My friend and colleague, Alister Sanderson—professor, experimental filmmaker, and former creative director and senior producer at the A & E Network—has embarked upon an interesting little project. Well, maybe not so little. “In the old Anglo-Saxon riddles,” Alister says, “things speak poignantly or tongue-in-cheek about their experiences in the human world. My own things speak in the Shakespearean sonnet form, the missing rhyme in the last couplet being the name of the thing speaking—and an invitation for the listener to guess what that thing is.” Makes me think of Francis Ponge as well as those poems in the part I prologue of Don Quixote. Beyond merely writing these charming and sometimes haunting riddle sonnets, Alister has begun using his skill behind the camera to film performers reciting his work. He posts the results on his website at www.alistersanderson.com for all to see.
Early this past spring, Alister invited me to recite one of his poems on camera and I agreed. A few weeks before the appointed day, he gave me a copy of the text, and I started memorizing. Here’s the nifty—yes, nifty—script in which the poem itself appears:
VOICE-OVER :15/ Music
The Life of Things
by Alister Sanderson
Slow zoom out from mouth to medium shot of the speaker
In the riddle you’re about to hear, a thing is talking about itself but leaves out the last word of the riddle, its own name. Listen as Jerry Williams lends his voice to The Life of Things and guess the name of the thing.
The door clicks shut, I’m in the dark, alone,
a hush settles in, time to contemplate
why I went mad. I know a switch was thrown
that jolted me into a howling fit. I ate
air though never enough, couldn’t catch my breath
—the horror of my emptiness inside,
whirring wings—o those angels of death
and moan of whirlwind where my mouth gaped wide!
It’s your fault, my sad fate, how I’m designed
to rage and never satisfy my craving.
Can’t you hear me screaming out of my mind?!
Furies torment me; you care only that I’m “labor-saving.”
You with your tidy mind and tame demeanor,
are you any saner than your ______ - _______ ?
Hold on Jerry, fade to black
© Alister Sanderson, 2011
On Saturday, April 30th, Alister lugged his equipment to the Bronx on the BxM7 express bus and set up in my living room. I made myself as comfortable as possible in my black faux club chair, and he pointed a lens at me. I hope you will allow me this small measure of corn: The next two hours evaporated in the guiltless exuberance of artistic collaboration. All I remember is that the director seemed encouraging and supportive, and he didn’t mind that I hadn’t done a very good job of learning my lines. We cruised through more than twenty takes of “Riddle Sonnet XXII” that went from tidy to bat-shit crazy. I’m awfully glad to report that Alister prefers the latter. In the end, he squeezed what he called a “performance” out of me. Click on the URL below at your own peril. Beware my giant noggin. Actually, that sounds melodramatic, but you get the idea:
We welcome any and all answers to the riddle.