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May 3, 2023

‘Moving (Images)’: Experiments in Poetry and Film

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Cornell Cinema, dim lights. The audience and the performers — we’re all waiting for the beginning. Suddenly, a young man enters with a few bouquets in his hands, and the smell of fresh flowers fills the room and stays with us for the rest of the event. 

Undoubtedly, “Moving (Images),” an experimental film and poetry night featuring six talented Cornell graduate students, was emotionally and contextually deep. It raised a variety of questions and, for me, answered one major question regarding healing from the grief of loss. These beautiful artworks had such themes as mother and mother tongue, the grief of loss and the value of love and prioritizing yourself.

Every presented work was inspired by or tightly related to Sonali Fernando’s short film, Body Of A Poet: A Tribute to Audre Lorde (1995), which we watched at the end of the event, and it worked as a tying knot to all of the works that were presented before it. This imaginary biopic was created to celebrate the strong and brave character of Audre Lorde, a black lesbian poet and political activist. In the film, she is presented as a warrior poet. We get to know about her childhood, her hardworking mother, her situation with her school teacher related to language questions, her love, her years of teaching and everything that follows from that. She said that through poetry she wanted to bring the chaotic beauty of experience to language. Lorde encouraged young women to arm their hearts, because it is a human’s weakest place, and open them because our heart is our compass.

The beginning: Lights and the audience’s voices go down. The bright light of the projector introduces us to the first performer of the night: Arpita Chakrabarty. Through her poetry, she gives us a full experience of what it’s like to live in two different cultures, have two different lifestyles and speak two different languages — Bangla and English. When people corrected her grammar mistakes, it was not only about erasing the mistakes but also about erasing some parts of her individuality. 

After this, we watched three breathtaking short films, each paired with poetry readings that helped us understand the context better: Six Thousand Miles to Tomorrow by Winniebell Xinyu Zong and Yuan Chen, Water Lily by Ami Tamakloe and MU/T/T/ER by Kondo Heller. 

Six Thousand Miles to Tomorrow and the poem written in Mandarin are dedicated to Zong’s 奶奶(grandma), who lives in China. Zong couldn’t see her family for four years because of COVID-19 and diplomatic fights in the country. To create a feeling of separation, a black background is shown with small oval-like videos of Grandma, then of Zong and, finally, two ovals together, to show that despite the physical distance, they are still connected with 爱 (love). The most impressive aspect of this short film is that Grandma’s visual part was shot by Zong’s mom and aunt while she distantly curated the process. This makes me believe even more that love is stronger than any distance. 

Water Lily, with a paired poem, tells us about the “tightening prison-flesh” that “leaves me a shallow self” and the first discovery of pleasure with the girl whom Tamakloe loved . Her friend gave the first tender touch that she will never forget. The film has incredible visuals — in the critical moment of the narrative we can experience the character’s despair and disconnection from herself through saturated colors (blue, yellow and red prevailed). 

MU/T/T/ER is one of the most majestic artworks I’ve ever seen. The overlapping and glitching of different voices beautifully represent the overlapping of cultures and languages that arise once you have to live outside of your home country. This short film is dedicated to Heller’s mom. They ask themselves how they should call their mom now that she has passed away. Spirit? Wind? Mother? Salt? Sand? Mutter? The narrative conveys a huge feeling of grief and a search for healing. “Pain either changes or ends,” Heller quotes Lorde.

The stage is dark again, and we clap to welcome our last performer before watching the leading movie. Aishvarya Arora starts reading their poems. They talk about their mother and her hard work at the factory. Then we see a beautiful childhood picture of them and their mom, dressed in traditional garb. They say they wish we all could pay our mothers. They wish we could mother our mothers to give them  rest. Their mom responds in the poem that she wants her child to pay for their peace. 

In the Q&A we mostly discussed loss and how to overcome it. We all agreed that it comes in waves, and it will never go away. Of course, it shrinks from time to time, but that doesn’t mean it has disappeared. We have to learn to coexist with our loss and keep a leash on our monsters. Because no matter how much we refuse and want to hide them, they are just parts of us.

Nika Makoviak is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].