its intuitive leaps and eccentric charm. Poetry elevates Damiel’s decision to leave immortality for love beyond cliché and into the sublime.

When he says, “Now I know what no angel knows,” he means he has found his humanity. This is the value of poetry, and all the arts: they awaken the shared sense of what it means to be human. That seems a fitting way to end a film that began with the word angel scribbled in a notebook.

Data poetry installation at SXSW 2019: Naho Matsuda’s Every Thing Every Time

While I was in Austin recently, I happened to see an article in Endgadget about a data poetry installation that was part of the Future Art and Culture programme of SXSW 2019. Jack Cochran and I were intrigued, so we grabbed Outlier’s camera and went out to take a look, which resulted in this short film that briefly documents the event:

What you see is a public installation of a 18×6 split flip mechanical board, which generates lines of text separated by commas and ending with a period, one set each minute, twenty-four hours a day. The installation does not ask you to figure out what it is: there is an informational plaque in front of it that you can read for yourself, and, at least at times, a SXSW attendee who, if not distracted by trying to unstick malfunctioning letters or texting on a smartphone, will offer you a brochure about it, should you seem sufficiently interested. I got one, but I did not see anyone else handed one while we were setting up and filming, which took under three hours (the maximum time on our metered parking space).

In the brochure, the North American premiere of Every Thing Every Time is described as a public realm artwork that “processes data typically captured and published by ‘smart city’ technologies, consumer devices, private and public institutions, and various media. The piece uses this data to create poetry based on your interaction with the urban environment.” The credits include the artist, Naho Matsuda; the producer, FutureEverything; industrial design and assembly by RASKL; and software by Paul Angus and Dan Hett. This is big time poetry as art, presented by British Underground, supported by Arts Council England and the British Council, part of their Anyone//Anywhere: the web at 30 season, first commissioned in Manchester (UK) as part of CityVerve — “a project creating a blueprint for smarter cities worldwide.” Every Thing Every Time is also a growing enterprise: the brochure invites “City Leaders, Cultural Organisations, Festivals, Conferences, and Digital Businesses” to commission the touring partnership of Matsuda and FutureEverything to present the installation in a new city for its next international tour date by contacting andy@futureeverything.org.

The inaugural installation of Every Thing Every Time was in Manchester, for CityVerve, its smart city demonstrator project. There, flip dot displays, which were installed in four different Manchester locations, displayed one line of text every three seconds. Watch this slick video produced by FutureEverything to hear from the artist and to see how this worked.


The second iteration of Every Thing Every Time was installed in Newcastle, commissioned by the Great Exhibition of the North, a free celebration of Britain’s pioneering spirit in the summer of 2018, with support from FutureEverything. There the poems were generated on a more polished split flip board than at SXSW, enclosed in a transparent housing, which you can see in this short video uploaded to Vimeo by the artist.

The SXSW installation of Every Thing Every Time is the third version, again with a different, more retro industrial design. In our video, the installation’s location seems unpropitious, on a scrap piece of land backed by an unattractive plastic wrapped barrier (which separates the installation from a small park set aside as a private area for artists). In fact, the location is opposite the convention center where everyone must register/pick up badges and wristbands, and where most of the interactive events and the big tech trade show are located. It’s also right downtown and opposite the metro train stop, so there is always a lot of foot traffic.

The videos I’ve seen of the Manchester and Newcastle installations do not focus on spectator interaction with the displays, whereas our video does provide a sample, albeit small, of how people engage with the project. To that, I can add what we saw while we filmed over the course of a couple of hours: a few people walk over to the exhibit description or the poetry display itself. Most of those watch one poem or just a part of a poem. A few take a smartphone photo. A very few watch more than one poem. Occasionally, someone sits down and takes a break in front of the display. A few of those sit facing the display; more sit with their backs to it and converse with friends or watch the parade of people and traffic. The vast majority are either oblivious to the installation or give it just a passing glance as they walk by.

The reviews I’ve read of Every Thing Every Time have been uniformly positive. Some of this may be due to the context that supporting materials provided by the artist, FutureEverything, and the presenting institutions create for the installation. The SXSW brochure, in its “why data poetry” section, states,

Harnessing public art to explore the ‘Smart City,’ Naho Matsuda’s EVERY THING EVERY TIME broadcasts poetry on a mesmerizing mechanical display, urging a broader discussion on the role of data in our lives, personal privacy and our place in future cities.

