Short of the Week

Billy Collins Action Poetry: Budapest

A poem by New York Poet Laureate Billy Collins, with inventive stop-motion and 3d animation. Part of a series.

Part of a 2006 collaborative enterprise from the Sundance Channel and the famous J. Walter Thompson ad agency, the eleven poems in the Action Poetry Series, feature the writing of New York’s very own Billy Collins, who was the Poet Laureate at the time, and in fact a former Poet Laureate of the whole country. The series pairs the poems with a varied collection of animated movies from some of the best animators in the business. In my Animation Blog, I have featured many of these shorts: today’s selection, if you have not yet enjoyed the series, is by way of introduction.

All writers know the block, the periods of inactivity when the creative process simply dries up. Budapest, a city poet Billy has never visited, is the title of Julian Grey’s response to the challenge of Sundance. A hand clutching an old fashioned pen—the sort with a sharp nib that needs to be dipped into an ink pot—is seen like some disembodied beast with a mind of its own. With the camera low, cast in a blue hue, it scribbles in desultory fashion, page after page, the passage of time denoted by a change of arm from green sweater to plaid shirt,. The pen also acquires a mind of its own, requiring a little firm handling. Overlaid animations complement the live action and stop motion as insects crawl from the nib, a bird drinks from the puddled ink. In a nice touch during the close, we see the blue momentarily change to sunset yellow as, through a window, golden Budapest appears to be reflected in the now 3D puddle of ink, a distraction and relief both.

Billy Collins is a tad more accessible, not to say enjoyable, than some Poet Laureates from some other countries I might mention. He reads his own poems with a weary assurance that suits his subjects to perfection. Canadian animator Julian Grey has contributed two other poems, of which Forgetfulness is a moving response to waning powers. He and partner Steve Angel founded the award winning Toronto-based Head Gear in 1997.

Should you delve further and wish a pick-me-up, do view Today from the remarkable Californian studio, Little Fluffy Clouds or, in a different mood entirely, No Time from New York’s very distinctive Jeff Scher.

UK resident, Ian is presently Vice Principal of a large specialist performing arts college in the north of England. He also runs the Animation Blog in which he reviews animations from around the world. He can as well enjoy Ted Avery as Michael Dudoc de Wit.
  • Sondhi

    I really like No Time. I dig Jeff Scher’s style. I was just introduced to him this month through a piece he did for the NyTimes.

    Wasn’t too impressed with the Juan Delcan entry “The Dead”, even though it just won the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival. “The Spider” by Delcan is much better imho.

  • Andrew S Allen

    Solid idea. Nice imagery. Great movement. Overall, a pleasure to watch.

  • admin

    @Sondhi—Funny you mention that you like “You Won’t Remember This Either” as the animation style follows in the footsteps of the famous Ryan Larkin’s Walking from the 1970s.

  • Sondhi

    Oh yeah, I hadn’t made that connection, but I definitely see the similarity. They took Walking off youtube, but its up on

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