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“A SUCCESSION OF IMAGES”: H.D., POOL GROUP, & THE POET AS FILMMAKER

While primarily remembered for her poetry, Modernist writer H.D. worked across mediums, experimenting with fiction, translation, memoir, and silent film over the course of her artistic career. These forays into other disciplines, while often treated by scholars as digressions, provided her with innovative strategies for representing psychoanalytic ideas in such poems as Helen in Egypt, The Walls Do Not Fall, and Trilogy. With that in mind, H.D.’s involvement with the Pool Group, an international collective of avant-garde filmmakers, artists, and poets, can be considered one of the most meaningful and transformative of her interdisciplinary projects.

The Pool Group, launched in 1927 from Riant Chateau, Switzerland, was comprised of H.D., her lifelong friend Bryher, and painter turned filmmaker, Kenneth MacPherson. Although one might wonder why Switzerland in particular appealed to this group of avant-garde filmmakers, it served as a haven for numerous writers hoping to recover from the trauma of the First World War, T.S. Eliot’s time in Lausanne being one especially noteworthy example. Switzerland, though initially a respite for H.D., would later become her home. As Alberta Marlowe notes, H.D. “was American by birth…though practically all her adult life was spent in Europe, mainly Switzerland and Britain.” And here the small community of avant-garde filmmakers thrived. During the interwar period, they produced a monthly film studies journal, Close-Up, as well as such films as Monkeys’ Moon, Borderline, Wingbeat, and Foothills.

 

 

Much of the work produced by Pool (especially the group’s body of critical writing on film) was intended for an English-speaking audience, but remained decidedly international in scope when considered in light of their engagement with continental philosophy. By creating works like these, H.D., Bryher, and MacPherson sought to explore questions about consciousness, dreams, the human psyche. For these collaborators, the changing technological landscape associated with film raised compelling questions about representing conscious experience. Although working at a time when sound was infiltrating the film industry, the three members of the Pool Group generally eschewed these realistic modes of representation, seeking instead to disrupt the perceived relationship between seeing and hearing.

Indeed, during this time, one sees the proliferation of films using more traditional modes of representation, as well as reactionary projects, which frequently undermined the viewer’s expectations of narrative, visual, and auditory continuity. Sergei Eisenstein and Maya Deren are especially well-known examples of filmmakers who used montage to interrogate preconceived expectations of how narrative operates in relation to visual material. The Pool Group in particular sought to question the role that sound played in the viewer’s process of interpreting the cinematic image. Rather than allowing meaning to be inscribed by sound, the Pool Group sought to generate innumerable associations for the film’s spectator through visual montages, in which images illuminate and complicate one another. In this sense, the cinematic image becomes, like Freud’s dream-image, “a visible plastic symbol” that resists a single fixed interpretation.

Although H.D.’s work with the Pool Group has been largely forgotten by mainstream audiences, five contemporary experimental poets are building on her incisive interrogation of the cinematic image in relation to the both poetic image and the Freudian dream-image. Through their provocative use of montage and other experimental techniques, Carrie Olivia Adams, Kate Greenstreet, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, and Joshua Young are exploring the possibilities of film for representing dreams, conscious experience and the human psyche.

 

Carrie Olivia Adams’s Forty-One Jane Doe’s

Carrie Olivia Adams works in publishing and serves as the poetry editor for Black Ocean. She is the author of Operating Theater (2015), Forty-One Jane Doe’s (2013), and Intervening Absence (2009), as well as the chapbooks Grapple (2017), Overture in the Key of F (2013), and A Useless Window (2006). Adams’s Forty-One Jane Doe’s was accompanied by a companion DVD of original films, intended to compliment, and complicate, the text proper. Like the Modernists who came before her, Adams confronts the reader’s predilection for a clear narrative, a single fixed meaning, and a linear progression. Forty-One Jane Doe’s resists interpretation as an act of mastery, suggesting that meaning – like thought itself, like dreams and the unconscious mind – is inherently unstable. The text becomes palimpsest, erased and written over as it is transposed across mediums, and the cinematic image – like the poetic image – generates possibility after possibility.

 

Kate Greenstreet’s Kicking Wind Productions

A graphic artist and painter, Kate Greenstreet is the author of the poetry collections case sensitive (2006) and The Last 4 Things (2009), which she published with a DVD of short films based on the book, as well as The End of Something. She has adapted many of her written texts into sound poems, experimental films, book objects, and innovative visual works. For Greenstreet, the montage techniques associated with the Modernists are one of the most effective ways to represent the ephemeral nature of dreams, memory, and consciousness. Throughout her video poems, filmmaking also becomes an experiment in transfiguring narrative and imagery, as the dreams that unfold in a given poem are borne off the page and into a landscape of fog, fire, and ghosts.

 

 

 

Rachel Eliza Griffiths, “Gypsy & The Bully Door”  

Rachel Eliza Griffiths is a poet, filmmaker, and photographer. A Cave Canem and Kimbilio Fellow, she is the recipient of fellowships including Yaddo, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Cave Canem Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, The Millay Colony, and others. Her poetry collections include The Requited Distance (2011), Mule and Pear (2013), and Lighting the Shadow (2015). For several years, she curated the Poets on Poetry (POP) video series for the Academy of American Poets.  She is also widely known for her literary portraits and lyric videos. In many of these short films, the experimental techniques of the Pool Group are brought into new sociopolitical territory, exploring questions of linguistic and textual violence, identity and performativity.

 

 

 

Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Rabbit Light Movies

Joshua Marie Wilkinson is a writer, filmmaker, and author or editor of thirteen books. Wilkinson’s most recent poetry collection, Meadow Slasher, was published by Black Ocean. He will be the Andrew Mellon-funded Scholar-in-Residence at Rhodes University, South Africa in Summer 2019.  Many of his poems transposes the discontinuity, montages, and silences of experimental film onto the printed page. He notes in an interview with Bomb Magazine that “Much of my fourth book, The Book of Whispering in the Projection Booth, was written in response to Antonioni’s La Notte and Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive.” For a number of years, he also directed and curated Rabbit Light Movies, an online archive of poetry films and videos of poets reading their work. Many of these films have a wonderful defamiliarizing effect, as all that is discontinuous, uncanny and unsettling about the language is amplified by visual montage, as well as a marked disruption of the audience’s expectations of how narrative functions in relation to visual material.

 

 

Joshua Young & the Chapel of Light

Poet, writer, and filmmaker Joshua Young was born in Seattle and grew up in Bellingham, Washington. He is the author of the verse-play The Holy Ghost People (2014); with Chas Hoppe, The Diegesis (2013); To the Chapel of Light (2012); and When the Wolves Quit: A Play-in-Verse (2012). His first feature-length film, Do You See Colors When You Close Your Eyes? (2010), was an official selection at the Seattle International Film Festival, Athens International Film Festival, and Montreal International Black Film Festival. His follow-up film, Into the Lavender Creases of Evening, is currently in postproduction, and he is at work on another film, A Carnage in the Lovetrees. Much of his verse-play trilogy, Psalms for the Wreckage, has also been adapted into short films. What’s perhaps most striking about the text and its visual adaptations is the dream-like quality, as the work moves by largely intuitive associations between images. Like the Modernists before him, Young reveals the unconscious mind as a stage, where memory is constantly unfolding, and where possible selves – and their futures – become spectacle.