‘brother carried the poppies’ – process notes for a video remix

For this haunting poem on abuse by Theresa Senato Edwards, I used both film and still image elements – first time I have combined the two.

For the backdrop of the bleak disastrous relationship, I used darkened stock footage of what was originally a relatively cheerful sunshiney scene of an abandoned house in a field. Once darkened, it looked lonely and empty – a context in which forbidden activity could easily take place unchecked. To begin, end and punctuate the piece, I slowed down and darkened stock footage of a summer lightning storm to represent the abuser.

For the victim, I used a stock still image from StockVault which suggested muffling and suffocation to me. I used the image as a fade-in at three different places in the film, each time adding a different Ken Burns effect to it – panning away, towards, across. The hollow ‘alien drone’ soundtrack was by Speedenza, one of my freesound.org favorites.

Many thanks once more to Theresa for sharing this powerful piece at the Poetry Storehouse.

‘Shift’ – process notes for a video remix

Funnily enough, I came across the terrific Black Widow film I used for this video at archive.org just after finishing the previous piece, Spiders. As I like to do with footage I think I may use at some point, I imported it into iMovie, detached the audio, edited it down to the bits I found the most striking, and saved it in my ‘wildlife’ clips folder. Even if I didn’t use it right away, I would have the basic edited footage ready to go on another occasion, I thought.

As it turned out, watching the movie without narration during the editing process infused me with a sharp sense of the slightly sinister cyclical primal urges that drive birth, metamorphosis and re-birth in all living things (bears, spiders, people – we are all shape-shifters ipso facto, are we not?). The feeling was so strong and clear that I went looking for a Storehouse poem on its basis, and lighted on Dave Bonta’s Shift. It was a simple matter then to edit the footage down a little further to fit the overall length of the poem. The soundtrack accompaniment was a little harder to find, but I selected the piano composition in the end because I liked its sense of urgency and quick industry, its almost mindless forward movement, as well as its ‘lightness’ – a sort of counterpart to the relatively more sinister forces at work in the video, I thought.

A friendly critic whose judgment I trust said they felt the poem-footage combination in this case is ‘too high concept’ and I understand what they mean – it is indeed quite a stretch. I’ve stayed with it as it is for the moment, though, thinking that I might at some point try another combination for both the poem and the film. That’s the fun of this process – endless possibilities for combination and recombination and reinvention at every turn.

Thanks to Dave for contributing his work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video and still image remixes.

‘Spiders’ – process notes for a video remix

This was one piece for which I had no clear idea when I started. Sometimes I think when poets submit their work to The Poetry Storehouse they tend to choose pieces they consider very ‘visual,’ with a vague idea that a film-maker will naturally choose to reify their original vision in the poem with matching film imagery. And that is certainly one way to approach poetry film-making. Like many others, however, I prefer to come at poems slant-wise – to avoid ‘literal’ translations and create a separate, stand-alone visual interpretation.

So I knew that in this case, I couldn’t use actual spider footage. Finding out what I could use started with voice. After having fun with this multilingual Tower of Babel voice approach, I realized that whispering is yet another variation on voice. So I made two recordings of Spiders (both now up at the Storehouse, with the two other readings already up there for this piece), one regular and one whispered.

Initially I thought I might somehow blend all four readings, but it became quickly apparent that differences in pacing and recording quality between the audio versions would make that too complicated. Then I thought I would try and blend my regular voice and the whispered version, but decided to leave actual blending until I had an idea of what images I would use. So I went flipping through my crazily random clips collection, with the sound and thought of the poem in my mind as I did so. After a while, two came together – this clip of wildflowers at sunset from OrangeHD and this eye clip from xStockVideo. As I’ve said before, I tend to recycle clips and sounds that stay with me, and that eye clip is definitely one of them. (Used twice before – for a Randy Adams poem and for a Cesare Pavese poem.)

Once I’d got the wildflowers piece in place with the eye fading in and out behind it, it all looked surreptitious and sightly sinister, that set the stage perfectly for the whispered version on its own.. and there we were.

Thanks to Kristine for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video and still image remixes.

‘What you don’t know won’t hurt you’ – process notes for a video remix

This process went much like the one for the ‘Sandburg & Photograph’ remix I worked on recently. I found the footage of a miniature house being drowned by a flooding ‘river’ in the 35mm stock footage section at Archive.org.