The Great Exhibition of the North on their website pronounces, “the work of Naho Matsuda questions the role of data in our lives as well as its use and value.” The FutureEverything online announcement for Every Thing Every Time in Austin declares,

Through careful curation of data that describes events, from the mundane to the marvelous, life in Austin will be expressed as poetry on a mechanical split-flap display resembling the destination boards once found in railway stations. Delving into the expanding scope of data collection and the ‘smart city’, the work invites audiences to reflect on our increasingly complex relationship with technology and the global phenomenon of ‘surveillance capitalism.’

In a press release for the Manchester commission, the artist Naho Matsuda offered,

every thing every time is a piece of real-time digital writing, which is drawing from the many ‘things’ and ‘events’ and changes of ‘status’ that are constantly happening in Manchester … I have turned these data streams into narratives formatted as poems, that are stripped from their location information and any data transmitting purpose. Smart information becomes impractical poetry.

In this context, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Engadget article that led me to film the installation concluded,

As in other artist commentaries on tech, the feelings of interconnectedness compete with an unavoidable critique of surveillance — in this case, where data comes from, what little things it notices, how it encourages us to monitor each other. There’s an uneasy cognizance that outside Matsuda’s project there are smart city systems that process us as data points, and not usually just to craft poetry.

Maybe so, but I didn’t see too many signs that the audience for Every Thing Every Time was undertaking a critique of “surveillance capitalism.” Moreover, while I might respond favorably to an urgent call to consider the dangers of a world constructed according to unconsidered patterns of data collection, what I was thinking about while filming the installation was much more quotidian: Why wasn’t the integrity of words respected rather than carrying over from one line to another? Would I have guessed that the displayed lines of text were supposed to be poems if I hadn’t known in advance? Was it the commas at the end of all but the last line of each display (which ended in a period) that signified that each board of text was a single poem? How do I know that I’m reading individual poems and not one big text? How should I understand the mechanical failures that resulted in occasional misspellings and incomplete poems? When most of the poems are so banal, why should I pay attention?

The installation did make me think, but my conclusions are that I’d like to compare poems about data surveillance written by poets with the data poetry produced by Every Thing Every Time, and that I’d like Jack to write a poem commenting on the Every Thing Every Time installation that we could make into a poetry film. Maybe other poetry filmmakers should do the same. But I bet we can’t create one poem per minute!

More reading and viewing

SXSW Art Program Presents EVERY THING EVERY TIME by Naho Matsuda Producer: FutureEverything (OFFICIAL)

Press release [PDF]: Naho Matsuda heads to South by Southwest for North American premiere of her data-poetry artwork EVERY THING EVERY TIME


A short clip on Vimeo of Naho Matsuda’s EVERY THING EVERY TIME in action at Great Exhibition of the North. Produced by FutureEverything. / YouTube version

Interview on YouTube with Naho Matsuda for #GetNorth2018 / Twitter version / Facebook version

Naho Matsuda on Instagram

YouTube piece on SXSW 2019 | Arte Urbana (in Brazilian)

Film Ab!: A personal report on the Zebra Poetry Film Festival 2018


September is coming to an end and the falling temperatures leave north-east England sharp but bright. I am on a train from my home town in Northumberland en route to Münster in the German province of Westphalia. The 2018 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival awaits at the end of my long train ride: three days of poetry and film in a city reaching summer’s end. It is a good time of the year for poems, I think, and a good time of the year for films.

My excitement is tinged with the knowledge that this may be my last visit to the continent as a fully-fledged citizen of the EU. I’ve always wanted to visit ZEBRA. It seems to be an important place for poetry and film but when one of my films screened here four years ago, I couldn’t afford to come. I’m expecting an international affair: a reminder that, regardless of who is playing games with our borders and our nationhood, people will get together with others to write poems and make films. I am heartened by the fact that the very act of making a poetry film defies and challenges creative and political borders.

As I trundle my way through France and Belgium, I reflect on how the poetry film community is naturally collaborative. It needs more than the single artist in order to exist. That’s not to say that a person can’t make a poetry film on their own – I have done this and many of the films at the festival will surely be author made – but rather that if everyone worked in isolation, as much of the UK’s mainstream poetry world does, the world of poetry film would not be so rich and diverse. Part of this seems inherent in the medium: the juxtaposition gap often works best with two other-thinking minds. It sits at an intersection between several worlds: those of poetry, film-making, television, experimental art, music, sound art and artist’s moving image. Arguably, the poem is the only essential ingredient because without it, the form does not exist.

