OUTSIDE OF MY RATIONAL INPUT: A Micro-Interview with Lauren Haldeman
CK: My experience watching these films happened over the course of several viewings. I couldn’t help but pay more attention to the language on the first viewing, so I had to watch them again (and again) to give the illustration, the lighting, the music and sounds their due. After this, I watched them a final time to synthesize the different media. So I guess my question is how do you as a mixed-media artist account for each of the different elements that go into your films? How do you navigate their differences, their distinct qualities?
LH: Thanks so much for this great question! It is sort of an intuitive process. I am very interested in digital storytelling, and I think of these projects as such, even though they are poems. So, with these two films, I started first with the written word and then “translated” the poem into a puppet show form (the “scrolling theater” or “Cranky”). That is the first layer of mixed media, I think, right?: puppetry, an “analog” media, if you will — which further supports the storytelling nature of the work. Then I took the project from analog to digital – filming the performance and adding video editing and the layering of digital media. This is where it truly becomes a digital storytelling piece.
That being said, it is important that these projects start with a good solid base of narrative or verse. That is what feeds the quality of the rest of the layers. My goal is to add layers to the words which will compliment them without overriding or over-shadowing them. So, say, with the music — I consider many different types of songs – mostly all instrumental – and I am looking for a segment or style that supports the general feel and tends to merge with the poem, in an unobtrusive way. With Chess Piece Face, I decided to play the accordion (using a polka-ized version of Scheherazade) because the mix of light/darkness and silliness/sadness fit really well with the poem.
For the video effects, especially for the videos of performed work like these, I use the editing as a way to streamline the viewing experience — I want the video to stay out of the way, you know? That is not the case with some other films I’ve made though. It really depends on the poem. I always try to recruit help too. For the Chess Piece Face film, I went to Nick Twemlow for his mastery in both film and poetry — he helped with the editing, the process and the vision of the work as a whole.
CK: So, in a way, these layers of music and setting and puppet show are elements of craft to your work in the way linebreaks or meter are poetic crafts. You’re expanding the list of elements; you’re broadening the scope of aesthetics! I think that’s pretty darn incredible. But what about other media? Were there experiments with other forms that preceded these pieces?
LH: Absolutely. There were always experiments, most of them failures. At one point, I was trying to create a “musical” version of the Chess Piece Face poem. I had a play that I was writing around it, and I had created all of these songs to intersperse throughout the play. I recorded them alone, using a four-track, in an apartment I was renting at the time. It was this intense process that I undertook all for the purpose of – embarrassingly enough — impressing someone I had a crush on. But you know, writing a “musical” turned out not to be the most effective form of wooing, in that case. That whole project is still there, semi-abandoned, in the stacks. Someday, maybe, it will be revived. It was a fable that took on its own life, and absorbed the life I was living at the time.
CK: I found myself thinking of Nome and Chess Piece Face as kinds of fables or parables (Calvino’s Italian Folktales comes to mind). They have a mythic and mystic quality to them, and they evoke the feeling of storytime. I think this evocation is important; it’s the ‘theater’ part of the Tiny Puppet Theater. Thinking again of this notion of the mixed-media work, how do you account for what is evoked in the viewer? Is this another of the media that gets mixed with the others?
LH: I love writing in iambic pentameter, mostly because I just naturally tend to write in it (which can be extremely frustrating at times, you know, when I am trying to write free verse or really anything else), but also because it seems to force a story into a poem, with an unplanned outcome for the writer. And this creates a narrative that is more surprising for the reader too. I like where the sonnet (or simply blank verse) takes the poem — so often I don’t purposefully create what will be evoked for the reader. It just arises out of the writing — sort of like summoning spirits, or being a conduit for something bigger. These forms lead the poem to a place that is outside of my rational input. So maybe we should say that that is a form of “mixed-media” too? Right? Like, there is something else being mixed in, apart from the writer’s mental efforts, some other knowledge? It is spooky in a way. That is what makes it both so scary and so fun.
CK: So then how might these mixed-media pieces influence work that you envision will stay on the page? I guess I’m keen to know how the accordion or “Cranky” might find its way, even peripherally or subconsciously, into future work.
LH: Oh, the accordion. That thing has interwoven its way into almost everything I’ve done in my adult life. You know, for example: while I was in labor with my daughter I was playing it in between contractions (and it actually helped!) Once you learn the accordion, you don’t ever fully get those bass beats (the waltz [3/4], the polka [2/4], the jig [6/8]) out of your head. They become subconscious. The melody, on the keyed side, is where you put your focus. And I feel like that idea seeps into the writing. There is a melody and there is a beat — often I just internalize that beat.
Film has also been extremely influential to my writing. Very early on in my time at the University of Iowa (when I was an undergrad), I had the incomparable Robyn Schiff as a teacher. And she told me something that still guides almost every poem that I write, even to this day. She said: “Use the language like a camera — think of the poem as a film.” That just blew my mind. And it completely changed the way I wrote; it changed my entire thinking and creating process behind the work. It makes sense now that I love to merge the two forms.
Lauren Haldeman is the author of the poetry collection, Calenday (Rescue Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the 2014 Julie Suk Award. She works as a web designer for the The Writing University and The Iowa Review. Her work has appeared in Fence, jubilat, Fourteen Hills and The Rumpus. She was a recent recipient of the 2015 Sustainable Arts Foundation Award. You can find her on twitter @laurenhaldeman, or online at http://laurenhaldeman.com.