Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren

Poetry & Film Fuse in the Works of Maya Deren

Meshes of the Afternoon by Maya Deren

One of the most influential filmmakers in American cinema and a pioneer in dance films, Maya Deren (1917-1961) believed the function of film was to offer a viewer an experience that would evoke new conclusions. As with her poetry, Deren’s focus continually evolved and remained dynamic as she combined her interests in subjective psychology, dance and Haitian culture in her short films. Deren’s best-known and most influential experimental film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), beautifully combines poetic elements with cinematic devices. In 2015, the BBC hailed it as one of the top 100 greatest American films. Deren’s popular cinematic works also include At Land, Ritual in Transfigured Time, Meditation in Violence, and A Study in Choreography for Camera.

Maya Deren best expressed her view of the freedoms of independent cinema when she said, “Artistic freedom means that the amateur filmmaker is never forced to sacrifice visual drama and beauty to a stream of words…to the relentless activity and explanations of a plot…nor is the amateur production expected to return profit on a huge investment by holding the attention of a massive and motley audience for 90 minutes…Instead of trying to invent a plot that moves, use the movement of wind, or water, children, people, elevators, balls, etc. as a poem might celebrate these. And use your freedom to experiment with visual ideas; your mistakes will not get you fired.”

‘Meshes of the Afternoon’ and its Influence

Using a second-hand Bolex camera, Deren and husband Alexander Hammid created Meshes of the Afternoon. It was the first narrative work in avant-garde American film, establishing the New American Cinema. The editing and filming techniques used in the short have a deep sense of rhythm and create a sense of continued motion through discontinued space, conveying a deeper meaning of discomfort and distrust. The abandoning of the concepts of space and time in the film, the juxtaposition of shots, and multiple views of “self” convey a stream of consciousness that breaks viewer expectations.

Compelling themes throughout Deren’s work include reflection, dreaming, vision, ritual, identity and rhythm. Meshes of the Afternoon directly inspired David Lynch, John Coney, Su Friedrich, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and other major traditional and experimental filmmakers.

Deren on the Freedoms of Independent Cinema

When discussing the liberties of independent cinema, Deren was opposed to Hollywood’s practices and standards. She felt that artistic freedom meant never sacrificing visual beauty and drama to spoken lines and explanations of plot. Deren took advantage of movements that happened naturally—the wind blowing, balls bouncing, water running—rather than invent plots. She stated that when an artist uses his or her freedom to experiment with visual ideas, mistakes are forgiven.

At the 1953 Poetry and Film Symposium, Deren stated that poetry “is an approach to experience.” She explained that a poem’s structure makes it distinct. Its construct is the result of a situation’s vertical investigation, as it looks into a moment’s implications, qualities and depth. Deren stated that the result is poetry that doesn’t focus on what’s happening, but on how a situation feels or means.

Filmmaker and Poet, Ann Huang, has long been inspired by the Deren’s works. Cinematic and poetic visions influenced her first film, Palpitations of Dust. Reviews received from a film festival’s screening committee further support that Huang’s work reflects the freedom ideas promoted by Maya Deren:

“Interesting juxtaposition of the actors and artwork with the poems.”

“Loved the dichotomy of the Renaissance art with the visuals of the film.”

Surrealists suggest that art is a part of life. Therefore, it is vital that filmmaking be viewed as pure and keen as automatic writing or poetry writing. Poetry, filmmaking and other forms of art make the invisible, undocumented moments in an individual’s life tangible. For example, these moments are eloquent yet mysterious, wise yet innocent, and charismatic yet elusive. The portion of existence that survives without an audience must be preserved for an artist to remain whole.

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5 Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Poetry

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For decades, researchers have studied the effects of expressive writing, such as poetry, on mental and physical health. The results often showed that those who engaged in writing about emotions had better psychological and physical outcomes than those who wrote about neutral topics, according to Karen A. Baikie and Kay Wilhem in an August 2005 issue of Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Reading and writing poetry fills the soul. Regularly immersing yourself in the form of expression has a range of additional short- and long-term benefits that are too beneficial to ignore.

Benefits of Poetry on the Body and Soul

1. Improved Cognitive Function

Cognition is the act of understanding and acquiring knowledge by experiencing, thinking and sensing. Poetry improves cognitive function because it exposes you to new words and ways to express yourself. It makes you examine a poet’s words to gain an understanding of the idea communicated. If a poem uses meter, you might even find yourself doing a bit of math. Writing poetry strengthens cognitive processes as you search for the right words, find ways to express your thoughts and fine-tune the work’s rhythm. When you write poetry in response to an event that occurred in your life, the art form will help you organize and structure your memories. Writing also helps increase working memory capacity, which also helps improve cognitive processing.