ZEBRA Festival runs from Thursday evening through to Sunday evening. My train pulls in late on Thursday evening so I miss the opening ceremony and head straight to my Airbnb in the city’s quiet, affluent and leafy suburbs. The next day I set out on foot to the festival venue, Münster’s Schloßtheater. I arrive there late on Friday afternoon after a walk into the city through the woodlands that skirt the Aasee, a picturesque lake and park full of cyclists and groups of chattering school children.

Schloßtheater is a friendly, 1950s art deco venue busy with locals and festival visitors. My first task is to pick up my accreditation lanyard from the festival desk in the foyer and then I settle down, nursing a coffee at a table in the theatre’s street café. On the train I had read Annelyse Gelman’s review of her first visit here and as I plot a path through the various screenings on offer I am aware of her advice not to overwhelm myself with too many films. I’ve experienced this before at literary festivals, where reading after reading tires the brain until it becomes difficult to engage with the work in any meaningful way. Poems demand a particular sort of attention.

The films are screening in blocks of around ten poetry films, which are either part of one of the festival’s prize competitions or part of the curated side programme. Some of this side programme revolves around the festival’s main themes (this year they are The USA and Spoken Word) and some of it is organised into five thematically-linked blocks under the title Prisma. There are other screenings, readings and discussions too: the results of a series of hip hop poetry film workshops made in collaboration with local young people, a panel discussion on the disadvantages for women in the poetry film and wider film worlds and the premiere of the poems submitted to this year’s festival poem competition. I pick out seven blocks on Friday and Saturday in the hope that this will give me a broad spectrum of the films at ZEBRA without burning me out before I catch a train back to the UK on Sunday.

As the time for my first screening of the festival approaches, the café begins to buzz with an interesting mix of film-makers and poets from all over the world. Thankfully, ZEBRA has neither the hard-sell atmosphere of a film festival nor the tribalistic feel of a poetry festival. People are approachable and friendly and before long I’ve met several poets and film-makers, some of whom are new to me and some of whom I have already met virtually through the online community. Poetry film is rare insofar as it affords much more prominence to the writer than other forms of film. At ZEBRA, poet and film-maker are given equal billing. My first impressions are a confirmation that the symbiosis at the medium’s heart cultivates a presumed harmony between these two separate worlds.


Animation was big at the festival with films ranging from the highly polished productions made for French TV as part of the En sortant de l’école series through Georges Schwizbegel’s stunning (and wordless) painted rendition of Goethe’s classic poem Erlkönig to Amhed Saleh’s moving stop-motion animation Ayny – My Second Eye, which dealt with the disturbing story of a family displaced by war. I think one of the reasons animation works so well when combined with poems is that it opens up the possibilities for the impossible: an essential attribute of a strong poem. Anna Eijsbout’s silhouette animation of Neil Gaiman’s Hate for Sale, which picked up the prize for ‘Best Film for Tolerance’, is a good example of animation’s ability to employ the impossible in a way that would be very difficult to achieve through other means.

Several of the animated films didn’t take full advantage of this aspect of the medium and merely visually represented the content of the poem on screen. For me the most successful films (animated or otherwise) were those that went beyond mere representation towards abstraction or a suggested narrative leading me into an unexpected reading of the poem. Noch am Leben from Anita Lester was a good example of how a film-maker can reach beneath the surface of the poem and enhance it through the use of moving images and sound.

Interestingly, in this example the film and the poem were both made by Lester and I wonder how I would have responded to the poem outside the context of the film. I also wonder whether this is at all relevant as the poetry film worked for me in its own right. With this film, like with many others that I found myself particularly lost in, it felt as if both poem and film needed each other to exist.

In the screening blocks I saw, the majority of the films were highly polished and had access to budgets that were way beyond my wildest dreams. I had expected to see more experimental, low budget films from film-makers and poets that I knew. This is not necessarily a criticism of the selection committee’s choices. Perhaps it is more a realisation on my part that up to now I have subconsciously sought out work that fits into the same niche as the poetry films I have been involved in making myself.

Of course, there were several films that I had seen before that were a delight to see screening at the festival (a good poetry film keeps on giving after all). I hadn’t seen Kate Sweeney and Anna Woodford’s Work (although I knew the poem on the page). The weaving of Sweeney’s Post-it animation with Woodford’s words reminded me how important it is to have a strong poem for a poetry film to be truly effective.

The Focus USA block deserves a mention for its political veracity alone. Caroline Rumley’s Shoes without Feet brought home the devastating chaos of Charlottesville.

