Filmic Broadsides


Modern poetry broadsides are rooted in the tradition of illuminated

manuscripts produced during medieval times. In those days, monks would

copy important text in black or even gold ink between ruled lines on

sheets of vellum paper. These were then given to other monks for

proofreading. They would then add titles in blue or red ink and pass the

pages on to illustrators who would add images, color, and the requisite

gold illumination. High demand for these manuscripts led to the need for

more scribes. By the fifteenth century, cloistered nuns were producing

these manuscripts. The work was long and tedious, carried out in the

silence of rooms lit only by narrow windows, cold in winter and sultry

in summer.

The invention of the printing press brought all this to an end. But the

tradition survived.

In modern times, independent printers create broadsides. Poems are

designed and printed on paper, often hand-made, with small silkscreen

presses. These prints are collectible, frequently in numbered editions.

In this way, like an illuminated manuscript, the poem becomes a material

thing to be touched and seen, engaging the senses.

In this tradition, “Documentary on Mourning” uses film as a new

broadside medium to illuminate four poems by Stellasue Lee: “No Heart

Can Be Hidden in the Ground,” “Between Life and Loss,” “A New Heart in

Heaven,” and “Dusting.” It is, in effect, a filmic broadside, the

marriage of visual, oral, and literary art to create an immersive poetry



For those of you who would like to get an overview of my course, I teach writing. Whether it’s poetry, memoir, short story, novel, flash fiction, self-help, newspaper, travel, or trade journal articles, even instruction manuals, it’s all writing. I teach people how to write.

We’ve all had the experience of reading and find our eyes sub-consciously skip to the top of the next paragraph, and then skip again. We think it’s our fault, we’re not concentrating. It’s not our fault. The writer has failed to vary the energies so that each word draws the reader to the next word. It’s like listening to music that sounds “dah, dah, dah, dah… dah” until after a while, of course our mind wanders.

People in my beginning class often have a difficult time with exercises, preferring to just write and go with the flow rather than focus. If they've taken classes before, they usually write on some theme or subject. But I teach Method Writing. The theme or subject doesn’t matter. It’s is all about how to use tonal changes to create a work of art that is vibrant and alive, one that involves the reader.

My students will find I suggest adjustments, so the work reads better. Response to the "written product" is natural. After all, the world is real. We cannot live in process all the time. But if we are doing our work, what Frost calls "playing for mortal stakes," we are going to begin by working from process toward product, and not the other way around. Practice, practice, practice,

Anders Ericsson looked into why some people are more successful than others. For example, conservatory students… some in his study went on to brilliant solo or orchestral careers, while others ended up as more workaday musicians. The naturally gifted students didn’t necessarily rise to the top. Others did. What set them apart?

He found that those who worked harder achieved more success. Duh! We know that. We don't need a research paper to tell us that.

But Ericsson also came up with a statistic, one that has become something of a handy-dandy number. On average, you need ten thousand hours of practice to become truly successful at anything.

How many hours do you already have in writing? Wherever you are, that’s where we’ll begin. We’ll travel together for a short way. And when you feel you’re ready, off you go!

In the meantime, here are some suggestions:

Write like you talk.

Use the transformation line.

Give the reader an event that contains moments, what I call image/moments.

See what happens when you throw in tonal changes.

Practice. Make it fun, imaginative, deep, personal and dark.

Write like you talk, oh, did I say that TWICE?

Let the truth come to you.

Allow for accidents of genius.

Read books you don't like, by writers from whom you might learn. See good movies. See good plays. Go to a concert. Visit a gallery or museum. Then write. Deliberately. With focus. With intention to practice the exercise. Don't try to write well. Write truly. And finally, write like you talk. Oops!

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