Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Mahu Cinepoetry: Poetry Film Film Poetry


 As part of his first exhibition (Mahu, June 6th-26th, 2015) SJ Fowler kindly invited me to curate a night exploring the relationship between film and poetry. The evening was really enjoyable, generously attended (all crouched, sat and sprawled in the modest gallery space) and happily stimulated a lot of talk about the films. It was a privilege to be involved in something that was met with such enthusiasm and, surrounded by his floor to ceiling scrawl (Steve Fowler’s exhibition centres around the improvised creation of a novel over a condensed and demanding period of days – the pages surrounding him on the gallery walls in towering columns) in the company of a poet whose work and approach to poetry I find so continually inspiring. I was also particularly excited by the possibility to contact filmmakers whose work has engaged with the threshold of visuals/language/poetry and film with such diverse and challenging artistry.

I began the evening with a presentation that meandered in and out of poetic diction and digression – as a tribute to the hybridised form and exchange that the event aimed to present.

 The text was as follows:  

arranged and rearranged
in emphasis and intention
opening up an exchange between
and across mediums where

Like is lyric ‘I’ to subject
as lens is seeing eye to object
neither speaking on behalf
but half of speaking out of

Or as a gesture of translation: from language to light, reversed from image to text, frame to word to frame and page to screen, or as screen as page and film as poetry
and back - to poetry reimagined as film.

Taking time between takes to find time between frames, or framed as time taken. Time as framed might be spoken

by film syntax
in the grammar of cutting
How rhythm
& focus
                        constitute our reception
of meaning, our ways of meaning –
as found, projected, disrupted,
ambient, curated, referential

pointing to the world, presented as a world.
In his 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera,
Dziga Vertov proposed a  ‘truly international absolute language of cinema’.

In contrast - Abel Gance, the French film director known for his silent epics J’Accuse (1919), La Roue (1923) and Napoléon (1927) remarked that ‘the marriage of image, text, and sound is so magical that it is impossible to dissociate them in order to explain the favourable reactions of one’s unconscious.’

Surrealism celebrated cinema as a way to emulate and reveal the unconscious, to enter the darkness of a cinema as if into a shared communion of sleep, to watch dreams play out across the screen. In 1928 the surrealist Man Ray directed a short film in response and accompaniment to Robert Desnos’ poem, entitled L’Etoile de Mer :

A swinging disc of light silhouettes a starfish as it turns in black…the handwritten title is penned by Man Ray who, in describing his reaction to Desnos’ poem said ‘There was no dramatic action, yet all the elements for a possible action.’

A Circular window opens ( a clouding
through as blur
we watch the woman
her garter pulled up towards her thigh)
deferred desire begins
the gazing first line of Desnos’ poem:

‘Women’s teeth/ are objects/ so charming.’

One of the earliest film poems

male desire and its frustration experienced as a dream/ in a dream

Whose dreams film/ and poetry’s film dreaming as who
the surrealists found poetry
(like the unconscious)
as a subterranean glimmer
in films that had no intention or acknowledgement of such readings.

Louis Aragon observed that

“on the screen, objects that were a few moments ago
sticks of furniture or books of cloakroom tickets
are transformed to the point where they take on
menacing or enigmatic meanings”

For Aragon film could “endow with a poetic value that which does not yet posses it”

the surrealists embraced the early comedy of Mark Sennett, Chaplain and Buster Keaton, & found the pulp banality of the Fantômas haunted
by mystery, weird and unintended
moments that coax the film’s dream into speaking.

Ado Kyrou, the Greek filmmaker and writer extolled
the virtues of popular film, advocating that we should
“learn to go and see the ‘worst’ films; they are sometimes
sublime’ Suggesting now an afterlife for Adam Sandler films,
the Transformers franchise & Eddie Murphey’s Norbit,

In thinking about film poetry a trajectory of experimentation suggests itself from
the visual influence of Cubism, Dadaism – Hans Richter, Ferdinand Léger and Marcel Duchamp, the French Impressionism of Germain Dulac, the Surrealism of Man Ray, Dalí and Buñuel  ------ influences picked up and developed in the American Avant-Garde in Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger and Stan Brackhage …but, like the surrealist appreciation of populist film, poetry also inhabits the history of narrative cinema.
A history that is not confined to Hollywood or populist codes but that often sought to combine or respond to the concept and praxis of poetry.