Lisa Seidenberg’s America touched on Charlottesville too, remixing Gertrude Stein’s 1929 poem with collaged footage and drums to not make sense in a good way.

Many of the American films I saw across the festival came from the Motionpoems series. They are well produced and slick, sometimes to devastating effect as in How to Raise a Black Child, Seyi Peter-Thomas’ narrative adaptation of Courtney Lamar-Charleston’s thought-provoking poem.


My overwhelming memory of ZEBRA will be of a well run and friendly festival that showcases a diverse range of poetry films. I was exposed to films that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, particularly the bigger budget films not available online or those films in languages that I don’t understand. The presenters for each block of films had done their homework, introducing each film by talking about techniques, the film-makers and the poems in a way that enhanced my viewing of the films. The little pauses in between each film for these introductions felt necessary in order to absorb what had come before. And if the film-maker or poet was present, we were also treated to a short Q&A after the film, which further enhanced the experience.

From my first block of films at the festival through to my last, I was struck by the magic of the cinema. I am used to viewing poetry films online, generally on my laptop through vimeo or youtube (and of course via movingpoems.com!). I often screen my own films in galleries or in little projector rooms at literary festivals. There’s something particularly exciting about the cinema though: the way it holds your attention through the lighting, the sound and the imposing presence of the screen. As David Lynch so eloquently puts it in ‘Curtains Up’: “It’s so magical, I don’t know why, to go into a theatre and have the lights go down, it’s very quiet and then the curtains start to open and you go into a world.”

It wouldn’t seem right not to acknowledge something raised in Marc Neys’ judges report on the 2016 festival. I couldn’t help but think that more poets and film-makers would have been there if they had been supported financially in order to attend. I know that it is difficult to raise funds for festivals such as this but I wonder if there is leeway for some of the prize funds to be redirected towards a travel grant distributed on the basis of financial need? It would have been great to have seen more of the film-makers and poets there. As a freelance artist with three little mouths to feed, I must choose carefully which unpaid flights of madness I indulge in. Having said that, there are plenty of cheap Airbnbs in Münster and according to the online guidebooks couchsurfing is big there. Free tickets for the screening for accredited poets and film-makers was an unexpected bonus too. For those of us in Europe at least, the cost of travel shouldn’t be too prohibitive and if you are at all interested in the genre of poetry film then there is a lot to be gained from a trip to ZEBRA. When the next festival is announced, I know that I will be counting my pennies and trying to find some way of making the journey back to Münster.

The Juteback Poetry Film Festival 2018: a review and compilation

The power and importance of curation is once again demonstrated by the eclectic and compelling selections included in the 2018 Juteback Poetry Film Festival, which was held at the Wolverine Farm Publishing’s Letterpress and Publick House in Ft. Collins, CO on Friday, October 19, 2018. Organizers R.W. Perkins (poet, writer, and filmmaker from Loveland, CO) and Matt Mullins (writer, musician, experimental filmmaker, and multimedia artist who teaches creative writing at Ball State University and is the mixed media editor of Atticus Review) have put together a program that surveys the breadth and depth of film poetry rather than attempting to construct or validate some narrow canon. From animated calligraphy to found footage, from flicker film techniques to metamorphosing animation, from abstracting digital layering to Hollywood narrative techniques, from dreamlike transitions and juxtapositions to post-apocalyptic mise-en-scene, from beauty in a broken world to cultural and political critique, from digital image fracturing and recombination to stark, off-balance, black-and-white compositions harking back to Man Ray, from silent film techniques to spoken word poetry, from digital remixing to music video techniques, and from preschool poets to poetic giants from the past to unpublished poets who are also filmmakers, the selections survey the state of video poetry and yet reflect the tastes and inclinations of Perkins and Mullins, who hopefully will keep this festival going for years to come.

One interesting feature of Juteback 2018 was live poetry readings by the 2018 poet laureate of Ft. Collins, Natalie Giarratano, and 2013 Ft. Collins poet laureate, Jason Hardung. If you don’t know them, both of them are poets worth exploring.

Also worth mentioning is that both Perkins and Mullins each showed one of their own poetry films to open the festival, in order to demonstrate that they are poetry film practitioners as well as curators. Perkins’ film is Visions of Snow, and Mullins’ film is One/Another.

As Perkins noted in his closing comments, most of the films in the festival are available openly, and he encouraged the festival audience to share what they liked as widely as possible. With that in mind, here are links to the poetry films (where possible), and to trailers for the films or links to the filmmakers’ websites (where the films themselves could not be found).

