Flick the Switch: The Making of “Homeopathy”

When I shared Lori Ersolmaz’s film Homeopathy on Monday, she got in touch and offered to write up some process notes. The resulting essay is of exceptional interest, I think, in showing just how closely a poetry-filmmaker can identify with a text—and how much she can make the resulting filmpoem or videopoem her own. —Dave Bonta

This filmpoem is a very personal endeavor, reflecting my feelings and emotions while I was undergoing treatment for an ovarian mass. From the time I received the head-spinning news, I spent most of my time trying to gather as much information as possible from the Internet, and spoke with friends who had been through a similar situation. At the onset of my symptoms I found myself awake at 2:00 AM experimenting with video in a darkened hotel room lit only by the TV. The footage is quite metaphoric in numerous ways. My conversations with doctors, family, and friends were often chaotic and distressing at best. I quickly found that my primary care doctor’s bedside manner didn’t mesh well with me because she insisted that I had ovarian cancer, while my oncologist surgeon and gynecologist gave me somewhat better odds.

While in despair and feeling incredibly uncreative, I searched for an appropriate poem on The Poetry Storehouse to re-create my feelings with visual storytelling. I didn’t have to look very far. Nina Corwin’s poem “Homeopathy” had just been uploaded, and I downloaded it along with the poet’s narration, which I used in my final piece. Corwin writes in “Homeopathy,” “We can play in the dark” and ironically this was represented with my hotel footage before I even read her poem.

I sat on the poem for several months, but during that time I made notes of additional visuals needed, filmed more and searched on Pond 5 and Archive.org for horror movies and nuclear bombings. While I edited the first minute or two prior to my surgery, it was largely left unfinished until a month after my recovery.

This is my longest filmpoem, and I purposely wanted it that way. Although I only had to wait two and half months to hear whether I had cancer or not, it felt like an eternity. Even though I kept a positive attitude, every waking moment I considered how my health issue would change my life and those around me forever. It was nothing short of gut-wrenching, and felt like it would never end. When I awoke from the five hour surgical ordeal and heard the good news from my husband—benign—indeed, as Homeopathy reveals, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to “play flick the switch…”

The film uses linear imagery that reflects the known yet unknown, and darting screen movements resemble the chaos and lack of control I felt. In the end I’m left with five new linear scars as a reminder of my experience.

As for the music, I hadn’t realized it, but on an earlier visit to Pond 5 I downloaded the free Chopin Sonata No. 2 in B-flat music file. The music was familiar to me, and I didn’t know why, but it hit the somber note of my feelings. Slow. Deliberate. Making peace with what could be next. Little did I know until I Googled it that this is Chopin’s well-known Funeral March!

I couldn’t be happier to have had access to Nina Corwin’s fine poem, and the process provided me with recovery and closure, yet helped me to document my emotions before, during and after a traumatic life event.

[UPDATE] I asked Nina Corwin if she would be willing to share a bit about the composition of the poem and her reaction to my filmpoem. This is what she wrote:

Homeopathy started with a line from an e-mail to a poet friend coming in from out-of-town. A riff on “playing” sick associated playing hooky, playing doctor and the healing powers of child’s play. Once the homeopathic references suggested themselves, the poem found its name.

This is one of those rare poems that wrote itself—much more quickly than is usual for me. It got accepted by an on-line journal I admired (and had previously been rejected by) called Anti- before I knew it.

There’s something wonderful about poetry (and other art forms), especially poetry that makes such associative leaps, is that people reading it can evoke their own associations. It’s the ineffable connection between expression and experience.

Lori had a very different experience of the poem. I have had my poetry rendered by composers on several occasions. Sometimes the piece involves collaboration, though others given with the idea that once I “hand it over,” I give free rein to the interpretations of that artist. It’s rather like a game of telephone. Another sort of play (maybe something I could weave into the poem after the fact),

The result that Lori has created gives a whole new life to the poem.

Lori H. Ersolmaz

Lori H. Ersolmaz (website) is a multidisciplinary filmmaker with a strong focus on social and political issues. Her company Voices of Hope Productions works with non-profit organizations to support policy reform through media advocacy. Lori produces a web series called Engaging People that explores the lives of effective change-makers and concerned citizens. She teaches design and film and media studies courses at Rider University. “Video poetry provides an outlet to experiment and provides a great sense of satisfaction.”

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