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JIM ANDREWS: Sea of Po – animisms and a ‘different sort of poetry & magazine’

How to introduce legendary Canadian Jim Andrews – a leading figure in the world of visual poetics / interactive literature / kinetic text and founder of Vispo https://vispo.com.  On eliterature.org the Vancouver-based polymath is described as ‘attempting to create writing that is a synthesis of various arts and media: words, code, sound, images and interactivity’. He also describes himself as: poet-programmer, visual and audio artist, theorist, front end developer, tech writer and mathematician.

In the words of Tom Konyves’ Poets with a Video Camera exhibition catalogue – New Art EmergingTwo or Three Things One Should Know About Videopoetry  (2022), he has created ‘some of the most well-regarded interactive poems of the last 25 years. He is one of a few Director/Lingo artists of the late 90s and 00s to make the transition from Flash/Director multimedia to HTML5 work that’s even more multimedial and strongly interactive. His recent piece Enigma n2022 https://enigman.vispo.com is a wildly innovative work of interactive granular synthesis, colour, music and digital poetry.’ Jim studied literature, maths and computer science at university, and subsequently produced a literary radio show called Fine Lines before finding a true home on the Internet and the World Wide Web.

JA: ‘I started vispo.com in 1995 or 1996. At the very beginning, it was a publicity site for the weekly reading series I organized and hosted from 1993 to 1997 in Victoria called Mocambopo. I also used it to attract writers to read at Mocambopo. But, even so, it seemed like the perfect medium for me, as an artist. All sorts of international interesting stuff was happening. Charles Bernstein, one of the forces in so-called language poetry,  had a fascinating project going on with Loss Glazier called the Electronic Poetry Center, which was drawing poets from all over the English-speaking world. New publications were starting up all over the web, and all sorts of attempts at new types of work. I’d print out interesting essays and whatnot from the web and leave them in Mocambo Coffee.

During my radio days (84–90), I’d been in touch with Helen Thorington, who produced New American Radio in the 80s and early 90s. She commissioned radio art. But she’d moved to the web, producing turbulence.org, starting around 96 or 97, which was commissioning net art. Eventually, she commissioned Nio, a big interactive music/poetry work of mine, in 2000. She wasn’t the only one moving from electronic to digital media. That was around the time I got in touch with Ted Warnell, who’s been publishing his site warnell.com as long or longer than I’ve been publishing mine. There were several terrific listservs going on. Such as the poetics list from Bernstein’s project, plus rhizome, and empyre, which I co-moderated for a while. I started one called webartery. Listservs were the main ‘social media’ of the early web. Heather Haley’s Edgewise ElectroLit Centre in Vancouver was another interesting node, and TrAce in the UK… The browser was interesting to me in that not only was it a world-wide, international thing, but a multi-media thing. Text, image, video, sound, telephony – and interactivity. I’d studied literature, math and computer science at university. And, subsequently, produced a literary radio show. The web looked like a medium where I could combine all my interests in art, programming, literature, the international avant garde, sound art, etc. Also, as a poet, I was dissatisfied with the little magazines. The web seemed to pose a whole new way to publish a whole new type of poetry. My life, since then, has mainly focused on exploring those possibilities.’

Jim publishes new thinking on ‘experimental visual poetry, literary programming, and essays on new media’ and the term vispo also cohabits with the term Langu(im)age to illustrate the fusing and fluxing of language verbal and visual and the constant questions that arise in this debate. This extraordinary website has continued to survive and grow and replenish since it was first launched – how many independently run, creative online sites are coming up for their 30-year anniversary?

Some Context

Between 2005 and around 2014  I attended quite a few digital media / electronic literature conferences presenting  theoretical research investigations with text-on-screen through minimal, looping, often koan-like, paradoxical videopoems. I related my experiments with repetitive motion to traditional poetic page-based verse rhythms – metronomic and cyclical – but as visual prosody. This was unlike everyone else I met, who were vastly geeky, inhabiting code worlds and glad to be free of the page and traditional, verse-based poetic structures. In the first decade of the millennium, poetry seemed to divide into groups with different working methods and goals. The media, net, interactive, live installation, electronic literature and digital poets (before we even move on to commercial applications  such as VR, gaming and immersive reality), seemed to be at the forefront of experimental poetry. They were like magicians showing others what could be done with new ideas literally by creating new esoteric systems for making or defining ‘writing’ and ‘language’ via code or developer software like Flash. At the same time the rise of the subjective lyric poet, still using pen on paper as ‘technique’ but also collaborating through digital poetry film (and linear narrative form) was also in the air.

When I wrote The Poetics of Poetry Film (which took over five years and began around 2012) I listed the main types of short film related to poetry film and the traditional differences between them. I knew then that I had to include a rider that stated how the differences were fast disappearing (particularly between media poetry and poetry film). This was particularly evident in the hands of motion graphics designers working with poetry or poets.

I was very lucky to meet Jim at Tom Konyves’ seminal exhibition Poets with a Video Camera : 1980–2020 at Surrey Art Gallery (Vancouver), November 2022 where I was key speaker and we were both exhibitors. Later, Jim brought up the topic of media poetry in my book, and noted that I had said, traditionally ‘the media poem is technically high achieving, intellectually rich and emotionally dry, and valued for its unique coding, expanding transhuman connections. The author is dead and system is king, often exploiting random found material or recombinatorial spectacle.’ Jim was keen to point out that whilst he agreed with what I said for some practitioners, he hoped his own work which he described as animisms [the term meaning where objects are believed or perceived to have agency or a soul / spirit] wouldn’t be defined in the same way.

Tom had selected Jim’s first programmed poem Seattle Drift (1997) for the exhibition, and by coincidence it is also an example of Jim’s animism series. As someone who has researched text-on-screen (particularly in relation to women artists and the theoretical concept of dissolving or dematerializing text) I was really bowled over to see this work in the flesh, see https://vispo.com/animisms/SeattleDriftEnglish.html. It clearly plays an important position in relation to the history of kinetic text and media poetry. Its simplicity and playfulness reminded me of, but moves on from bpNichol’s First Screening (1984) series (with delightful sections such as ‘hoe’) where Nichol was one of the first poets to create computer animated poems. And also the later Kinetic Writings (1989) – minimal Amiga computer poems (character generated and recorded onto video) – of prolific American writer, poet and media poet Richard Kostelanetz.

Seattle Drift

I’m a bad text.

I used to be a poem

but drifted from the scene.

Do me.

I just want you to do me.

In the interactive Seattle Drift  the viewer begins with a neatly laid out, ironically penned poem on the left-hand side of the screen where the viewer is told to ‘Do the text’ ‘Stop the text’ or ‘Discipline the text’. As you Do the text the words unravel across the screen and you can freeze them at any point, choosing your own preferred layout / visual image; or ‘Discipline the text’ by returning it to neat, short lines.

This work establishes the concept of an ‘original poem’ a thought, from which an event happens. The artist himself includes playful humour in his directions, and reflexively eradicates any sense of the ‘inspired mind of the poet’, to focus on the voice of the poem itself. We are here as consumers receiving utilitarian instructions from a no-nonsense, absent controller – like a recorded message.

Jim told Nigerian poet Yohanna Joseph Waliya in https://vispo.com/writings/essays/Animisms.pdf ‘The motion is a drifting of words off the page. Which is also a drifting from the scene of poetry. There’s also a sexual element of dissolution in the poem losing itself.’ For me, I feel that there is a sense of liberation by the individual; and liberation from a final, single work of art, created by an artist. The viewer pauses where they feel an exciting group of words might appear. Go on, it is yours to create.

Coming back to Jim’s thinking behind his animisms, you can see that whilst Seattle Drift is an example of kinetic text, a subjectivity is being voiced, whether concerned with the human issues of dissolution or liberation. Like a lyric page poem, Seattle Drift operates like a stand-in for the author, (even if it appears to be the poem itself who is speaking) where the ‘I’ of the poem blurs with the human authorial ‘I’.  And, after all, the title does suggest a reflection on a personal journey. This makes it different from many other types of historical e-literature etc. which abjured authorship at all. Equally, as it suggests two psychological states, an unravelling and playful creation, it also presents two poetic states: composed verse in classic form and  programmed, interactive, animated poem.

Jim is fascinated by the random in art;  in https://vispo.com/writings/essays/RandomInArt.pdf  he says, from cut-ups to his current work that ‘We have arrived at a position where we view chance/the random more or less as a literary device, like metaphor and simile are literary devices.’ And in relation to animism in digital poetry (see previous animism link) and emotion, he notes that whilst maths and programming produce motion, that ‘The motion can contribute to the production of emotion, if the meaning of the words can be made to work with motion… It isn’t motion that produces emotion. It’s human sympathy.’ Here a successful work combines affecting  words (indicating a state of mind and state of place) with an appropriate type of motion, producing visual metaphor; the poet programmer produces moving metaphor.

He told me: ‘the term ‘animisms’ is apt for the sort of animated work I create. Animisms as kinetic poetry with soul. Kinetic poetry as poetry that moves. Moves with a kind of life, or at least with the liveliness of art.’ Today, an interactive kinetic poetry animism project that is both comparable to and extends Seattle Drift is Jim’s latest brainchild – Sea of Po – and I can’t overstate how lucky I was to be invited to be part of it, alongside 51 other poets, all from a variety of technical and lyric backgrounds.

