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Wanting by Rich Ferguson

Los Angeles poet and performer Rich Ferguson teams up with film-maker Chris Burdick to create Wanting, a tour de force of beat-style spoken word and mashed-up old films.

Rich posts daily at his blog, RichRant. The constant stream of inspired writing is marvelous, some of it existential, some political, some funny, frequently all three, and almost always on key.

The selection and editing of archival film is the work of a master. Any film-maker who has worked with footage from the Prelinger Archives will appreciate the countless hours that must have gone into finding all the shots, that are then cut to the fast rhythms of Rich’s voice.

Chris’s virtual home is at Patreon, where can be found a blackly hilarious account of his life and aims as a film-maker/writer/human. The synopses of his short fiction are alone worth the visit.

The ongoing collaboration between Rich and Chris has produced several videos so far, of which a small collection can be found on this playlist at YouTube.

Videopoetry challenge: help me shape a new(ish) style of videohaiku

This collaboratively produced videopoem with text by James Brush represents a new approach to videohaiku for me: one in which the first part of the haiku is represented by film footage, which freezes and transitions to text roughly where a mid-poem kireji or cutting word would occur in a Japanese haiku.

[A mid-verse] kireji performs the paradoxical function of both cutting and joining; it not only cuts the ku into two parts, but also establishes a correspondence between the two images it separates, implying that the latter represents the poetic essence (本意 hon’i) of the former, creating two centres and often generating an implicit comparison, equation, or contrast between the two separate elements.

It’s an approach for which I am partly indebted to Tom Konyves, who in his Videopoetry: A Manifesto cites Eric Cassar’s minimalist videohaiku as normative for the genre—”The videohaiku (approx. 30 seconds) uses a few words of text attached to the shortest duration of images”—and who responded to some recent thoughts of mine about different approaches to videohaiku (and there are many!) with a comment that took me a little while to digest. I had mentioned one approach in which a long shot (or series of related shots) is followed by the haiku as text-on-screen, so that the shot(s) function more or less like the painting in a traditional haiga as well as suggesting something about the poet’s observational process leading up to the composition of the haiku. This is a method both James and I have experimented with in the past. Quoting a description of the two-part structure of a typical haiku, Tom wrote:

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this “method” addresses a question about videopoetry’s strategies re: word-image relationships in the fact that the observation of the first segment – the division into two semantic elements of unequal length, usually corresponding to two different images or ideas, which for maximum effect should have some relationship but not too immediately obvious a one – is best achieved by the image, while the non-sequitur of the second segment is best expressed in words (the text in a videopoem).

It was with this on my mind last Monday that, rather on the spur of the moment, I challenged Facebook friends and members of the POOL group there to write something to go with a section of a randomly chosen old home movie from the Prelinger Archives. I gave them six hours, later extended to eight, and linked to my post from the Moving Poems Twitter account as well:

Ekphrastic haiku challenge: I need a haiku to feature in a haiga-style short film using footage from this old home movie—the section from 3:50 to 4:50 where the baby is brandishing a flower. Haiku should contain no more than 17 syllables but may contain fewer; kigo unnecessary; number of lines unimportant. It should work as a poem and should probably refer obliquely to the film imagery at best. You’ll be fully credited as author, and the resulting video may appear on Moving Poems if I’m satisfied with it. Email haiku (as many attempts as you like) to me: bontasaurus@yahoo.com by 10:00 PM tonight (Monday), New York time (3:00 AM GMT).

In short order I received 27 submissions from 13 people, most of them published poets along with a couple of inspired amateurs. I soon realized that my instructions had been inadequate if not down-right misleading. I shouldn’t have specified that a submission should work as a poem, because the lines that seemed to work best with the footage felt incomplete until I imagined them following the footage. James had started with a rather high-concept idea and pared it down in the course of three drafts. I suggested two further edits. What finally emerged was this:

how your hands burn
for the sun

with the ellipsis standing in for the footage of the baby in a meadow waving a daisy around. (One could even make it fit into a line: babe with a flower, say, or toddler in the yard.)

I’m excited by the result, and I’d like to propose a new challenge to help us further explore the possibilities of videohaiku. This time I’ll make the deadline midnight on Monday, New York time — i.e., 5:00 AM January 13 GMT. (That’s for people who get the weekly email digest and read it at work on Monday.) I tend to resist the idea that haiku need to be about nature all the time, so found a home movie, evidently from the 1930s, that features two men, naked but for jock straps, playing American handball in an indoor court. There are many minutes of that footage both at the beginning and end of the movie, but as before, I’ll select less than a minute of it, so feel free to suggest specific sections to use with your submission of haiku — or should I say, half-haiku. Because the idea this time is not to submit something that would necessarily stand on its own as a printed poem, but something that can be wedded with the footage as its other half, “generating an implicit comparison, equation, or contrast between the two separate elements” as the Wikipedia entry on kireji puts it.

