~ Poet: Janet Lees ~

Seven things I know by Janet Lees

Janet Lees is a poet and film-maker with a distinctive voice.

Her images are often black and white, with soft shades of grey, or tinged with the subtlest of colours. Her poetry is minimal in style, carrying quiet emotion. In counterpoint, the soundtracks are often lush in feeling. So it is in her latest film, Seven things I know.

The atmospheric music is by alt-pop duo Narrow Skies, Anita and Ben Tatlow. The song’s lyrics weave with those of the poem, which is given as text on screen. Anita Tatlow sings in an abstract way that is more musical than verbal, and so the song does not detract, but instead adds fine strands of meaning to Janet Lees’ poem.

The poem is whimsical while uncovering depth. A few of the seven things of the title:

the cadbury’s flake jingle

the magpie’s rough music

that eric morecambe
was not my uncle

Both poem and song lyrics are printed on the page with the video. This is a film in a single shot and slow motion rhythm, with breathing space for each of its elements.

More of Janet Lees’ films are to be found on her Moving Poems author page.

The one still bird by Janet Lees

A brief, eloquent video of a three-line poem expressed in a single image, The one still bird is an author-made piece by Janet Lees. Her personal statement about it:

On May Day it snowed, very briefly and in a tightly defined area – just a few hundred square yards. I saw a single starling on top of tree shaped like a child’s drawing of a hill. Later I swam in the sea and cut my leg on a fishing lure. It felt like a day full of omens and the echoes of emergencies.

Moving Poems has previously shared more than ten fine videopoems by Janet Lees.

Solo duet by Janet Lees

The latest film poem from Manx artist and poet Janet Lees seems fitting for this week of scorching temperatures in so many places. I’m sure she won’t mind if we paste in the full text of her Vimeo description, because it’s interesting to see what she excerpted from her original page-poem, “Retreat,” to make the film poem:

Poem & video by Janet Lees
Music by Tonic Walter & Nina Nst
The full poem, originally published in Earthlines magazine:

Retreat

1
I have hung out my clothes
on the washing line at the edge of the world.
Silhouetted arms and legs
give dumbstruck kicks and jerks,
stiff with salt and too much mending
by hands that have lost
the scent of naked,
eyes that can’t see
to thread a needle.

2
Viewed through glass: peat,
pelt. Imagined song
of blood and stone
fattening my tongue until
it fills my mouth, stops
my throat.
Between inside
and outside,
the flame roar of the wind,
cauterising open sores
where men have dug out earth from me
to burn to warm their hands.

3
My blood
runs cold and clear
My bones are made
of the world’s dried tears
There is wreckage
and resurgence in my heart
At dusk I drink the sun
and then dead stars
live again in my skin
which breaks
and is
unbroken

Crush by Janet Lees

This recent film by Manx videopoet (and Moving Poems regular) Janet Lees was featured along with two others in the newly re-launched Issue One/Spring 2022 issue of Atticus Review.

CRUSH: Artist’s Statement: The poem at the heart of this videopoem is a reflection on the less lovely, more violent realities of ‘young love.’ Like many young people, I was subject to all-consuming crushes as a teenager. Infatuation can make you do anything; rejection can make you feel as though you’ve been turned inside-out and left for dead. Like many women, I have also experienced sexual oppression and violence. I found the doll in a bucket in a junk shop. She appears in the film exactly how I found her, without skirt or trousers. Her exposed and seemingly vulnerable state spoke powerfully to me. As we were driving back from the junk shop I put her on the dashboard and it just looked right, recalling dreams of being in a driverless car, with no control over my fate. The poem was originally published in my collection ‘A bag of sky,’ from Frosted Fire Press.

A great example of how serendipity and something like ekphrasis can produce works of extraordinary power when the poet is also the filmmaker.

Welcome to the edge of your seat by Janet Lees

For David Ballantyne
Photography & animation by Janet Lees
Music by Henyao

Simple but brilliant. Reminds me of the minimalism that drew me to Janet’s filmpoems from the very beginning. The contrast between the music and the text really adds to the unsettling quality of the piece.

Descent by Janet Lees

Just as the third Thursday in November is American Thanksgiving, the first Thursday in October is British National Poetry Day (albeit with less carb-loading, and poetry readings instead of American football). Given that live events have been severely curtailed by the pandemic, I thought we’d better help out by sharing something from one of our favorite British videopoets, Janet Lees. (Janet is Manx, so British but not UK. I checked, and yes, they do celebrate National Poetry Day there.)

