Chicago poet and sociologist Eve L. Ewing‘s 2017 poem in a 16mm film adaptation for Motionpoems (Season 8) by director Daniel Daly, with cinematography by Josh Farmelo. See its page on Daly’s website for the list of festival selections, which include ZEBRA in Berlin and the 50th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.
The voiceover is from the lone actor in the film, Khadija Shari, and while I would still like the film without knowing that, I do love how much this suggests about the way a cherished, powerful poem can inhabit someone until they know it by heart and it becomes part of the rhythm of their life. At that point, can it really still be said to be the sole property of its author?
The poem originally appeared in Ewing’s widely praised first collection Electric Arches from Chicago’s Haymarket Books, an increasingly prominent left-wing press named for the famous Haymarket riot of May 4, 1886. In a review for Public Books, Jehan Roberson notes:
To read Eve L. Ewing is to read Chicago. […] It’s important to know that Chicago has historically been an oasis for Black aspirations, particularly during northern journeys during the Great Migration; it is also the place where so many of those dreams fell prey to institutions built to halt Black prosperity. Redlining, predatory lending, forced segregation, and some of the nation’s highest homicide rates are part of the city’s backdrop, past and present. So are the hopes of Black folks. Black artists have charted both Chicagos: Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun, Richard Wright in Native Son, Gwendolyn Brooks in poetry that registered the city’s awe and perils.
In many ways and for many artists, Chicago is a genesis and a promised land. Ewing’s Chicago burns brighter than the many fires that have leveled the city, illuminates more strongly than the spotlights wielded by a media eager to highlight Black death. Her writing maps the spirit of the city, a spirit that many argue has vanished, but that Ewing maintains is still pulsating with Black dreams and potential.
This poetry film invites us to imagine that city by imagining how the poet or actor/reader might imagine it — a lesson for so many filmmakers whose first instinct is to treat a poem as a script.