“Images which don’t make sense, but seem to fit somehow”: an interview with Othniel Smith

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with poets and remixers who have provided or worked with material from The Poetry Storehouse, a website which collects “great contemporary poems for creative remix.” This interview with Othniel Smith shares a remixer’s perspective. Smith has made the following remixes: “Playing Duets with Heisenberg’s Ghost,” “Dirty Old Man,” “Florid Psychosis,” “Ethics of the Mothers” and “Mundane Dreams.”


1. Would you briefly describe the remix work you have done based on poems from The Poetry Storehouse?


OS:
The films I’ve made, inspired by pieces from The Poetry Storehouse, have all been assembled from public domain material made available by The Prelinger Internet Archive and Flickr Commons. I am neither a poet nor a scholar of poetry; thus I fully concede that my interpretations may well be excessively literal. Nor am I a professional video editor, hence the clumsiness.


2. How is The Poetry Storehouse different from or similar to other resources you have used for your remix work?


OS:
Most of the poetry films I made before discovering The Poetry Storehouse were based on readings of historic poems (by Shakespeare, Keats, Dickinson, Sandburg etc), taken from sources such as Librivox. Thus I seized on the opportunity to exercise my limited imagination on the work of living poets.


3. What specific elements do you look for when you browse offerings at The Storehouse (or, what is your advice to poets submitting to The Storehouse)?


OS:
I’ve simply chosen poems which sparked something off in my mind — no logic involved.

I have no advice to offer to poets in terms of what work to submit, as long as they’re aware that their work may be subject to radical misinterpretation.


4. Talk about how the remixing process comes together for you. For example, does your inspiration start with a poem, or with specific footage for which you then seek a poem?


OS:
Usually a phrase in the poem, or its tone as a whole, calls to mind an image from a film. For example, for Peg Duthie’s “Playing Duets With Heisenberg’s Ghost”, it was of a woman blissful and assured at her piano; for David Sullivan’s “Dirty Old Man” it was the innocent face of an adolescent Tuesday Weld. It’s then a matter of seeking out other images which make sense in conjunction with it. Or which don’t make sense, but seem to fit, somehow.


5. Is there anything about the Storehouse process or approach that you feel might with benefit be done differently?


OS:
No — it’s an excellent resource. It’s especially interesting to hear poets reading their own words. Hopefully you’ll be able to attract more quality work from all parts of the globe.


6. Is there anything else you would like to say about your Poetry Storehouse experience (or anything else)?


OS:
I’m just pleased that the poets whose work I’ve tackled don’t seem to have been overly offended (or if they have, they’ve been very polite about it).

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