Personae: About the Program

Ezra Pound’s poetic voice of the 20th century was important in the development of poetry in the modernist movement. Connected to musicians, composers, and artists of the early 20th century, Pound also wrote musical compositions of his own. In Pound’s music, musical realizations of poetic form, rhythm, and pacing permeate throughout.

Pound’s choice of solo violin was most likely for his companion, violinist Olga Rudge, but also exhibits a fascinating tension between the very nature of poetry as a linguistic art and the non-linguistic art of solo violin music. In Pound’s musical works, he often rejects traditional musical forms and replaces them with poetic forms including the sestina. The sestina is a structured and cyclical ancient poetic form that includes six stanzas, each with six lines. Each stanza utilizes similar words re-ordered, bringing new meaning to each stanza.

Two of Ezra Pound’s works are based on the poetic form of the sestina— Sestina:Altaforte and Al Poco Giorno. Sestina:Altaforte is based on an earlier poem by Pound where he takes the voice of Bertrand de Born, a troubadour. Al Poco Giorno is based on a sestina by Dante. In reaction to Pound’s unique blend of poetry and music, two works—Sestina (after Pound) and The Logical Conclusion are collaborations for this program that take Pound’s poetic and musical ideas and place them in their own compositional language. In JP Merz’s work Sestina (after Pound) he uses the form of the sestina and explores the emotional connection he nds to form. Pound also uses the syllables of his poetry to guide the rhythm of his musical works. Egemen Kesikli’s work The Logical Conclusion uses this same technique based on an early poem Pound’s. Kesikli intersperses these highly rhythmic motives with a technique called soffio crine, where the violinist plays parallel with the strings instead of perpendicular—creating whispering ghost sounds.

I’ve modeled the themes of this program around Pound’s work, but also the interaction between poetry and music. Dealing with poetry and a non-lingual instrument (solo violin) highlights the differences and similarities between the two arts. The film you will see starts with Personae, a collaboration between myself and Denver based filmmaker Jacob Landis-Eigsti, made for this program. The film is a cinepoem of a sestina, and in each visual “stanza” you will see similar actions or objects shown in a different light through the repetitive form. In between the Personae film “stanzas,” I’ve added clips from Stan Brakhage’s film Dante Quartet. This hand-painted abstract film draws similarities to Pound’s penchant for using ancient models (like Dante), but also provides a contrast with the more objective Personae film. This visual manifestation of two different modes of expression in film symbolize the differences and similarities I find between poetry and music. As the program progresses, these different modes of expression become mixed—a reflection on the relationship between poetry and music. 

Personae: The film

A silent film collaboration between Leslee Smucker and Jacob Landis-Eigsti for the project Personae based on the music and poetry of Ezra Pound. The film is in the form of a poetic sestina and cycles through six similar actions six times, each time through a different emotive lens. 
Person-Leslee Smucker
Production, Editing, Film-Jacob Landis-Eigsti
Written and Concept-Leslee Smucker
Directed-Jacob Landis-Eigsti and Leslee Smucker

Personae: Live Performance

ATLAS Program

ATLAS Black Box, CU Boulder, March 3 and 4, 2017.