Posts in Category: Documentary

War by Adonis

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I recently bought the award-winning translation of Adonis’ Selected Poems by Khaled Mattawa and have been enjoying it immensely. A little bit of searching turned up not only the above video, but 18 more such videos, all from a 2013 documentary about the Syrian-Lebanese poet from Oogland Film Productions, Land of Absence, directed by John Albert Jansen and supported in part by Poetry International. PI have created an album on Vimeo where you can watch Adonis recite all 19 poems with Mattawa’s translations in subtitles.

Here’s the description of Land of Absence:

A journey through the eventful life of the Syrian-Lebanese writer Adonis, one of the most eminent thinkers and writers of the Arab world. In Land of Absence he talks about his life and work, about Syria, the Arab world and Islam.

The Paris based Syrian-Lebanese poet Ali Ahmed Esber (1930), better known under his pen name Adonis, is sometimes called ‘the living legend of Arab literature’. For seventy years he has been writing poetry in which Arab identity is a central theme. His unique voice and independent mind has secured him a central role in the complex and multi-faceted Arab world.

In Land of Absence Adonis, in his Paris apartment, talks about his life, about Syria, about the Arab world and Islam. In his old age he is still as lucid and sharp and obstinate as ever. But first and foremost he is a great poet, who covers not only his own land, Syria, but a whole continent. ‘From writing in Arabic, you only learn that your homeland is not a place, that it can nowhere be found,’ he writes.

The DVD is still available for order.

River Hymns: poetry by Tyree Daye

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Snippets of interview are interspersed with poems in this wonderful portrait by Morgan Potts of the poet and educator Tyree Daye, who appears equally at home in the classroom and the North Carolina landscape. The poems are from his collection River Hymns, winner of the 2017 APR/Honickman First Book Prize. Though this may resemble a book trailer, it’s actually a public television spot, aired on PBS station UNCTV back in February.

Dear Progress by Micah Purnell

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A pair of videos by Mark “Sparky” Tuson documenting a fascinating public poetry-ish project in Manchester a few years ago.

Artist Micah Purnell writes an ‘open letter’ on billboards to make you think. Twenty-one billboards in Manchester will display artwork that discuss some of the challenges facing consumers of Western progress. 24 March 2014 – 7 April 2014

Sadly, the project’s website is no longer online, but you can still read an article about the installation by Kate Feld at creativetourist.com.

[Purnell’s] messages draw a lot of their inspiration from Oliver James’ book Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane, a bleakly brilliant polemic against a society infected by rampant capitalism. Basically, James says, the richer we get, the unhappier and more anxious we become. The more things we have, the less we value ourselves, the more we seek satisfaction through buying stuff and attempting to conform to impossible aspirations, put in our minds with the express purpose of turning a profit. To see these messages sprout in advertising space seems deliciously provocative.

Read the rest. (And visit Micah Purnell’s website.) Although Purnell does not claim his brief “letters” are poetry, the first video could easily qualify as a videopoem, I think.

Two poems by Hisham Bustani

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Arwa’ Debaja filmed and edited this documentary-style poetry film of the Jordanian poet Hisham Bustani for the UK’s Poetry Society. Here’s their description on Vimeo, with a link added:

In this powerful film, Jordanian poet Hisham Bustani reads in Arabic his poems, ‘The Maestro’ and ‘Night’. The English translations of the poems by Thoraya El-Rayyes are shown as subtitles. The poems first appeared in the winter 2017 issue of The Poetry Review magazine from The Poetry Society, and the film was premiered at the launch of the winter issue in January 2018. Filmed and edited by Arwa’ Debaja, the project is a collaboration with The Poetry Society and Seven Mountains Media. © Hisham Bustani, Thoraya El-Rayyes, Arwa’ Debaja, Seven Mountains Media and The Poetry Society, 2017.

(I hate to preempt the Poetry Society’s possible sharing of the video on their own website, but it’s not clear whether or how often they still update their poetry film page. Last year’s National Poetry Competition filmpoems are still nowhere to be found.)

