Last year TriQuarterly began to feature the video essay, an emerging form Marilyn Freeman has described as “the mixed-breed love child of poetry, creative nonfiction, art house indies, documentary, and experimental media art.” At its core the video essay is, like its print counterpart, an attempt to figure something out—not just with language but with image and sound.
In “History,” a beautifully voiced essay shot through portraits of other Scotsmen, we saw Dinty W. Moore reckon with his fragmented past in the streets of Edinburgh. “History” was Moore’s first video essay, but not his first foray into the kind of memoir that serves as an invitation to see ourselves reflected in the lives of others.
TriQuarterly isn’t the only magazine to feature such work. In “Zidane,” published by our friends at Blackbird, Claudia Rankine and John Lucas borrow language from Shakespeare and James Baldwin, among others, as well as imagery from the 2006 World Cup final to assemble a haunting collage. In Ninth Letter, Kristen Radtke’s “Origins” is a refreshing take on the object essay—and the rare digitally rendered work that feels handmade. In “Ode to Every Thing,” published in Requited, Eula Biss explores the mountain of stuff we accumulate for our kids and comes to a surprising conclusion. To see any of these works is to be mindful of Adorno’s belief that the desire of the essay is to make the transitory eternal.
TriQuarterly would like to publish more works like these. We call them video essays, but what they’re called doesn’t matter so much as what they do. We’re looking for essays that use language, image, and sound with equal fluency and brio.
And we’re looking for poetry with that same ambition.
One such poem would be “Radon,” by Robyn Schiff and Nick Twemlow, which appeared last year in Blackbird. As the periodic sentences of Schiff’s voiceover unwind—and unravel—the imagery loops through an interior space that’s haunted and disrupted. Part of what’s so exciting about “Radon” is that we’re not really sure what to call it. What does one call poetry authored for the screen? Probably, someday, poetry. Until then, we’re calling it cinepoetry, and we hope to see more of it.
In this edition of TriQuarterly we’re lucky to feature two cinepoems that, taken together, suggest the thrilling range of possibilities in wait of a form that has yet to be defined.
Robyn Schiff’s latest collaboration with Nick Twemlow, “DARPA Grand Challenge,” is built up from Schiff’s text and (mostly) archival video. DARPA is the US Department of Defense program to fund driverless cars and humanoid robots to function in, as they say, degraded environments. In a production note Schiff provided Twemlow along with her voiceover text, she wrote: It was and is composed by and for robots. Given that bit of in-house direction and the masterful degree to which Twemlow realized that vision, it’s all the more surprising that “DARPA Grand Challenge” leaves an after-image that is unaccountably humane.
“First Death in Nova Scotia” is Canadian filmmaker John D. Scott’s remarkable adaptation of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem. Scott has long been drawn to Bishop’s work, in part because both he and Bishop lived in Nova Scotia during their formative years, but that connection also grew out of Scott’s fascination with literary and cinematic forms, and where the two intersect. “First Death,” the adaptation, might be a perfect pairing of filmmaker and poet. The evocative beauty of Bishop’s poetry is honored by the formal beauty of Scott’s composition. In his contributor’s note, Scott writes: I’m working toward a simple, clean visual aesthetic, one that doesn’t drown the poem in visual data. I want the viewer to be open to the nuances of the voice, the language of the poem, and other sound components. As a cinepoem, “First Death” is an exemplar—an aesthetic and aural experience that enlivens the senses as well as the mind. It is, after all, a poem.
We welcome submissions of new video essays and cinepoems. We ask that you provide a link to the video (we’re partial to Vimeo, but other video-sharing sites work, too). The ideal run-time tends to fall within a four- to ten-minute range, but that’s a tendency, not a rule. Please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And please note: we’re as happy to look at works in progress as you are to show them.