Maintenant #79 – Emanuella Amichai
An interview with Emanuella Amichai by SJ Fowler.
Perhaps Emanuella Amichai represents the ethos of the Maintenant series more succinctly than any of the other 78 poets that have gone before her. The question of what is poetic is akin to the question of what is European. Both are fluid, unanswerable, and all the more essential for that unresolvability. Working in the medium of moving image, of dance, theatre and film, she has taken groundbreaking strides towards what can only be called a video poetry, a form of visual poetry. Working in tandem with some of Europe’s finest writers, including Jan Wagner, she has shown her absolute control of both mediums, both poetry and film, and using the grammar of motion to remarkable poetic effect. If this places her outside the poetic mainstream, what might be deemed The definition of a poet, then the fact she is the daughter of one of the 20th century’s greatest poets firmly roots her back into the tradition of European letters. For the 79th edition of Maintenant, Israel’s Emanuella Amichai.
Photograph by Amnon Winner
3:AM: Is there a wider medium of video poetic, or interpretations of poetic via the moving image in your opinion? I.e. are your projects something that you think will grow, the collaboration of poets and film makers?
Emanuella Amichai: I believe that collaborations between artists from different forms could be a very interesting and inspiring process in general. Since I think that different art forms are actually different approaches to experience, and sharing these different approaches can be a very enriching experience. But collaborations really depend mostly on the chemistry between the artists involved whether it is a poet, a film maker a dancer or a director.
I believe there can be a very wide and inspiring collaboration between poetry and film, as seen in some of the shorter films which concentrate on poetry as a visual medium like Cocteau’s “Blood of a Poet,” and Buñuel-Dali’s “Andalusian Dog” . I find some similarities between film and poetry: catching a feeling or thought and giving it a word or an image, but there are also differences between the two: film is basically a narrative artform, it may have a poetic form in it, but the classic form is narrative, where as poetry can be more open in structure, moving from different emotions, thoughts in a more associative manner. In film, words are usually used to describe the action that is seen, and in poems the words are the action itself.
Of course there are exceptions (Tarkovsky’s films are a good example of a poetic formed film, and I find David Lynch’s films very poetic as well) and there are narratives in poetry of course , but in poetry just like in a short poetry film, it is more concentrated both in length and in its dramatic development.
I find that poetic forms exist in many different art forms: theatre, dance, film, photography and more. It could be a shot in a movie, or the way a dancer is moving, the way a light falls on a body on stage etc … It is a bit difficult to explain exactly what a poetic form is and there is no clear answer, I think, but I would say it has something to do with showing or hinting towards the invisible, visualizing the invisible, even the metaphysical. I feel that this expendable form allows room for associative ideas, a bit like dreaming a dream. Film is known to have the psychological effect of a dream process, yet most of our dreams are non verbal or use very little words, and do not have a typical classical narrative to them. I find this poetic form interesting for me to work with on film or stage, and I find it very inspiring. So yes, I hope it will grow and I believe that it could be very interesting and very rewarding for poets and film makers to collaborate. And for poetry to collaborate with different art forms as well.
3:AM: Could you detail and describe your collaboration with Jan Wagner in Berlin?
EA: I met Jan Wagner through a very interesting project. The Literaturwerkstatt in Berlin created a beautiful and unique international festival held once every two years, that is all dedicated to poetry in film. It is called the: “ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival”
They produced for the 5th Zebra festival, in 2010, a very interesting workshop called “poetic encounters”. Three contemporary Israeli video artists (Avi Dabach, Joshua Simon and myself) and three contemporary German poets (Jan Wagner, Daniel Falb and Monika Rinck) met to a creative process in order to produce scripts and create poetry films in six days.
At the beginning of the process, I was asked to choose a poem from a large range of contemporary German poets. I looked through the poems and when I saw Jan Wagner’s poems I knew that this will be interesting to work with.
The poems had something very visual and concrete and at the same time very open to visual interpretation and were inspiring for me. The poems had a sense of visual sensibility in them, like a very precise and clean detailed photograph. At times I felt I could literally see and feel them both visually and emotionally. And they had a sense of compassion and humor which I found very inviting. I wrote Jan and we began writing each other. It was quite an open creative process: I sent Jan drafts of the script and he sent me his opinion and thoughts.
It was very interesting. And I must say Jan was a very good creative partner, and very open minded to my ideas and to the process. We met face to face in Berlin when the workshop began, and Jan came to visit the set. It was a very interesting and challenging process.
3:AM: Does your work emerge from initial concepts and grow in the making, or do you storyboard and choreography, facilitating your edit afterward primarily?
EA: I usually have a solid choreography and story board or scenes before I begin any project, this allows me to be open and flexible and to change or improvise on set if needed.
3:AM: Your father’s reputation is so immense and continues to grow, how has his presence in the world of poetry affected your artistic pursuits?
EA: Well here is a small story of one of his affects: I have been dancing since I was 5 years old, but my first dance memories were with my father… I remember us dancing to classical music in our living room, those were great dramatic dances with a seeking prince, played by him and a lost princess, arole played by myself… I remember those dances very clearly.
