Frances Negron-Muntaner

Frances Negron-Muntaner

Frances Negrón-Muntaner is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, curator, scholar and professor at Columbia University, where she is the founding director of the Media and Idea Lab, and founding curator of the Latino Arts and Activism Archive at Columbia’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. She also served as the director of Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race from 2009-2016. Among her publications are: Boricua Pop: Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture (CHOICE Award, 2004) and The Latino Media Gap (2014), the most comprehensive examination to date of the persistent marginalization of Latinos in English-language mainstream media. Her films include Brincando el charco: Portrait of a Puerto Rican (Whitney Biennial, 1995), Small City, Big Change (2014) and War for Guam (2015). 

Read below for a Q&A with Frances!

Visible Poetry Project (VPP): How did the video come about?

Frances Negrón-Muntaner (FNM): In 2001, I was shooting a film about the struggle to evict the US Navy from Vieques. In the middle of the process, 9/11 happened. As many others, I worried that the attack would make it impossible for the people of Vieques and their supporters in New York (and elsewhere) to continue pressuring the US government for justice. So, I went to New York to see if, and how, 9/11 had changed things.

During one of our shoots, I ran into the Nuyorican poet Abraham Jesús “Tato” Laviera in East Harlem. I had met Tato in 1995 at the University of California, Berkeley. I was there showing my film Brincando el charco: Portrait of a Puerto Rican as part of a conference organized by professors Julio Ramos and Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel titled “Displacing Citizenship/La condición puertorriqueña.”

We started talking and Tato asked me what I was doing. I explained the project and he said, “I have a poem on 9/11, do you want to hear it?” And I said, yes, of course. So, he spoke the poem on the spot. Tato’s performance was very dynamic, and I thought the poem captured how many felt at the moment. I asked if we could record it again in a less noisy setting where we could also design the lighting, perhaps a studio. We found an inexpensive space and asked the musician Tato Torres to join us on the drums. In retrospect, we captured one of the most pristine recordings of Tato Laviera’s art.

VPP: What is the importance of this poem?

FNM: The original poem, titled “Innocence (to 9/11),” is unique in at least two ways. On the one hand, it is different from most texts in Tato’s corpus. Many of his poems are about the Puerto Rican experience, creatively mix Spanish and English, and reflect on transcultural identities. But, as he tells in the video’s opening interview, 9/11 shifted his thinking. He started to view himself not only as a Nuyorican or “AmeRícan” as he once wrote, but as an American too. This is reflected in how he speaks from (and to) a collective “us” and uses only English.

On the other hand, while the poem is different from others in Tato’s canon, it is still distinctively his and unlike much 9/11 discourse in emphasis, point of view, and texture. While he embraces unity, Tato is critical of policies that use events like 9/11 to undermine civil liberties, promote racial profiling, and discriminate against Muslims and immigrants. Aware that New York is a global city and the US part of an interconnected humanity, Tato understands the attack as not simply against a nation or the west but, as he puts it, “the world.” In other words, the poem shows Tato carving English differently in more than one sense as he seeks to grasp a complex global juncture.

VPP: Why release the video now?

 FNM: I always wanted to release the recording with part of the interview and a creative treatment of 9/11 images and sounds, but I did not have the funds to work steadily on it. So, a few Columbia students who worked with me in the Media and Idea Lab would devote time to the video whenever possible. One of those students was Michelle Cheripka, founding executive director of Visible Poetry Project. Michelle was the first student to envision how the piece could be edited.

About two months ago, Michelle reached out to see if I wanted to participate in the project by completing the video. I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to finish it. I asked Elisabetta Diorio, who currently works with me at the Lab, to take a look. She built on what Michelle had done and resolved the piece’s structure and tone. Then, I asked editor Mike Vass to give it a final touch.

For years, Tato would call asking me if the video was completed. Sadly, Tato passed away in 2013 and was not able to watch the finished film. But I am happy that it is finally available and that we can still make a contribution to expanding the diversity of voices reflecting on 9/11 and connecting new generations to Tato’s work, and one of New York City’s most vital cultural creations: Nuyorican poetry.   

Anna Eijsbouts

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Name: Anna Eijsbouts

Hometown: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Bio: Anna is an animator living between Amsterdam and London. She holds an MA in Animation from the Royal College of Art (2012), has won several awards with her graduation film Tired of Swimming, and now teaches animation at the University of Bedfordshire and the Utrecht School of the Arts while doing commercial work and independent projects on the side. She likes to think up characters she’d be happy to stalk for a while and that’s where her films usually start.

Fun Fact: I’m obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Favorite Film: Cabaret, The Red Shoes, Bagdad Café

Favorite Poem: I really can’t say, this changes daily, but I can give you some writers: Patti Smith, Nayyirah Waheed, Rimbaud, and (obviously) Neil Gaiman.

Twitter: @annaeijsbouts


Malcolm Friend

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Name: Malcolm Friend

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Bio: I joined the Visible Poetry Project because I'm interested in the different ways a poem can come to life. Poems are stereotypically thought of as things that exist solely on the page/in books, but I'm interested in how what's on the page can be translated and how poetry can interact with other forms of art and expression.

Fun Fact: I actually started out as a fiction writer, and wanted to write short stories. I didn't defect to the dark side until the end of my junior year of college.

Favorite Poem: "asimilao" by Tato Laviera

Facebook & YouTube: Malcolm Friend

Twitter: @friendlypoet


Ilana Simons

Name: Ilana Simons

Hometown: Brooklyn (moving to Los Angeles in May).