Jean Cocteau’s Orphic trilogy 1930/1950/1960 – a card game ends in suicide – applause – walking through snow – (                   ) – a gloved underworld – guardian motorcyclists – the ruined city – passing through mirrors – a radio speaks through –
static – intercept – speaks through – interpret – séance – the chirping speaks through
fogged crackle of overheard – afterlife – of poetry as a return – brought back in sound
through sight – afterlife – in film – as film

Pier Paolo Pasolini published his first collection of poetry in 1941
and continued to write throughout his life. He would often describe his work
as the cinema of poetry

after realising with disappointment
the intent and nature of American Avant-Garde film,
Pasolini declared his belief in narrative poetry in film.

Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 film Persona overlaps, splits and merges the identity
of two women as the material of film is itself seen to rupture: straining to show,
to represent, to pierce the image and repeat the image. Enacting a trauma
beyond words but relating to language, a failure of language and the imagining
of film as language. The montage at the film’s start: a crucifixion, an erect cock,
a tarantula, a silent comedy, man is chased by Satan, the slaughter of a lamb and a boy wakes up in hospital
                                                            a boy turns on a TV “What is your name?”
the boy backs away from the screen, we inhabit the screen – it is in black and white
“My name is Yuri Zhari” comes the reply from inside the screen, we see it 
as though we are there, as if there is no screen. It is an adolescent with a stammer; 
he continues to be questioned by a physician, “look right into my eyes” she says. 
We watch her hypnotise him until, having declared the release of his tensions, 
he is able to say – without stammering: “I can speak.” 

This is the beginning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror.

Tarkovsky understood poetry as a genre
beyond literary definition, not as a genre
but existing in and as the indiscernible
movements of being  beyond coherent logic.
For Tarkovsky, the indiscernible movement
Of being is time. Film, as the medium
best equipped to render time was for him
consequently the perfect art of poetry.

Poetic cinema was not symbolic cinema.
It should be, according to Tarkovsky, metonymic
to call upon
intuitive association

from which disparate parts ------- move towards
in suggestion of the film brought together as a whole.

as Joseph Cornell, the American artist and filmmaker suggested:

            “It is not the carefully composed images      
but rather their ultimate relationship                         
to each other that generates the poetic connection” 

Cornell collaged old film reels, worked from found materials, observed still moments of the ordinary         in a park, on the subway, the city’s back street rambling
             in reverence of a stone angel
In 1936, spliced and edited,
a cheesy jungle melodrama
East of Borneo (1931)
            re-cut and presented
                        as a feverish ode to its female lead Rose Hobart…
the poetics of position, arrangement, combination: “Collage as language”

constellate glances, coming back to it/ to ‘catch it’, something like deep forest or tapestry where the everyday is found suspended as the occasion

from the aviary whose ceiling dreamt of snow or the shadow box that is dreaming still, impossible to fix in words but speaking

Cornell worked with other filmmakers of the American Avant-Garde: Larry Jordan, Rudy Burckhardt and Stan Brakhage

Brakhage referred to his own work as “filmpoems”, reading with a religious commitment the poetry of Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, Robert Creeley, Michael McClure and Ronald Johnson.

Communities intermingled, friendships, correspondence and the continuing of a

In the US: The Beats, The Black Mountain School,
The New York School…all were influenced by
and in turn influenced their contemporaries
in the underground film scene:
from Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith
to Alfred Leslie, Robert Frank,
Rudy Burckhardt and Andy Warhol.