I grew up with a father who was a poet and was also an extremely talented poet. He was 54 when I was born, so I knew him also as a known and appreciated poet. I guess I grew up experiencing art as fulfilling and rewarding. And yet since my father stayed a teacher his whole life, I also understood that being an artist is being able to be creative in many different aspects, like one should also have a stable independent occupation in times of need. My father said many times that for him, writing poetry is a hobby, and that he wants to keep it as a hobby so he will not have to write in order to pay the bills. And yet i saw how my father would perceive reality with an artistic way, he was writing the way he was talking about everyday things: by metaphors, they were very natural to him, with humor, and with imagination.
So I grew up seeing that ones artistic passion can become a way of life, and that reality hides in it a whole world of feelings, smells, memories, pictures, color, movement and thought. Ironically, Most of my works are non verbal: dance, physical theatre, videodance and poetry video. My recent stage work “The Neighbors Grief is Greener” is a non verbal physical theatre work that has just won best choreography and stage movement design in the national contemporary theatre festival in Israel (and also won best actors in the “Valise” international festival in Poland.) It is a sequence of stage moving images that correspond with clichés of the 1950 as perceived through TV shows, cinema, advertisement, fashion music and more. The process of the work started with images of a beautiful woman in a kitchen lying in on the ground. And I began writing this image as a script although it was all movement based. It was a real interesting process for me. Describing movement by words. In the end it turned out to be a stage piece, but it is very cinematic in its style and form.
3:AM: You worked in tandem with your father’s pieces I believe, how was this process?
EA: My father died when I was 21 ,and his poems were actually a way for me to read about him, learn about him and in a way to talk to him. So I felt quite naturally to work with them. It was both very personal and challenging. I felt very free to interpret it in my own way, not only because he is my father, but also because the poems are very inviting and very open. They have the great qualities of musicality, movement, imagination and form.
A poem is a very concentrated art form and can be very intense, and precise, i do not have to understand it immediately and yet If I feel I understand it, it is enough for me to start working with it. Sometimes a poem can put into words a feeling or a situation in a way that is so clear that I feel gained a new emotion or memory. I also feel that way when reading my fathers poetry, I find his work very inspiring and very rich in form and content.
Since I come from the visual arts, visiuals is usually the first form that comes to mind while reading poetry. It does not have to be a concrete image but it is usually a moving image. Sometimes the image is all that is needed for me in order to begin the process. Yet sometimes I can read a poem, and when finished reading it I feel that it this poem should stay as poem. Sometimes the effect a poem can have is so intense that it is almost metaphysical and I feel that the form is complete for me.
3:AM: Has it been an advantage for you to come from the family of such an illustrious poet?
EA: Since my father was so known and loved I think he was basically fulfilled and he passed that feeling to his children. He received a lot of love and respect towards his art and I believe it made him feel more fulfilled as a person, and there for as a father, he was a very kind, calm and loving father. So that was quite a big advantage… and we were abroad quite a lot, living in N.Y.C while he was teaching there in the N.Y.U., so I experienced the world at quite an early age and it was a significant experience for me as a child.
And yet, although he was successful, he was in a way very modest, unlike the cliché of the miserable moody egocentric poet, he was a family man, and was really a kind and warm person, his inner world was of course very intense, but as a child I never noticed it he was a father waiting for me after school with a warm lunch, and taking me to my ballet classes. I remember my father was very open minded and was very gentle towards his children’s decisions, (although like every parent he wanted them to have a good job and to be happy ). He was writing because it was his way to experience his reality, and that, I believe, is a true artist. So I am thankful that I grew up in a open minded, liberal house, and that I saw that being an artist can be fulfilling. Professionally speaking, in my artistic work, it could be an advantage and a disadvantage: advantage since I am his daughter, people are more curious to see what I do, the disadvantage is because people naturally tend to compare…
3:AM: What is your opinion of contemporary Israeli poetry? Is there room in Israel for experimental or innovative work in poetry, literature and beyond to a notable degree?
EA: I think that there quite a few talented contemporary poets in Israel, and there is room for experimental work in poetry. But I would not say it is too popular in Israel. There are independent poetry publishers and quite a few experimental poetry events such as “spoken word” evenings that are multidisciplinary events with experimental poetry readings, video art etc. and quite a few collaborations between poets and painters, musicians and video artist’s even heard there is a group of poets writing together. Experimental work in poetry, im quite sure, could produce interesting work if its good…
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
SJ Fowler is the author of three poetry collections, Red Museum (Knives Forks and Spoons Press 2011), Fights (Veer books 2011) and Minimum Security Prison Dentistry (Anything Anymore Anywhere press 2011). He is the UK poetry editor of Lyrikline and 3:AM, and curates the Maintenant reading series alongside the interviews. He is a full time employee of the British Museum and a postgraduate student at the Contemporary Centre for Poetic Research, University of London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, November 15th, 2011.