Again, please use email (bontasaurus @yahoo.com) to submit, and send along as many suggestions as you like. Also, feel free to consider the possibility that the footage might fall in the second part of the verse, with one or two lines of text at the beginning. Would that even work as a poetry film? Could the flinging of a handball operate even as an end-of-verse kireji?

If you’re unfamiliar with haiku, or wonder why a lot of us who write it in English no longer believe in “5-7-5,” I recommend the Wikipedia entry on haiku, Imaoka Keiko’s essay “Forms in English Haiku,” and an excellent brief for writing haiku based on art or literature, rather than exclusively on direct experience: “Beyond the Haiku Moment: Basho, Buson and Modern Haiku myths” by Haruo Shirane. And for a good overview of 20th-century and contemporary haiku, I strongly recommend the Spring 2009 issue of Cordite, “Haikunaut.” The issue index at that link isn’t actually complete, because the essays are as illuminating as the poetry, so start with David Lanoue’s introduction and use the “next post” links to page through. By the end of it, you should have a pretty comprehensive picture of the variety of modern traditional and experimental haiku… except for videohaiku, which they don’t mention. I guess it’s up to us to write that chapter.

For the love of poetry film, support the Internet Archive!

Ceramic Archivists by sculptor Nuala Creed at Internet Archive

Ceramic Archivists by sculptor Nuala Creed at the Internet Archive building (photo: Jason Scott)

‘Tis the season for end-of-year charity drives, and I’m sure almost everyone reading this has already done their share of donating to worthy causes. But if you love poetry film, please try to find it in your hearts and wallets to donate to the one and only Internet Archive, home of the invaluable Prelinger Archives and many other collections of free-to-use film materials. By now, I’d say many hundreds of videopoems and poetry films have been made with footage from the Internet Archive; I’ve probably featured at least a hundred here at Moving Poems. In fact, without the easy availability of public-domain films at the Internet Archive, I’m not sure we be in the midst of a videopoetry renaissance right now. And for people just getting into digital video remixing, it’s always the best place to start looking for evocative material.

Which is not to downplay the sheer educational and entertainment value of the massive website’s many offerings, from independent radio shows to vlogs, digitized books and other texts, live music, and the NASA Images Archive. And let’s not forget the Wayback Machine, which, with more than 150 billion web captures, truly is an archive of the internet.

As an idealistic nonprofit, the Internet Archive’s mission to preserve and share knowledge should arouse little of the unease that Google’s similar (and vastly better funded) efforts tend to provoke. Its servers house more than 10 petabytes of data, it employs 200 people, and its annual budget tops $10 million, with a significant portion coming from donations by users. It has hosted the Prelinger Archives since 1999 — the first expansion of its collections beyond the core web archive.

So my advice is to give till it hurts. (Or, if you’re a masochist, give till it feels great!) The payment options include Amazon, Paypal and Bitcoin. Visit any page at the Internet Archive to make a donation. Let me just paste in the current text of their appeal:

Dear Internet Archivists, We are a non-profit with a huge mission: to give everyone free access to all knowledge—the books, web pages, audio, tv and software of our shared human culture. Forever. Together we are building the digital library of the future. A place we can go to learn and explore. The key is to keep improving—and to keep it free. That’s where you can help us. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library. We don’t run ads, but we still need to pay for servers, staff and bandwidth. Right now, a Philadelphia supporter will match your donations for 72 hours—dollar for dollar—so your impact will be doubled. Help us meet this challenge! If you find the Archive useful, we hope you’ll give what you can now. Thank you.

For background, see the relevant Wikipedia article. Among other nuggets of information, I was especially charmed to learn that the Internet Archive also archives itself, in an artistic way (whence the above photo):

The Great Room of the Internet Archive features a collection of over 200 ceramic figures by Nuala Creed representing employees of the Internet Archive. This collection, commissioned by Brewster Kahle and sculpted by Nuala Creed, is ongoing.

“Anything I create belongs to anyone who wants it”: an interview with Bill Yarrow

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

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

I don’t believe in private property (alas, I live in a world which does), and neither do I believe in private intellectual property. As far as I’m concerned, anything I create belongs (excluding rights reserved to any and all publishers of the material) to anyone who wants it, and everyone can, with attribution (and respecting publishers’ rights where applicable), use it in basically any way he or she likes.* So when I found out about The Poetry Storehouse, I was delighted because its philosophy of sharing and collaborative creativity is my philosophy as well.

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

When you send your work out into the world, you are releasing it, you are giving it away. It no longer belongs to you. You can’t control how people read it, react to it, interpret it, or, in the case of The Poetry Storehouse, reuse and remix it.