Dear Alison by Helen Mort

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Chris Prescott of Dark Sky Media (“specialists in adventure film production”) directed this short, documentary-style poetry film featuring Helen Mort as poet and climber. The Vimeo description:

‘Dear Alison’ is a poem featured in the anthology No Map Could Show Them by critically acclaimed poet Helen Mort – a collection of poems centring on women making their mark and forging their own paths throughout history, both in the wilderness and in modern urban life. ‘Dear Alison’ is a personal tribute written by Helen to the late British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves – a mother, a wife and a talented climber who faced criticism due to her risk taking and her decision to continue climbing as a young mother, before her untimely death on K2 in 1995. The short film Dear Alison by Dark Sky Media and UKClimbing.com is a visual recreation of Helen’s words with imagery and sounds which evoke the poet’s emotional connection to Alison.

The film is currently featured on the front page of Liberated Words, where the accompanying, unsigned essay calls Dear Alison “a metanarrative on the process of writing: of the struggle of putting one word after another; of literally conceiving poetry, line by line.”

With the topic of non-metaphorical poetry films still echoing in our minds we also might consider this particular work as riven with metaphorical seams (rock metaphors to discuss metaphor notwithstanding). Throughout ‘Dear Alison’ close-up shots of Helen’s hand writing the poem punctuate the film and at the end she draws a firm but balanced line under the last word. We might think of this as jointly associative for both climber and poet: the metaphorical horizontal evocation of the joyous release from the vertical ropes and carabiners that stop a climber’s fall; or equally, the poet’s release from language, deliberately letting the line go; the summit having been reached. However, the analogy between mountaineering and writing ends there: the poet displays their roped words, carabinered like woven lace; the mountaineer hauls in their rope erasing all traces of the climb.

Read the rest.

I Ate Up the Whole Thing by Ilana Simons

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Psychologist, writer, and animator Ilana Simons describes her conflicted feelings about the seemingly endless creativity of a fellow artist, Noah Saterstrom, in this wonderful, quirky blend of videopoetry and documentary set to an up-tempo track from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

This upload was the April 17 release from the Visible Poetry Project (which, incidentally, just had a screening in Beijing last Thursday — the first U.S. poetry film festival to travel abroad in a number of years). Simons’ own upload of the video is accompanied by a note that “this is a short intro to a longer documentary I’m making about Noah Saterstrom, a painter”. She has previously made documentaries about Haruki Murakami and the literary critic William Empson.

Khonsay: Poem of Many Tongues by Bob Holman

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I’ve seen a number of innovative poetry films made with the words of multiple poets, but none with as many contributors (48), and few as profound and urgent in their message as this cento compiled and directed by the legendary Bob Holman, with folklorist Steve Zeitlin as producer, editor Lee Eaton and composer Saul Simon Macwilliams. In the Boro language of India, Khonsay (खोनसाइ) means “to pick up something with care as it is scarce or rare,” according to the film’s website.

There are nine different words for the color blue in the Spanish Maya dictionary, but just three Spanish translations, leaving six [blue] butterflies that can be seen only by the Maya, proving that when a language dies six butterflies disappear from the consciousness of the earth.
Earl Shorris

Poetry, then, is precisely what is least translatable about a language – it is the ineffable, the things that only a set of words in a particular language can say. Translated into English from many languages, “Khonsay” is an act of audacious and unabashed imagination. It imagines the ecology of languages through a world poem. It seeks to capture the luminous originals in refracted light. The voices of the indigenous speakers draw us in, even if non-speakers do not understand what is being said. Yet what cannot be translated, what we cannot do justice to, is a measure of what is being lost as so many languages disappear.

Though definitions differ, poetry exists in every culture: the crystallization of experience into words, word into art, the engaging patter of consciousness itself. “Khonsay” is a tribute and call to action to support the diversity of the world’s languages. The poem is a “cento,” a collage poem; the name in Latin means “stitched together,” like a quilt — each line of the poem is drawn from a different language, appearing in that language’s alphabet or transliterated from the spoken word, followed by an English translation.

There’s a lot going on in this film, visually and linguistically, and you may find yourself hitting the pause button a lot, but there’s really no need: the website includes both the text of the poem in an easy-to-read format and a line-by-line commentary with information about all the languages and performers. According to the website, Khonsay premiered in New York City at the 2015 Margaret Mead Film Festival and was featured in the biannual Sadho Poetry Film Festival in New Delhi, India, where it won the Viewer’s Choice Award. In February, it was shared by the Button Poetry YouTube channel.

Incidentally, Holman’s documentary about endangered languages, Language Matters, is still streaming for free on PBS (though I imagine only for U.S.-based ISPs). Holman has a long-standing involvement with poetry film, including another public television production, the five-part United States of Poetry series directed by Mark Pellington, which aired in 1996.