I’m guilty of a lot of oversights and memory failures, but it’s hard to believe I never got around to posting this visually stunning film featuring the exiled Cambodian American spoken-word poet Kosal Khiev. Directed by Masahiro Sugano, it was released in 2011 by Cambodia-based Studio Revolt and was screened at the 2012 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, where it won a prize for Best Poem Performance on Film.
In the Vimeo description for Why I Write, Sugano shared a lengthy essay about how he came to meet and work with Khiev. I particularly liked this bit:
The truth is. I don’t really understand poems. It’s mostly the language issue. English is my second language. I don’t really hear lyrics in songs. Forget rappers. Poetry usually passes over my head as well. So what he was giving, I did not really get. Those rhymes confuse my immigrant ears. But I got what he was telling. It wasn’t the word. This guy knew what it was all about. He was making it real. He captivated me despite my limitation on poetic appreciation. It was very clear to me from the very first line. It wasn’t the poetry. It was him. He was showing and revealing himself, his emotions, through the vehicle of words called poetry. I had this incomprehensible chills in my spine throughout his performance. This is called transcendence. There are few people in the world who can move you beyond category or background. He was one of them. He was transcending his genre of spoken word poetry. His poetry did not call for comprehension. It only engaged and revealed, for which you do not need knowledge. That’s where he was playing. And it was kicking my ass.
He performed another piece for me. I learned soon afterwards spoken word artists use the word “kick” to mean perform. So instead of perform or share a piece of poetry, you “kick” a piece. I’m not a very cool person so I would make you blush if I said something like, “Can you kick a piece?” So I am not using that term, but I think it’s like the official term. Anyhow, the dude “kicked” another piece for me. And we said good-bye.
in the coincidence of a thought everything is dream
a smile like a sliver of moon lights the night
I can’t believe I haven’t already posted this haunting, atmospheric videopoem, considering that when Swoon (Marc Neys) originally uploaded it to Vimeo nine months ago, I commented that I’d be looking forward to an English-subtitled version and he swapped one in almost immediately, with a translation by the obviously very prompt Annmarie Sauer. It’s the latest in a series of films Swoon has made with texts by the Belgian poet Marleen de Crée, and as with his very first such effort — Nog Niet / Not Yet — he worked with the actress Katrijn Clemer, who also supplied the voiceover. He posted some process notes to his blog:
Marleen de Crée, one of my favourite Belgian poets has a new collection coming in March; Fluisterlicht (Uitgeveij P., 2014)
I consider myself lucky to know her (and her husband Jean) well enough to have received some of the poems of the new collection beforehand.
It’s always a joy to work with Marleen’s words. The intimate nature of her poems are perfect to create scapes and images for.
This time for ‘Blues’, I chose to do the filming myself again. Extra info from the writer about the new collection gave me a clear idea of what and how I wanted to do this one.
As always I found Katrijn Clemer to be and have the perfect voice to read Marleen’s poetry.
Around her reading I created this track: [listen on SoundCloud]
I wanted to create the atmosphere of long nights full of words and mystery… houses with a soul, eerie and warm at the same time… as a child I loved wandering around the house, pretending to be alone…listening to the sounds around me…
For that reason I chose candlelight as the only lighting source of the video. The love for words that Marleen received in her childhood reflects in this video.
I can’t believe I’d never run across this terrific poetry-dance film before today, when a Google video search for Gwendolyn Brooks’ most famous poem turned it up. The YouTube description reads:
National Dance Institute’s Celebration Team performs “We Real Cool” in an NDI original movie short. Scenery by Red Grooms. Poem by Gwendolyn Brooks. Choreography by Amy Lehman. (movie contains full credits)
There’s a more populist aesthetic at work here than in most of the dance videos I’ve shared, and it’s also a proper film, not merely a documentary video of a dance performance. And no wonder: it was the work of Emile Ardolino, “a dance-film maker of exceptional sensitivity” according to his 1993 obituary in the New York Times. He was best known as the director of Dirty Dancing and Sister Act. The obituary continued: “He had an eye and an imagination that seemed to understand intuitively how to lend the immediacy of film to an art that often requires the distance and framing of a stage.”
The overhead shot of the kids imitating a pool game was my favorite part, but the device of having them emerge from a painting was brilliant, too. You might be wondering, as I was, how Ardolino and these celebratory dancers are going to deal with the poem’s morbid last line without resorting to melodrama. I think they pulled it off.
National Dance Institute (NDI) is
a non-profit arts education organization founded in 1976 by ballet star Jacques d’Amboise.
Through in-school partnerships, workshops, and public performances, NDI uses dance as a catalyst to engage children and motivate them towards excellence.
It sounds as if the NDI had a lot to do with Ardolino’s subsequent box-office success, judging from the Times obituary.
It was Jacques d’Amboise, a principal dancer with the City Ballet, who set Mr. Ardolino on his Hollywood career with an invitation to direct “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’.” An account of Mr. d’Amboise’s work with children, which won Mr. Ardolino the 1983 Academy Award for best documentary feature, two Emmys, a Peabody Award and other honors.
We Real Cool was made the very same year as Dirty Dancing, according to a timeline on the NDI site.
- A Celebration of Literature unites important American writers, composers, visual artists and choreographers to create short, theatrical ballets for children. “We Real Cool” is created from the poem by Gwendolyn Brooks, and is filmed in a vacant lot in New York City’s Lower East side, with a backdrop mural designed by Red Grooms.
The poet and reader here, Kallie Falandays, runs Tell Tell Poetry, a site dedicated to “making poetry fun again,” and true to form, this is a fun piece — and a bit of a departure for Swoon (Marc Neys), both in the high-energy style of the reading and the way it’s incorporated into the film. As he says in a recent blog post,
I found the poem at The Poetry Storehouse, but it was Kallie Falandays’ jagged reading that made me pick this up.
I first created a soundtrack where her reading could be the spiky centerpiece. [Listen on SoundCloud.]
The visuals for this one came fairly easy. A string of footage (found and filmed) was edited close to the rhythm and pace of the soundscape. I wanted everyday objects (almost still life) juxtaposed with images of the everyday rat race. For some reason that works well and results in an overall strange atmosphere.
I was prompted to post a second Swoon videopoem this week by the realization that I have missed quite a few good ones this year. I think that’s excusable, though, given that he’s released 70 poetry films in 2014 (so far), collaborating with poets both famous and obscure from all over the world. Considering how many of his films have appeared in festivals and exhibitions, not to mention on this and other websites, it’s fair to say that Neys is doing more to bring poetry to the screen than any filmmaker alive — all on a shoestring budget.
This is the most recent of three short videopoems by Ruben Quesada based on texts from Dan O’Brien‘s new poetry collection Scarsdale. (The other two are “Greenwich / Isle of Dogs” and “Breaking the Ice.”) Scarsdale was published last month in London by CB Editions, but an American edition is due out next year from Measure Press, according to the description on Vimeo.
It’s great to see a poet and editor of Quesada’s stature getting into videopoetry. He’s been at it for at least six months, judging from his output on Vimeo, and as this video demonstrates, he already has a pretty deft touch.