Friday Apr 28

EricaGoss Heather Haley’s videos take risks. They deal with domestic violence, eating disorders, prostitution, and other serious issues that affect society. “I don’t set out to deliver a message. I don’t like being preached at and I don’t want to preach. My work comes from my experience, but it’s also universal. I don’t theorize,” Heather told me. “There’s not enough time for that.”

Heather’s many accomplishments (leader of an all-female punk band, well-published poet, former staff writer for the LA Weekly, an experienced performer and maker of video poems just to mention a few) indicate the level of her creative output. Yet when I asked her what she did, she responded, “I take care of my family.” Family includes her nineteen-year-old son, Lucas Raycevick, who edited the video poem “Whore in the Eddy.” Heather and Lucas have lived on an island near Vancouver, Canada for many years, and recently moved to a house closer to the ferry. Heather is a native of Canada, born in Quebec, with stays in major American cities. Of Vancouver, she quipped, “Sometimes, it’s just too cool for itself.”
 
In “Purple Lipstick,” a chilling account of spousal abuse, the female narrator tells us “I am one of those women who wait, wait until my husband kills me.” The woman in the video lives in perpetual fear. Everything about her: her defeated expression, the bland food she prepares: potatoes, frozen vegetables, a slab of beef, and the terror in her children’s faces speaks of emotional and physical torture. For too many women, home is the most dangerous place on Earth. “’Purple Lipstick’ took two years to produce,” Heather told me. “It’s my reality and experience. It’s subjective – I grew up in a violent household.” Shot on Bowen Island north of Vancouver, the video never explicitly shows abuse, but the threat hovers just the screen:
 
 
“How to Remain” is about how to remain in control – in this case, of one’s appetites. Distorted body image, resulting in anorexia and bulimia, affects too many young women, and increasing numbers of young men (according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, up to 24 million people in the U.S. suffer from an eating disorder, and eating disorders have the highest rate of death of any mental illness). These lines from Heather’s poem illustrate the anorectic’s thought patterns:

How To Remain
How to remain

thin. Abstain. Abstain from eating

food. Calories kill

the fat rats first.
 
The food that the woman in the video denies herself keeps appearing in disturbing images: the rocking garbage can, the x-ray of her horse’s bones, and the fried chicken that just won’t stop haunting her:

 

 

A rainy, moss-hung forest forms the stage for “Whore in the Eddy,” Heather’s video based on her poem of the same name. The forest (this video was also shot on Bowen Island) shows signs of distress: stripped trees, broken ferns, sawn-off trunks. Pieces of women’s clothing appear surrounded by verdant green: a purple boot, a pink feather boa, keys, makeup, a lace glove. The video shows us the road where the body was found, and scenes from a moving car, while “House of the Rising Sun” plays. It ends with this line: “In honour of Vancouver’s missing and murdered women.”

 

 

In addition to her work as a writer and filmmaker, Heather is the creator of Visible Verse, the one of the longest-running festivals for video poetry. Visible Verse just finished its fourteenth year this past October. The festival has gone through a few different names and locales, but for the past few years it’s been held at Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver. “I have a great bunch of people helping me now – and a good partnership with Pacific Cinematheque.” Here’s the trailer for the festival:

 




Heather curates, screens and selects the videos. “Programming is an art unto itself, like putting together musical pieces. I know what I like.”

Managing the festival, she said, is a mostly positive experience. “Oh, people get mad, they unload on you, and artists get upset when you reject their work.” But all in all, she’s satisfied with the outcome. “The festival is getting more known. We’re hoping for critical mass.” She wonders why video poems don’t attract more filmmakers. “I think it might be a fear of poetry.”

About definitions for video poems, Heather has this to say: “I don’t know why people care so much about definitions. It’s about the voice. On the other hand, I get lots of experimental film that’s not video poetry. I want to be inclusive, but I don’t mean a film that’s ‘poetic.’ There has to be poetry.”

Heather's creativity is in no danger of slowing down. She recently completed a novel, titled The Town Slut's Daughter, and found a publisher. She continues to write, record and perform her work, as well as fulfill teaching and speaking engagements. "I'm like a weed," she said. "I persist."

Her website can be found here.