~ Robert Peake ~

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Ursula”

poem by Robert Peake
film by Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier

Ursula reminds me of a time when the world was adjusting to the aftermath of World War II. This videopoem has the feeling of the Beat era. I love the grainy black-and-white imagery, the car and street video played in reverse.

I love the bear metaphor. Women aren’t usually referred to as bears, at least to my knowledge. I suppose bear is a term for a woman whose ethics are questionable. However, I feel the images of the bear and woman at the end could work better if they were interwoven from the beginning rather than left at the end. It’s almost as if the artist is making sure we understand the symbolism. I think he should give his audience more credit. I’m sure we would get the meaning without having to be told. It’s nice footage and should be utilized throughout the video. This would give the visual a stronger presence. Sometimes this particular medium gets choppy. I would rather see the artist perceive the work more like a painting rather than a puzzle.

Black and white, a car video in reverse, Ursula is a real “dame.” She is the quintessential babe who travels through a Kerouac novel—And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks comes to mind. (That’s the book he co-wrote with Burroughs.) She is a tough-cussing, cigarette smoking, hard-drinking, die-young broad. Ursula is the meat and potatoes of a generation that rejected the post-WW II suburban Americana to live the subterranean lifestyle. Ursula is nostalgia at its best.

Robert Peake on “poetry, film, and the dance of memory”

The American-British poet and poetry-filmmaker Robert Peake is the author of this week’s essay at Poetryfilmkanal: “Mnemosyne’s Tango: Poetry, Film, and the Dance of Memory.” I thought it was one of the most original things I’ve read about the the genre.

The relationship between art and memory has long been a family affair, since Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses. In fact, some of the earliest uses of both poetry and film were for recording cultural history – either by compressing an epic tale into alliteration and rhyme to facilitate memorisation, or by compressing light and sound into physical media. Compression leads to portability and potency, but also imposes unique constraints, which have evolved into our current understanding of the distinct artistic possibilities of each discipline.

In format, the auditory and visual natures of film and poetry are clearly different. Yet a flickering screen can be viewed like a page, and a poem can be read like a script. The cæsura, line break, and stanza break in poetry mirror film’s range of visual transitions. Clearly, they have some fundamental moves in common. How, then, does the poetryfilm best come together to fascinate, transport, and change us?

Click through and find out.

Peake’s essay is the latest addition to the Magazin section of Poetryfilmkanal. Previous installments in this series of short essays have included “Poetryfilms: when poetry and film have a flirt,” by Eleni Cay; “CINEPOEM – or – Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” by Cathy de Haan (in German); my own essay, “The Discovery of Fire: One Poet’s Journey into Poetry-Film“; and “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen,” by Tom Konyves.

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Despot’s Progress”

I’m still looking for collaborations to write about, so poetry filmmakers and videopoets: please send me links to your work! Today’s collaboration involved two different filmmakers’ responses to the same poem. First, propaganda cartoons (thank you Walt Disney) compiled by Othniel Smith make a stirring backdrop for Robert Peake‘s poem “Despot’s Progress.”

I would like to begin with a bit of history. Walt Disney was pro-American and produced a number of propaganda animations depicting Hitler and the Nazi party as buffoons. Unfortunately his patriotism irrationally carried over into the 1960s. This resulted in not allowing people to enter Disneyland if their hair was too long. (This was sparked by protests against the Vietnam War that I believe he felt were anti-American.) If memory serves me correctly, Disney enforced a rule limiting the length a man’s hair could to be in order to enter the theme park. Call it discrimination, but it’s an interesting example of what the times were like, and I believe makes the interplay of audio and visuals here even more poignant. Since Disney was calling the shots, does that mean he was right in inflicting this regulation on his clientele? If he had prejudice against hippies with long hair, I wonder who else he didn’t like?

I happen to love cartoons, especially old Disney and Warner Brothers. This blended with Peake’s poetry makes a brilliantly chilling observation of injustice and intolerance. The poem speaks sarcastically of totalitarianism as something we must adhere to. Images of Donald Duck saluting and trying to conform “comically” support this theory, but as you can see it is not funny. The cartoons just make it palatable and easy to swallow. This piece points us in the direction of taking an otherwise unrealistic depiction (the actual animation) to reveal the nightmare that eventually came to fruition. I think the question that should be asked is, when it comes to being prejudiced, what is the real difference between Disney and Hitler? I suppose we can say it was six million Jews, but what about the haircut? The atrocities committed by Hitler were undeniably more severe than Disney’s point of view and perhaps I should not compare the two, but let’s not dismiss the last section of the cartoon, when the baby duck bursts out of the egg saluting “Sieg Heil!” To me that’s where it actually begins.

No matter what kind of discipline you practice, art is a very powerful medium. This couldn’t be more relevant to what happened at Charlie Hebdo last week. Je Suis Charlie!

Music/concept/editing by Swoon; footage: coxyde 1951 AB (IICADOM 903 at the Internet Archive).

