~ Rachel Rawlins ~

Metamorphosis by Jean Morris

Marie Craven’s most recent poetry film is a collaboration with the Spanish director Eduardo Yagüe and the London-based poet and translator Jean Morris. I’d been waiting to share it until Marie blogged process notes, which incorporate comments from Jean and Eduardo. The resulting post is too long to quote in full, but here’s a bit of it:

I was immediately drawn to the poem of Metamorphosis when it came up on one of my social media news-feeds, where I regularly read contemporary poetry from around the world. UK writer and translator, Jean Morris, was its author. The piece was inspired by a famous woodcut print by M.C. Escher, Metamorphosis II (1939-40). Jean’s viewing of the art work seemed to have suggested in her a vision of someone who might be similar to Escher himself, a character who perhaps the poet could relate to personally, as could I. The piece sketches a solitary character fascinated by life’s multiple and varying repetitions, of shapes and spaces, movement and time. It has a mirror structure, which I felt apt as a reference to the highly distinctive geometries that appear in Escher’s art.

In another part of the virtual globe, I had been in contact for several years with Spanish film director, Eduardo Yagüe. We had previously talked about a possible collaboration between us. So in 2019 I contacted Eduardo with Jean’s poem and asked if he might be interested in co-directing a film of it. We then contacted Jean, who agreed to a film of her poem. I suggested Rachel Rawlins as a possible voice artist and we were all pleased when she said yes to joining the project as well. […]

Jean Morris (writer):

I’ve always been a loner and not so great at working with others, so having my words become part of this rich collaborative work is a new and rewarding experience. An earlier version of my “mirror poem”, which tried to reflect the morphing mirror structure of Escher’s artwork, appeared on the Via Negativa poetry blog, long established as a beacon of the Creative Commons ethos, which I support, so I was happy to say yes to Marie’s proposal and keen to leave it to her and to Eduardo to make of the poem whatever they wanted. I’d long admired both their, very different, work in poetry film and trusted they’d make something beautiful, technically sophisticated and interesting. It also made me happy that the actor, Pedro, was someone I knew as a poet and the voice, Rachel’s, one long known in real life here in London. What a lovely, complex, international thing in sad and claustrophobic times.

Eduardo Yagüe (direction, videography):

When I was thinking on locations for filming, nothing seemed to me more ‘escherian’ than the Colegio de la Inmaculada in Gijón, my hometown in Northern Spain and where I am currently living. Belonging to the Jesuits, the building owns a long history including some dramatic episodes during the Spanish Civil War. I studied there from age 6 to 18.

Then, when I was thinking for potential actors for the video, I decided, looking at Escher’s portrait, that Pedro Luis Menéndez would be a perfect choice. Pedro was my Literature teacher and my first theater director when I was a teenager student at the Colegio, and now he’s become one of my favorite Spanish poets. One year before recording Metamorphosis I made a video called La vida menguante (Waning Life) based on several of the poems from Pedro’s book of the same title. I also recorded some footage of the streets and buildings of Gijón, a city sometimes aesthetically annoying but very ‘escherian’ too. […]

Read the rest.

I hope this week’s focus on Marie Craven has brought into sharper relief the variety of tools and approaches available to contemporary videopoets and poetry filmmakers. As a much more impatient and slap-dash video maker, I admire Marie’s perfectionism, to say nothing of her artist’s eye and musician’s ear and her openness to collaborations of all kinds.

We may do other week-long features on filmmakers or poets in the coming months. It’s always especially helpful when people take the time to write in detail about the making of their films, as Marie does. Though most projects aren’t as wildly collaborative as Metamorphosis, even the loners among us stand to benefit from a culture of sharing tips and insights, especially with a growing community as full of artistic ferment as the international videopoetry scene.

Late by Keith Sargent

An author-made videopoem by the creative director of the British design company immprint. It was nominated for best editing at the Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival 2014. Keith Sargent gave this background:

My father was dying of cancer, I was in London and he was in Kent, a 45 mile distance; this would normally take one and a half hours. On the 8th of August at 8.30 a.m. I received a call from my Mum who passed the phone to my Dad, he said “I love you. Night, night.” At 10 a.m. I received a call from his nurse saying he was very close (to dying). I set off. I arrived at 1.15. I was late. He had gone. I held his still warm hand (Mum had wrapped him in duvet to keep his body warm). I missed him. I miss him.