Perkins and Mullins are seeking to expand the audience for the Juteback Poetry Film Festival. If anyone has any suggestions, you can contact them.

(Full disclosure: Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran’s The Names of Trees was one of the poetry films included in the 2018 Juteback Poetry Film Festival.)

Carolyn Rumley
One Step Away


Rita Mae Reese
Alphabet Conspiracy


Jutta Pryor
Poet Matt Dennison
The Bird


Cindy St. Onge
My Lover’s Pretty Mouth


Ellen Hemphill and Jim Haverkamp
Poet Marc Zegans
The Danger Meditations


Kate Sweeney
Poet Anna Woodford


Mohammad Enamul and Haque Kha
Poet Sadi Taif
A Vagabond Wind

(this is a 50-second trailer for the film poem)


Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran
Poet Lucy English
The Names of Trees


Marie Craven
Poet Matt Hetherington
Light Ghazal


Dan Douglas
Poet Paul Summers
Bun Stop



Vivek Jain
Poet Kirti Pherwani
I Don’t Know



Mark Niehus


Eduardo Yagüe
Poet Samuel Beckett
Qué Palabra


Eliot Michl
Don’t Tell Me I’m Beautiful


Gilbert Sevigny
Poet Jean Coulombe
Au Jardin Bleu (In the Blue Garden)


Lisa Seidenberg
Poet Gertrude Stein


Merissa Victor
Poet Angelica Poversky
The Entropy of Forgiveness


Kathryn Darnell
Poet Bertolt Brecht
Motto: A Poem by Bertolt Brecht
Visit her Vimeo page, where you can watch 14 videos using similar animated calligraphy techniques, though Motto is not among them.


Kidst Ayalew Abebe
Poet Femi Bájúlayé


A. D. Cooper
Home to the Hangers

(this is a 48 second trailer for the 5-minute film, which is behind a password to protect its film festival qualifications)


Luna Ontenegro, Ginés Olivares, and Adrian Fisher (mmmmmfilms collective)
Fatal When They Touch
Visit the collective’s webpage for the film (which does not include the film itself).


Jane Glennie
Poet Brittani Sonnenberg
Coyote Wedding


Nancy Kangas
Preschool Poets: An Animated Series
Visit the Vimeo page for the Preschool Poets project, which has the eight films compiled for Juteback, as well as some behind-the-scenes video.


Steven Fox
There’s a Facebook page for the local actor and filmmaker, but there does not seem to be any online link to the film.


(Special screening)

National Poetry Library Instagram Poetry Film Winners

The world’s first Instagram poetry exhibition ran from Thursday, April 26 to Sunday, July 1, 2018 at the UK’s National Poetry Library. Jane Glennie, whose Being and Being Empty — previously posted to Moving Poems — was one of the fifteen filmpoem winners included in the exhibit, was kind enough to share a program [PDF] with me when I noticed a photo of it in a brief news post about the exhibit on her website. That program is the source of the list of winners below. I have added links to play the films, since it’s a daunting task to search for them on the individual Instagram pages, or among the 1,771 posts (as of 28 July 2018) to #instapoetrylib on https://www.instagram.com, which is where all the entries are archived, and which is still active, if you would like to contribute a film even though the contest has ended; some of the more recent posts to be found on #instapoetrylib are photographs documenting the exhibit rather than new poems.

The winning films were apparently announced via comments/DMs on the individual Instagram posts. At the exhibit, the films were on a screen on a continual loop, while the selected image poems were exhibited on the walls. After having spent some time reviewing the films posted to #instapoetrylib, I believe that the 15 selected poetry films were chosen to represent the breadth and variety of work posted to Instagram — from films of poets reciting their poems, to spoken word performance films, to Instagram as poetry notebook, to found poetry films, animated poetry films, and the kinds of film poems Moving Poems typically celebrates.

Poets were only supposed to submit one entry per person, but many of the poets and the National Poetry Library itself did not appear to have taken this rule seriously. Some of the winners submitted more than one entry, and one winner subverted the Instagram video limits by submitting a longer film in two parts. Of the 1771 entries, there are approximately 114 poetry film postings (of which 44 were submitted by one poster, @b.ar.d).

Here are the winning films, listed in order from the exhibition program. (Readers of this post via feed readers or the email newsletter may have to click through to Moving Poems Magazine to watch the videos.)

