Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Mortal Ghazal

A new collaboration. Always a joy to look out for. This one came through Dave Bonta.

On his literary blog Via NegativaLuisa A Igloria has been writing a poem a day since November 2010, often in response to Dave's posts at The Morning Porch.
Luisa has a new full-length collection, The Saints of Streets, which includes poems first published on Via Negativa. It is a very fine collection.

For me, it was a pleasure to pick one poem out for a new video. I fell for 'Mortal Ghazal'.

Mortal Ghazal

My friend sent me a lei of strawflowers from the city of our childhood:
brittle corollas of yellow undercut by orange that we called Everlasting.

I remember the slides in the park, and the kiddy train one summer: it looped around its
periphery, a blur of red and orange. Just a few minutes, but the ride seemed everlasting.

And women from the hills, their baskets filled with dried snipe, amulets, herbs;
their woven skirts striped vivid orange (the sound of their voices, everlasting)—

In that world, everything seemed possible; in that world, time seemed almost too slow.
Now I’m brought up short in the shoals as the sun reddens in a sky unrelenting—

At sunrise, two birds call— heraldic, but fleeting. Such tender things in the world:
smudged with blue, capped with little streaks of rust. Glyphs from the everlasting.

Tell me I haven’t done too little, that I’ve made some difference to you;
even if in the end I might be judged wanting, unhinged: mortal, not everlasting.

Luisa made a recording of the poem and I created a track where her reading could lay in.

Along with her ecording Luisa gave me some ideas and pointers where to look for possible images.
One of the video's she proposed was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90qcjBE-jlA, the film is part of a collection of motion picture films that John Van Antwerp MacMurray shot during the time he served as American Minister to China (1925-1929).
The 16mm silent movie was shot during a trip to the Philippines in October 1926, where MacMurray and his wife spent a few days at Camp John Hay, Baguio.

I asked Princeton University Library if I could use these images. Yes I could.
Together with Luisa, I went looking for the right images from that film.
Mailing back and forth, trying out new and different edits... It was fun to work this way and, I admit, a big help. I do not know a lot of the rituals and history the film shows. Luisa does and this is what she had to say about the project:

Dave Bonta first alerted me to the idea of a film poem collaboration with Marc Neys (Swoon), just a little over a week ago. When he mentioned this possibility, he referred to "Reprieve," the video poem he himself (Dave) had made as a surprise in time for my 50th birthday two years ago. Dave said that he had something similar in mind for marking the publication of my new book THE SAINTS OF STREETS, but that it would be a little difficult to achieve a collaboration without me being informed or in the loop.
After getting more directly connected with Marc, I recorded three short poems from the collection that I thought might be good candidates. Marc selected "Mortal Ghazal" and I'm really happy that he did.
The poem's recurrent rhyme is the word "everlasting" - it had started out as a meditation of sorts on a flower indigenous to Baguio, the mountain city where I grew up in the Philippines. The locals refer to them as "everlasting" flowers, but they are strawflowers or helichrysum bracteatum (family asteraceae), Locals wind them into leis and sell them to tourists. One of my dearest friends from childhood recently returned from a trip to Baguio, and brought a lei back for me.

Around ten years ago, this friend lost her only son, who grew up with my daughters in Baguio; and she has never really recovered from that grief; she has also just had surgery, and thinking about her and about our lives in that small mountain city so long ago, before we became what we are now, led me to writing this poem which is also a meditation on time/temporality, passage, absence and presence. 
When I write poems, I am often guided first by images and their interior "sound" or texture, even before I can bring them to bear upon each other in some totally explicable way... What draws me in the first place to poetry is the sense it offers of mystery, of how not everything in language can be completely grasped, so that we can continue to think of possibility.
Therefore I love so much how Marc has been able to intuit the poem's themes of recurrence and memory and render them in such a way that both sound and imagery, artifact and dream, loop one into the other in the video poem.

I added a few 'contemporary' images and an extra layer (image of a big spinning mirrorball) of colour and light.
Have a look and listen and enjoy;

Words& Voice: Luisa A. Igloria
Concept, add. camera, editing & music: Swoon
Footage: Princeton University Library - John Van Antwerp McMurray Papers - Public Policy Papers Division -Princeton University Library / Christy Hermogenes (PHILIPPINES Part 14 The Road to Baguio City)

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