Allen Ginsberg stares out from his screen test
John Ashbery stares out from his screen test
Ted Berrigan, Diane de Prima, Marcel Duchamp,
Willard Maas, Harry Smith, Joe Brainard, John Weiners,
John Giorno, Susan Sontag…all staring out from Warhol’s screen tests

Before eyes opened in factory light, screened at a slowed down 16 frames per second, and a year after Ian Hugo’s film Bells of Atlantis ----- a film with a voiceover by Anais Nin reading from her hallucinatory book House of Incest:

“My first vision of earth was water veiled. I am of the race of men and women who see all things through this curtain of sea and my eyes are the color of water.”------

on October 28th 1953, Cinema 16 held a symposium on “Poetry and Film”
The impressive panel included: Maya Deren, Dylan Thomas, Parker Tyler, Arthur Miller, Willard Maas and Amos Vogel. It was here, between the unengaged comic quips of Dylan Thomas that Deren put forward a distinction between

the horizontal and vertical |||| in film

the horizontal embodied the linear development of plot
presented and experienced over sequential time

the vertical embodied the suspended exploration
of associations that can co-exist in a moment

Concerning the use of language within a film, Deren reasoned:
“[W]ords are not necessary when they come, as in the theatre, from what you see…However if they were brought in on a different level […] as if you were standing at a window and looking out into the street and there are children playing hopscotch. Well, that’s your visual experience. Behind you, in the room, are women discussing hats or something and that’s your auditory experience. You stand at the place where these two come together by virtue of your presence. […] a curious combination of both, and that is your resultant image”

language should not name what is shown
in feeble overlay – a tautology that crowds and detracts
but in a near alchemical difference or disjunction that together
inflects image with language and language with image

Brackhage went on to develop what he referred to as “visual ineffables”, films he believed could stimulate experiences of perception and recollection outside of language as it was currently defined, films that were haunted by movement, tone and texture but ‘un-nouned’, devoid of recognisable shapes, objects or subjects – a beyond or before of language. A creation of “light glyphs”

In the 70s the primary vein of experimentation in American poetry
was channelled into L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry

materiality of the word as object, signifier stripped of transparency
placed above and before its referent --- its filmic counterpart
in the structural/materialist experimentation of Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, Owen Land and Tony Conrad (amongst others) and in the UK the prominence of the London filmmakers Co-op.








Not new but always having been there,
“so magical that is impossible to dissociate”

not new
but gaining in popularity
in proliferation

William Wees published the significant essay “the Poetry Film” in 1984.
Poetry film festivals began to appear in the 90s, alongside television commissions and a growing interest expressed in literary poetry societies.

The 90s also inaugurated the publication of ‘Film Poem Poem Film”, a periodical brochure from the South London Poem Film Society, emerging alongside regular Film Poem programmes curated by Peter Todd at the National Film Theatre. On the back of this momentum came work from the filmmaker and poet, Tony Harrison, and the call for ‘rules’ and manifesto rhetoric

the notion of the British film poem seemed – at least for a small coterie – impatient to assert its own identity – a voice that, in the flurry of increasing popularity and institutionalised support, seemed to stray from a history of genuine interrogation and innovation towards weaker concepts of hybrid collaboration and dogma: the poem film, the film poem, film poetry

It continues as not new, but always having been there

Online platforms more affordable camera technology
the conversation accelerates

available and multiplied
streaming, archived, linked,

sampled, shared and found
as collage in montage

as uninspired, uninteresting
pretentious and infuriating

as with the internet
oceans of shit

through which, occasionally,
the profound or unexpected breaches

where the between of film and poetry
is reminded of its continuing experiment. 

arranged and rearranged
in emphasis and intention
opening up an exchange between
and across mediums where

Like is lyric ‘I’ to subject
as lens is seeing eye to object
neither speaking on behalf
but half of speaking out of

 Film Programme:

1)Alice Lyons & Orla McHardy - 'The Polish Language' (8:22)
2) David Kelly &Joshua Alexander - 'Warming' (6:43)
3) Marc Neys (Steve Ronnie) /Swoon - 'If Grief were to Disappear' (4:20)
4) Lila Matsumoto & Adam Butcher - (3:38)
5) SJ Fowler & Joshua Alexander - 'Animal Drum' (6:05)
6) Chiara Ambrosio - 
A Walk Through Wooda (10:36)
7) Vessela Dantcheva - 'Anna Blume' (10:50)
8) Ed Atkins - 'Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths' (2:47)
9) Abigail Child - 'Mercy' (10:14)