Posts in Category: Documentary

Whitman on Film | a video essay at the poet’s bicentennial

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I just shared H. Paul Moon‘s adaptation of “America” and mentioned the trilogy of Walt Whitman poetry films of which it is a part. But that’s not all that Paul’s been getting up to. This wonderfully comprehensive and personal video essay takes a chronological look at the use of Whitman’s poetry in film, embracing a multitude of movies and TV shows good and bad, high-brow and low. It’s the centerpiece at Paul’s site whitmanonfilm.com, and will be part of the May 31st Whitman bicentennial screening in Washington, D.C.

This video essay is an analysis of Walt Whitman’s every appearance in cinema and television, leading up to his 200th birthday on May 31, 2019. […] As explained at the end title, this video essay was created for non-commercial educational access, in the spirit of fair use for analysis, with gratitude to these filmmakers who have honored Walt Whitman.

Go to Vimeo for the clickable timecode list of cited films, but really, you should just watch the whole thing straight through. I’ll paste the list in below.

I should mention for the benefit of any newcomers to the film poetry genre that the 1921 film Manhatta by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand was not only the first real Whitman poetry film, but also arguably the first American avant-garde film and the first proper film poem. (Watch it in full here.) For this reason alone, fans of poetry film and videopoetry need to pour one out for old Walt on May 31. Long may his poetry live and continue to shape art and literature around the world.

02:30 Intolerance (1916): Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
02:49 Manhatta (1921): A Broadway Pageant; Mannahatta; Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
03:39 Street Scene (1931): Passage to India
04:25 Now Voyager (1942): The Untold Want
05:18 Goodbye, My Fancy (1951): Good-bye My Fancy!
05:54 The Twilight Zone, Season 3 Episode 35 (1962): I Sing the Body Electric
06:46 Fame (1980): I Sing the Body Electric
07:16 Sophie’s Choice (1982)
08:12 Down By Law (1986): The Singer in Prison
08:59 Bull Durham (1988): I Sing the Body Electric
11:17 Dead Poets Society (1989): O Captain! My Captain!; O Me! O Life!; Song of Myself
15:17 Northern Exposure, Season 1 Episode 2 (1990): When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d
17:12 Quiz Show (1994): I Hear America Singing
17:33 Doc Hollywood (1991): Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
18:14 With Honors (1994): Song of Myself; One Hour to Madness and Joy; Song of Myself
19:49 Little Women (1994): Give me the Splendid, Silent Sun
20:24 Beautiful Dreamers (1992)/Song of Myself (1976)
21:19 Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Season 5 Ep. 21 (1997): Song of the Open Road; I Hear America Singing
25:31 Love and Death on Long lsland (1997): The Untold Want
26:15 L.I.E. (2001): Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
27:25 The Notebook (2004): Spontaneous Me; Continuities
29:19 Leaves of Grass (2009): To You
31:10 Breaking Bad (2011-2013): When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
32:57 Whitman Trilogy by H. Paul Moon (2016-2019): America; The Wound Dresser; Civil War poems
33:21 Short Film by Sara Wolfley (2019): Poets to Come

Turbulence by Dave Harris

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Poet, playwright, and essayist Dave Harris is featured in this latest installment in the monthly series “A Poet’s Space” from Rattle magazine and director Mike Gioia’s Blank Verse Films. For the text of the poem (which won the 2018 Rattle Poetry Prize) and some additional remarks by Harris, see the post on Rattle‘s website.

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.