The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Östersjöar” (“Baltic Seas”)

Watch the full-length film at Vimeo On Demand (enter the code “movingpoems” for a free, 2-day rental through Jan. 31).

Poem by Tomas Tranströmer
Filmed by Eva Jonasson and James Michael Wine
Original score by Charlie Wine
Longwalks Productions website

This is probably the longest yet most beautiful video poem I have reviewed so far. Since I am primarily a visual person, the video/graphic aspects usually spark my interest first. That’s not to say that the poem is not equally as important, but sometimes when the two are placed together one overrides the other.

This is not the case in Baltic Seas. It is lengthy and slow, which allows the viewer to take in every aspect of what it has to offer. It tells a story in six parts. Although many images are repeated, each section has its own canvas. We are on a life-long voyage. The first part is about the ship. The poet conveys it as an organism with power and purpose, taking its passengers in the hopes that they will obtain the knowledge this particular journey has to offer.

Section Two opens with images of a graveyard and speaks of an island with trees. Its focus is an old woman’s melancholy, remembering her past. We are led into a combination of life and death, “we walk together.” Then there is talk of war. The visuals are of the Nazi invasion, described as “a gust of wind.” “Terror confined to the moment” — in other words, this too shall pass. We see a memorial stuck into the sand. It’s a mine reminding us of a time when darkness had fallen. This should not be forgotten. Unlike most memorials it is quiet and gentle, thus allowing the theme to continue to unfold in a graceful manner.

In Section Three we are again reminded of the passage of life, through images of a baptismal font. The story carved is biblical, but the poet then speaks of numbers. The filmmakers use the Hex Color/binary code to illustrate this. It’s set into the sky, thereby continuing the passage of life, bringing us from antiquity to the post-modern world. Even the sea and its island cannot escape time.

Baltic Seas is a constant reminder that we continue to come full-circle. The environment changes and yet remains the same. It clarifies the lives that were lived and the ones that were lost, as remembered by the old woman. She, the old woman, through loss of family and her own death has somehow risen above it.

This is one video poem not to rush through — and not to be missed. You need to spend time and enjoy every aspect. It is to be digested rather than guzzled, like a fine wine. My only concern is that we live in a world where most people have the attention span of a gnat. My question is, in our overly caffeinated society, who has the thirty minutes?

Invest the time; you won’t be sorry. It’s a work of art you will remember for a very long time. If you are someone who is involved in making video poetry, it is something to aspire to.

Cheryl Gross

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Cheryl Gross (website, blog) is an illustrator, painter, writer, and motion graphic artist living and working in the New York/Jersey City area. She is a professor at Pratt Institute (where she received her MFA) and Bloomfield College. Her work has appeared in numerous festivals and publications as well as gracing the walls of many galleries, corporate and museum collections. “I equate my work with creating and building an environment, transforming my inner thoughts into reality. Beginning with the physical process, I work in layers. I am involved in solving visual and verbal complexities such as design and narrative. My urban influence has indeed added an ‘edge’ to my work.” Cheryl has often been compared to “Dr. Seuss on crack.”

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