In early 2023, Lucy English and I had the great privilege of speaking with two very talented and generous poetry film/animation artists about Poetry, Animation and Text on Screen. Here Professor Suzie Hanna presents Poetry Animation: Visual Symbolism, Representation and Materiality with reference to two of her animations: Proem to Brooklyn Bridge and Known Unto God. Diek Grobler has been working with poetry animation since 2010 and brings insights into the whole process of animated poetry films, including improvisation in relation to Mon Pays.
Professor Suzie Hanna
Suzie Hanna is Emerita Professor of Animation at Norwich University of the Arts. She was Chair of NAHEMI, the National Association for Higher Education in the Moving Image from 2016 – 2019, and remains an honorary member of the executive. As an animator who collaborates with other academics and artists, her research interests include animation, poetry, puppetry and sound design. She has made numerous short films all of which have been selected for international festival screenings, TV broadcast or exhibited in curated shows. She also creates improvised animated projections for live performances of music and poetry. Recent commissions include short films for BBC Ideas and Cambridge University Creative Encounters Programme. She contributes to journals, books and conferences, and has led several innovative projects including online international student collaborations and digital exhibitions of art and poetry on what was Europe’s largest public HiDef screen. She works as a production consultant and as an international academic examiner, and she was a member of the AHRC Peer Review College from 2009-2014.
HD: Why use animation?
SH: I can choose my medium, stencils, mud or collage for instance, and I can make my characters or scenes as I wish to at a small scale if necessary – objects, puppets, toy theatres, huge landscapes made of small twigs etc. I am not hostage to working at human scale, or relying on actors or the weather. I can make my animation FIT the poem exactly. As animators we tend to edit films ‘before we make them’ as creating extra seconds when working frame by frame can be a huge waste of time, so storyboards and animatics are where those decisions are made. There is a sympathetic mathematics to the process, a meter if you like.
HD: What are significant differences between animation and other poetry film forms?
SH: Sarah Tremlett has covered a lot of ground in terms of defining Poetry Film in almost all its multifarious forms. It is quite difficult to decide on “what exactly is an animated poetry film” within the potential vastness of the practice as it continues to develop at pace in the 21st century.
Some filmmakers using compositing tools in programmes such as Nuke or After Effects mix more traditionally shot scenes with ‘animation’ or ‘motion graphics’ in what may be a ‘hybrid animation’ practice for instance.
And now it is HELLO! to programmes such as Unreal Engine which some of my graduates use to mix sources so you can’t even see the join between animated characters and filmed actors in a combined scene. Then there are others using poetry as prompts for AI to create images and sequences in Midjourney.
I have detailed quite a lot about the history and existing types of ‘poetry animation’ in my article for IJFMA. This includes examples of the animator as poet and the poet as animator. Joan Ashworth made a very astute observation back in 2005 at the Textures of Reality Conference.
“Animation can make a unique contribution to the exploration and expression of states of mind, unconscious impulses, sexuality and sensory experience. Unrestricted by the dictates of photographic realism and traditional narrative, animation can make such experience palpable via visual imagination, metaphor, metamorphosis and highly creative use of sound.”
Put simply, I think that we are used to animation breaking the rules, working in compressed time and coding information for rapid transmission through its innate mutability. And this can make it a very good vehicle for poetry. (Professor Suzie Hanna)
Links to further resources:
Animating Poetry: Whose line is It anyway?
Creation & critique of shared language in poetry animation International Journal of Film and Media Arts
Composers and animators — the creation of interpretative and collaborative vocabularies
Journal of Media Practice
Bayley S Hanna S Simmons T, Thinking Narratively, Metaphorically and Allegorically through Poetry, Animation and Sound’ Journal of American Studies/ Volume 47 / Special Issue 04 / November 2013
Diek Grobler is an artist working in various media and disciplines. Since 2010 his creative and theoretical focus has been on animated poetry-film. His films have been widely exhibited on international animation festivals, and his work has been shortlisted twice for the Weimar Poetry-film Award. He was awarded a PhD in Art from the University of South Africa and is an independent researcher on Poetry-film and experimental forms of animation.