Touching in the Wake of the Virus, Adeena Karasick and Jim Andrews

Sea of Po 

Jim introducing poets to the multimedia project

JA: ‘Sea of Po https://seaofpo.vispo.com  is a one-issue online app-mag that features the work of 52 poets in a generative, visual, kinetic, interactive, never-exactly-the-same-twice app of multiple languages. It’s a new sort of experience of poetry and a poetry magazine. It will display your texts too. Unicode is what makes the multi-language dimension possible in Sea of Po  as well as special characters not usually associated with language. It is also in pdf form https://vispo.com/writings/essays/Sea_of_Po2.pdf  as a type of Manifesto/Manual/Magazine and at some point, may also be published as a book, with another pdf but the same URL.’

Being invited to take part in this project meant diving deep into endless possibilities.  It always felt open, experimental, friendly, inviting. I could do anything. For me, that meant I was able to be completely creative in response to a visually exciting screen, one I couldn’t create on my own. I feel certain a lot of the participants felt the same.

ST: What inspired you to make Sea of Po?

JA: Sea of Po started out as Sea of 9 ( https://taper.badquar.to/9/sea_of_9.html ). This was for issue 9 of Taper mag from MIT, which only publishes ‘computational poetry’ that’s 2kb or smaller. The theme of issue 9 was the number 9. When Adeena Karasick saw it, she felt it would be a good way to show a poem of hers called ‘Touching in the Wake of the Virus (see previous image).  Rather than display just ‘9’, it would display her poem word by word or line by line. So, I expanded the piece and the code so it could do that. But I felt there was still a lot of unexplored territory in the idea. Hence Sea of Po.

I could also say that what inspired Sea of Po was to create a different sort of poetry magazine. One that is an app as well as a mag. And a tool as well – you can create and save your own texts/poems. It’s a different experience of poetry and a poetry magazine. The experience of poetry involves the black window and the animation window. You experience poetry in a cubistic, multi-perspective way. Much of my work is an attempt to explore the app possibilities of poetry, the digital possibilities of poetry.’

Windows that Like to Be Read Together

The Sea of Po project extends Seattle Drift in that both the lyric, ‘still’ poem in conventional linear verse format, and the animated visual poem are visible at one and the same time, with two windows to view this process. This clearly shows how Jim has created an inclusive space for originally two separate forms,  confirming his own definition of his animisms in his work. Here, the lyric and generative processes (creative coding or writing programmes – giving instructions – to generate an artwork) co-exist.

I think you can get a very good idea of his thinking through the way he has phrased the following points. I would also suggest that you open the Sea of Po link   https://seaofpo.vispo.com to follow his description.

JA: ‘Reading Sea of Po as a poetry publication, as a mag-app, is an interesting new way of reading – but is it really new? We are getting used to reading different windows more or less at once… Two windows, the Black Window and Animation Window, are joined at the hip and present the textuality of poetry in two constantly-present texts: a familiar, traditional look, in the Black Window, and an animation of rotating words, phrases, and lines of poetry in the Animation Window. Each kinetic text is, in fact, following a circular path. It’s all about words touching at many points, being scrambled and recombined at the level of the word, the phrase, and the line – or the ideogram, in the case of Japanese. Meaning is recombinant and visually both flowing and disjunctive. Even while unreadable, it’s nonetheless visually engaging as a swirling Sea of Po, and made to be clicked till funk is firing on all cylinders… Another dimension of the project is a poet may use Sea of Po as a performance instrument. They can play it themselves, while reading their poem, or they can have someone else play it. Like a musician can sing and play a guitar–or have someone else play the guitar while they sing. Or just sing. Or just play the guitar.’

Here is Jim’s description of his own poems at Sea of Po  taken from the pdf magazine.

Go to to this link https://seaofpo.vispo.com?p=ja. and click on the poem on the left-hand side and scroll down for the symbol of your choice. A very pleasing, if not sublime extension of climate change-related moving concrete poetry awaits. The image below is the beautiful Punctuation.

Another interesting aspect of this project was discovering who else was taking part, which happened gradually, so it was good to keep checking back and catching up, and often finding extraordinarily elevated company: Kedrick James, Charles Bernstein, Alan Bigelow, Chris Joseph to name but a few … alongside names I know more personally such as Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas, Natasha Boškić and leading Canadian poet Penn Kemp.

Some of the poets handed over their poems and let Jim design the visual aspect himself, but as I am a visual artist as well, I wanted to be able to try it myself. I had questions regarding what was possible, or how much you could write to a predictable (repeating or programmed) visual aspect. Here is a question I asked:

ST: ‘I would really like to see the lines of poetry first before they break up and the words intermingle. I have short lines of max 5 words. I also wondered if it could go line by line. So, you see a line as it is, then it breaks up, then say 10 seconds later you see the next one and so on. Or maybe better, you see a whole stanza and then it breaks up and then maybe goes back to its original form after 15 seconds or thereabouts. I just really like the idea of the breaking away from something you have seen in a conventional line.’

JA: ‘Use the ^ word concatenator described at the bottom of the black window. The ^ concatenator is how you get multiple words to display on one line. For instance, if your text is “Poetry^is^the^sun”, then the animation will animate the line “Poetry is the sun” as one line. Whereas if your text is “Poetry is the sun” then the text will be animated as four independent words, all of which move in circles. If your text is “Poetry^is the sun” then “Poetry is” will be animated on one line together, and the other words will be animated separately in their own circles of motion.’

Whilst you can predetermine font size and speed of rotation, ultimately, the central point about Sea of Po is that the animated part continuously changes and is of course, random.  For example, I couldn’t determine colour placing: to have pink and turquoise in one area as a one-off or repeatable effect, as a way of supporting linguistic meaning, but this was part of the joy of the programme. You become mesmerised by the constantly changing visual, temporal letters, where sometimes colours are blazingly seductive or by chance muted or dark.

Style and Subject Matter

The poets have arrived at many approaches to producing their original ‘poems’: some centre on postmodernist computer languages whether abstract or generative poems (from a limited database of words), others solely rely on human ‘felt’ language and the lyric self, and a few a combination of the two. It also seems as if some are code poems, where ‘regular’ text is combined with code that has to be deciphered and translated (like any language).

As mentioned previously, Jim himself has created his own Unicode symbolic works for the project, whilst Charles Bernstein (see featured image) has taken words used five times from his ironic, multiple context and mood, philosophical and yet pertinently political poetry book Girly Man (2006). Many have used symbols, or ‘stanzas’  with symbols and language (see Chris Joseph above), jumbled strings of language, or moving concrete poems focusing on single letters. Don Duchene has written short prose as a letter to Jim, whilst Fred Wah has set out two texts side by side in is a door. Some are  translated such as Angela Chang’s, written in both English and Cantonese, whilst Reham Hosny’s is in Arabic and English.

Subjects range from bacterial infection and touch – Roberto Ncar and Adeena Karasick Touching in the Wake of the Virus (also a video with Jim Andrews) to curse – Natash Boškić, to money and financial facts – David Williams’ (bilingual, Portuguese and English) poem centering on Christiano Ronaldo and David Beckham’s salaries. Some of my favourites have fairly strong visually metaphoric links to the text. In Vacuum Cleaner Poem by Canadian Kedrick James, the text rotates quickly, shifting randomly from sense (individual words catching the eye) to letters piled together, as if clouds of ‘dust bunnies’ or accumulated dust rising in the air. Canadian Bonnie Nish’s Under Water (about drowning) works so well in its animated form with arching (wave-breaking-like) words in black and white, with a slow, strong sense of memorial about it. The animation, in its speed and delivery consummately respects and expands on the subject matter. This poem is beautifully enhanced by being visualised through Sea of Po.

Quite a few reflect on time, being and death. These include works by legendary Canadian poet Penn Kemp (a deeply moving work about her husband’s passing, and much shared on Jim’s Facebook page) and leading poets and videopoets Valerie Le Blanc and Daniel H. Dugas (see on).

Penn Kemp http://pennkemp.weebly.com/

Canadian Poet, performer, playwright and activist Penn Kemp is a poetry phenomenon. As her website proclaims she has been writing and publishing for more than 50 years with over 30 books of poetry, prose and drama; seven plays and ten CDs as well as award-winning videopoems. Alongside this incomparable career, she tirelessly gives readings and workshops, spreading the word in the community and worldwide.

Lethologica, Penn Kemp

‘Jim Andrews from Vancouver included my poem “Lethologica” in his wondrous See of Po series: https://seaofpo.vispo.com?p=pk. And on Andrews’s manifesto, manual, and magazine, https://vispo.com/writings/essays/Sea_of_Po2.pdf: p. 61.
For Sea of Po, I wanted to write a language poem that would lend itself to animation, to movement, to be read in swirls, side to side, and yet form couplets. Hence, Lethologica, so that the word is not lost in Lethe’s forgetful current, but is re-imagined as image, as colour. I am delighted that Lethologica is ensconced among so many lovely contributions by old friends like Lionel Kearns and new, like Sarah Tremlett.