NHS Crisis by Thomas ‘GhettoGeek’ Owoo (@ghettogeektv)

This might be the Instagram version he submitted to the contest. This link is to a pinned post on the GhettoGeek twitter page, which includes a link to the complete 4:31 version on YouTube.

A slam or spoken word reading style combines with dynamic graphics and imagery in politically powerful ways. Owoo has produced a number of variant works on this and other subjects on his YouTube channel and a range of social media sites.

A Spring Day by Annabel Wilson (@annabelwilsonart)

This is the post on her Instagram page announcing that her film was selected to show in the exhibition. This link is to the film on her Facebook page.

When she first posted the film to Instagram, she commented: “I wrote a poem last week on one of the first spring-like mornings- it came from that feeling that walking out on a clear morning gives, just as the sun comes up in all of its glory. It’s a sunrise, dawn poem, but also a hope and happiness poem. I have created this simple animation as a different kind of way to share it on World Poetry Day!”

The Art of Narcissism by Akora @parthenocarpy

This is the only video posted to on her Instagram page. This is a link to the performance button on her Instagram page about performing at the National Poetry Library exhibit opening.

For many of the poets posting on Instagram, a film documents the performance of a poem, as does this one.

Being and Being Empty by Jane Glennie (@jane_glennie)

Above is the film on her Instagram page; this is the film on her Vimeo page.

Her description of the film: “How to be a mother … who is this being that I am? Wanting to be half-full with the joy of play, a job well done, and the softness of a bed to sink into at the end. Feeling half-empty with a busy brain that won’t shut down and twitches into awakening too early. Feeling overwhelmed by the chores and feeling rubbish as a result because surely that’s really not important. Tossing and turning and struggling to make a zingy start to each new day.”

A flicker film technique is a visceral representation of both the delight in and the fragmented and distracted attention of motherhood.

Boob Haiku by Fatima Al Rayes (@fatimaspoems)

Here’s the film on her Instagram page. It is the only post on the page.

A film Fatima describes as “a haiku” documents the performance of writing out the poem and making a simple illustration using time compression.

Dice by Annie Rockson (@gyallikeannie)

This is the film on her Instagram page. Here it is on her YouTube page.

A filmed performance of a spoken word poet, “Dice,” “black dots trapped in a white box,” is a trope for the various traps that constrain black lives behind “a smokescreen of racial equality.”

En Silencio by Charles Olsen (@colsenart)

This is the film on Olsen’s Instagram page. Here’s his website.

Charles Olsen translates his poem from Spanish to English in the comments on his Instagram post: “In silence/water trickles down the bark/Leaves shine/like a flight of fish/and the forest/becomes a black sea/Like you/when we are together.” His spare film consists of close shots of the bark, leaves, and forest described in the poem in superimposed titles, but makes no attempt to depict the black sea of the relationship, which he leaves to our imagination.

Esprit Ya Pouvoire by Vid’or Tampa (@PTPlays)

This is the film on her Instagram page.

Another filmed spoken-word performance, this one in honor of International Women’s Day. The comments on the Instagram post provide a translation of the poem to English: And the one who birthed you./And the one who fed you milk./And the one who made you laugh when sadness got into your heart./And the one who cooked porridge for you./And the one who fed you fufu./And the one who carried you on her back/ in her arms./And the one who stood you up each time you fell./And the one who taught you./And the one who wiped away your tears.
And the one who encouraged you;/Gave you advice./And the one who stands up for you./And the one who makes you laugh./And the one who shows you love./And the one who has faith in you./And the one who beats her chest for you./ And the one who sings for you./Bredrin, look left and look right. /She is there and we are all there. /You have grown up in the spirit of power./Recognise us. 

Kaki by Sheena Baharudin (@sheenabaharudin)

The film as it appears on Naharudin’s Instagram page.

Her comments when she posted the Instagram film: “Today is World Poetry Day! Submitting this bilingual piece for the #instapoetrylib call made by the @nationalpoetrylibrary . Inspired by the Zapin, a traditional Malay dance that focuses on the movement of the feet. Fyi, if the words sound familiar, it’s because this is the performed version of my previous #swipeleftpoetry post. Check them out.”

The tight fixed frame that cannot contain the dancing feet work in dialectic with the poem in what is another meditation on the joys and constraints of motherhood.

Public House by Laurie Bolger (@lauriebolger)

The film on Instagram. Here’s the link to Bolger’s website.

“A little poem about pubs” is how the author described this when she posted it, and it does have the casual feel of a cellphone film.

Love Loving by Sanah Ahsan (@psychology_and_poetry)

Her poem on Instagram.

