In the middle of my night a few weeks ago, my Blackberry beeped. An email from Marc Neys in Belgium wanting to know if he could produce a videopoem based on one of my poems. His video-art is produced under his alias, Swoon.
We exchanged emails, yes and yes, and please do. Although he asked if I had suggestions to add to the vision he had for this poem, I did not. I was intrigued to discover his vision for this poem. Take a look, turn your volume up:
Marc found my Pompey poem by way of Whale Sound and Nic Sebastian, who had earlier recorded the poem after it had been published in PANK Magazine. The many layers of artists involved in this short film come together to create something entirely of its own stirring. Here’s a short conversation between Marc (Swoon) and me:
SO: I’ve received many wonderful compliments regarding your film. It’s exciting to explore what we can do with art and the internet and with collaborations of many medias.
Marc: Yes, it seems to have struck something with a lot of people. Nice.
SO: How do you know when to trust what you are doing; what informs you?
Marc: My gut.
SO: I like your sureness, that you trust your instincts and intuition. Do you think intuition is a quality all artists share?
Marc: All the good ones :-). I don’t know. I have doubts (who doesn’t) during the work-process. I show my ‘not-yet-finished’ work to my wife and ask her stuff (images, paste, editing,???)
But yes to follow your gut is a good one…
SO: As a poet, I found myself responding to this. I find poetry everywhere: The way someone says a word, or perhaps the way there is no word for a situation. My favorite is to lift something out of its natural setting (a sentence, or a paragraph….a chapter in a novel) and place it in a new environment inside my poem. When I watched your film respond to my poem, I felt you had done the same thing both with the visuals and the words in my poem. in this way art begats more art. People connect to people (and hey, a lead in to our next question/answer!)
Marc: Indeed. There is music I made for another video in here, images found for another in there …
SO: What comes first: the visuals or the words? The music or the sound effects?
Marc: That depends. Sometimes I would first make music that ‘gave’ me images or ideas or reminded me of something I read. Sometimes I read something (could also be a novel) that makes me want to do something…
No strict ‘working-plan’ here…I love the idea of ‘building and designing’ something new with existing materials. Poems, words, images are building blocks, my sounds often is the mortar…
SO: And how did you get into film?
Marc: I’ve always loved film, and have always had a soft spot for video-art.
I am an amateur-theatremaker – actor (I work for the local government – youth department).
Last year we (my wife and I) wrote our own play‘Connecting People’ and we wanted to work with projection. So I tried to make some videos. I kinda liked it. Our director said that I should ‘do something’ with that…So I went on experimenting (as well with ‘found’ material on the net, as with images I make myself.) It now, goes both ways. I love to work with ‘existing’ material, and I would love to try and film more myself.
At a certain point I made a video with a poem (Chickentown by John Cooper Clarke) and almost a year ago now, Dave Bonta picked it up for his Moving Poems. I found it a good match; word, image, sound…so I made another one, and again, and after a few, Yahia Lababidi asked if I was willing to make one (some) for his work. Cross fertilization, he called it. That was a bit the start of it all…From there on I went looking for other poets (Dutch also), more words,…
SO: Oh wow, I just watched “Connecting People.” Goosebumps! Even though I didn’t understand the language, the intent comes across in many layers.
Marc: Just to boast: That play was one of the five selected at ‘Het Landjuweel’ (the main ‘competition’ in amateur-theatre of our country, Belgium.)
SO: How did you come across Nic Sebastian’s recordings?
Marc: Google. I was searching for a Howie Good poem (Stockholme Syndrome) to fit an idea I had. I came across a reading by himself, but also by Nic (from Whale Sound.) There, I found all those poets, and readings. She does a fantastic job and has a great voice.
SO: Nic is an explorer, too. Poetry can reach people in new ways, and I am excited that what you and Nic are doing helps bring poetry to people who thought they didn’t like poetry.