The poem itself is an indirect lament for my husband, Gavin Stairs, who died two years ago. What is the role of language in such a confrontation with death? The piece is an uncertain contemplation on mortality, on what is lost and what can be conjured by diving between the worlds. It is an exploration of what can still be gained through poetry and the medium of animation. The blues express the spaciousness between dimensions in the Bardo. The visuals present that amorphous thinning of veils very well: a sea change of heart, when the tongue is tied in knots and nots of regret when words fail to express the overwhelm of loss, the enormity of lines of thought crisscrossing. What remains in memory after a life is completed? What can be said, and how? What can a name summon? Had we better not call a spirit back, even if we could?’

Penn’s poem given a secondary adaptation by Jim, as a still with both versions showing.

Valerie LeBlanc  https://val.basicbruegel.com/

I have known Canadians Valerie LeBlanc and her collaborator and partner Daniel H. Dugas for some years now and been privileged to write in more detail about their pioneering, extensive videopoetry series both in The Poetics of Poetry Film and Videopoetry / Vidéopoésie (bilingual overview of their work from 1980 to 2018). As her website says: Valerie’s creations travel between poetry, performance, visual and written theory. Working separately and in collaboration with Daniel, the subject of time features in both their work. Valerie LeBlanc’sBecoming Time (see below) draws the reader to the present moment and her spare use of language holds you there, as the title sublimely suggests. Daniel H. Dugas’Daniel: https://dan.basicbruegel.com/ arresting poem in French and English centres on the brevity of life; of having one hour, and repeating different choices you might make, to treasure in one hour.

One Hour, Une Heure, Daniel H. Dugas

Valerie LeBlanc

‘Basically, I wrote Becoming Time in 2013 when I was starting my Doctorate at the Sydney College of Arts, University of Sydney. I wrote several pieces at that time with a plan to use them with my larger project: The Raft. The project revolved around a raft as a small island and with the idea of what would be the essentials to carry along as part of the head space.’

Becoming Time

Now is a noun.

Moving forward from it,

is inevitable,

if there is a desire to keep moving at all.

Looking back is often,

not a decision,

but a happening,

an event,

relived.

The pop of a flash bulb,

on a now outdated camera,

a connection in the neuron net,

that insists.

The orchestration,

of being

once again

in that moment,

and

that set of circumstances,

has led you

to whom,

you are becoming,

now.

It is,

wrapped,

in all time.

 

Sarah Tremlett           https://seaofpo.vispo.com?p=st

 Stimming Spell to Ward Off Neurotypical Banter

This poem is about autism and ‘stimming’, (where, if anxious, you continuously  twine hair through your fingers) and also find the feel of an animal’s fur or hair (especially horses) reassuring. I had wanted to write a poem on this subject for some time and the capabilities of Sea of Po meant I had the opportunity to create a perfect visual metaphor from the visual cyclical strand-like ‘trails’, in relation to the stimming motion. I divided the poem into stanzas which each had a repeating, chant-like pattern, with single word first lines as declarative or command-like utterances. If spoken, they would be emphasised. These provided interesting, enforcing patterns when floating on the screen.

As mentioned in relation to Penn Kemp, Jim has also been inspired to work further with a number of the poems and develop them in different ways. He took mine and made a ‘still version’ where the original poem overlays a sample of the animated text (see below). He also has some really interesting things to say about the process.

JA:  ‘I enjoyed reading your poem “Stimming Spell to Ward off Neurotypical Banter” in a way I hadn’t before. I find that I read nothing more deeply than work that I publish – eventually. Creating this version allowed me to read the poem line by line and really soak it up. It’s quite mad. In a good way. You claim it’s a “stimming spell”, a witchy stimulant to awaken the deep feathered mind from the (unconscious?) trance. And so it is! Quite successfully, I would add.

The image I’ve created of the poem includes the poem’s text in white. The background of each white line is a different screenshot from Sea of Po of the animation associated with that particular line. So, for instance, if you look at the line “Drum!”, you see lots of blue and green texts of the sentence “Drum!” in the same horizontal space as the white word “Drum!”. Same with the line that says “Awaken”; the word “Awaken” is repeated horizontally there.  Every line of the poem has its own background screenshot.

The idea being that this kind of amplifies each line, turns each line into a thing we not only read but examine as a visual that we also read. But there’s also the gestalt of the whole thing, a single image of the whole thing. Also, I think it participates in the madness of the poem in its colour like the centaur’s kite tails etc. Sea of Po is itself a kind of wake-me-up, or so I fantasize. Your work contributes really poetically to this poetry project–thank you very much.’

Dual Viewing Mode

It is fascinating to see how different approaches to the original poems become transformed through animation in this way. On the one hand, the interactive viewer can pick and choose poet and poem, and also might also make decisions based on play value. The experimental fusing with the entertaining is really what is happening here. And something very do-able on mobile screens. What I really like about this dual viewing mode, is  you actually have the chance to stop the animation and compare to the original verse. This also happens in the book Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow (Poem Film Editions) which I recently published with Poem Film Editions co-director Csilla Toldy.  It’s an ekphrastic and bilingual poetry book, with a QR link to poetry films from the poems. But of course, here in Sea of Po the poems crucially share the same space. It is like seeing someone as they were and as they are at one and the same time. The viewer intervenes, but the original will always remain the same, watching its own reformation and revisioning through colour, form and motion.

How Has Visual Poetry Changed

Since there is clearly a convergence of poetry film, video poetry, kinetic text and visual text or visual poetry today, I asked Jim how he felt that visual poetry had changed since the 90s.

JA:The first book about the history of digital poetry (Chris Funkhouser’s Prehistoric Digital Poetry) looks at work from 1959 to 1995–so, basically, pre-web stuff. Digital possibilities, especially those posed by the web, have probably had the strongest influence on visual poetry since the 1990s. Tools like Flash and Director–now obsolete–and then HTML5 have opened up the possibility of creating interesting interactive, multimedia works for international, internet audiences. Such work is a synthesis of different arts and media. And the development of broadband has allowed the development of youtube, so that the videopoem has become much more widely seen. Also, publication of visual poetry has thrived on the web in domains dedicated to it, or blogs. There’s still lots of print publications, but it has expanded into the digital in a big way.’

In The Poetics of Poetry Film I quoted Christopher Funkhouser who noted in 2008 that the videopoem alongside computerized poetry, and interactive sound poetry despite their differences are all ultimately forms of digital poetry. I commented that whilst this might be true in its broadest sense, the particular aims, outputs and practitioner groupings (and ways of viewing) are often very different. Looking at Sea of Po  it is clear that it represents not only a cross-section of poetry and poets –  but also a dual viewing experience that, though still pushed by an interactive finger, conjoins once widely separate genres.  Divisions between the poetry scenes are fast   narrowing, and one central pioneer in this field, through his innovative, experimental and yet also entertaining animism project Sea of Po, is Jim Andrews.

 

Note: When the app is in the stores, it will be available for Windows, macOS, Android, iOS and the web version will work unrestrictedly on Linux.


Weimar: Lit-collage, Aline Helmcke, Frame to Frames book tour, judging – Poetryfilmtage

I am very excited and honoured to be part of Weimar Poetry Film Award / Poetryfilmtage – (Friday 31st May and Saturday 1st June) this year. I will be judging and also presenting the newly published Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow / Cuadro a Cuadros : Tus Ojos Seguen bilingual, ekphrastic poetry anthology, with QR link to poetry films (Saturday at 11 am).

It is my first time at this well-established festival, https://poetryfilmtage.de/ and I would like to thank director Guido Naschert for inviting me to be a juror,  and I am really looking forward to meeting the other two esteemed judges – Rike Bolte and Pierre Guiho https://poetryfilmtage.de/jury-2024/. It will also be exciting to meet some of the finalists in person, whilst also taking in events that include short documentaries from around the world, young poetry filmmakers and German-language poetry films.

See Flyer_Poetry_Film_2024-web

This year there were 479 films from 51 countries submitted, and so the directors have been busy selecting finalists! The three festival directors are: Guido Naschert, Ana Maria Vallejo and Catalina Geraldo Vélez. Guido has a background in philosophy and literary studies and is a curator of the competition and international programme, and manages the Literary Society of Thuringia. Together with animator Aline Helmcke he founded the Poetry film Magazine (first published 2015) and the Weimar Poetry Film Award (originating in 2016) http://guidonaschert.de https://www.literarische-gesellschaft.de/

Ana Maria Vallejo http://anavallejo.de/ is also a curator, animator and filmmaker. She loves papercuts, collage and experimental films. She’s co-founder of the Weimar Animation Club and co-curates the competition with Guido. Catalina Giraldo Vélez  https://gatomonodesign.com/ is a Professor and Head of Visual Design at Bauhaus University. She is also an animator and co-founder of the Weimar Animation Club.

It is easy to see that animation is a leading subject here. Looking at the background to the festival, they say: ‘Since 2014, professionals and students at the Bauhaus University have explored the connection between moving images and poetry and produced a large number of poetic animations.’ If you would like to combine the art of animation with a contemporary student appreciation of Weimar as a place to live and learn see: https://www.luciaschmidt.org/das-leben-in-weimar-2019/. However, reflecting on the marriage of art and craft (across the visual, verbal and sound design) in poetry film animation, it is equally important to situate the festival against its heritage, where philosophy, politics, literature, aesthetics, design and craftsmanship seem to have moved hand in hand.

