We, who find ourselves here, we who have arrived and do not merely engage but mean to bring in a kaleidoscope of voices, a shout to nonviolent, a cause, the direct call that requires us to surface action, to make visible our fears, the are – this is – we will – no longer be hidden, not now, not ever again, for in tension the shift always sleeps the sleep of dreamer, in that creators and voice of change is of this moment; while we are already tension, now let us all become alive
– a Double Golden Shovel, constructed from two lines from Martin Luther King Jr’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail (1963) https://letterfromjail.com/
My friend and collaborator Terry Elliott has been on a “re-wilding” learning adventure, an internal and creative ‘hike’ of art and remix through words and poems and stories and media, and as is his nature, Terry has often invited others along.
I pulled out my keyboard and plugged it in, found an interesting sound, and then with my left hand, I just sort of dropped it on the lower keys. It’s possible my fingers knew how to find a chord on their own (not that I am a keyboardist but I can do some basics) but the dissonance reverberation of where my fingers landed spurred my right hand to find a note, and then another, and soon, I had a melody developing. (Later, I wondered if I had pirated that melody line from somewhere else … it arrived so easily that I figured, maybe it’s not mine.)
I began to shift my left hand, too, moving the pattern of hand-drop around a bit, but intentionally not paying attention to where my fingers were landing. Eyes closed now. My attention was on the sound, and the small gaps where dissonance and tension opened up into something clearer, and my simple melody lines of my right hand continued to dance over the top of those “chords” of my left hand.
I’ve been sharing out some of my morning poems, where I have been exploring the intersections of art and music and writing with technology. The above poem was inspired by an AI site — Dream — that creates art from keywords (here, my words were Saxophone Nights). I used the image, along with explorations this week with Hour of Code and programming, to spark the idea for the poem.
This morning, after a helpful remembering by Wendy T. yesterday, I used JazzKeys to craft a poem, with jazz piano as a soundtrack for each time my fingers hit the computer keyboard in the spur-of-moment writing. I just let the words flow as I listened to the piano. (I am listening now as I write this, too)
I also created a blended visual of the same poem with a piano player, using a screenshot of the JazzKeys poem and a Creative Commons image, then merged with Lunapic. I like the ghost notes aspect of the result, as the words are fading (and if you listen to the JazzKeys as you read, the experience is even better, I think).
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
This week, I will set aside some time for my students to explore Hour of Code, connecting the creative play there with the work we are doing around storytelling and video game design.
Each year, I keep an eye on any new activities in the Hour of Code. This year, the newly added activity is all about poetry and art and design, and that connection between exploring verse and basic programming makes me happy to see.
The Poem Art activity — introduced via video by a high school poet and programmer — allows students to explore animation and text manipulation, as well as design and music and mood. There are options for using provided poems (such as Jabberwocky), but also a place to write your own poem and use your own words.
I tried it out by writing a poem — Watch the Idea Dance — and thought it worked just fine.
I’ve been interested in taking my morning small poems and giving them a visual element using a few different online tools. These elements don’t change the poem, I don’t think, but the act of thinking deeper about the words and the meaning of the poem as I worked to find an appropriate visual representation to pair up with the words gave me a chance to think deeper on the poems, which I write rather quickly in the morning.
In my continuing explorations of word and sound, I saw that my friend, Ron, had used a site called Specterr to create a visualization for a Daily Create in DS106.
I decided to check it out and then realized I could further remix the audio of my Sixth Bird in Flight poem from last week (see post about that project), but I quickly knew that the raw MIDI audio track (which was a music file that an AI site created out of the text of a poem) could use something more — more layers, more colors, more thickening.
I added a few layers of instrumentation and a beat underneath the music file (that was a conversion of the text of my poem), and I liked how it came out when my remixing was done. Then I uploaded the audio file into Specterr (in its free account, which is why there is a watermark on it), and tinkered with some animation and color and more.
I like seeing the audio visualization in sync with the beat.
Some morning, I wake up and think, how in the world am I going to write a daily poem today? I think, I’ll just give up my many-months-long project to compose a small poem every single day. Then, I’ll walk outside, like this very morning, and an owl is calling to us (the dogs and I) in the darkness obscured by some pre-dawn fog, and there it is: a poem about the moment, taking shape.
Last week, I released six “birds in flight” poems, one per day. Here, I’d like to provide some context notes and process decisions, as well as tech tools, for each poem, as both a way to share my digital compositional practices, to reflect on what worked and didn’t and why, and to archive my notes, for my future self (hello, me).
