Brakhage and “Lighght”

Brakhage’s films are often associated with the Black Mountain College poets Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. In this post, I’d like to interrogate Brakhage’s use of light through the poetry of another poet: Aram Saroyan. In 1965, Aram Saroyan caused national upheaval over his NEA award of $750 for the following poem: “Lighght”

One single word, “light” misspelled. It is my contention that this word is charged with Brakhage’s philosophy of light as discussed in Wees’s article. Brakhage said,”All that is is light.” This ontological statement frames his film, “Anticipation of Night,” as a liminal experience between being and not-being, between dark and light, between child and adult life and death. This film, in addition to “Reflections on Black,” “Mothlight,” and “Black Ice,” probes the hinge between light and dark, using dreams and hallucinations, damaging film strips, close ups of diaphanous insect wings, etc. Brees’s film “A Man And His Dog Out For Air” uses line drawing to explore light in the realm of animation, vacillating back and for between figuration and abstraction. And Keen’s “White Lite” uses apparent negative images to invert the viewer’s light experience during the film. These are films, as Wees says, not only made with light, but about light.

Interestingly, Saroyan’s “Lighght” poem contains cinematic qualities reflected in Brakhage’s work. Saroyan says, “the crux of the poem is to try and make the ineffable, which is light—which we only know about because it illuminates something else—into a thing. An extra ‘gh’ does it.” The poem exists as light, in that the reader requires light to see it. Yet, as with Brakhage’s work, the poem is also about light. The extra “gh” extends the duration of the word, reflecting on the temporal qualities of the viewer’s experience with light. Films discussed: Stan Brakhage, Anticipation of the Night, 1958 —- Reflections on Black. 1955 —– Mothlight. 1963 —– Black Ice. 1994 Robert Bree, A Man And His Dog Out For Air, 1957 Jeff Keen, White Lite. 1968

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