Light Glyphs: poets on film / filmmakers on poetry
For the surrealist Louis Aragon, film could “endow with a poetic value that which does not yet posses it”. What that ‘poetic value’ might be endures as a shifting and various tension throughout film history and our changing experiences of watching film. This is not to condemn ‘poetic value’ to the ‘icky’ sentimentalism of some non-specific beauty. It is not to evoke ‘poetry’ as, and in, complacent shorthand; not to blandly perform the same woolly qualification as ‘arty’ in the task of roughly gesticulating where description fails.
Following the thread of Surrealism, both out of my own selfish interest and the undeniable significance of Surrealism for film & poetry (Robert Desnos/Man Ray ‘L’Etoile de Mer’ !)…
Breton found the poetry of cinema in its ability to confuse, in an experience beyond rational or functional sense: ‘I think what we valued most in it, to the point of taking no interest in anything else, was its power to disorient.’ Leaving one film to dive into another, walking in and out of films, dizzying ends into beginnings and refusing the direction of narrative.
Poetry in film’s ability to disarrange and undo
a sitting in the dark to be with light
while adopting the rules of the unconscious in conscious thought;
a ‘one in the other’ induced and savoured.
Poetry and film are difficult to reconcile in practice and often impossible to separate in the perception and interpretations of viewing.
To read a poem over film is not to create filmpoetry, or at least not good filmpoetry.
Any existence of poetry in film and the filmic in poetry exists in-relation as rhythm, unresolved and without rule.
The pompous and declarative tone of these assertions constitute the flawed basis for a limp flag. To salute a projected future through the antique muscle of a manifesto
is a doomed pastime
(primarily reserved for dick-swinging, pastiche, egomaniacs and the delusional).
But they do make for fun reading.
If ‘poetry’ is associated with a vaguely watercolour impression of ‘tasteful’ it becomes a kind of chocolate box stillbirth.
The sound of lapping waves with an ambient soundtrack; a self congratulating voice intones its own seriousness; an audience falls asleep. No dreams.
Ado Kyrou, the Greek filmmaker and writer extolled the virtues of the popular, advocating that we should “learn to go and see the ‘worst’ films they are sometimes sublime’.
Celebrate poetry in the throwaway, wriggling in the supposedly ‘low-brow’:
‘I loathe aristocrats and aristocracies (of class or otherwise). They can keep their Bressons and their Cocteaus. The cinematic, modern marvelous is popular, and the best and most exciting films are, beginning with Méliès and Fantômas, the films shown in local flea pits, films which seem to have no place in the history of cinema.’ – Ado Kyrou
In the debris of cinema’s backwaters, fermenting between a boxset of Steven Seagal and a shopping trolley, unexpected glints catch the eye. Michael Bay is not a poet.
From Louis Feuillade to Argento there is a wayward continuity in which backgrounds breathe with more conviction than the actors.
Film ignites and invites a poetic reading against its own intentions. Film should not
have to be read nor poetry seen for either to borrow, tickle, plunder and pillage.
Tarkovsky understood poetry as a genre beyond literary definition, not as a genre but existing in and as the indiscernible movements of being – beyond coherent logic. For Tarkovsky, the indiscernible movement of being is time. Film, as the medium best equipped to render time was for him consequently the perfect art of poetry.
For Joseph Cornell, squirrelling away his constellated objects in the basement of Utopia Parkway, re-purposing forgotten film-reels and preserving the trace of moments in boxed kingdoms: “It is not the carefully composed images but rather their ultimate relationship to each other that generates the poetic connection”.
The ‘poetic’ in the sideways nod, the tell-it-slant of metonymy that could use a feather to cross-index an entire personal mythology of flight.
Stan Brakhage referred to his own films as “filmpoems”, reading with a religious commitment the poetry of Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Louis Zukofsky, Robert Creeley, Michael McClure and Ronald Johnson.
Brakhage considered the notion of his films as ‘visual ineffables’ that could re-invigorate meaning outside of language, hot-wired back into the nervous system. The movement of imagery that confounds reference, a visual flow or shape that cannot be described in language but instead forces new understandings of what a language might be: the ‘un-nouned’ communication of ‘light-glyphs’.
In a round-table discussion in 1953, held by Cinema 16 and entitled ‘Cinema and Poetry’, Maya Deren, Parker Tyler, Willard Mass, Dylan Thomas and Arthur Miller all contributed. After listening to a recording (I forgot where I found it…) I was disappointed to realise the oppressive sexism that brushed off Deren’s superior contributions with the lame male quips of ‘banter’.
Poetry & Cinema, like cinema and like poetry, has its own history that will continue to be written and re-written. Many are written out. Obviously Deren is in no way an overlooked figure, but the way she was treated in that (clearly significant) discussion is sadly all to familiar.
Deren put forward a distinction between the horizontal and vertical |||| in film.
The horizontal embodied the linear development of plot, presented and experienced over sequential time, the vertical embodied the suspended exploration of associations that can co-exist in a moment.
I wanted to offer ways into this suspended exploration, in moments where poetry contests/interrupts/erupts/distracts/interacts/distorts/ intervenes/contorts/screens/
the element we label film
or where film influences/enters/abducts/exhumes/directs/challenges/resurrects/
collects/ rejects/ attracts/ emits/admits/ and fits
the element we label poetry
neither of course ever being elements but triumphant mongrels, bristling compounds, amalgams and bustling hybrids…
I wanted to further this discussion for filmmakers and poets now. As it is a discussion,
and one characterised by exchange, interruption and the in-between of two mediums,
I thought why not encourage that dynamic? I therefore aim to share an ongoing collection
of interviews with poets talking about film, and filmmakers talking about poetry.
Light Glyphs: poets on film / filmmakers on poetry.