I met Dara at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. We were both visiting artists supported by Tupelo Press and staying at the museum residency area. It was one fantastic summer time - - exchanging creative thoughts and knowledge with other visiting writers and artists - - we also had a chance to visit Tupelo Press. Their office was located at an old factory building along with print makers, pottery studios, and many other creative spaces. Now, Tupelo Press' office is closer to the main building of MASS MoCA.
During the stay, her poem was accepted by AGNI Magazine and we celebrated together. (She actually ate all my cooking, including super leftover spaghetti.) At that moment, she was working on her debut poetry collection, which won the 20th John Ciardi Prize for Poetry through BkMk Press at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Her book, DARK BRAID, will be available soon.
On Creating an Animated Book Review
By Dara Yen Elerath
When Cynthia Cruz came to read at my MFA program--the Institute of American Indian Arts—I approached her to express how much I admired her writing. I’m shy and usually reluctant to speak to esteemed authors, but Cruz’s poems affected me and I felt compelled to voice my enthusiasm.
Since then I have continued to admire the sinuous music of her language and her capacity to render experiences without moralizing, explaining or judging the characters in her poems. Instead of providing a framework for us to interpret her experiences, Cruz gives us a window onto them—dark and harrowing though they may be. At the beginning of her collection, The Glimmering Room, she cites the Gospel of Thomas:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not
bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”
In accordance with this, Cruz’s poems give voice to an inner world so dense and unexpected that it takes on the heady quality of a fever dream. The Glimmering Room addresses themes that might be too painful to encounter were they not wrapped in the narcotic beauty of her strange, raw and glamorously edgy imagery.
It is this imagery I began with when considering how to create an animated review for her book. Many lines in her poems conjured visions of America in the 1990s. Specific items stood out to me: Paxil, Care Bears, My Little Ponies. These evocations of the 90s reminded me, also, of zines—small-circulation, self-published fan magazines common to the era.
A do-it-yourself ethic was characteristic of these zines, which were often comprised of hand-made art and collaged images. While my own aesthetic is softer and does not reflect the punk sensibility of most zines, I still held them in mind as I began to lay out the graphic.
The main figure in my design was inspired by the many girls, often depicted in treatment facilities, that populate Cruz’s book. The youthful trappings these girls bear—stuffed animals, glitter nail polish and skater-boy haircuts—make the incongruity of their already adult problems all the more poignant. In several poems they wear paper crowns, which serve as a particularly apt metaphor for the notions of false power that underlie the narrative threads in this collection.
With regard to the animation, I wanted it to be minimal, but impactful. The review is composed of fragile, ephemeral-seeming elements—paper, tape, handwriting, line-drawings—that I hope reflect the psychic delicacy of Cruz’s characters; I decided that the viscerality of blood might provide a needed contrast to this. Since broken childhood is a defining theme of this collection I chose to animate the blood spilling from the girl’s chest like a gunshot wound.
While the technical aspects of crafting this review are beyond the purview of this brief essay, I would like to mention that I used two professional design programs, Photoshop and After Effects, to composite and animate the review. The images I created were assembled in Photoshop then imported into After Effects where I generated the animations using tools in the program. I took a frame-by-frame animation approach with the blood, rendering out several states of the blood spilling downward and letting the program interpolate the states in-between these.
I loved working on this graphic review, particularly for the time it gave me to spend contemplating the language and atmosphere of Cruz’s book. I appreciate the dialog between text and image, as well as between reader and writer, that these ekphrastic responses encourage. The idea of graphic book reviews is still new, but I’m grateful for Naoko’s work in generating the initial idea and in urging others to create them. My hope is that interest in these reviews-as-works-of-art will flourish and grow for years to come.
Dara Yen Elerath is a poet and graphic artist. Her debut collection, Dark Braid, won the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry and is forthcoming in 2020 with BkMk Press.
Virtual Girls Night with Dara at "ポエムスナックシャック" (Poem Snack-Shack)
We were editing this article together - - she had a virtual glass of milk & I had a glass of water. I played the piano per her request. Have a drink with us.