Then we have Mark Neys A.K.A. Swoon‘s interpretation, which is equally chilling. The use of vintage footage puts me on the edge of my seat. The music gets under my skin and I can’t help but feel this is the second before a disaster is about to occur. I find in Swoon’s piece the end is very different. There is no baby Hitler being born, just anticipation. What is next? And is there a next? Perhaps a bomb will drop or a tsunami will wash away the mother and child, leaving us with basically the same outcome. The world has changed and continues to change.

See also Robert Peake’s blog post, “Two Views of ‘Despot’s Progress’ (Film-Poems).”

Robert Peake: Ten of My Favourite Animated Videopoems

This is the first of a projected series of “top ten” lists from a variety of contributors, intended to help new or occasional visitors to Moving Poems discover the best videopoems and poetry films. —Ed.

In animation, as in poetry, anything is possible. Both media also have a similar range, sweeping up everything from the surreal to the hyper-real, comedic to sublime. In this, they are well suited to collaboration. Here are ten videopoems that work as closely together as a practiced tango duet.

Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage by Stephanie Dudley, poem by Erín Moure (2011)

Simply gorgeous stop-motion animation, as dark and mysterious as the heart of a cabbage.

“Balada Catalana” (with English subtitles) by Laen Sanches, poem by Vicente Balaguet (2010)

A musical and imaginative bacchanal, I had to remember to shut my jaw after I first saw this.

Old Astronauts by Motionpoems, poem by Tim Nolan (2009)

Image and text perfectly tempered to the poet’s delivery.

“Of Care” by Ruah Edelstein (2011)

A deceptively simple poem unfolds through repetition, music, and imagery, drawing out the archetypal wisdom of a fable.

“Why do you Stay Up So Late?” by Ernesto Lavandera, poem by Marvin Bell (2004)

(Interactive, click here to begin)

An experimental interactive piece that beautifully matches the mood and timbre of this fine poem.

“Streamschool” („Patakiskola”) by Péter Vácz (2012)

Fluidity, beauty, and grace are evoked through stop-motion animation from this traditional Hungarian rhyme.

“Square Pears, Rare Bears” by Sharon Keighley, poem by Ed Barton (2009)

Deliberately low production values and literal depiction of this fast-paced linguistic romp heighten the delight.

“About Bigmouse” by Constantin Arephyeff, poem by Ludmila Ulanova (2008)

In this piece, music plays a central character around which the words and images dance.

“Brother” by HBO Family, poem by Mary Ann Hoberman (2011)

The story told through the animation gently enfolds and unfolds this simple poem. Read by Carrie Fisher.

“Four Years From Now Walking With My Daughter” by Liam Owen (2013)

A piece that bears re-viewing, as no attention to detail is spared, giving this touching poem a sense of familial care.

Review of Filmpoem 2014, Antwerp in Huffington Post blog

Poet and filmmaker Robert Peake has posted a handy summary of last weekend’s Filmpoem 2014 Festival—part of the Felix Poetry Festival in Antwerp—by way of sharing the seven videos that constituted the first part of the program: “An Introduction to the Film-Poem.”

Poets, musicians and filmmakers from all over the world converged on a converted packing house in Antwerp, Belgium last Saturday for a day of gorging on film-poems. It was glorious.

While last year in Dunbar, Scotland had an element of novelty on its side, this year was carefully structured to up the ante. A group of Dutch and Flemish film-poem artists presented their work, along with the debut screening of the UK National Poetry Competition film-poems, Absent Voices films, conversations with poets in response film-poems of their work that they had just seen, and even live performances of voice and music in accompaniment to film. The scope, variety, and innovation was impressive, not to mention the roster of heavy-hitters in both the poetry and film genres.

Organiser Alastair Cook emphasised the point that the film-poem genre is an inclusive and encouraging one–suggesting that we all start somewhere, even if with the video facility on our smart phones, and start making film-poems. Particularly helpful in that regard was the first screening, an introduction to the film-poem. Luckily, most of the works that Alastair picked to illustrate the depth and range of this genre are also available online. What follows, below, are those films (recommended to view in full-screen mode).

Watch. Enjoy. Make film-poems. Perhaps I’ll see you at a film-poem festival soon.

Click through to watch the films.

Transatlantic Poetry has a new home on the web

Transatlantic Poetry, the YouTube- and Google+ Hangouts-enabled online reading space for British and American poets founded last summer by Robert Peake, has a brand new website on its own URL, translatlanticpoetry.com. Please adjust your links and bookmarks. Peake writes,

Since our first broadcast in July, TRANSATLANTIC Poetry has featured 25 poets in nearly ten hours of poetry readings and conversations, garnering upwards of 2,200 views in 67 countries. We have done this with the help of five outstanding poetry broadcast partners, and are in conversation with several others. So, it only seems right that what began as a simple portal page on my personal website should now fledge to its own domain.

Part of the intent of the new site is to support partners with the tools they need to promote and host their own shows autonomously. From the beginning, my intention has been not only to take them fishing for world-class poetry programming, but also to teach them to fish in this big ocean of new technology. Giving the community its own dedicated website is therefore another step toward my assuming an increasing educational and supportive role in relation to these readings.

