Poet Heid Erdrich finds herself ‘pre-occupied’

This weekend Heid Erdrich will be sharing some of her poetry at an event for Minnesota State Arts Board grant winners.

But instead of reading her poems, she’ll be showing them on the big screen.

Short poem film by Heid E. Erdrich, Art Direction by R. Vincent Moniz, Jr., Animation by Jonathan Thunder–in collaboration with the artists of Pilot Car.

Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibway, has joined a growing number of poets that are finding new life – and new audiences – for their work in the form of videos. Erdrich says a video, when done right, makes the poem “ever-so-much-more-so itself.”

“Since I first started writing, I have always thought of my poems as little movies,” explains Erdrich. “After seeing a few other poets start making book trailers, I decided I wanted to make little poem films.

“Last winter I worked as a creative consultant to Zorongo Dance Theater, I had the chance to create poems as a kind of libretto inspired by Susan Di Palma’s family story. Those poems form the basis of guiding imagery that I shared with Jonathan Thunder who was making animations for Zorro in the Land of the Golden-breasted Woodpecker. It was a thrill to collaborate that way and I realized that I wanted to do more–especially with Jonathan. He worked on all three of my poem films.”

Short poem film based on a poem by Heid E. Erdrich, directed by Elizabeth Day

The three videos Erdrich will present tomorrow night vary dramatically in range and tone, from a sweet evocation of hanging laundry on a summer day, to a politically charged response to the Occupy movement.

Erdrich says she was inspired to write “Pre-occupied” after being asked to submit a poem for a project called “99 Poems for the 99%.”

“It struck me as ironic that Native Americans are just a bit more than 1% of the population. Deeply ironic is the idea of Native Americans, who might sense their territories as occupied, being part of a movement called ‘Occupy.’ The poem imagines a movement centered on indigenous concerns. I had no conception of the current Idle No More movement when I wrote the poem, but here it has come into being and it is not unlike the vision of the poem.”

Short poem film written by Heid E. Erdrich and translated into Anishinaabemowin by Margaret Noodin. Directed by R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. with effects by Jonathan Thunder.

Erdrich says as a result of working on the videos, she’s learned to see things in layers.

“There were so many layers in one part of the film that it looked like a Navajo blanket.

Films are hard work that must be done in collaboration and that require people to understand or submit to your vision. The work was hugely challenging; I had to perform and I had to explain my choices, back them up, and nail them down. These films taught me that a shared vision is a liberation, even in a simple thing that last only a few minutes.”

If you can’t make Saturday’s event, Erdrich and poet Ed Bok Lee will present their video poems on April 11 at the Central Library in Minneapolis.