‘The Worlds Revolve’ – process notes for a still image remix

One often sees art or photography paired with poems in online and print journals, and it’s a beautiful practice. As with any creative process, it brings disparate elements together to create a third something – a tension, a dialogue, a new perspective. I have wondered on and off for a while how to bring this process to The Poetry Storehouse.

Browsing through online art collections over time, with this poem or that in mind, it became clear to me that any given poem of itself makes selections from a collection of images, if you already discern a broad relationship between the overall image ‘type’ and the poem. So that, looking at a collection with a specific poem in mind, one finds oneself easily selecting half-a-dozen to a dozen images that tell the story of the poem in what seems to you a ‘related’ fashion. For me, this closely resembles the way I select film footage to use in video remixes, with the added advantage that all the ‘footage’ is collected in one place for easy browsing.

Add to that a most nifty capability that ever-user-friendly iMovie provides – the Ken Burns effect, which allows you to change the cropping of a still image over time – starting focused on a small detail, then over several seconds ending up with the whole image visible, for example. There is an actual button labeled ‘Ken Burns’ in iMovie, and it’s quite magical to me. The directional and focal possibilities it offers are almost endless, while being able to control the specific length of time each individual image processes and the transitions between images makes for dynamic possibilities that go far beyond a standard ‘slide show.’

Another key advantage is that this showcasing process allows a radically different poetry to image ratio. In most journals that pair art images and poetry, the ratio is usually one image to one poem. With the still image remix process, however, the poem becomes a single central element around which 6-12 images orbit, each one touching, informing, enhancing an aspect of the language as it goes by. It’s all endlessly fascinating.

The process of deciding how the poem is voiced and selecting a soundtrack is pretty much the same as with regular video remixes.

For this particular remix, I have long been a fan of Peter Ciccariello’s extraordinary digital images, which are so lush and dense and detailed – each a full narration in itself. After a session getting steeped with Peter’s images, I went to the Storehouse to see what might match up and soon found Bernard Henrie’s edgy dystopian piece with its evocative T.S. Eliot quote title. I took it back to the images, and had soon culled nine images that I felt worked well with the poem. Thereafter, the whole thing assembled itself quickly, enabling me to get Peter’s ok to use the images. I started out with a conventional solo piano soundtrack, but got called out on that as a ‘too easy’ choice by a friendly critic I consulted. I changed it to a less facile choice and Bob was your uncle…

Warm thanks to Peter and Bernard for being part of this experience – I’ve learned a lot and look forward to more!

See all video and still image remixes based on poems from the Storehouse at the Poetry Storehouse Vimeo page.

‘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.

Read ‘Helen in Egypt’ aloud, all the way through – check

In April 2013, I decided to try and read H.D.’s Helen in Egypt aloud, all the way through, and started uploading readings over at Voice Project: ‘Helen In Egypt’. Today, just shy of a year later, I uploaded the last reading and accomplished my objective. I read it in segments, over many months, and while I tried to keep recording conditions and delivery consistent throughout, there are inevitable variations in both at various points, which I hope any listeners the project may attract will forgive. The book may be listened to or downloaded in individual segments – by its three large sections, by individual books in those sections, or by individual parts in those books.

I was inspired to undertake the reading by this post at the Poetry Foundation, in which the author talks about how voicing, recording, and listening to poems he really wanted to get to know took the experience of ‘knowing’ a poem to a whole new level for him. Which sounds exactly right, and there is no question that I have had an entirely different engagement with and experience of Helen in Egypt through reading it aloud in so deliberate a fashion.

My warm thanks to the folks at New Directions Publishing Corporation, agents for the Schaffner Family Foundation, for blessing the project.

‘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.