2. Healing Emotional Pain

Losses that stem from a myriad of situations cause some of the most painful emotions that humans experience. These losses breed some of the most inspirational poems. Poetry promotes emotional expression and healing as it makes you explore your feelings. Writing gives you a safe, healthy way to vent and understand your feelings. By putting emotions into words, you confront it, memorialize losses and make your feelings tangible.

3. Increased Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is the knowledge that you have about your feelings, strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, motives, desires and character. It helps you understand yourself and others, as well as how others perceive you. Poetry is a powerful vehicle in the search for yourself. It improves self-awareness as it puts you in tune with your heart and mind. It helps you be more aware of your actions, emotions and the roots of your problems. Even writing about issues that seem insignificant can help you discover trends in your life that you can change or embrace.

4. Improved Self-Expression

Reading and writing poetry strengthens language and communication skills. It helps you find your voice and communicate your emotions, giving you a new sense of empowerment. Poetry gives you a flexible way to express yourself using powerful tools, such as metaphors, that reflect your internal world. Creative visualization and projective identification allow you to access the healing power of your imagination, creating a lifeline when emotions seem overwhelming. Everyone has memories to face and stories to tell. Writing poetry can help you begin a dialogue with yourself and resolve issues that created roadblocks.

5. Reduced stress

Writing has always been hailed as a cathartic and therapeutic practice with a range of benefits to emotional and personal growth. When used as a therapeutic tool, writing poetry can also reduce stress in the body and mind. Stress increases cortisol, adrenaline and glucose levels in the body. It affects digestion and alters the immune system, putting you at risk for various health problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. Reading and writing poetry helps you reduce stressors in your life and manage the impacts they have on you, which may help improve your overall health and wellbeing.

Surrealist Poems about Emotional Breakthroughs and Strength

Max Ernst

By Paul Eluard
In a corner agile incest
Circles the virginity of a little dress.
In a corner the sky turned over
To the spines of the storm leaves white balls behind.

In the brightest corner of every eye
We’re expecting the fish of anguish.
In a corner the car of summer
Immobile glorious and forever.

In the light of youth
Lamps lit very late.
The first one shows its breasts that red insects are killing.


By Robert Desnos

It’s strange how you wake sometimes in the middle of the night in the middle of sleep someone has knocked on a door And in the extraordinary city of midnight of half-waking
and half-memory heavy gates clang from street to street

Who is this nocturnal visitor with an unknown face
what does he seek what does he spy
Is he a poor man demanding bread and shelter
Is he a thief is he a bird
Is he a reflection of ourselves in the mirror
Back from a transparent abyss
Trying to re-enter us

Then he realizes that we’ve changed
that the key no longer turns in the lock
Of the mysterious door of bodies
Even if he’s only left us for a few minutes
at the troublesome moment when we put out the light

What does he become then
Where does he wander? does he suffer?
Is this the origin of ghosts?
the origin of dreams?
the birth of regrets?

No longer knock at my door visitor
There’s no room on my hearth or in my heart
For the old images of myself
Perhaps you recognize me
I’ll never know how do you recognize yourself

Less Time

By André Breton

Less time than it takes to say it, less tears than it takes to die; I’ve taken account of everything, there you have it.
I’ve made a census of the stones, they are as numerous as my fingers and some others;
I’ve distributed some pamphlets to the plants, but not all were willing to accept them.
I’ve kept company with music for a second only and now I no longer know what to think of suicide, for if I ever want to part from myself, the exit is on this side and, I add mischievously, the entrance, the re-entrance is on the other.
You see what you still have to do.
Hours, grief, I don’t keep a reasonable account of them; I’m alone, I look out of the window; there is no passerby, or rather no one passes (underline passes).
You don’t know this man? It’s Mr. Same.
May I introduce Madam

Madam? And their children.
Then I turn back on my steps, my steps turn back too, but I don’t know exactly what they turn back on.
I consult a schedule; the names of the towns have been replaced by the names of people who have been quite close to me.
Shall I go to A, return to B, change at X? Yes, of course I’ll change at X.
Provided I don’t miss the connection with boredom!

There we are: boredom, beautiful parallels, ah! how beautiful the parallels are under God’s perpendicular