Poetry in Motion: Motion Graphics Class Takes Inspiration from UM-Flint Writers

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A scene from "Gray Scale Grace" | Images by Jason Jerke |Poem by Shannon Flegel
A scene from "Gray Scale Grace" | Images by Jason Jerke |Poem by Shannon Flegel

Cathy Amboy started her poem "1980 December" in 2009. When she received some unfavorable reviews at a writers' workshop in Iowa, she was undaunted.

"I thought, 'There is something here'," said Amboy, who earned her Master's Degree in English from University of Michigan-Flint in 2010.  She revised, fine-tuned, and crafted it for four years.

The poem, which included elements of a romance in Toronto, made the Winter 2013 edition of Qua, the university's literary journal.

But that wasn't the end of the story for her piece.

This fall, a UM-Flint motion graphics class created 30 to 60 second videos, with each student making one. Ben Gaydos, an assistant professor of communication and visual arts, told his students to find a line of written word from a Qua piece and make it their own via some form of animation.

"They take that sentence as a starting point," Gaydos said about the inspiration from poetry or prose.  "It's pretty inventive in that way. Often, the writers have no idea that their sentence has been chosen and thought through in a different way."

Count Amboy in that camp. She didn't realize a line from her poem would spark a video that would leave her intrigued.

Emily Slezak, a graphic design junior, was taken by a certain line in Amboy's poem.

"It was loneliness, not gravity that pulled you to me."

"It was really powerful to me," Slezak said, explaining her take on the line. "I really like the emotion in it. Sometimes people are so lonely they are desperate to find someone to be with."

Slezak created a cut out image of a man, and in stop motion, he is falling down from the moon, bouncing from the clouds and stars. The video also includes real photographs of people returning from war.

It was Loneliness from Emily Slezak on Vimeo.

"I wanted to present a sense of sadness and loneliness, him falling through the sky," Slezak said. "Finding somebody but being forced to be with somebody because he was lonely."

Amboy, a writing teacher at Mott Community College and an assistant principal at the Lapeer County Education and Technology Center, found out about the poem when contacted for this story.

'How do they do these graphics like that?' she said while watching for the first time. A few hours later, she was still impressed.

"I can't stop watching it and have shared it with others," she said.

This is the second year Gaydos has integrated the project into his motion graphic class. Students can utilize any type of animation, like digital, traditional, stop motion, or kinetic typography.

"They learn to create a narrative in a very short amount of time," he said. "They have 30 to 60 seconds to connect with the viewer."

Jacob Newsom, a computer information systems major, had never read Qua before the project.

"Going into the project, I was a little nervous because I'm not a very big poetry guy, and was worried I wouldn't be able to find something I could use for it."

But looking through multiple issues of Qua, that problem dissipated and he picked a line from "Sunrise on Lake Huron", a poem written by Barbara Burden that ran in the Fall 2011 edition.

Cold winds gust in from Huron's glacial deep,
As clamorous waves announce the morning tide,
Dawn lures the waning moon to her white sleep.

"Going into this project," I wanted to pick a line that gave me a solid image in my head," he said. "When I read Barbara's work, it instantly drew a picture of a dark star-lit sky over a body of water with a bright moon in my mind. That's exactly what I felt like I needed to start planning the rest of the project."

Waning Moon from Jacob Newsom on Vimeo.

"That line, along with the title of the poem, made me think about Michigan," Newsom said. "I started to think of what comes to my mind when I think about Michigan, like forests, farms, and of course the Great Lakes. That's kind of how I developed the theme of the moon slowly 'going to sleep' across the lake as dawn approaches, and Michigan begins to 'wake up'", Newsom said, describing his video and how the poem sparked his content.

Jason Jerke, a senior majoring in visual communication, with an emphasis on graphic design, was struck immediately by one line in the poem Grayscale Grace, by Shannon Flegel.

"As if a ballerina were to age and wither and die during dance supple young woman to frail skeleton."

Gray Scale Grace Animation from Jason Jerke on Vimeo.

He created graphics, with this line on a tombstone as the ballerina followed suit and fell to the ground, nothing but bones and clothes. Jerke wanted to convey an "airy and creepy and somber mood."

"It resonated, the feelings, expressed in the poem. You are here one minute and the next minute you are not. That really resonated with me," he said.

The video work done by the 16 motion graphics students will be shown at the launch party Saturday, December 13, for the upcoming edition of Qua. The event, which starts at 7 p.m. at Buckham Gallery at 134 ½ West 2nd Street in Flint , will also feature readings from the upcoming edition.

Contact University Relations staff writer Robert Gold with comments, questions, and ideas at goldr@umflint.edu, (810) 424-5596, or on Twitter, @writerobert.

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