It was serendipitous when I took a seat next to Jack Wake-Walker at the Body Electric Film Festival in May. Jack’s video poem, “Ten Thousand Things,” was one of my favorites, and our chance encounter gave me the idea for this month’s column: poetry videos from artists under the age of forty. In addition to Jack’s work, I have interviews and videos from Annie Ferguson and Jesse Brooks. The work of these young artists shows us new visions and techniques as they explore the art form.
Jack Wake-Walker is a twenty-seven year old freelance documentary filmmaker who lives near the Tower of London. He first became interested in video poetry when he worked with three poets on a film project about the Titanic in 2012.
For his fifteen-minute experimental film, “Ten Thousand Things,” Jack became “an intruder in my own life. It was addicting, but ultimately laborious, to constantly film what I was seeing and doing.” “Ten Thousand Things” is a hypnotic blur of images taken from Jack’s daily life and filmed over six months, using a mobile phone. “I like big jobs and challenges,” Jack said. “But it did become a painful process, putting the camera in front of everything that looked cool.” He “wanted to answer the question of what happens after a person leaves,” and “Ten Thousand Things” has many moments that seem to contain the energy of a just-departed man or woman, a sort of human contrail:
For many months, Jack edited the film in the evenings after work, often beyond midnight. “I had no script. I worked intuitively. It was very time consuming at first, but I got better at it as the project progressed.” Adding the soundtrack, which is a carefully selected editing of a series of lectures on poetry given by Jorge Luis Borges, took even more time. “I wanted disjointed images from my life and disjointed words and sentences from Borges to form a narrative. I had to construct words from other words and bits of sound.” Many of the images are slowed down, giving the video a dream-like feel, and the barely-understood lecture (in Borges’s heavily accented English) echoes the random bits of conversation we hear as we navigate through our daily lives.
Some of Jack’s influences include the films of French avant-garde filmmaker Chris Marker (La Jetée, San Soleil). Look for more cutting-edge work from this promising young artist, who says he’d like to make additional video poems, but maybe with a few helpers next time.
A proposal for an independent project in a class titled “Nonfiction Media: Sustainability and Justice” led to Annie Ferguson’s video poems, and ultimately to her website, The Fluid Raven. Annie is twenty-one and a student at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. She also works in public access TV and teaches classes in documentary, post-editing, and other subjects.
The project was rigorous, beginning with a daily writing practice that required Annie and her project partner, Catherine Michaelis, a visual artist and writer, to make seven entries each day in their journals. These journals became the inspiration for the videos. The project took on “eat, sleep, breathe” aspects quickly, requiring Annie and Catherine’s full immersion. The result, “A Short Cinépoetry Collection,” is here:
“I wanted to use art to talk about sustainability and justice.” For the fall quarter, Annie helped circulate a petition to label GMOs in Washington; however, “I wanted something more creative for the spring.” Annie had never made video poems before, but she saw their potential immediately.
The five video poems that make up the collection deal with war, suicide, the end of the world, religion, isolation, and danger; a grim list, but gracefully and powerfully presented.
Annie and Catherine met several times per week, emailed each other daily, and critiqued each other’s work. As Catherine puts it, “Accountability for a daily writing practice is critical and inspiring, and supports creative sustainability.” The project shows the value of discipline in the arts: instead of working only when inspired, the pair worked on the project constantly. Like Jack Wake-Walker’s experience, inspirations came during periods of intense effort.
Annie’s influences include Chris Marker, Man Ray, and her professor, Marilyn Freeman, an expert on video essays. Like Jack, Annie plans to make more art in this genre: “I found video poetry and I will never stop exploring this art form.” I welcome more from Annie, and look forward to reviewing The Fluid Raven often.
Jesse Russell Brooks is a filmmaker and editor living in Los Angeles. Thirty-nine years old, he’s also an assistant curator at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. With a poem by Alexzenia Davis, Jesse made the video “Make Me a Doorway”
“Make Me a Doorway” is a compilation of three poems (“Make Me”, “My Silhouette” and “A Lady’s Psyche”) by Davis, and the video’s performers are Davis, Laila Petrone, and Erika Ewing.
“Poetry is sacred. It’s gotten me through my life,” Jesse told me. “I read Dave Bonta’s site, Moving Poems, like the morning paper.” The creation of “Make Me a Doorway” is a story in itself: as a 17-year-old, Jesse’s first experiment with film came from a session filming Erika Ewing, an actress and model who appears in the video poem’s grainy, Super-8 footage. “That was the beginning of my career as a filmmaker,” Jesse said. “Alexzenia’s poems came from watching the footage of Erika.”
Through conversation and dialog, Jesse developed the video poem with Davis. The poem deals with issues of identity, relationships, intimacy, stereotypes and perceptions. “The goal is to heal, to overcome conflicts. We need to work together and forge emotional understanding.”
In the video, Erika is the blueprint, illustrating Jesse’s early ideas of a female archetype. “The new film echoed the shots from twenty years ago, on purpose. Erika is the missing link.” The video shows both the strength of the women, their beauty and intelligence – and their vulnerability. In one scene, a man’s fist bangs the door as the woman closes it, just in time. Most of the time, however, the women are pensive, walking through empty streets alone, climbing staircases, or otherwise traversing a neutral, urban landscape. “Make me count,” Davis narrates. “Make me memorable.”
One of Jesse’s challenges was that even though Davis’s poem was based on the pictures of Erika, it had few visual images. Jesse had to weave the poem, an internal monologue, into the footage of the three women. The video has an intimate, slightly voyeuristic appeal as the camera follows the women, allowing us to see them while we hear their thoughts in the form of the poem.
Like Annie and Jack, Jesse is committed to making more video poems. I hope we see more work from these three promising artists soon.