Poetry and animation may seem an unlikely combination upon first consideration: After all, how does one translate a poem—its language, action, imagery, idiom, emotion, syntax, rhythm—into visuals that are commensurate to what the poem is saying and doing on the page? Well, our friends at TED-Ed have accomplished just that with their new animated poetry series called “There’s a poem for that”.
The series recently launched with the poem “To Make Use of Water” by Sudanese-American poet Safia Elhillo. It’s a devastating but starkly beautiful lyric elegy spurred by the speaker’s reflections on dislocation, identity, estrangement, distance, home. While she struggles with both the privilege and guilt of leaving behind her family and culture to pursue a life in America (“/stupid girl, atlantic got your tongue/”, the speaker chides herself in the poem’s first section as she recalls Arabic and English words she’s forgotten), she also contemplates and interrogates her new world and the inclusion and exclusion she’s found there.
In TED-Ed’s short video, Elhillo reads “To Make Use of Water” (with accompanying subtitles) while animation with the texture of water, or perhaps watery memory, mirrors the poem’s movements. The images hover, swirl, dissolve (which is the title of one of the poem’s sections) into each other as they give shape to the speaker’s argument with herself. To be sure, “To Make Use of Water” stands on its own as piercing piece of art; but its coupling with animation heightens the poem’s drama of longing, of seeking impossible closure, of trying to reconcile two different selves that are nonetheless inextricably intertwined. The result is an arresting literary-visual work that demands to be watched and heard—and will certainly be relished—by anyone in search of a transformational artistic engagement. Go check it out here.
P.S. After Elhillo’s animated poem, stay tuned for an insightful interview with the poet.