The highly acclaimed German polymath, poet, playwright, novelist, theatre director, metaphysician, and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) was invited to the ducal court at Weimar in 1775, and became associated with the city for the rest of his life. Whilst leading German poet and classical playwright Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805) spent his final years in Weimar, exchanging philosophical talks with Goethe, his friend and collaborator. Apparently, it was here that they  replaced their espousal of  the earlier Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) literary movement that extolled the individual, emotional expression and nature over the cult of Rationalism, with a new humanism or Weimar Classicism (Weimarer Klassik) (1772–1805). It has been said that this new humanism sought to resolve or bridge the binary differences between, for example in poetry the emotional or subjective approach and the objective clarity of the intellect and Age of Enlightenment.

In 1919, a new approach to arts education in post-WWI Germany heralded the combining of the fine arts with industrial craftsmanship, and the merging of the School of Fine Art with the craft-based School of Arts and Crafts into the Bauhaus Art School. It was led by director architect Walter Gropius following his Bauhaus manifesto. It aimed to unite art, craft and technology to create functional design for the people. He brought artists to teach such as Paul Klee and László Moholy-Nagy (whose work crossed all media, painting, sculpture, metalworking, photography and photomontage).

In visiting the festival then, these historical factors – the aesthetics of art, politics and philosophy are inevitably embedded all around you; but are also reflected in much of the subject matter in the poetry film screening programme. Philosophy, art, craft, design are all present in the animations and films being shown, and once outside in the street, reflected back to the viewer through time. As Anna Maria Vallejo said in an interview with Magpies Magazine ‘At my masters I discovered animation as a place where both fields – moving images and fine art – find each other’.

Love, Hannah Hoch, 1931

Lit-collage

Echoing the emphasis on animation the main theme of the festival this year is ‘Lit-collage’ or photomontage, which is really exciting to me. Though I am not known for collage in my own poetry films, my dissertation (some years ago now) on Women Artists and Text (across all media) began with the German Dada collagist Hannah Höch (1889–1978), and it is not difficult to see how the central exhibition at the festival on this subjectDrehmoment by German visual artist and filmmaker Aline Helmcke (co-founder of the festival) bears a strong comparison to Höch’s work. Aline is a visual artist and director specialising in drawing, collage and animated moving image, and her drawings are particularly sensitive and experimental. Helmcke manages to create psychological tensions in her animations, something I don’t often see, for one example go to: junger janssen https://ahelmcke.com/portfolio/animation-junger-janssen/

She studied Fine Art at the Berlin University of the Arts and Animation at the Royal College of Art in London. Her work has been shown at film festivals and exhibitions and is also active as a film curator and university lecturer, currently at the Kunsthochschule Weißensee and the Hochschule für Kunst und Design Burg Giebichenstein Halle. https://ahelmcke.com/

I feel really lucky to actually be able to see this exhibition. The very title, which translates as ‘Torque’ in English (or pulling power in relation to an engine, or in terms of physics, the measurement of a rotational force). With Dadaist overtones, it conjures up concepts that relate to the visual tensions that occur from the cut-up process, the collisions or recombinations that tell new or fragmented narratives. And, of course, these factors take you beyond the visual to political positioning, and socially constructed understandings of gender. The festival programme beautifully illustrates her fractured, Dadaist photomontage style, or see Helmcke’s Brace Brace (2019) with flailing, disembodied legs https://ahelmcke.com/portfolio/cut-out-brace-brace/ or her animated collage loop https://ahelmcke.com/portfolio/animation-animated-collage-loop01/

animated collage loop, Aline Helmcke, 2016

One of my favourite stop motion animations by Catalina Giraldo Vélez is from the poem The Picture in the Picture in the Picture by German author and musician Marlen Pelny. Here, the poem (spoken by Pelny) narrates the nostalgia of, and problems with, searching for memories, with the intangibility of looking back; whilst the drawers of a filing cabinet, (or pages of a notebook and a paperback) uncertainly open and close. https://www.movingpoems.com/filmmaker/catalina-giraldo-velez/

 

Unfortunately, some wonderful workshops in stop-motion, text collage and sound collage have already taken place in April, when the festival began. However, on Friday evening the Lit Collage theme continues, with the workshop instructors Bas Böttcher, Kay Kalytta and Franka Sachse,‘taking the stage for a multimedia jam session; where spoken word meets sound and video art.’ And later, Aline will present a programme featuring collage animations of note, so I am really looking forward to an exciting Friday evening experience. As a poetry filmmaker with an art-school background myself, I am fascinated by the moving canvas of the animator’s eye. The way that animated shapes and colours can provide a playful often humorous or tragic world, accompanied by appropriate, carefully placed sound effects creates a constantly mesmerising screen. And one that really shows the artist’s free imagination at work, where anything is possible, perhaps the best medium for depicted storytelling. As Anna Maria Vallejo said: ‘My main interest lies in films in which narration can work differently… or where I feel curious because they show a weirdness or mysterious beauty.’

Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow / Cuadro a Cuadros Tus Ojos Seguen

I am thrilled to be driving to Weimar with copies of Frame to Frames in my hot little hands. I am also really looking forward to being interviewed by Guido and discussing a bilingual book-film linked project especially with ekphrastic poetry films, and sharing films and artist’s thoughts on the experience. I will be announcing this separately so for the moment leave you with a brief description of the Press details and all the forthcoming tour dates. I hope to see you at Weimar on Saturday morning if you are interested in bilingual (English and Spanish), ekphrastic poetry film. Congratulations to all the filmmakers who took part.

Described as an innovative and unique project – Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow / Cuadro a Cuadros : Tus Ojos Siguen is a bilingual (English and Spanish) ekphrastic poetry book with a QR link to a 17-film screening of poetry films made from the poems. The concept of a book-film arose from Sarah Tremlett’s Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow ekphrastic poetry film prize, where poetry filmmakers respond to works of art.  The 2023 edition II of the prize was screened at FOTOGENIA Film Poetry and Divergent Narratives Film Festival, Mexico City in December 2023. The accompanying colour publication of the poems, synopses and stills from the QR-linked films alongside artists’ biographies, was also launched at the same time, under the imprint Poem Film Editions (co-founded by Sarah Tremlett and Hungarian poetry filmmaker and translator Csilla Toldy), with a print date of April/May, 2024. The festival painting Huapango Torero (see book cover) by non-binary Mexican artist Ana Segovia was selected by Sarah Tremlett as a prompt, and was chosen by many of the artists. This painting (a revision of an original work), where a boy holds a flower up to a bull, is a call to end animal cruelty, machismo and bullfighting.

The Frame to Frames project celebrates three creative forms: art inspiring art, translation and transmedia. So often in watching poetry films the poem passes you by, but the book allows you to press pause, really take in the poem on the page then return to the film. Here, it is possible to see how words and meaning can be transformed through the filmmaker’s process.

See https://vimeo.com/929116208 for a bilingual documentary on the making of the project from five of the poetry filmmakers.

TheFrame to Frames project has screenings at: FOTOGENIA, Mexico City, December, 2023; REELpoetry, Houston, April, 2024; The International Poetry Film Festival of Thuringia, Germany, May, 2024; ‘We Need to Talk about Ekphrasis Now’ Leeds Trinity University, July, 2024; Bristol Literary Film Festival, August, 2024; Maldito Festival de Videopoesía, Albacete, Spain, November, 2024.

Sarah Tremlett, UK and the following artists are available for your festival screening and book presentation: Patricia Killelea, US; Tova Beck Friedman, US; Alejandro Thornton, AR; Colm Scully, IRL; Janet Lees, UK (Lois P Jones and Elena K Byrne, US); Martin Sercombe, (Thom Conroy) NZ; Pamela Falkenberg & Jack Cochran, US; Csilla Toldy, HU, IRL; Finn Harvor, CA; Javier Robledo, AR; Beate Gordes, DE; lan Gibbins, (Judy Morris); Carlos Ramirez Kobra, MX; Penny Florence, UK; Meriel Lland, UK; Ana Pantic, RS;

Refs:

https://magpiesmagazine.com/2022/03/17/interview-with-filmmaker-ana-maria-vallejo/


Poetry Goes Technical: LYRA, Cancer Alley and AI poetry with Thomas Zadegiacomo del Bel

If you are in Bristol this weekend LYRA poetry festival is closing on the 21st with lots still to come, such as TS Eliot prize-winning poets Joelle Taylor and Alice Oswald (in Oswald’s case supported by Caroline Bird and Rachel Long). And for poetry film lovers and those interested in the interaction between poetry and technology there are two major events.

The installation Cancer Alley has been created by Bristol poet Professor Lucy English and intrepid American eco poetry film activists Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, with technical support from Bristol company Holotronica. Whilst the event is situated in a small room at The Watershed, here you will find a melding of leading creative filmmakers (unbeatable visual and sound editing) with politically eloquent and strident voices. Pam and Jack have a total commitment to documenting environmental and human rights atrocities and spreading the word, and have worked with Lucy English on several environmental projects.

Cancer Alley is an 85-mile stretch of more than 200 chemical plants and oil refineries near the Mississippi river between East Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It has a high mortality rate as can be expected from what has been described as a Human Rights crisis with a mainly black population engulfed in toxic waste. Outlier have been documenting images of this nightmare set against the struggles of human habitation alongside the threatened natural environment, particularly cypress groves. The footage was collected on two trips in 2021 and 2022, often in difficult political conditions (they were warned to back off when caught on refinery security cameras). This resulted in their almost total use of a ‘camera car’, even for stills, and they found it ideal when venturing out into the cypress wetland areas.