Marc: I tend to use an explanation by Alastair Cook (whose films I admire) that says the same:
“A Poetry-film is a single entwined entity, a melting, a cleaving together of words, sound and vision. It is an attempt to take a poem and present it through a medium that will create a new artwork, separate from the original poem. The film is a separate work from the text itself and this in turn may be able to open up poetry to people who are not necessarily receptive to the written word. Poetry often tries to deal with the abstract world of thought and feeling, rather than the literal world of things. The Poetry-film is the perfect marriage of the two.”
SO: And tell me a little bit about the people who filmed the clips in the Pompey video. Was this acted out or were the clips random shots of random people?
Marc: Pompey; the working process:
I had a track (called ‘Nightvision’) that I had made while working on an earlier project (“On Edward Hopper’s Automat“). That gave me the idea of making a short series of films in the night. Looking for images (for ‘On Edward Hopper’s Automat) I came across two different videos. Both were made as a test video (to test their new camera in ‘low light’), both used a ‘friend’ to stand there and smoke.
It struck me that both videos (made in the US and Sweden) had a similar feel. They were made for each other (in my head anyways), that gave me the idea. I didn’t know the makers, I still don’t (not personally anyway.)
Next step: finding a poem that ‘fits’. I had came across yours (the title stood out) earlier on, when I first came and visited Whale Sound. It fit. Then I send out mails to the two cameramen and you, asking if I could use the materials.
But sometimes I work the other way around. I start with a poem, have images, make images, then music, …
SO: When you first approached me about using the Pompey poem in a film, we talked about how you wanted to suggest rather than be concrete. In poetry we talk about “slant”, to perhaps reveal some of the shadows but not to reveal everything that casts the shadows. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Also, I like the way your films do not rely on just the visual sense. You coax every sense to respond to and participate in your films. Tell me more!
Marc: It’s that gut again, I guess. I (most of the time) try not to use obvious images. For several of my videos I used ‘city-landscape and crowded places’ where the poem is more ‘rural’, It often surprised viewers, but they like it on a second note.
I catch myself thinking in the same way; for instance for ‘The Universe’ (my last video, Poem Neil Ellman) I thought about using Ice, Northern light,… I even tried it out…then said no and turned it around.
It’s that turning around that I’m not afraid of. Be prepared to turn your work around, inside out…but with a gut-feeling.
SO: A poet has a file filled with potential poems…do you have a drawer filled with potential film/music/sounds?
Marc: Yes. There are always ‘tracks’ lying around. Half- ideas waiting to be filled in…
I ‘store’ all the things I film myself (holidays, trips, ideas…) and images I come across on the net on a disc: My attic of images.
I read (a lot), and working with poems lead to working with poets…you get connected.
SO: When I write, I need to be alone and often the ideas come to me when I am sleeping (I am sure I slept through my best stuff – ha!). Where do you do your work, what is it like (are you drinking coffee, eating a banana, wife hollering at you to hurry up or asking can she help)? And when you video in public, how do you keep from having your presence alter what you had set out to film? Like when I take photos (which help inform my poetry later)…people want to “fix” what I am taking a photo of (they don’t believe I want the motorcycle tilted, or that I want the table with crumbs on it)…and often I am with family/friends when I see something I want to take a photo of (or write something down)…how do you blend your personal life with your artistic life?
Marc: I have a large family, who I don’t see very often (5 sisters, 2 brothers.)
They know about my acting (came and saw most plays) but consider my videos too arty and more playing around and a hobby, while for me my videos are as important (if not more) than my acting.
My wife (known as Arlekeno Anselmo in some of my videos) is as creative as me. She acts, too (is how we met), co-wrote “Connecting People”, reads my Dutch poetry for my films (check out ‘Nog Niet’– that’s Arlekeno and her voice.) She makes my website (and keeps it up to date), but most of all, she’s my soundboard, often inspiration.
In public I try not to act differently. I am who I am. When I shoot images, I shoot what I want (whatever someone else might think), although I find it hard to take photos (or even film) people I don’t know. The stranger-effect is an effect that can bother me (or I even can be intimidated by it.) I’m not a big fan of crowds, busy places,… anyway.
SO: Marc, I find your work stirring. And what an honor to have my Pompey poem part of your art now. I look forward to more of your work!