I found the clip oddly haunting to watch. And like the rearview mirror clip, it struck me as metaphorically powerful and complete in itself. All I had to do was find the right poem in the Storehouse collection to match with it, and it didn’t take me long to decide on Anne Higgins’ incantatory poem in terzanelle (?I’m hopeless with form) format. A slow build-up of the consequences of neglect, ending in tragedy – I thought the metaphorical match was perfect and all the more so for the simplicity of the footage. Poet and film-maker Sara Mithra left a kind comment on the video at the Vimeo site, which I thought nailed it exactly:

“Gorgeous single-cut (continuous) film… What I like is that immediately, the image contradicts the title of the poem, as the viewer knows that the “river” beyond the levy will flood the house and sweep it away. Moving inevitably towards the destruction builds a beautiful tension with the woman moving, tumor-like, towards her own destruction.”

Thanks once again to Anne for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes.

‘Love in the Age of the EU’ – process notes for a video remix

Continuing the emphasis on creating voice mosaics, a wonderful opportunity. The Zebra Poetry Film Festival has chosen this German poem as a feature in its contest this year, inviting entries of poetry films based on the German original, or on one of the various translations provided on the site. The challenge caught my attention after Marc Neys put together a wonderful video using the German reading by the poet from the Lyrikline website.

Right away, I knew I wanted to try and create a multi-lingual voice mosaic. Excited, I emailed a few contacts overseas, thinking that it would be great to create a soundtrack blending the voices of a Spanish-speaker, a French-speaker, and a German-speaker. Unfortunately, someone was on travel, someone had a cold, and someone else didn’t feel they could do the project justice, and I came up empty.

Disappointed but not disheartened, I decided to read the poem in French and Spanish myself. Certainly, I would be inflicting a patently foreign accent on those versions, but the foreigner/alien theme was inherent in the poem, and at least I would get an even technical quality of recording across all three versions, and could work with the material without worrying about how a contributor might feel about the final product.

So I recorded each of the three versions separately, as I normally make such recordings – making couple of versions of each and then editing down to a single version in Audacity.

Then came the fun part. I was clear about the format of the soundtrack from the beginning – the intro would be a Tower of Babel-ish sound mosaic, with all three soundtracks fading in simultaneously at equal volume levels. Then the simultaneous three-part rendering would start again, but this time with one language aurally highlighted for each of the poem’s three stanzas.

I was happy with the result, in large part from the joy of introducing variables and possibilities of combination and recombination into the voice element of the video, which usually gets fairly one-dimensional treatment and consideration.

The video element came together quickly once the voice element was complete, and the images were driven by what seemed to me the rather bleak and pessimistic feel of the poem itself. Again, no people, but images from my collection of random downloads from various video clip websites. I tend to revisit and re-purpose video clips that resonate with me and have used both the Pluto landscape and the angel statue in previous projects, although the marvelous clip of a spider packaging a fly for consumption is new.

Previous post on voice mosaics here.

‘This Long Winter’ – process notes for a video remix

‘This Long Winter’ is based on a poem submitted to The Poetry Storehouse by Kristin LaTour.

This continues my interest in multi-voiced projects. Like poem-making, videopoetry-making is a binding/weaving process, a deliberate or serendipitous blending of disparate things (words, images, sound) that were not linked before. Since voice is for me a hugely prominent element of the process, I continue to look for ways to create voice duets, voice dialogues, voice mosaics. In this previous project, for example, I used my middle-school son’s voice along with mine; in this one, I joined a recording made by Dick Jones with one of mine; while in this one, I mixed the voices of four readers from the wonderful non-profit LibriVox site. The challenges with the multi-voice process are two-fold: 1) identifying recordings that speak to the poem in a way that works for me and 2) credibly blending recordings of differing technical quality.

I thought Kristin’s touching ‘he said / she said’ poem lent itself well to dialogue format and since I liked Jonathan Lu’s Storehouse reading, I made a separate recording of my own, then blended the two. I sent my first take (in which our voices alternated couplets until the last one was split between us) to Jonathan for comment, and he suggested what became the final arrangement, in which we alternated the first four couplets, then split the last few between us.

Once the hybrid voice track was complete, I looked for appropriate imagery and it didn’t take me long to decide on the rather sad rainy day clip series I had found at OrangeHD.com (a site that offers very random free clips for download). Going for a lonely, melancholy feel, I slowed the clips down slightly and added a ‘Sci-Fi’ video effect to the clips in iMovie, which gave them a pale green flattishness that I liked. I quickly decided on the jazz track, which again felt melancholy to me and helpfully full of wistful connotations that I thought rounded off the experience nicely.

Thanks once again to Kristin for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse, and to Jonathan for the reading. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes produced to date.

‘Sandburg and Photograph’ – process notes for a video remix

‘Sandburg and Photograph’ is based on a poem submitted to The Poetry Storehouse by Lennart Lundh. For this one, I started with the footage and then searched for the poem.

One of the challenges for a videopoem maker not yet handy with his or her own camera (that would be me) is finding video footage that a) works and b) is copyright-free and c) is either free or inexpensive. There are a few sites (eg Motion Elements or OrangeHD) that put up video clips for free use, and I trawl them regularly, downloading and saving footage against future need. The clip subjects are super-odd and almost comically random and nearly always fall in the ‘you never know’ category.