After Pam and Jack collected footage, Lucy English wrote a poem to the visuals inspired by the accounts of local people and ‘the words of Manari Ushigua Santi, the indigenous leader and forest protector of the Sapara Nation of the Equadorian rainforest.’

Outlier first made a single channel video, then English gained funding from Bath Spa University to create an installation based on the same video, but with some important sensory differences. There are two screens, one which carries the main body of the footage (the ‘backplate’ of the installation) but, with the aid of three projectors, the poetic text and a parade of plastic bottles appear to ‘float’ on a larger silvered, hologauze screen, closer to us, whilst we also experience an effect of smokey air pollution.

CA installation video sample 1

From a creative point of view, pay attention to the quality of Outlier’s sound. They say: ‘The sound was mostly composed from our sound library, supplemented by sound we recorded on location in Cancer Alley, along with sound shared online by sound recording enthusiasts. But sync sound recording along with the images wasn’t a big part of the sound, since the sound of the car engine rather ruins that. But we did record non-sync sound from locations where we could stop and park. Some was in nature preserves, some in the refinery areas.’

CA installation video sample 2

Sitting in the Room at The Watershed

the link to Cancer Alley promo trailer on Vimeo:

https://vimeo.com/811088411?share=copy

Pam has written some really fascinating process notes about the project, and how her family came from an area of Southwestern Pennsylvania where fossil fuel mining caused its own devastation on the environment. These can be found at the very interesting project website

https://canceralleyproject.com/ 

In Cancer Alley the artists have used technology against itself in a way; to shed light on corruption and disaster, but with a creative lens that allows us to be drawn into the desperate circumstances that have existed for far too long.  The viewer has to engage with the politics of human abuse. As the words from the poem state:  ‘Technology tells us we are alive… If we are aware why do we do nothing?’

Smokey pollution and flashes from ‘behind the scenes / screen’

 

If you care about the planet and want to learn more about how audio-visual media can help lobby for change, I would advise you to get to The Watershed before last call on Sunday. Poetry film and political action are walking hand in hand in this installation that is destined for many more iterations in the future. The team are also looking to show the screening in a larger venue with darkened walls and surround sound, so I am looking forward to that event with bated breath.

Poetry and New Technology (courtesy Thomas Zandegiacomo del Bel from ZEBRA)

(Saturday 3 p.m. The event is also available to watch via live stream, however this will only be the screening itself and not the Q&A.)

In contrast to using technology to reveal environmental and human atrocities, Thomas Zandegiacomo del Bel, the artistic director of leading poetry film festival ZEBRA in Berlin, is presenting a series of short films on the cutting edge intersection of poetry and technology (and will also answer questions afterwards) where ingenious geeks have run riot with text that proliferates between the graphics, codes, apps and devices of the world we live in. As the promotional information states: ‘the films are all technically sophisticated, crossing boundaries between AI, social media and algorithms, and are based on poems by Jörg Piringer, Raed Wahesh and Yehuda Amichai, among others. There is a dance of new technology that enthralls and captivates, and cannot help but insinuate itself into our lives. This is the other side of the coin to Cancer Alley and I recommend that you take time for both this weekend.


World Autism Month and Poetry Film – Christina Jane and Steve Downey

April is World Autism Month / Autism Acceptance Month which began on the 2nd of April as World Autism Awareness Day, and includes Autism Acceptance Week 2–8 April. Though for many it might seem a fairly new idea, this important time of year has roots going back as far as the 1970s.

Some years ago now – 2016 –  I was external project lead on a poetry film project with Autistic teenagers at Butterflies Haven, Keynsham, Bristol, (with Director Trisha Williams). The project was run by the experienced team of well-known ecopoet Helen Moore and prize-winning digital filmmaker and musician Howard Vause. It turned out to be a great success and the parents found the process very revealing in helping those with Autism to articulate through film and a group situation, their particular experiences of life, school etc. As a mother with a daughter diagnosed with ADHD and many aspects of undiagnosed autism and ADHD in myself and in the family, I gravitate to any sharing of neurodivergence, in order for others to gain familiarity and understanding. I also have personally found that often there is a profoundly creative streak within Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) alongside less welcome factors such as anxiety and depression.

The poetry film world often deals with views from ‘outside the box’, and on many occasions the creatives involved are speaking from their own experiences – the position they find themselves in. I am extremely proud therefore to introduce a poetry filmmaking team – filmmaker and director Steve Downey and performer and poet Christina Jane (who prefers to be known as CJ). They are not only at the forefront of raising awareness about living with Autism and ADHD – they have made a series of four short films on both subjects – but also have received over 82 awards at international film festivals across the globe. I was so impressed with their approach to making creative yet informative and eye-opening filmmaking, that I suggested they should present their work at the CAW (Centre for Art and Wellbeing at Brighton University) online research talks, run by CAW co-director Dr Helen Johnson, which they did to much success in December 2023.

CHRISTINA JANE

Christina Jane (CJ) has both Autism and ADHD and is an extraordinarily creative person. To read her biography is to find a truly multi-talented individual. Poet, actor (since a child and with that all-coveted equity card), singer, spoken word artist, public speaker, digital artist, founding lead member of Neurodelicious as a performer, dancer, juggler, model, stylist, props etc. … the list goes on! Gaining an English literature degree at the University of Essex in 2004, (where she studied Modern Drama, Theatre, Shakespeare, Performance, Creative Writing, Playwriting and Screenwriting) Christina is an example of a person where life and art are one and the same: where if something needs to be done or said she will be the one to do it. She also is a full-time carer for a son with Autism and  ADHD and as a parent is an active advocate of raising awareness of living with Autism.

CJ AND THE IMPORTANCE OF GETTING DIAGNOSED

‘My son was diagnosed with Autism in May 2016 and I was diagnosed in February 2017. He was diagnosed with ADHD in 2019 and I was diagnosed with ADHD the same year. Being undiagnosed with Autism and ADHD when I was an adult meant I didn’t understand until then why things were so difficult for me. This led to me secretly blaming myself. I didn’t know I was masking at all. I just thought I was doing what everyone else was by trying very hard to fit in. Trying to be like everyone else was a near impossible task. The diagnoses changed everything. I felt like I now understood why things seemed to be twice as hard for me compared with other people and why I had been misunderstood in the past. It felt awful going through it, but things make more sense now. I’m now focusing on the positives by public speaking on awareness and acceptance of both conditions and writing and performing about my experiences, which has often moved people to tears of relief.’

CJ ON PERFORMING WITH AUTISM AND ADHD

‘I’ve acted since I was a child in theatre and film and it’s so much fun working in a team and playing a role. My first performance as a Spoken Word Artist was for Autism Anglia’s ‘Neurofantastic’ in 2017 in thanks for the support that the charity had given me. Live performance isn’t the most inclusive experience for some autistics, so I wanted to put my poems into video form. My biggest collaboration has been with Steve as Director. All of them were visualising poems I’d written; therefore, I was the Screenwriter and Actress in front of the camera whilst Steve was the Director behind. It’s so much fun working in a team and playing a role. My Autism and ADHD can cause misunderstandings, but to counter this I might ask more questions on set or ask for more ‘direction’ to clarify what I need to do. I think my professional background in modelling and acting means that, as long as I know what is expected of me, I often surpass expectations. I can remain patient, determined, and consistent through multiple takes. I also feel that Autism helps me as a performer because I’m used to being a “chameleon” and changing according to who is around me. Most actresses only work when filming a scene, I’ve been an actress for my whole life through subconscious Autistic masking just to fit in! Also, my ADHD can be an advantage because I have a lot of natural energy, perfect for long days on set. I’ve never seen any actors like me, with both Autism and ADHD, except for our films.’

STEVE DOWNEY

Steve Downey also has an extensive and widely creative biography, and recently won the accolade of ‘Maestro of Cinema’ from an organisation in Calcutta. He says: ‘I originally trained in Fine Art (painting), leading to a two-year, post-graduate course at the London Film School, specialising in film direction and graduating with first class honours. After working in the film industry as a film and sound editor on a feature, documentaries and adverts, I spent the next 20 years working in the field of media resources as a senior manager in the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA). This included setting up the first Sixth FormFilm Studies Course in conjunction with the British Film Institute as well as overseeing the work of 600 media resources staff working in schools and colleges across London. In 1990 I went back to being an artist as well as arts consultant/administrator, culminating in heading the Arts Development Team for Essex County Council. As an artist I have held more than 30 solo shows, created dozens of public artworks, attended seven artist residences across four continents and run many art training courses for people aged 3 to 83.’

BEING DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM

‘In 2020 I was diagnosed with Autism. This explained a lot about my experiences as both a child and adult as well my current disabilities including not being aware of social interactions, difficulties with sounds, not understanding what people say, not recognising faces and forgetting names. I believe that my autism has also provided me with certain talents, which include my unique artistic vision, ability to focus on tasks and organisational skills.’