I am delighted that other artists found two of the poems I put in The Poetry Storehouse of enough interest and inspiration to fashion from them something of their own. Othniel Smith’s fashioned a literal rendition of my poem “Florid Psychosis.” I found his video remix an extremely witty and entertaining translation. Nic S. sought a poetic counterpart to my poem “Need” and created (adding her own brilliant reading of the poem as well as a beautifully haunting soundtrack) a mesmerizing video. I was enchanted by her remix. I especially liked that both creators found their material in the Internet Archive, Othniel using film clips from films in the Prelinger Archive, Nic using footage mostly from NASA archives.

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

In a heartbeat!

My advice to other poets? Submit your BEST work to The Poetry Storehouse in a heartbeat!

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

I just write poems. I don’t have imagination for much else.

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

Yes, two things.

  1. The Poetry Storehouse accepts previously-published poems! Do you understand how important, how generous, and how amazing that is?
  2. Having your work available to further development and expression (personally, I see it as resurrection) is a great blessing. Being published on The Poetry Storehouse is a munificent opportunity. If you don’t take advantage of it, you have only yourself to blame.

*That is to say, a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial license.

“Images which don’t make sense, but seem to fit somehow”: an interview with Othniel Smith

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with poets and remixers who have provided or worked with material from The Poetry Storehouse, a website which collects “great contemporary poems for creative remix.” This interview with Othniel Smith shares a remixer’s perspective. Smith has made the following remixes: “Playing Duets with Heisenberg’s Ghost,” “Dirty Old Man,” “Florid Psychosis,” “Ethics of the Mothers” and “Mundane Dreams.”

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

The films I’ve made, inspired by pieces from The Poetry Storehouse, have all been assembled from public domain material made available by The Prelinger Internet Archive and Flickr Commons. I am neither a poet nor a scholar of poetry; thus I fully concede that my interpretations may well be excessively literal. Nor am I a professional video editor, hence the clumsiness.

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

Most of the poetry films I made before discovering The Poetry Storehouse were based on readings of historic poems (by Shakespeare, Keats, Dickinson, Sandburg etc), taken from sources such as Librivox. Thus I seized on the opportunity to exercise my limited imagination on the work of living poets.

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

I’ve simply chosen poems which sparked something off in my mind — no logic involved.

I have no advice to offer to poets in terms of what work to submit, as long as they’re aware that their work may be subject to radical misinterpretation.

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

Usually a phrase in the poem, or its tone as a whole, calls to mind an image from a film. For example, for Peg Duthie’s “Playing Duets With Heisenberg’s Ghost”, it was of a woman blissful and assured at her piano; for David Sullivan’s “Dirty Old Man” it was the innocent face of an adolescent Tuesday Weld. It’s then a matter of seeking out other images which make sense in conjunction with it. Or which don’t make sense, but seem to fit, somehow.

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

No — it’s an excellent resource. It’s especially interesting to hear poets reading their own words. Hopefully you’ll be able to attract more quality work from all parts of the globe.

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

I’m just pleased that the poets whose work I’ve tackled don’t seem to have been overly offended (or if they have, they’ve been very polite about it).

“We add meaning to culture by remixing it”: Rick Prelinger on the value of preexisting material

Rick Prelinger, creator of the invaluable Prelinger Archive of ephemeral films which so many videopoets have drawn upon, has issued a newly updated and expanded version of his evolving manifesto at Contents magazine: “On the Virtues of Preexisting Material.” (There’s also an interview with Rick and Megan Shaw Prelinger in the same issue.) There are so many good points in this essay, it’s hard to resist the temptation to quote it all. But here are a few passages that stood out for me:

I don’t at all mean to criticize experimentation, but I think we need to experiment harder. Let’s ask more of ourselves rather than asking more of our software. And, while this is really hard when working with appropriated media, I’d suggest that we stop trying so hard to criticize existing media forms, and let them die by themselves. Instead, what might future forms look like? In other words, redeem recycling from a reactive mode and move it into a formative mode. Can we think about recycling as a point of origin?

My partner Megan and I run a research library in San Francisco that we built around our personal book, periodical, and ephemera collections. At some point it got a life of its own and started growing like mushrooms in Mendocino. We joke about how it’s a library full of bad ideas; I characterize it as 98% false consciousness. It’s full of outdated information, extinct procedures, self-serving explanations, ideas that never passed the smell test, and lies. And yet that’s where you find the truth.

Archives promise the possibility of a return to original, unmediated documents. I think this is part of their attraction to artists—the idea that we can touch and appropriate records without also having to inherit the corrupting crust that they’ve accreted over time. This is an Edenic fantasy, but it can also be a productive point of origin.

We add meaning to culture by remixing it. Putting something in a new context helps you see it with new eyes; it’s like bringing your partner home to the parents for the first time, or letting a dog loose to run in the waves.

While not shrinking from remixing the present, let’s enjoy the freedom that comes with working with public domain material. The public domain is the coolest neighborhood on the frontier. Use it or lose it.

Read the whole thing. And if you’d like to get into remixing public-domain and Creative Commons-licensed material to create your own videopoetic works, see our compilation of web resources for videopoem makers.