In this case, I found a series of shots taken of and through the side rear view mirror of a car. They struck me as metaphorically powerful and I went back through the Storehouse poems, deliberately looking for one which would match the metaphor. Lennart’s elegantly tragic simple/complicated piece, with its telescoping rearward/forward depiction of time and space jumped out at me very quickly.

I had to slow down the clip a little to make it long enough, but that only helped with the atmosphere, I thought. I also reversed the clip (wonder if anyone noticed!) to add even more body to the shifting space-time metaphor. The ‘alien’ soundscape I used had one of my favorite aural themes (monk-chant!) and I felt it effectively added to the overall otherworldly time-travel feeling.

This was a simple project, with no image layering and using only one clip, but I was not tempted to add anything else, especially given the complexity already offered by this deceptively simple poem.

Thanks once again to Lennart for contributing his work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes.

‘Francine Learns’ – process notes for a video remix

Francine Learns How to Open His Heart with Her Teeth‘ is based on a poem submitted to the Storehouse by Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick. This remix didn’t work for everyone, but I continue to be fond of it.

To me, Shannon’s poem was a sad and vulnerable piece that still managed to carry a steely hint of future menace. It gave me a sense of waiting, of preparation, of trapped potential and latent emotional power amidst current pain. It took me a while to decide what sort of images I might use with it.

I rarely use footage of actual people in my video work, and prefer, for example, to use clips that focus on a hand, an eye, or on feet, rather than footage that depicts a whole identifiable person. Why? Not sure yet – it’s a question I continue to consider. But I definitely like to use stylized representations of people (the robotic alien figure in this piece was a terrific find, for example), so I was excited to find the robot lady on Equiloud’s free clips site. I liked her immobility combined with the elements orbiting steadily around her, which gave me a sense of something purposefully ‘cooking’ underneath.

Along with robot lady, I wanted something gritty and earthy as a second, grounding element, and went with a US National Park Service B-roll clip of a rocky mountain ridge – high, rarefied, barren, but with latent potential and a purposeful arc of movement towards a dangerous-looking cliff edge. I chose three images (a pulsing red heart-chamber lookalike thingy, a fomenting space-ball cascade, a barbed wire silhouette) to layer behind the two grounding elements, then brought those two main elements together at the end with another weird and wonderful Equiloud confection – bright, metallic, morphing – and another purposeful robot lady image.

For the voice, I used my own reading as I tend to do, since reading and recording a poem is where the ‘making’ process really starts for me. Initially, I added reverb to the voice using the Garageband reverberation tool, but edited that out subsequently as a bit much. For general aural background I used a favorite soundtrack – a wild keening/ululating solo voice that for me hit that ‘trapped potential’ theme again.

Overall, a fairly complex endeavor for me with many moving parts, and I had to cut and lengthen and shift clips and sound in many iterations to get it all quite where I wanted it. But the work was lots of fun, as always!

Thanks once again to Shannon for contributing her work to The Poetry Storehouse. As always, we warmly encourage other remixers to visit the Storehouse and get creative with its contents.

Visit the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page to see all Storehouse-based video remixes.

a wedding ring inside, another flute, a moon, an advocate

More remixing fever based on Poetry Storehouse submissions, this time ‘Stopping’ by Dick Jones. I tried for a voice collage, with Dick’s voice and mine, sort of like the four-voice collage I worked on for Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven (not a Storehouse poem).

In other excellent remixing news, Marc Neys made this beautiful video based on a Peter Ciccariello poem from the Storehouse. Such a beautiful, unexpected study – tender and touching, with so many hints and textures, perfect in black and white, with that evocative soundscape. I found it very moving.

a bamboo flute, a telescope, a moment in shadow

What do a bamboo flute, drifting smoke, a human eye and earth seen from a space telescope have in common? More than you might think. I put on my remixer hat this weekend and worked on a video based on one of the poems at The Poetry Storehouse. I have to say it’s nice to have a such a rich selection of poems to choose from when one gets the urge to voice, or en-video or en-sound, or do whatever creative thing with someone else’s poem.

Here’s a video remix of a Storehouse poem by Randy Adams (original Storehouse post here).

In other Storehouse news, we have a bunch of new poems up for remix, from W.F. Lantry, Lissa Kiernan, Cheryl Snell and Kate Marshall Flaherty. There are also new remixes up for poems by Randy Adams, Eric Blanchard and Peter Ciccariello. Check them out!

If you’re a poet, consider submitting; if you’re a remixer, please check out the poems – lots of search options by poet or category or tag. If you know any digital or video artists interested in remixing, please send them the Storehouse link!