BECOMING A FILMMAKER AGAIN

‘During COVID, the long period of self-isolation affected me greatly, including an “artist’s block”. I decided to do something radical about this by taking up filmmaking again after a long gap. My original training and experience were with film technology so now I had to learn how to work with video. In 2001 I had been successful in gaining a grant from the Arts Council to develop my practice in moving images, sound and writing as well as a Bursary from the Firstsite Gallery. These awards helped me gain additional training in video editing.’

COLLABORATING

Steve first met Christina when she posted a request on Facebook for filmmakers to help make her poems into films. It was also serendipitous as they both live not that far from each other, in East Anglia. With each artist being so prolific in their own right, I asked them to describe their joint approach and working relationship in more detail, as well as their experiences of being diagnosed with autism. I think they have produced a really fascinating insight into the filmmaking process for the four films: We are the Lost Girls, Invisible, What is it like?and Appropriate Social Response Number 3, all made between 2021 and 2023.

Steve takes up the story: ‘Christina and I started collaborating when she put out a call on Facebook in 2021, requesting help to make films about her poems. She did this because she acknowledged that live performance isn’t the most inclusive experience for some Autistics. We arranged an initial meeting to discuss the possible collaboration. We immediately felt a connection, partly because both of us had been diagnosed with Autism as adults. I read Christina’s wonderful collection of poems and we agreed on four poems to be made into short films, starting with Christina’s very first poem “We are the Lost Girls”.’

We are the Lost Girls is particularly poignant in that it concerns female diagnosis of autism.

CHRISTINA JANE

‘I wrote my first proper poem, “We are the Lost Girls”, when brainstorming for a speech I was going to perform as a public speaker in front of parents of Autistic children and professionals on the Good Beginnings course I had already attended. I wanted to give hope to the other parents and help them feel better, because I’ve been where they sat. I’ve written poems about Autism, ADHD and various other topics.

We are the Lost Girls

We are the Lost Girls deals with the ongoing issue of undiagnosed Autism in women and girls, who often present differently to males because the diagnostic criteria for Autism is based on research with Autistic men and boys. Traditionally males are more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age than women and girls with the same condition. Women and girls are also more likely to copy or ‘mask’ the behaviour of others so that they can fit in socially. They hide their differences and difficulties to avoid being teased or isolated. This complex picture can hinder the observation of recognisable symptoms and behaviour patterns. Thankfully we are finally reaching a stage of understanding where Autism and ADHD are becoming more recognised and accepted with the possibility of real diagnosis and help available to all. “We are the Lost Girls” came out of my hope that if I could improve the life just one woman or girl with Autism then it would all be worthwhile.’

STEVE

‘I created a storyboard treatment based on this poem and filming started during the late summer of 2021, utilising my art/film studio in Suffolk as well as location shooting at High Woods Country Park, Frinton-on-Sea, Norwich, Colchester Arts Centre and the City of Colchester. The filming went very smoothly. The editing was a lot trickier, because of my inexperience in video editing (having previously worked only with film). However, my one-to-one training with Jamie Weston from Signals helped solve this problem. I used copyright free music and sound effects where necessary. The editing took a long time, with Christina and I going through the rough-cut stages, until we were both happy with the final result, which was just over five minutes long.’

Here, Steve finds numerous settings to expand on the idea of different ways of changing identity: the running away from the camera repeated again and again, in a dark tunnel or a sylph-like setting with flowing dress and long hair. Of course, Christina is adept at playing these roles. I really like how CJ repeats the phrase ‘copied your actions’ of course emphasising the very process she is describing.

‘we are the girls who copied your words / … copied your actions / copied your actions so well / you thought we knew what to do / we never knew … we changed into actresses / to belong … chameleon girls … / we changed into masks to be normal/ we lost ourselves to fit in/ .. Lost girls who found so-called simple things difficult …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pHxHcZChgU&t=4s

 Invisible

Once they had made We are the Lost Girls they began work on the three other films. Invisible is again particularly autobiographical for CJ as it concerns the issues of being an adult living with undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD. Though, now diagnosed and therefore with more self-awareness, CJ says there are still issues she faces daily.

CHRISTINA JANE

Invisible starts by describing how difficult it is to see, explain and come to terms with the invisible disability of ADHD. It later discusses the chronic difficulties of the condition including poor memory, zoning out, time blindness, difficulty following instructions, struggling with attention, concentration, recipes, maps and timetables. It discusses the toll it takes on a person who is not diagnosed until they are an adult because the constant struggles create negative feelings like blame, shame, frustration and disappointment leading to mental health issues of anxiety and depression. The film ends on a positive note with my final diagnosis of ADHD, thereby getting the answers I needed to begin living. Invisible was shot in Steve’s studio and grounds, plus locations at High Woods Country Park, my house and garden, Firstsite Gallery, the City of Colchester and on Clacton Pier. The film incorporates a large range of copyright free music and sound effects.’

STEVE

‘I believe that my long career as a visual artist facilitated a highly original use of colour and composition, including using my own artworks as studio backdrops. I also used three of Christina’s original digital artworks in Invisible. Fortunately, I also had an excellent mirrorless digital camera and purchased a good microphone and a basic set of studio lights.’

I think that Steve does a fantastic job in creating scenarios where being invisible can be seen! Or, put another way, where the subject clearly feels invisible, though is seen by the audience. For example, looking in the mirror, ‘Who am I looking at?’ or CJ feeling her way along a brick wall. Disorientation and a sense of the surreal are also depicted in all four films. One of my favourite images or visual metaphors is where CJ lies flat on the floor wearing a red dress against a red background. Her long,  streaming hair flows out behind, and she slowly moves her arms as if swimming. Of course, she is stationary but with the sound of a river flowing by we really feel a sense of frustration; of not only blending in, but also swimming against the tide, or running to stay still. And of course, Clacton (an English seaside resort with an amusement park) and its funfair chaos (particularly a speeded-up Ferris wheel) provides a visual metaphor for the mind: ‘racing thoughts churning and burning long into the night’.

CJ’s delivery is spare and direct, unequivocal and clear as a bell. Yet, at the same time she is also sharing that nagging voice in her head: a constant preoccupation with the self as a sort of constant puzzle to solve. Wondering why life is like it is in her experience, and the awful truth that for many of us correct diagnosis comes late in life, after misdiagnosis that can cause shame and a highly negative sense of self-worth.

‘It takes a toll upon me / Something I am still figuring out / Something I blame myself for / internally shame myself for … because for me there are no simple things / … so invisible even doctors couldn’t see it / … diagnosed with anxiety and depression a decade before ADHD / therapists showed me how I’d failed but never why’…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mCNBNl0kY8

 

What is it like?

CHRISTINA JANE

What is it Like raises thoughts, feelings and comparisons drawn between autistic and so-called “normal” people, between neurodivergent and neurotypical people. It’s about what it feels like to have Autism, comparing it to being a robot or an alien.’

This four-minute film was shot in Steve’s studio and grounds, plus locations at Clacton Pier. Christina appears beautifully made up, evoking party makeup, against glittery fairground attractions or in contrast a country scene, but staring out blankly or searching, as if somehow uncertain of her surroundings and disconnected. You feel as if the makeup represents part of the ‘mask’ Autistic people wear, another way to fit in; but at the same time, it also conceals her sense of feeling like a robot.  She ‘cannot learn automatically like they do … I have to learn everything manually / like a robot / without a manual / on how life works… I have to figure out what to say / how to act.’

‘what is it like to have autism / how would you even answer / if I asked / what is it like / to be normal’

The wide disparity between neurodivergent and neurotypical people seems to be a gulf that at times feels unbridgeable. The very question ‘How are you?’ is not easy to answer for a neurodivergent person who often wants to say exactly how they are, rather than the accepted response. Being ‘normal’ actually seems to be attuned to a whole raft of conventions that people spout or display that are not authentic, but done to further a particular social gain or from learnt understandings of status, power and acceptability. Being able to see these played out, if you are neurodivergent, is not necessarily pleasant, nor a way to protect yourself, although as CJ says, acting and masking is a way of learning to mimic behaviour and ‘fit in’ and be included. In my view, if neurodivergent people sometimes appear naive, child-like and too honest, saying what they think,  life can also feel like a never-ending roundabout you can’t jump on, coupled with social exclusion and misunderstanding at every turn.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2zmMe4YxXE

What is it Like? is being shown locally at the Colchester Independent Film Festival in May 2024 and the Southend Film Festival in June. This follows the first 2 films being shown at both these festivals in 2021 and 2022.

Appropriate Social Response Number 3

The fourth film Appropriate Social Response Number 3 about Autism, mental health and friendship, was shot at Steve’s studio and on location at a real gift of a surreal location at the Clacton ‘Upside Down House’, Clacton Pier and beach.  Here, Steve’s filmmaking choices inside the house really support the meaning of the text, where Christina stretches from the ceiling to the bedside table on the floor in an upside-down bedroom. She ruminates on the ability or inability to make the right connection through words; when you feel a square peg in a round-hole world. Or, for example, when laughing at the wrong moment and others could take offense or be hurt or confused by the wrong response. Yet the need to keep trying is ever-present. ‘What are we without the words that bind us’.

