Thursday, September 18, 2014

Image-ing Poetry

Poetry videos have been around for quite some time now; I remember my first experience with them was some years ago at an AWP conference, when some conference organizer had the bright idea to pipe them into the elevators (which, conveniently, had small video screens).  For four days I'd get into an elevator to go somewhere and find myself riding up and down a few extra times just to see the loop of new poetry set to visuals.  I thought of it as "Image-ing" poetry, giving a poem a set of images to accompany the words, and to tell you the truth, I was not all that thrilled about it.

After all, for me, the moment when a poem's image reaches out and runs goosebumps down my arms is a joy, and a sacred one, at that: in part, because the poet's choice of words, syntax, pace, tone, all combine to connect - zap! - with some long-lost, subconscious image of my own.  If I have someone choosing the visual images for me, would that still happen?  Wouldn't that limit my possible responses to a poem, force me to see what someone else has decided I should see?

But years of exploring the connections between old photographs and documents in my poetry have given me another perspective on the inclusion of visuals in a poetic presentation.  Much of what I wrote in Bad Indians has come directly from a photo or the handwriting of a priest or the textures in a tule mat - and, given the historical significance of some of these objects, I do want my readers to see some of them for themselves.  In fact, I chose Heyday as my publisher in large part due to their willingness to work with me on making the book as multi-genre as possible, to give readers access to some of the materials I'd been able to lay my hands on, to tell the story on multiple levels.

So when my university offered a "Digital Storytelling" training session before classes began, I was eager to sign up for it.  Unfortunately other meetings took precedence, but I decided that it was now or never; I signed up one of my Fall courses for a workshop and crafted a vague-but-fun-sounding assignment.  Then I began watching iMovie workshop videos on YouTube and playing with that application in my 'spare' time - hoping to have some level of understanding by the time my students hit that part of the syllabus (nothing like the potential for sheer embarrassment in front of a classroom as a spur to preparation!).  I have a lot of interesting video footage and photographs from my June research trip to California, and some new poems/prose that might lend themselves to that kind of exploration...

Given my time limitations to learn by playing around, I have temporarily put aside doing the video project I had in mind - something that requires a bit more skill than I currently possess - but I have attempted a "poetry video" using still photographs culled from my own collection, and Project Gutenberg.  I figured out how to do a very basic audio recording and attach it to iMovie, and off I went - learning as I tried this and that. 

I'll be showing this to my Memoir writing class today, and my Native Lit course tomorrow.  Baby steps though it may be, I'm excited to give them another way of image-ing texts and creating a kind of snapshot of their own learning.

This video poem is part of a series I've been working on called "Interviews with California Missions."  My working summary goes like this:

"In the summer of 2014 I traveled to eight of the twenty-one California missions established by Franciscan priests from Spain during what is now called the Mission Era, 1769-1823.  My purpose was to interview these venerable establishments in order to listen and scrupulously record for posterity their side of the historical controversy concerning alleged roles in the murder of tens of thousands of California Indians.  Were these missions complicit in war crimes?  Or were they, too, victims of Spanish colonial greed and conquest?  What secrets did they tuck away in those adobe walls?  My extensive research had not prepared me for the raw truth of these mission voices; not only was I fortunate enough to learn each mission’s secret name, never before revealed, but my sources seemed relieved to give their testimonies at last."

Enjoy my first effort!  And forgive my beginner's mistakes.

San Zombie de los Muertos
click on the photo to go to video

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