Bio: I am a clinical psychologist who makes animated movies about high-pitched emotional states. I like videos that spark some bodily-felt connection between word and image. A few of my short videos focus on authors (Haruki Murakami, William Empson), and my one-woman show, All Together Now (New York Fringe Festival, 2016), tells my history of relating to men. I am the author of A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living through Virginia Woolf (Penguin, 2007).

Fun Fact: Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick and Ariana Reines’s Coeur de Lion helped me heal after divorce. So did traveling to Nashville to make an animated documentary about the relatively unknown, fabulous painter Noah Saterstrom, from which my video poem for this festival is taken.


Favorite Film: I have been very inspired by Michel Gondry’s Is The Man Who Is Tall Happy? And Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog.


Albert Tholen

Name: Albert Tholen

Bio: Albert is a filmmaker living and working in New York City. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2015, and he's since directed, shot, or produced a slew of short-form content, including short narratives, documentary films, and music videos. Albert is the co-founder of artist/filmmaker collective Zakkubalan and a member of NYC production companies, Good Baby Films and People's Television. He is a 2016-2017 Marcie Bloom Fellow in Film.

Fun Fact: Steinway & Sons moved its piano factory out to its current location in Astoria, Queens in 1870 in order to distance its workers from labor movements and disruption by anarchists and socialists.

Favorite Film: Possession by Andrej Zulawski


PJ Sauerteig

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Name: PJ Sauerteig

Bio: PJ Sauerteig is a recent graduate of Columbia University, where he pursued Creative Writing. In college, he began releasing music under the moniker, Slow Dakota; PJ also runs the boutique record label, Massif Records. This past year, he enrolled in NYU School of Law, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and released an album, “The Ascension of Slow Dakota.” He writes mostly about the Midwest - where he was born, and where he hopes to return.

Fun Fact: I have never learned to tie a tie. Rebellion takes many forms.

Favorite Poem or Film: “To a Stranger” by Walt Whitman. As for movies, I recently made my girlfriend watch Requiem for a Dream (one of my favorites) - a masterpiece, but not ideal for a romantic date night.

Facebook: P.J. Sauerteig

Twitter: PJ_Sauerteig

Mandy Gutmann-Gonzales


Name: Mandy Gutmann-Gonzales

Bio: Mandy Gutmann-Gonzalez, 30, grew up in Vilches, Chile. They hold an MFA in Poetry from Cornell University. In 2010, they attended the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets and in 2013, the Lambda Writing Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. Their novel in Spanish La Pava (Ediciones Inubicalistas, 2016) follows three children who indirectly experience the trauma of the Pinochet military dictatorship. The poems in their current project, Edge Beast, “close read” objects at once familiar and foreign (a microwave, nail polish, a WW2 bunker). Most recently their poetry has appeared in Hobart, BLOOM, and Cimarron Review. The poem chosen for the Visible Poetry Project, "The Microwave," is in conversation with the hypnotic, digitalized world in Taiwanese artist Chen Wan-jen's video "The Unconscious Voyage," in which people move across a barren landscape in loops of repetitive movement. Boundaries, scope, elegy, and apocalypse, are some of the ideas animating this poem.

Favorite poetry collection: Helen in Egypt by H.D.

Favorite film: Under the Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer).


Neo Sora

Name: Neo Sora

Bio: Neo Sora is a filmmaker living and working in New York City. He graduated in 2014 from Wesleyan University, majoring in Philosophy and Film Studies. Since then, he has worked as a freelance Japanese-English translator, subtitler, and filmmaker. In 2015, he shot and co-directed an ethnographic documentary entitled Ainu Neno An Ainu, along with artist collective Lunch Bee House, which he is a part of. The film, still in post-production, traces the indigenous Ainu people living in Northern Japan who continue practicing their culture despite Japanese colonialism. Since then, he has directed, shot, and produced short narrative and documentary films, music videos, fashion spots, and a concert film. Neo is also a part of artist/filmmaker duo Zakkubalan and a member of NYC production company Good Baby Films.

Fun Fact: Neo's favorite food is rice.

Favorite Film/Poem: I don't know if I have a favorite film, but I am in love with the films of Edward Yang. I'm only recently getting into poetry, but I just bought a book by Fred Moten which seems great from the first few.


Instagram: @nope_sooope




Elizabeth Romo

Name: Elizabeth Romo

Hometown: Mexico City, MX

Bio: I joined the Visible Poetry Project because the idea of a group of people working towards new ways of experiencing poetry gives me hope. Visual poetry is one of the keystones of my artistic practice, so the opportunity to push that forward by means of a collaboration struck me as pure genius.

Fun Fact: I learnt how to grow a vegetable garden for the first time after turning 30, on a Brooklyn brownstone roof.

Favorite Film: The Rocky Horror Picture Show



Michael Andrew Arce

Name: Michael Andrew Arce

Bio: I am a film student studying at New York University, originally from San Diego, CA. I was raised in a poor family where one of our only outlets were watching films. I fell in love with film after watching movies made by Charlie Chaplin and finding out that he came from an even worse situation than me and still made it. I want to make films that will help those that want comfort in unfortunate situations. I want people to know that they are not alone in their struggles and hope to challenge the way people perceive each other and the world around them. Ultimately, I just want to bring the stories that I always had in my head as a child to life and share them with everyone.

Fun Facts: I write/perform my own music and was the lead singer and guitarist of a band in high school called The Tramps. I am die hard baseball fan and root every year for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Favorite Films: Charlie Chaplin's The Kid, City of God, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Boyz n the Hood, Mean Streets

Facebook:  Michael Andrew Arce

Instagram @mike.thetramp


Submissions Open!

Submissions officially opened on January 11th, and will close January 27th. Calling all poets and filmmakers to get their materials in!