For Steve and CJ, as well as being brought together by fate, it does feel as if their geographic location on the East Coast of England has contributed a great deal to their overall creative achievements. The ‘noise, show and glitz’ of Clacton’s entertainments, lapped by a grey North Sea, provides a perfect backdrop for expressing a masked and overactive, yet anxious state of mind.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNwZOjj_S3Y

CHRISTINA JANE: THE RECEPTION TO OUR FILMS

‘The films have been met with both positive personal responses and great critical acclaim. We have been blown away with the phenomenal success they have received! We are the Lost Girls and Invisible have each received over 20 International Film Festival Awards from all over the world and What is it like? has won 14 awards so far. The running total is now 82 Awards in a variety of categories. All the films are still being screened at Film Festivals across the world and the awards are still coming in daily. It makes me very proud and pleased that so many have seen my messages of hope and that they have deemed them worthy of such praise.

All the films have been shared extensively online on Steve’s YouTube Channel, through social media and screened at over 80 Film Festivals plus recent stage events called ‘Neurodelicious’. I’ve received such wonderful feedback on my poems and films across the board. One person even said that my “Lost Girls” poem inspired their master’s dissertation, therefore providing valuable research on female Autism. When performing the poems, people often come over and thank me personally, some in tears of joy, relief or recognition. Some people have contacted me later with news that my poem encouraged them to seek either a diagnosis for Autism or ADHD for themselves or family members. I’ve felt immeasurable joy being told that being successfully diagnosed has had a great positive impact on them, some saying “it’s like that film was made for me!” Neurotypical people have also found the films instructive, gaining insights into the challenges of those who are Neurodivergent, in a variety of ways that is unique to them, as well as simply being entertaining, colourful and uplifting.’

THE FUTURE

STEVE

‘I am planning a short documentary about our four films incorporating behind-the-scenes footage filmed by Tsvetislava Kirkova. The idea is that the films plus the documentary will form the basis of a TV programme broadcast by a TV network, as well as public performances.’

CHRISTINA JANE

‘My dream would be to act for a program about Autism, like ‘The A Word’ or ‘Atypical’, as they normally focus on the stereotypical male autistic journey. I have diagnoses for both Autism and ADHD. I’ve never seen any actors like me on TV or Film with both diagnoses. It would be a landmark in disability representation to have a character with both diagnoses accurately portrayed in a primetime TV show or big budget film as there is zero representation right now. Literally zero. Aside from my films of course! I’d be delighted to have the chance to audition for any suitable role.’

It is really rewarding to bring CJ and Steve’s story to you this April: from their fated random first encounter and their shared experiences of life with Autism, to a series of crafted and creatively informative, accessible yet also award-winning works. Not only are the films an inspiration to others but they are an achievement in their own right. Steve Downey and Christina Jane have used poetry and poetry film to shed light on their own lives, and thereby bring hope to others and raise awareness for those who are neurotypical. Importantly, these two poetry filmmakers have used the medium to find exactly their own way to communicate, (not an easy task for anyone whether neurotypical or neurodivergent), and as a result, in their capable hands, poetry film has provided a perfect vehicle for discovering more about Autism and ADHD.

Find more information on Christina Jane at: https://linktr.ee/ChristinaJane and Steve Downey at www.stevedowneyart.com

If you would like to learn more about Autism, ADHD and Autism month see:

UK

https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/raise-money/world-autism-acceptance-week-2024

https://www.autismtogether.co.uk/autism-acceptance-month/

USA

https://www.autismspeaks.org/world-autism-awareness-day

www.adaptcommunitynetwork.org

For an excellent book I can recommend on female diagnosis of autism: Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age, Sarah Hendrickx, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015.


Women in Word II Hypatia Trust, Penzance and FINAL CALL for films

I am really thrilled to be back at the second Women in Word Literary Festival based out of Hypatia Trust, Penzance, Conrwall and this year running from 6th to the 8th of June. I will be part of the selection team for the poetry film section including Lally MacBeth and Linda Cleary from Hypatia. The films will be screened on Thursday, 6th June and on the Friday I will steer a Poetry Film Roundtable discussion on practice and the making process from everyone’s point of view. This is for anyone to join, however experienced, and all are welcome.

https://hypatia-trust.org.uk/women-in-word-festival-2024-poetry-films

Last year, the poetry film screening of women poetry filmmakers with connections to Cornwall, was standing room only and prompted much debate (some of it outside on the cobbles for over half an hour! Where newbies were extolling its praises.) The standard of the films was very high and the themes being discussed were varied and thought-provoking. It was also wonderful to present The Poetics of Poetry Film and have it nestling down in the bookshop and in their archive. I feel very blessed to be able to go back down to the West Country, one side of my spiritual home, and be welcomed by Linda and the team. I also deliberately go by train to experience the landscape sliding through from the beautiful Exe estuary lapping at the side of the track, sweeping passed the wilds of Dartmoor,  down to Plymouth and then over viaducts with sailing boats below to the open vistas again, forested gullies dipping and stretching, pulling away from mankind until the land leaves the trees behind and we reach the end of this little island (more or less) and it breathes a sigh of relief.

CALL

The rules for entry are pretty much the same as last year, short films ideally five minutes or less, particularly aimed at women with ties to Cornwall. The connection can be via the director, or poet. The DEADLINE is 5 p.m. April 30th so email Linda immediately, especially as there are already enough people to screen and this is a valuable and important yet jewel-like event, with cosy seating, so book early!

HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR POETRY FILMS FOR INCLUSION – CLICK HERE

linda@hypatia-trust.org.uk

Also looking forward to all the other elements of the Festival: Linda’s workshop, Bookclub, Ella Frears, and the fascinating subject of Lost Words from Maggi Livingstone. This is also one of the last places on the planet where you can enjoy a good boogie/rave/ bust a groove / throw some moves / get down, on a dance floor on a Saturday night, and in a bespoke Georgian ballroom. In the UK? You must be joking. A warm and wonderful festival and all set in ancient Penzance saturated in folklore and tales with the co-mingling of polite, grey English Channel and sparkling wild, Atlantic beating relentlessly at its walls.

 

Featuring a festival bookclub, in conversation / readings from established and emerging women writers, talks, events and workshops, poetry films by women, networking opportunities, a literary stitch event – and an evening finale in a Georgian ballroom!

The Hypatia Trust has a commitment to advancing women’s equality and being visible, strong and collaborative – and we also like to put on fun, community events – so we are super pleased to be putting on our second Women In Word literary festival celebrating women creatives in Cornwall. Women In Word is a women focused literary festival but the events are open to everyone to attend.

Our first Women In Word literary festival in June 2023 was a great success with full and engaged audiences.

For June 2024 we have extended the programming – look out for further updates on our social media channels and subscribe to the newsletter to be the first to know when the tickets go on sale!

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS 

Bookclub – led by Alice Mount and Zoe Fitzpatrick: looking at short literary works that connect this year’s theme.

Writing workshop with Linda Cleary – Looking at both interior landscape (of self) and exterior location in relation to: (dis)place(d)

Screenings of short poetry films – Our second year of showcasing work made by women with connections/ties to Cornwall. Co-curated by prizewinning poetry filmmaker and author Sarah Tremlett.

Poetry Film roundtable – for poetry filmmakers and those interested: discussion of process and practice, hosted by Sarah Tremlett and including the films from the previous evening’s screening, with commentaries from the filmmakers, and sharing of ideas, all welcome, plus Q and A.

Poetry reading and in-conversation with Ella Frears – we are so happy to welcome Ella to the festival this year. Ella will read from a selection of her work.

Literary Crafting with Maggi Livingstone and crafters – join us at The Hypatia Trust to stitch some of the words we are in danger of losing. In their book, The Lost Words, Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane highlighted words of the natural world such as bluebells, dandelions and acorns which are being replaced by technical words such as blog, broadband and many others.  Hypatia will provide material and thread for the event.

The Big Finale Party with DJ Nina at The Union ballroom. Our Women in Word festival ends with a celebration! A grand finale in the Georgian lounge and ballroom at The Union, Penzance.

BIOS

Sarah Tremlett

Sarah Tremlett is a prize-winning poetry film-maker, poet and theorist and director and editor of Liberated Words online. Exhibitor and key speaker at Tom Konyves’ Poets with a Video Camera exhibition, Surrey, Vancouver (2022), she is a juror and curator at festivals; most recently Fotogenia, Women in Word & REELpoetry, and has given numerous talks, readings and screenings on the subject worldwide such as Vancouver & San Francisco, 2022. Her publication The Poetics of Poetry Film (Intellect Books UK, 2021) has been described as ‘“A ground- breaking, encyclopaedic work, and an industry Bible” https://www.intellectbooks.com/the-poetics-of-poetry-film

She also has a chapter on Voice and New Narrative frameworks in Intermedial Art Practices as Cultural Resilience (Routledge, 2024). Sarah runs a family history poetry film project, and inaugurated the Frame to Frames: Your Eyes Follow ekphrastic poetry film screening and prize, which she presented at FOTOGENIA, Mexico City, 2023. Published by Poem Film Editions through Liberated Words, the accompanying innovative bilingual publication Frame to Frames: Your Eyes Follow includes the poems, stills and artists’ details, along with a QR link to all the films in the screening.

More on Sarah here: www.sarahtremlett.com and www.liberatedwords.com

Ella Frears

Ella Frears is a poet and artist, from Cornwall, based in London. Her debut collection, Shine, Darling, (Offord Road Books, 2020) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, and the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. Her latest pamphlet I AM THE MOTHER CAT written as part of her residency at John Hansard Gallery is out with Rough Trade Books (2021).