Liberated Words’ Vimeo upload description goes on to say:

Keith Sargent is creative director of multi-disciplinary design company immprint ltd and has worked as an educator, illustrator, filmmaker and graphic designer since graduating from the RCA in 1988. His films have been commissioned for commercial projects and screened at Bath Mix, Zebra, Athens and Visible Verse poetry film festivals.

director / scriptwriter / editor / music: Keith Sargent
cast: Keith Sargent, Stan Sargent, Rebecca Sargent, Stanley Sargent

Since my friend Rachel Rawlins saw this film at Liberated Words’ March 5 screening at The Little Theatre in Bath and really liked it, I asked her if she’d be willing to write a short review. We don’t get to hear very often from fans of poetry film who are neither poets nor filmmakers. Here’s what she sent along:

I love the way this video poem manages in a deceptively simple way to juxtapose so many of the profound dualities around life and death. There’s the physical rootedness of warmth and cold as well as our subjective experience of time, both forwards and backwards. The soundtrack and film unite to give a sense of slow, almost underwater/otherworldliness whilst narrating an experience of considerable tension and stress where the need for speed is central. The use of text on the screen is something I often have great difficulty with (perhaps as a result of a dyslexia-like inability to process letters easily) but its use here—slow, deliberate and carefully planted within the physical visual environment of the film—really works for me. I find the overall experience utterly immersive.

What I don’t like (and actually makes my toes curl) is the addition, one by one, of crosses above the heads of the three adults in the family photograph. I’m happy there wasn’t the usual slow focusing in on the child’s face or suchlike but I feel there’s no need to use any device to underscore the fact that he’s the last one left. We’ve already been told that.

Further experiments with videohaiku

The footage I linked to for a videohaiku challenge last week elicited very few responses, though each of them was very interesting. Perhaps composing a credible haiku is challenging enough without the additional burden of such WTF imagery to work with. However, in a classic example of beginner’s mind out-pacing the professionals, my friend Rachel Rawlins, who doesn’t consider herself a poet at all, suggested some lines which I thought worked very well. After some rather intense back-and-forth via email and Skype, here’s what we came up with:

To recap, the challenge was to treat the footage as if it were one part of a typically two-part haiku, either preceding or following the cut-point (usually represented in English by an em dash or colon). I find that composing this kind of videohaiku is much easier if you mentally substitute words for footage. So for this one, one could start with something like “[nudist handball—]”, e.g.

[nudist handball—]
not even netting
comes between us

which was an earlier joint effort of mine and Rachel’s.

Haiku are untitled, but Tom Konyves argued in an email that a videohaiku should have a title nonetheless. This was in the context of a critique of my first effort in this vein. I talked about it with James Brush, the author of the text, and he agreed. So we decided to call that piece flower (videohaiku) — though we didn’t remake the video itself, just changed the title on Vimeo, which was perhaps a bit of a cop-out. But for the second one with Rachel, you’ll notice we did put the title right on the video, using a freeze-frame as background.

There’s a long tradition of occasionally using bizarre imagery in written haiku and senryu. I found some truly WTF footage in the IICADOM collection (the Belgian equivalent of the Prelinger Archives), in an undated home movie identified simply as “Rural Life.” My mental substitution for the footage was “Hitler in the garden.” (This was in part a response to Othniel Smith’s video in this week’s Cheryl Gross column.) Anyway, here’s what I came up with:

I decided both videos worked fine as silent films, but I don’t think that’s necessarily part of the videohaiku prescription. I thought the ambient insect noise in flower was a good addition, and could work just as well with visitor here.

I’m now beginning to consider the best way to string videohaiku into videorenga. In classic Japanese linked verse (renga or renku), each stanza apart from the opening and closing verses is part of two different two-stanza poems in succession, which creates a dilemma for filmmakers: repeat each verse or not? And how to represent the shorter stanzas (two lines in English-language renga; 14 “syllables” in Japanese)?

I’m not going to issue another formal videopoetry challenge for now, but I am interested in continuing to work with other writers, and possibly other video remixers as well, so if you’d like to be part of that, let me know (bontasaurus@yahoo.com). Renga is a quintessentially collaborative approach to composition, and it seems to me it might be a natural fit for the remix/mashup culture of the web. But first we need to generate a prototype, I think.