My poetry collection began not with writing but with reading a poem and sharing it with friends. In an edition of Orion, a nature-writing journal, there was a lovely card stock pullout of a poem called “Poetry” by Chun Yu (one side was English, and the other side, Chinese). I can’t find it online to share here, and I don’t want to infringe on copyright by sharing myself. But the poem was lovely, with a theme of poetry.
I did share it with my poetry friends in the new closed NWPStudio Space, however, and my collaborator and colleague and poetry ping-pong companion, Terry Elliott, paid attention to and noticed the architecture of the poem. Terry then pulled out some guiding prompts that could become a flexible template for writing a poem, inspired by Chun Yu’s “Poetry.” It was from Terry’s excavation of ideas that I wrote a small poem each day, for six days, using the opening lines from Chun Yu’s poem of birds (see above) as my theme.
Here, then, are my six poems — my six Birds in Flight, if you will — and a reflection on how I created the digital versions of them and the decisions that I made to do so.
First Bird in Flight
For poems with small amounts of words, like these, a site like Lumen5 is perfectly situated. It is a digital storytelling site that allows many choices for image and video, with text, and music, and even the opportunity for voice-over (which I decided not to do here, as my experiment with it seemed to take away from the contemplative nature of the visual poem.) The most important decision here for me became the soundtrack, and I grappled with how the music would inform the words and image. In the end, I found what I still think is a perfect sound companion to the poem — it gives it just enough calm, and includes the sounds of birds.
Second Bird in Flight
I knew I would be diving into digital composition with many of these small poems so I wanted to hand-write out a poem, as sort of a counter-measure to complete immersion with digital. Of course, I did it via an app (Sketchpad), and then thought about a reflecting pool or image of the poem, and remembered an effect in LunaPic that could do that. It worked nicely, I think, given the hand-written text a little more depth and wrinkle, or maybe, ripples. That I chose a piece of paper theme for the writing makes it even more interesting in the reflection, I think.
Third Bird in Flight
This poem used an app I tap into quite a bit for animating words. It is called TypiVideo and it has some strange quirks (you can’t control what words on a single screen at any time after you input your entire text, so there are often odd endings of phrasings). But there are neat options for font and color, and I like how the text flows forward, and have come to appreciate the unexpected breaks. After creating it, I felt as if it were missing something, so I created a music track with thoughts of flight and layered it in, giving the words some ambience.
Fourth Bird in Flight
This poem used a text animation app on my iPad called PLAYS that I come back to now and then. It has a solid collection of animated options, some of which are too busy for any use by a poet, though. I found one that had the text moving off the screen like a bird in flight (similar to the next poem’s construction). But when I had built it and exported it, it seemed like it still needed something else. I pulled the animated image into LunaPic (always a useful image editing site) and found an effect that turned the piece yellow and faded at the edges, like a corn husk (sort of) that connected to a phrase in the poem. I like that when the words leave, there is an after-effect of a splotch of light yellow, as if the poem has left a mark.
Fifth Bird in Flight
I knew I wanted this poem to be its own poem but also to reveal a second poem after the words “flew away” into the sky. I used Keynote to do this, and it took some time, as different words and lines had to be their own text boxes that could be animated or remain stationary as the poem flew off like birds in flight. (This could have been done easily enough in Google Slides or Powerpoint, too). I like that the poem I left behind or that was uncovered is more positive and optimistic than the poem pieces that depart. Exporting as a GIF allows for the poem to reset itself each time.
Sixth Bird in Flight
This last poem was the most complex composition of the collection. I had been curious about whether I could turn the words of this poem into music. Of course, I could have sat down with my guitar, but I wanted to push the concept of AI, so I searched around and found two sites: Langorythm (which converts words into midi-file music – see this) and Melobytes (which converts text into what I can only describe as an odd piece of music, with even stranger video, and also, interestingly, a piece of music manuscript). I had been tinkering with both when I realized I could merge the output from both sites, using the melodic music that Langorythm created from the text of the poem beneath the video and manuscript created from my poem by Melobytes, and then, realizing this composition needed some stability to center the actual poem, I added my voice overlay to video. At one point, I had an entire earlier version of this project that I did all the work on, as finished project, and then I could not shake the sense that the “feel” of the Melobytes output was all wrong. So I started over from the beginning, and began construction again. The result is something interesting, if unusual.
I hope this both helps me to remember what I did, but also inspired YOU to tinker and play with digital compositions, to see how we might use technology to further put poems into motion while trying to deepen the composition’s impact on a reader, viewer, listener.