Announcing: The Poetry Storehouse – collaboration, remix, multimedia poetry

Think of The Poetry Storehouse as a get-out-of-jail card for poems long locked up in dusty print journals, beyond the reach of links and search engines. As we say over at the site:

The Poetry Storehouse is an effort to promote new forms and delivery methods for page-poetry by creating a repository of freely-available high-quality contemporary poetry for those multimedia collaborative artists who may sometimes be stymied in their work by copyright and other restrictions.

Technology has not just connected people and poetry and poets and artists who weren’t connected to each other before, it has also changed both the face and the delivery of poetry itself. Poems locked up in hard-copy print editions only available for sale are struggling in new and serious ways, while poems delivered in multiple creative ways online have new leases on life and are reaching an ever-widening audience.

With thanks to Rachel Barenblat, Donna Vorreyer, Erica Goss, Jessica Piazza, Swoon and Dave Bonta for being part of the Storehouse team. Go on over and check it out!

negative capability & a letter to a young poet

… it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason [...] capable of remaining content with half-knowledge.

Have always liked that concept, as articulated above by John Keats. Same message from Rilke in the excerpt from “Letters to a Young Poet” envideo’d below:

I thought I knew that Rilke segment well, but, us usual, the ‘voicing’ process made me see I had only half apprehended it before.

collect for a dark evening, with video

beloved, you were like octopus
proceeding in pulsing clouds
of black ink

calamitous designs
sprang whole from your mind
and exploded into life
as flying steel and iron-toothed trap

it was always my bone, my muscle
they mangled and spat out

you hurled us into chill wars
fought in forests of spider trees
against aging warriors
whose battle rhythm was not ours
but you always fought longest
and fell last

now you cross
the miles of destruction between us
hunting my last thought, lamenting
in this derelict church

the flutes are silent
I say, weeping

you say: don’t fall into the moat
something lives there
and it eats

you say: death
is a blooming rose

‘mrs death’

I don’t remember thinking about death one way or another when I was a child, so I have been surprised and curious about my sons’ attitudes toward death. When my older son was about seven, he developed a complete obsession with death and was forever making me take him to cemeteries all over the place. He eventually grew out of it. My younger son, now 12, seems by contrast to have a nonchalant, matter of fact and almost buddy-ish approach to the idea of death. Still working this one out, but this little piece recently showed up in the process:

‘mine, the great spread of wings’

Got an idea for a project from this post, involving Helen in Egypt.

In other news, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Erica Goss at Connotation Press, on videopoetry and other matters, right behind the amazing Swoon.

In separate but related news, Swoon and I also just collaborated (with Swoon doing much the heaviest lifting) on a film-poem for Dave Bonta’s latest project. More on the latter soon.

howling wolves x 2

Latest videopoem, one of the poems from Dark and Like A Web, using some of Flute Ninja’s wonderful music again, and continuing my obsession with space imagery – the ones here are from the Hubble site.

This lucky poem was also envideoed by the amazing Swoon way back when – you can watch that version just below. I love Swoon’s vibrant, urban take, especially the dark leitmotif of the solitary figure in silhouette with matching foreboding music.

of course there’s an app for that…

Process notes for my latest videopoem, This is just to say by William Carlos Williams:

The reading had been up at Pizzicati of Hosanna for a while and is only 20 seconds long, so I knew I was looking for something very short in terms of video. There are still some wonderful Equiloud clips I haven’t used yet and it took me just a second of flipping through those to know that his gorgeous 28-second door-opening loop was exactly the kind of image/metaphor I was looking for, once I slowed the clip speed down by about half.

The music was the hardest part. I thought of the melody, Au clair de la lune, almost immediately. I knew I was looking for something that, while appearing simple and obviously straightforward, has nonetheless stood the tests of time and endless repetition and retains its charm even when presented inexpertly. So, Au clair de la lune, played simply by a beginner on a recorder or tin whistle or guitar, perhaps, or with just one hand on the piano.

I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find it online as a solo instrumental. Everything I found had either vocals or lots of instrumentation and complicating harmonies, and was too fast and/or too ‘expert’ to serve. I kept wishing I had a recorder or piano or electronic keyboard in the house so I could do it myself. After an extended period of frustration, I was ready to give up on the videopoem altogether, when I thought: Hey, there’s an app for everything – isn’t there an app for this?

So I went to look and sure enough, there are a bunch of apps out there for this! I downloaded the free ‘Piano DX’ iPad app and tried that. It was perfect for my needs. It will pretty much only let you play one-handed (watch someone use it on You Tube), but that fit right in with what I wanted, while decades of not practicing the piano at all gave me just the kind of inexpert touch I was looking for. The rest is history.

By the way, Williams’ Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is also up at Pizzicati of Hosanna with a videopoem.