I spoke to Gaia via Skype at her home in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax. Her Yorkshire lilt was familiar to me, as she is the narrator for several videos based on her poems. I first became acquainted with Gaia’s poetry at the 2012 Zebra Poetry Film Festival through the video poem “Ice Hotel,” filmed by James Starkie in the Gaskell House, home of the Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, in Manchester:
“I’ve been writing since I was sixteen. I started submitting my work at age eighteen. My first book, Dr. James Graham’s Celestial Bed (2006), came out when Comma Press approached me to publish it. It was nice – I didn’t have to send the book round to publishers.” Gaia’s second book, Lifting the Piano With One Hand, also from Comma Press, appeared in 2013.
Gaia writes of the detritus of human life, the things we break and leave behind or wish we could get rid of, those embarrassing outdated objects. “My work deals with the separations between people, nostalgia, sympathy, sadness, stuff.” Her poems seem particularly suited for the image-rich videos others make from them.
“I don’t have any say about the videos,” she said. “I’m not involved in their making. I go to the screening and there’s the poem, but I’m happy it turns out that way. When a poem is out in the world, it’s open to anyone’s interpretation. For example, the video for ‘Occasional China’ takes the poem in a completely different direction from what I imagined.” Here is “Occasional China,” a film created by Jessica Symons:
Rob Lycett’s video of Gaia’s poem “Exposure” explores the bits and pieces of our lives, the leftover things we try to get rid of at garage sales (“car boot sales” in the UK) and the weird things people sell (“diet books, photographs.”) Gaia admits to a certain fascination with things people have used, and she “re-houses” a lot of these items, like giving a home to wayward children. “My home is full of these things,” she said with a laugh. “They’re like orphans come to live with me.” Here is “Exposure:”
The video for the poem “House Clearance,” was “on my wavelength,” Gaia said. “It was like the filmmaker was in my head. This was my version – what I imagined.” Here is “House Clearance,” from Terry Wragg:
Gaia has lived most of her life in Yorkshire, but in her twenties, she busked on the streets of Edinburgh, “with a guitar and a dog for protection. I was poor, freezing in the winter, but I looked on the experience as a kind of endurance test. I made good friends. Busking was more tolerated then, but now it’s harder – there are all sorts of regulations and loads of laws. It’s quite competitive.” After stints as a school crossing guard and a university lecturer, she teaches privately and leads freelance workshops.
I first met poet Matt Mullins in 2013 at the Body Electric Poetry Film Festival in Ft. Collins, Colorado, where organizer R.W. Perkins screened Matt’s video poem, “Our Bodies.” Since then, he’s worked on a number of projects, including his latest, three poems with footage from Marc Neys, aka Swoon. Matt came to video poetry in 2009:
“When I made my first video poem, I had absolutely no idea that there was this whole world of people out there doing the same thing. But once I started exploring the video poetry world I began seeing Marc’s name (Swoon) everywhere, and I loved his work. It quickly became clear that he is a major contributor to this genre. So I reached out and we struck up a correspondence. Since then he’s always been extremely helpful and supportive and generous. Collaborating with him has definitely been a pleasure.”
Matt created the three videos in this series, “Sundowning,” “The Final Neural Firings of the Eternal Starlet,” and “Only Son Fails at Redemption after Buddy Dave Stones Seagull from 33 Yards,” using footage from Swoon. “I gave Matt several videos with music and said he could re-edit them, add new music, combine as he saw fit,” Swoon said. “The videos I sent Matt were finished products and/or experiments that were not properly used before. They might have never seen daylight if it wasn’t for Matt’s vision and creativity to breathe a new and different life into them.”
About this footage, Matt added, “Swoon sent me raw material that he’d been working with and told me to have at it. When I saw this footage I immediately thought of three poems that would suit his images perfectly. It blew my mind how well the footage he sent fit with the poems I already had.”
In “Sundowning,” a father slips into dementia. “I saw those shadow profiles and happy playground families and that smiling woman and immediately thought of ‘Sundowning’” (Matt). The flickering background and soundtrack add to the feeling of disorientation and loss:
“The Final Neural Firings of the Eternal Starlet” is composed of a grid of dozens of images of the same woman. “We start out with a rather wholesome looking young woman, but it quickly becomes clear that the footage was originally pornographic.” There are no explicit images in the video, but the viewer gets the idea:
Matt describes the subtext to “Only Son Fails at Redemption after Buddy Dave Stones Seagull from 33 Yards” as “a foolish action with an unintended consequence. ‘Fails’ is the key word in the poem.” Water and bird imagery, as well as Gregorian chant, underscore the video:
Swoon, whose video footage matches so perfectly with Matt’s poems, a situation neither of them foresaw, said “I don’t consider myself to have made these three. I contributed basic materials, but these three were all Matt’s idea: his vision, his re-editing.” Matt added, “Collaborating with Marc (Swoon) is very easy for me. I like what he does, so things are basically headed in the right direction when we collaborate.”
About what makes a good collaboration, Swoon added, “Honesty and trust.”
“Sundowning” will be screened at the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin this October.