A Process Note
I first started thinking about video poetry and experimental film centered on poetry as “poem-films,” because of Rabbit Light Moviesand Joshua Marie Wilkinson’swork as a filmmaker (I still have burned DVDs of the films he used to mail out to subscribers). I found beauty in the lo-fi approach capturing poets read or the fuzzed out shots of street lights over audio; the shaky camera and the constant refocusing; and digitalization of color. When he made a Rabbit Light Movie mini-doc about a poetry tour called Always Swim at Night, it changed the way I thought about poetry and filmmaking.
I’ve been making films with my twin for nearly 15 years—features, short films, music videos, commercials, but on my own I’ve been interested in hybrid documentaries and experimental video work. These poem-films that Tupelo Quarterly has so graciously offered to publish are part of a series of collaborations with poets I admire.
The process for these films is simple: I treat the poem like a screenplay (at least in terms of its structure)—the poet/writer provides a wav. file of their poem and a short description of any sort of imagery, sound work, or themes they want in the visuals (sometimes they provide photos and home videos to work with), and then I start my work: I play the poem and dig through archive of footage. If images and audio start connecting I begin pulling them out. If they don’t, I’ll have to capture the footage/audio myself.
Sometimes I find all the pieces and extract them and start editing. “Wyoming”was that simple, I found all the footage in a matter of minutes. Sometimes, I have to run around Seattle capturing pictures of rising buildings because “Chatter”is about capitalism and the terrible machine of “growth” we live in, or run to a oddities store for shots of taxidermy for “Landscape with Sage and the Names of My Children.”For “Hence,” Jill and I had actually gone hiking and I filmed the trip. Following her, I kept saying, “I’m using this shot in your poem-film.” Sometimes I open my window and catch the chatter of passing traffic, neighbors, and ships in the harbor.
The editing process is basically trying to avoid literal translations of the poem into visual imagery, but rather textural, thematic, and emotional translations of the work—I make these films in similar ways I make poems: I build an archive of lines, ideas, moments, images, and then I start forming them together into something cohesive.
Somewhere between the assembly and draft 1, I start composing the soundtrack. Sometimes, the film only requires a soundtrack of space noises (like “Outro”), while sometimes it requires punk, or piano, or something a little country. Once the song is composed and matched to the skeleton of the film, I start working toward the first draft.
The poet/writer and I work together to find a vision of the translation of their work that they can appreciate and recognize, and that I can stand behind. At the end of the day, it’s a film and it has to work as such. Or maybe it’s a poem. I don’t know.
Note: My archives are hard drives full of deleted scenes, raw footage, unused tracking shots from films; shots from traveling back and forth between Chicago and Seattle; sounds from Yellowstone; recordings of the automatic door at work that sounds like a rocket ship malfunctioning over mars; recordings of seagulls screaming at otters; recordings of my friends and I walking through Seattle on a busy day; footage of tooling around Seattle with my friend Carrie; footage of my daily commute from Everett to South Lake Union everyday; footage of bands I love playing shows; footage from old DV tapes I found; footage of national parks; footage of the landscapes I’m drawn to film.
Jill Mceldowney is the author of the chapbook Airs Above Ground (Finishing Line Press) as well as Kisses Over Babylon (dancing girl press). She is a co-founder and editor of Madhouse Press. She is also a recent National Poetry Series finalist. Her previously published work can be found in journals such as Muzzle, Prairie Schooner, Fugue, Whiskey Island, and other notable publications.
Joshua Young is a poet, playwright, and multimedia artist living in the Seattle area. He is the author of six collections, most recently, Psalms for the Wreckage (Plays Inverse 2017) and was recently awarded a grant from the Reva and David Logan Arts Foundation for his multimedia work. His feature films have been official selection at Seattle International, Athens International, Toronto Independent, Montreal Black International Film Festivals, among others. You can find him and his projects at joshuabrianyoung.com