Ella is a tutor in poetry and creative writing at City Lit, was an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths University for the BA English with Creative Writing, has taught for Falmouth University, and University East London, as well as running freelance workshops for various spaces and organisations including Arvon, the Guardian, the Poetry School, the Poetry Society, Kew Gardens, Dartington, and Spread the Word.

In 2023 Ella was Creative Fellow at Exeter University working with the Maritime Environmental History Department, and is currently the Royal Literary Fund Fellow for the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Read her full biography here: www.ellafrears.com/biography

Linda Cleary

Linda Cleary is a British born Irish diaspora writer from a working class background, currently living in Cornwall. Her work has been published in various journals plus spoken word, audio and poetry film; one of her most recent poetry films was in Bloomsday Festival 2023. She is a Literary Arts Consultant delivering courses, coaching and editing. Linda set up and curated Hypatia Publications’ literary department 2019 – 2022 and she is the creator and curator of our Women in Word literary festival.

More on Linda here: www.freewriterscentre.org/about

Lally MacBeth

Lally MacBeth is an artist, writer and researcher. She graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Fashion History & Theory, and has since divided her time between being sensible and silly. She founded The Folk Archive in 2020, and co-founded Stone Club in 2021. She writes regularly for Caught by the River, has curated film programmes for Folkestone Docu Fest and London Short Film Festival, and sits on the board for Bosena.

Maggi Livingstone

Maggi is The Hypatia Trust’s lead archivist, archiving the correspondence, notebooks and original manuscripts in The Hypatia Trust collections so that they can be preserved for the long term and made accessible for future generations to enjoy. She is also a crafter and committed to a sustainable lifestyle, wanting to ensure that crafting skills are passed within community and between generations.

DJ Nina

Nina is a Brazilian British resident of Penzance and she has been DJ-ing Latino grooves, vintage tunes and cool mixes for many years; here in Cornwall and across the world. For the Women in Word finale party she will play a bespoke international mix of women singers and musicians.

 


REELpoetry, Houston April 1–7 live and online – many voices

It really feels that REELpoetry has come of age this year, both online – over a week – and in-person on the weekend, you have a full house of varied poetry filmmaking nurtured by now well-established director Fran Sanders and her inclusive programming. All films are accessible to the deaf and hard-of-hearing, with a rich provision of ASL performances from Douglas Ridloff + Deaf Slam, Heba Toulan and Sabina England.

This week-long event showcases 100+ screenings under 6 minutes from 20 different countries. Connect with international curators and presenters in real time online, and in-person on the weekend; watch world premieres from Houston creatives; experience ASL poetry and performances; join use for two fabulous after parties.

https://www.publicpoetry.net/programs/reelpoetry/reelpoetry2024/program/

This festival creates a unique fusion of personal and political activist filmmaking served up with party atmosphere hospitality. I have been involved for quite a few years, both as an exhibitor, juror and curator and seen it go from strength to strength. I was presenting there in 2020 just before COVID struck and Fran and the team treated us right royally, including memorable trips, enjoying Houston’s multicultural oases. So, if not just for the festival I do recommend getting over there if you can!

In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered, Chaucer Cameron

I am really sad to miss the live events this year. Alongside the highly successful collaboration between Houston poets and filmmakers (in its second year) you can meet in person international curators such as Helen Dewbery (Poetry Film Live) presenting Chaucer Cameron’s memories of being a prostitute in London in I Didn’t Die that Day. Or, what about leading US activist poetry filmmakers Outlier Moving Pictures (Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran) who have taken on the mammoth task of making poetry films from a selection of leading Texan activist poets in Changing the World One Poem at a Time (Texas edition). They are one of the finest examples of this genre today, and are soon to be in the UK in Bristol for their Cancer Alley installation with poetry by Lucy English (more on that soon). It is also very interesting to see included Norwegian curation: GEOPOETICON from Odveig Klyve & Bjørn Gulbrandsen featuring language, politics and geography and a wonderful curation from Thomas Zandegiacomo del Bel (who is unable to be there in person unfortunately) on the best of ZEBRA  from Berlin.

Sabina England at the Deaf Muslim Expo, Chicago, 2022

Sufi Poetry in American Sign Language and Dancing

One of the most compelling, engaging and unique live events is by Sabina England, performing Nature, Water, Air, Fire, Earth, based on Sufi Poets and her own work.

She says: ‘I first came up with the concept of creating Sufi poetry in American Sign Language  when I was invited by the Deaf Muslim Expo 2022 in Chicago  to perform for them, and I had never seen anyone perform Sufi poetry for deaf people.

I will be performing four Sufi poems (Kabir, Mahsati Ganjavi, Jalaluddin Rumi, and one poem written by me, respectively). Each poem contains an element inspired by nature: moon/sun, fire, water, and Earth. Kabir’s poem praised the beauty of the moon and sun, which then led to his declaration for loving God (Allah). Mahsati was a Sufi mystic poetess from present-day Azerbaijan who wrote a poem in Persian about fire, comparing it to her burning love for God. Rumi wrote that drinking water didn’t abate his thirst, his desperate love for God. Lastly, my poem is inspired by the emerald forests of Earth. My poem is an ode to Earth, and I compare Earth to our mother, for she sustains us and provides us food from the soil. Mother Earth keeps the cycle of life going.

Although these Sufi poems are religious in nature and speak of the poets’ love for Allah and I am Muslim, I still want the poetry to be open for everyone, regardless of their religion or beliefs. These Sufi poems can be interpreted in so many ways – readers can view the poets’ divine love as love and respect for each other, for the universe, for humanity, and so on.

I will be incorporating some dancing with feather fans and American Sign Language. My dancing will show movements of nature – basking in the moonlight, the swaying movements of fire, the flowing of water, and walking through the forest. While signing the poetry in American Sign Language, I will take pauses and dance around, with some signing in my hands. I also project videos of nature onscreen to display the visual beauty of nature. My goal is to deeply inspire the audience and bring them some happiness, light and joy.’

This Was Meant to be For Nora, Moving Poems in the City, Vancouver.

Online

Events online have two time zone options for different parts of the world this year, which is a real bonus, something I advocated, as the one disadvantage is missing some of the screenings from the UK. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Moving Poems in the City – (April 3, 12–1 and 7–8) presented by Vancouver Poet Laureate Fiona Tinwei Lam and Alger Ji-Liang. This is a 12-strong curation of Vancouver poets and filmmakers who have based their films on sites around the city. I was fortunate enough to be invited as a key speaker and exhibitor at Tom Konyves’ Poets with a Video Camera exhibition in December 2022. Fiona was also part of that and also alongside myself, ran a poetry reading / video screening at The People’s Co-Op Bookstore which I took part in. A memorable occasion. With a serene face on what you have to remember is the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver is a beautiful yet fragile place. Perhaps one of the most desirable cities in the world, it has been pressured as usual with much development. But, walking around you are tantalised by its wealth of culture, and long historic tradition. This curation really feels like the right way to celebrate its hidden stories.

Contrasts, Moving Poems in the City, Vancouver.

On Thursday April 4th we have what I know from past experience, will be a really exciting presentation of ASL video curated by Douglas Ridloff who is also performing live. Also look out for what promises to be a very interesting ASL poetry panel discussion on Friday 1–2. The online section includes the finalists from the open submissions and REELpoetry steering committee member Ian Gibbins will be presenting a ‘Video Jukebox’ of new films by festival curators, presenters and judges. Twice daily Monday through Thursday you have the chance to meet artists from the festival  in the REELcafe chat rooms hosted by Fran Sanders. This includes my film Flight, a film from a series about my childhood (also a poetry book commission). It is one of those personal films that percolate up slowly, and nudged into being made by a comment from Helen Dewbery, and a continuing working relationship with the inspiring poet / poetry filmmaker Linda Cleary.

Ekphrasis – art-inspired Poetry Filmmaking

On Tuesday April 2nd, you will find my documentary film on the Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow book-film project published by Poem Film Editions, where five poetry filmmakers from the bilingual book and 17-film QR-linked screening (launched at FOTOGENIA festival in December 2023) discuss how a painting can inspire their poetry filmmaking. The artists are: Janet Lees, Pamela Falkenberg, Jack Cochran, Meriel Lland and myself. Not only do we discuss art inspiring art but also translation, both through language (English and Spanish) but also in relation to intermedia – the linked poetry book & film and the source painting. Many of the films were based on leading Mexican non-binary artist Ana Segovia’s painting Huapango Torero – which confronts bullfighting and animal cruelty in a sensitive and important way.

The Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow documentary screenings are: TUESDAY, APRIL 2nd: 12-1.00 CST / 5-6 p.m. GMT and 7-8 p.m. CST / 12-1 a.m. GMT. If you want to meet filmmakers from Frame to Frames, a group will definitely be available online at the Tuesday REELcafe meeting 2–3 GMT CST / 7-8 p.m.

With such a lot on offer there is something for everyone; and REELpoetry has become a recognised festival on the poetry film calendar.

Please Note: You can buy copies of Frame to Frames : Your Eyes Follow from Poem Film Editions at this very website SOON! Available through liberatedwords.com/store


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