Another film that documents a poet reading her poem. Sanah comments on her Instagram post, “Tonight has been incredible. I performed a piece that explored culture, mental health and identity as part of an upcoming @bbcthree documentary. Such a BLESSING to listen to and share honest stories about #mentalhealth in the #lgbtcommunity. Thank you for having me.”

Somewhere, Nowhere by Mark J. Rigby @filmmaker_markjrigby


These are the links to the film on his Instagram page; the film was submitted in two parts. This is the link to his website.

In his comments on the Instagram post, Rigby notes that he wrote, performed and directed this film, which he describes as a “spoken word video … borne out of volunteer work for acting and drama workshops centred on homeless and vulnerable adults.” However, he does not film himself reciting his poem, and his piece has more of the feel of a music video.

Southwark Love Song by Claire Trevién (@ctrevien)

The film on her Instagram page. This is her poetry website.

In her comments, Trevién describes her piece as a “#poetryfilm of #foundpoetry collected around Southwark, London Bridge, etc.” This in one of a series of her poetryfilms that find a poem in the camera framing of portions of street signs, names of buildings, advertisement art, and more. The sound is whatever the camera mic records in real time. The technique is tantalizing, and certainly permits the intentional roughness of execution.

MAN by Tommy Evans (@tommya_manevans)

This is the film on #instapoetrylib. I believe this is the film on his Instagram page, although I don’t see either #instapoetrylib or @nationalpoetrylibrary in the comments.

Here is a longer version on his YouTube page; both of the Instagram films appear to be excerpts from the longer work. Here’s a post on his Twitter page about his film being exhibited at the National Poetry Library.

A spoken word poet performance that uses the jarring contrasts between medium shots and tight close-ups to suggest the contradictions in the social construction of masculinity.

We be in No Thing by Jason Kofi-Haye (@surf._ace)

This is the poem as it appears on #instapoetrylib. I could not locate this version on his Instagram page, but there are many variants of this work, which is an instance of a year-long project to use Instagram as a kind of artist’s sketch pad. This tendency to post variants, works-in-progress, and rough drafts is a strategy he uses not only on his Instagram page, but also on his other web and social media sites. To see more examples, search Instagram for #WeBeinNoThing.

And finally, one possible winner who got notified, but apparently wasn’t exhibited:

Receipt for our Romance, by Jade Cuttle (@jadecuttle)

That’s the film as it appears at #instapoetrylib.

The poem is represented as a cash register receipt, which the camera simply scrolls down. I find the technique quite clever, albeit probably unrepeatable.

More information on the National Poetry Library exhibit

There have been four posts on the National Poetry Society website: Instagram poetry; Celebrating Instagram Poetry at National Poetry Library; Instagram poetry is here – find out more in our podcast; and A new generation of poets emerges on Instagram. This last post, in which Jessica Atkinson, the National Poetry Library’s Digital Co-ordinator, discusses four of the Instagram poems included in the exhibition and what makes them stand out, is particularly interesting, since it provides some insight into the curation process.

And finally, stay tuned to the blog at littlethoughtspot.co.uk, which promises a review of the exhibition.

For more information about Instagram poets and poetry, here is a brief online bibliography:

Voices of the new ‘Instagram poets’ | Financial Times

The Life of an Instagram Poet | The New Yorker

Why Rupi Kaur and Her Peers Are the Most Popular Poets in the World | New York Times

The Poetry of Instagram | BBC Radio 4

Can Instagram Make Poems Sell Again? | Publishers Weekly

12 Instagram Poets to follow | HuffPost
Is It OK To Make Fun Of Instagram Poets? | Luna Luna Magazine

Instagram poets society: selfie age gives new life and following into poetry | The Guardian

And finally, an interview with Marisa Crane, who says,

I didn’t necessarily mean to cultivate such a large Instagram following. It all happened pretty organically, and I think it helps that I began posting my work right before the boom of Instagram poetry (which is going downhill now, and fast). I can remember sitting on my couch in 2012 reading a poem by Tyler Knott Gregson, which had been typed on a typewriter. He had thousands of likes on a piece that was, in my opinion, pretty basic. Not to say that it wasn’t intriguing or good, but it was short and easily digestible, which made it perfect for people scrolling quickly. I figured I’d take a stab at it, so I began posting some of my shorter poems on my Instagram, which had about 300 followers at the time. I even forgot to put my name under a few of them. For a while, nothing happened, and I didn’t care. I wasn’t posting to become Instagram famous. Then, I think sometime in 2014 some bigger poetry accounts, like Christopher Poindexter, began reposting my work, and it snowballed from there. I don’t particularly enjoy the medium anymore, as I feel that it’s on its way out. Instagram changed their algorithm, and it hurt engagement for a lot of people. I’m basically just riding it out until it becomes null and void.