Janet uploaded this film back in July, noting:

Poem, photography and animation by Janet Lees. Poem made from perfume brand names.
Music by Scott Buckley scottbuckley.com.au

Wonderful stuff. So many advertisements have appropriated poetry in recent years, it’s fascinating to see how successfully Janet has turned that around and re-purposed consumerist language for a found poem. It feels as if, in a small but significant way, poetry and truth-telling are reasserting their primacy. Decontextualized desires and impulses shape a Neverland of mutable landscapes, unreliable weather and continually shifting baselines. (Which is one way to characterize the entire Anthropocene.)

Among other things, this really demonstrates the importance of poets learning to make their own films. It’s hard to see how a videopoem like this would be made otherwise.

Consensus trance by Janet Lees

A new video from artist and poet Janet Lees, who calls it

A film poem for the end times
Words & imaging by Janet Lees, with thanks to Richard Heinberg for the title. Image taken on the last Thursday in April 2020.
Music, ‘On a Thursday in April’ by Crysalide Shoegaze

Huntress by Janet Lees

Huntress is by Isle of Man poet and artist Janet Lees, who also shot and animated the images.

The piece encourages us towards a wider-awake vision, towards more sensitive ears, with attention facing both inwards and outwards, and on the perceptual spaces in between. True to the soul of our times, it is deeply moving and beautifully well-realised.

George Simpson is the creator of the soundtrack, providing a track called “Artemis”, from his album Still Points In The Turning World. Emotionally affecting, with an elegant and simple extended first movement, followed by expansion into expressive drama, the music coherently accompanies the visual and textual elements in an organic way.

All the elements of this video merge to become an audio-visual experience far more than any sum of its parts.

Ambulance ballet by Janet Lees

Isle of Man-based poet and artist Janet Lees has long been an important figure in the international poetry film scene, often collaborating with Terry Rooney, but recently she’s been experiencing a creative surge, she told me, and one only needs to visit her Vimeo page to see the evidence: a number of new, generally very short films that showcase her range of interests and stylistic approaches. One constant in her work is the preference for text-on-screen. She also often deploys just a single shot, which works because—as I’ve come to learn by following her on Instagram—she has a terrific eye. Her one-line description on IG: “everything is poetry”.

The worst thing by far by Janet Lees

Janet Lees‘ latest poetry film: “Written & filmed by Janet Lees. Music – ‘Scriptures’ by Post War Stories. Edited by Glenn Whorrall.”

The music plays an unusually prominent role, but I found the interplay between the lyrics and Janet’s text on the screen intriguing. And because the music was so much a feature, the slow-motion single shot felt almost like an ironic commentary on the fast cuts and frenetic camerawork that characterize so many music videos.

these are a few of my favourite things by Janet Lees

U.K. poet Janet Lees and photographer and videographer Rooney are among my favorite poetry-film collaborative partnerships; every one of their too few videopoems is a small gem. Marc Neys profiled them back in 2014: “The Real and Pure Worlds of Janet Lees and Terry Rooney.” The above is a film he didn’t include in his piece, but to me it’s a great illustration of the poet’s dictum that less is more. Mayto Sotomayor is credited as editor.

The hours of darkness by Janet Lees

“Written & filmed by Janet Lees. Edited by Glenn Whorrall.” Thus the Vimeo description. But there’s much more information on the British poet and artist (plus her regular partner in videopoetry collaborations, Terry Rooney) in the new “Swoon’s View” column up at Moving Poems Magazine. Marc Neys describes their films as “short and sharp as a razor … a breath of fresh air in these times of cultural abundance and profusion of advertising.” And Lees provides some background on each of the four films Neys has selected. About this one, she writes:

‘The hours of darkness’ features footage of flamingos that I took in a wildlife park in the middle of winter. I found the sight of the flamingos in this big gloomy shed electrifying – there was something both prehistoric and post-apocalyptic about it. In my mind, I knew there was only one poem for this film – ‘The hours of darkness’, which I’d written about a year before, inspired by the anodyne yet always to my ear potentially sinister messages contained within in-flight announcements and other forms of mass communication. Here, the repeated phrase ‘May we remind you’ assumes an increasingly dark, Orwellian tone.

Go read the rest (and check out the other three films).