For now, the site is basically a copy of the old portal page. Over time, I expect it to expand, and hope to include new voices in the news section as partners step to the fore to promote their programming. We have excellent poets, excellent partners, and an excellent audience. Over time, we hope to have an excellent website as well.

It already looks pretty damn good to me.

Live poetry readings on the web: the Transatlantic Poetry Community

The Transatlantic Poetry Community on Google+ is doing something which, as far as I know, has never been done before on such a large scale (and with such major poets): delivering regular, live readings of poetry over the web. It uses “Hangouts on Air,” which are basically souped-up Google Hangouts saved instantly to YouTube, where past readings are archived. Each show so far has paired a poet from the U.S. with a poet from the U.K., each reading for 20 minutes to half an hour, followed by a joint Q&A in response to questions submitted on the Google page or on Facebook. Here are Michelle Bitting and Andrew Phillip; Jane Hirshfield and George Szirtes; and Marvin Bell and Esther Morgan.

The next reading is on Sunday, October 13, and features a half-dozen British poets: Katy Evans-Bush, Isabel Galleymore, Chris McCabe, Andrew Philip again, Paul Stephenson, and Claire Trévien. It’s part one of a two-part series in cooperation with Silk Road Review, which will conclude on Saturday, October 19.

I commend the organizer, Robert Peake, for what must be a tremendous amount of work, drawing on his expertise as a tech consultant as well as an American expatriate poet living outside of London. A page on his website is actually the best, most uncluttered place to bookmark for news and videos of the readings. It includes a stats counter for total views on the videos: 887 views in 43 countries as of October 4. His latest post on that page is a manifesto which outlines an ambitious program for expansion and partnering.

One does of course need a fairly good broadband connection to watch the readings live; I haven’t been able to watch it here in rural Pennsylvania, though I did enjoy the first two shows this summer when I was in London. Peake is a very good live host, and I’ve also been impressed by how politely but firmly he’s dealt with the narcissists on the Google community page who only want to post their own (inevitably terrible) poems. The show has had a few technical difficulties: an abrupt cut-off a few minutes from the end of the first show, and a muffled reading from Marvin Bell which required a make-up (non-live) reading video. Obviously for Hangouts on Air to work, care needs to be taken that participants have good cameras and microphones. But beyond the technical limitations are the inherent problems of reading poetry to an unseen, unheard audience. When I met Andrew Philip at the Filmpoem Festival in early August, I asked him how he’d handled that. He said something like, “It was strange at first, but I got used to it after a while.” I find I don’t enjoy the readings as much as I enjoy videos of readings before live audiences because I miss that feedback from the audience. Perhaps as the audience for Transatlantic Poetry builds, live reactions via Google, Facebook and Twitter can be given more prominence — integrated into a combined stream, perhaps, right beside or beneath the embedded video on Peake’s website? Barring that, I guess I’d prefer shorter readings and more time devoted to conversation between the poets and with the host. Another thing that seems slightly odd to me is the lack of any mention of Canada so far.

But enough of my obnoxious criticisms! Join the community and spread the word. I’ll conclude with a quote from the end of Peake’s manifesto:

What Transatlantic Poetry on Air ultimately represents is something greater than the sum of its parts. It is a manifestation of the growing trend of communication technology breaking down geographic barriers for poets and poetry-lovers to connect. Furthermore, the approach is economical, environmentally friendly, and accessible for those with restricted mobility.

In addition to the technological paradigm shift, enabling us to engage poets and their audiences in new ways, there is great interest overall for poets and poetry-lovers to connect globally. Poets on one side of the Atlantic recognise that they have much to gain from exposure to their counterparts across the sea. Transatlantic Poetry on Air therefore lies at the intersection between what poets and poetry-lovers increasingly want, and what is increasingly possible.

Transatlantic Poetry on Air aims to produce enjoyable, high-quality experiences throughout the lifecycle of each event for everyone involved. It aims also to be guided by its stated purpose and principles to evolve and expand over time, making it a fulcrum for the upliftment of global poetry in the twenty-first century.

2013 Filmpoem Festival reviewed in The Huffington Post

Due to Moving Poems’, um, extended vacation this summer, I’ve neglected to share until now Robert Peake‘s review of the first Filmpoem Festival in his poetry column for the Huffington Post: “The Film-Poem Arrives in Britain.” Here’s a snippet:

Over two intensive days of screenings and discussions, poets and filmmakers from all over the world converged and convened in the Dunbar Town House on August third and fourth to experience some of the most innovative works in this emerging genre. Described as “slim, but international” by founder Alastair Cook, the group of sixty enthusiasts in attendance was dense with heavy-hitters in both poetry and film.

Scottish poet John Glenday appeared to discuss the experience of having one of his poems developed into film-poems by five different accomplished filmmakers. Above all, though, it was the quality of films that stand on their own in representing the unique and exciting possibilities of this new medium–for poets, musicians, and visual artists throughout the UK.

Peake concludes with a selection of six of his favorite films from the festival, shared as embeds (rather than just links) for maximum viewership. Check it out.