Read the complete interview on Bekah Steimel’s blog. (Thanks to Dave Bonta for the link.)

There might be something in this: Maybe today everyone wants to be a poet, just like everyone wants to be a filmmaker. But when there are 5,000 submissions to some film festivals for the 60 or 70 spots available for films to be screened, maybe there is also something to be said for being able to post poems or films to social media sites, despite the overwhelming numbers that soon cry out for curation by means other than the viral. I believe Moving Poems is a valuable community in that regard.

Flicker film, and a review of the world’s first documentary on videopoetry

Two new English-language articles have recently been published in the online version of Poetryfilm Magazine, the bilingual journal embedded in the Weimar-based Poetryfilmkanal website and released annually in a print and PDF version. UK artist and typographer Jane Glennie, a couple of whose videos I’ve shared at Moving Poems, has an essay titled Flicker film and the videopoem:

A ›flicker film‹, as I have made them and understand them thus far, consists not of moving image footage but of a series of still images presented at around 24 or 25 per second. It could be described as an extremely rapid slideshow. Cinema film is also, of course, still images projected at 24 frames per second, but with the intention of transforming frames into seamless movement, whereas a flicker film disrupts the seamless with disparate frames.

Glennie gives a brief history of the technique, which dates back to 1966, then talks about its relevance today, and to her own practice:

Flicker film can also be perceived as reflective upon the broader culture of the online environment where so much time is now spent. Indeed, Parker’s film was derived from her Instagram feed. Image usage, sophistication and relevance continues to grow rapidly. In 2014, two thousand million photos were shared per day across five key social media platforms, rising to over three thousand million in 2015. Upcoming generations are expected to communicate with images even more than at present (happily videopoetry is part of this ever growing online scene). Flicker film can have instant visual impact in a short length and can capture attention in the brief, ephemeral encounters of social media. For instance, my film Being and being empty (2018) was selected for the world’s first Instagram Poetry exhibition at the National Poetry Library in London. But flicker film also offers challenges to the viewer: what can be perceived each time it is viewed? What images or messages might have entered the subconscious? If I continue to view the film – can I perceive more through practice or ›training myself‹ or do I enter a visual fatigue and ›see‹ less and less? A flicker film can be seen as a test of endurance and the brain’s ability to digest images at speed and through the subconscious. If we are to continue to consume images at ever greater volumes and pace, the flicker film begs the question – what are the limits that human cognition can take? Is there a point at which the message and/or the poetic is lost in the frenzy? I am interested in how the fleeting can be imprinted in the mind and create an overall impression through repetition, the subliminal message, and/or the blurring of the distinctions between discrete elements.

Fascinating stuff. Do go read the whole thing.

The other article was my own, published just yesterday: ›Versogramas‹ and the Possibilities for Videopoetry.

Versogramas, the 2017 film directed by Belén Montero, is apparently the world’s first documentary about videopoetry, and as such, it’s likely that viewers may come to it with heightened expectations which will not be fulfilled. Taken on its own terms, however, I found it a delightful romp with a few glaring defects. It has great potential as a teaching aid in the poetry or film classroom—especially if, as I hope, its official web release is accompanied by links to all the videos and videopoets in the film. It’s also available as part of a bookDVD from Editorial Galaxia (which I have not seen).

Quoting oneself is always a bit awkward, but let me skip over the snarky bit and give one more excerpt:

It’s impressive that the producers can focus on just one part of the world—Spain, especially the Galician region—add a handful of filmmakers and videopoets from outside that region, and still end up with a highly varied, complete-feeling snapshot of the state of videopoetry in the 21st century. […] I liked the rootedness of this approach, and I enjoyed getting a sense of how Spanish and Galician poets and artists have been working with videopoesía in recent years.

And for all its playing around with definitions, Versogramas does not end up providing some kind of unified field theory of videopoetry, thank God. (Though it does give Konyves the last word, as is fitting.) What it does, and does very well, is present us with a series of possibilities: this is what videopoetry might be (the narrative sections); this is what a bunch of actual practitioners have found it to be (the interviews).

I had, of course, much more to say than that. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen the documentary, and if and when it becomes generally available online, I’ll be sure to share the link here.