Posts in Category: Documentary

Gerald Stern: Still Burning

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A very well-done documentary portrait from, directed, produced and edited by Norbert Lempert. Here’s the description at the Poetry Foundation website:

Produced by Norbert Lempert of REMproductions in association with the Poetry Foundation. Gerald Stern is as much the poet warrior now as when he stunned the poetry world thirty years ago with his book Lucky Life. In that book he first staked out a place for himself and readers that he has continued to make, a place that in his words is “overlooked or ignored or disdained, a place no one else wanted.” This short documentary film, illustrated with materials from Stern’s own archive, features some of Stern’s best known poems. It also includes commentary by poets Ross Gay, Edward Hirsch, Anne Marie Macari, Heather McHugh, and Thomas Lux, each with a unique perspective on Stern as artist and friend.

I thought this would be a good pick for the U.S. Independence Day holiday, especially given the way Stern, Hirsch and Macardi discuss the climate for poetry in the U.S. starting around 2:30 in Part 1. There’s also this from Stern in Part 2, beginning at 2:58:

We remember the famous words: After the Holocaust, after Shoah, there can be no poetry. And the alternative is: After the Shoah, there can be ONLY poetry. “How about no parades, no cannons, no atom bombs? How about no concentration camps, the way the United States runs concentration camps now?” is another way of thinking about it.

I also like Hirsch’s description of Stern in Part 3, starting at 0:38:

He’s really a poet of the egotistical sublime. The I stands in for the natural world, and for the whole world. And he’s experiencing everything himself.

For more on Gerald Stern, and to read samples of his work, see the Poetry Foundation’s page, which includes 32 poems in text form and 12 audio files.

“So Heddan So Hoddan” (Like Here Like There): the Sufi poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai

The trailer for what sounds like a fascinating film about the survival of the poetry and music of the Sindhi Sufi Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (or Bhitai), directed by Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar. The trailer includes one of Bhittai’s poems. Let me just copy the description from Vimeo:

Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a medieval Sufi poet, is an iconic figure in the cultural history of Sindh. Bhitai’s Shah Ji Risalo is a remarkable collection of poems which are sung by many communities in Kachchh and across the border in Sindh (now in Pakistan). Many of the poems draw on the eternal love stories of Umar-Marui and Sasui-Punhu, among others. These songs speak of the pain of parting, of the inevitability of loss and of deep grief that takes one to unknown and mysterious terrains.

Umar Haji Suleiman of Abdasa, in Kachchh, Gujarat, is a self taught Sufi scholar; once a cattle herder, now a farmer, he lives his life through the poetry of Bhitai. Umar’s cousin, Mustafa Jatt sings the Bheths of Bhitai. He is accompanied on the Surando, by his cousin Usman Jatt. Usman is a truck driver, who owns and plays one of the last surviving Surandos in the region. The Surando is a peacock shaped, five-stringed instrument from Sindh. The film explores the life worlds of the three cousins, their families and the Fakirani Jat community to which they belong.

Before the Partition the Maldhari (pastoralist) Jatts moved freely across the Rann, between Sindh (now in Pakistan) and Kutch. As pastoral ways of living have given way to settlement, borders and industrialisation, the older generation struggles to keep alive the rich syncretic legacy of Shah Bhitai, that celebrates diversity and non-difference, suffering and transcendence, transience and survival. These marginal visions of negotiating difference in creative ways resist cultural politics based on tight notions of nation-state and national culture; they open up the windows of our national imaginary.

For more on the film and its directors, including some reviews, visit its website.

Tomas Tranströmer

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This new film from Bloodaxe Books, one of Tranströmer’s English-language publishers, incorporates footage of the Nobel Prize announcement and the Tranströmers’ reaction, as well as footage of Tranströmer playing the piano which Pamela Robertson-Pearce had just shot in August. Robin Fulton’s translations appear as subtitles for the Swedish-language readings, which include “The Nightingale in Badelunda,” “Allegro,” “From the Thaw on 1966,” “The Half-Finished Heaven,” “April and Silence,” “From March 1979,” and “Tracks.” This is of course something that the film/video medium is particularly well suited for: it’s wonderful to hear the poet reading in Swedish and know (more or less) what he is saying.

Do read the extensive notes on the Vimeo page. The detail that “Swedish composers have written several left-hand piano pieces especially for him to play” speaks volumes about his status in his homeland. (Hat-tip: Teju Cole on Twitter)

Nathalie Handal: Poet in Andalucía

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As the first film explains, Palestinian poet Nathalie Handal’s new book, Poet in Andalucía, forthcoming from Pitt, “recreates Federico García Lorca’s journey in reverse (from his book POET IN NEW YORK).”

“The Poet of Baghdad”: Nabeel Yasin

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There’s a real dearth of English-subtitled Arabic poetry recitation on the web; this goes a small way toward righting the balance. It’s interesting to see how poetry is chanted or sung in Arabic, rather than simply read (much less mumbled). Another thing that might be a little difficult for some of us to get our heads around is a poet becoming so popular that he could be branded an enemy of the state, and his works become a relying cry for people opposed to the established order. Such was the case with Nabeel Yasin, Iraq’s most celebrated poet (and last year, an unsuccessful candidate for prime minister), who has been compared to Bob Dylan in his impact on Iraqi society from the late 60s on.

“The Poet of Baghdad” was directed by Georgie Weedon for Al Jazeera, and has just been re-uploaded to YouTube as a single video. The blending of poetry recitation with reminiscence is very effective, I think, and the reflections on exile will probably resonate with emigrants, voluntary and involuntary, from many lands. Al Jazeera posted an interview with the director in early 2010.

Making of Poetic Encounters

This brief documentary on the making of the three poetry films to emerge from the 2010 ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival workshop (see the previous three posts here to watch videos of the films) is a must-watch for anyone interested in ekphrastic collaboration. I was particularly impressed by poet Monika Rinck’s remarks on the life of a poem beyond the page, and her interest in avoiding the sort of filmmaker who might over-interpret a poem:

I like poems and I think also movies about poems to guard a certain openness. I don’t want to have the pictures in the poem locked, as if it couldn’t be otherwise, as if the pictures of the movie override everything which was open before.

I also liked her collaborator Avi Dabach’s admission that he is better able to connect with poems that he doesn’t fully understand, implying that the making of a poetry film is a kind of close reading or exercise in hermaneutics.

Haiku: The Art of The Short Poem (trailer)

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Poet Tazuo Yamaguchi has made what looks like a marvelous film on English-language haiku, available from Brooks Books:

Brooks Books is pleased to announce the publication of HAIKU: The Art of the Short Poem, a film by Tazuo Yamaguchi. The haiku cited or read in the film are published in this book/DVD combo as a haiku anthology featuring contemporary English-language haiku writers.

In August 2007 Tazuo attended the Haiku North America conference, where he filmed over 50 hours of interviews and events with contemporary haiku poets, concluding with the HNA head-to-head haiku competition. As Taz writes in the introduction to this book/DVD: “Each poet brought me their wealth of passion, information and knowledge, and timeless insights from their snowball stash they had collected through their life’s sleigh ride of love and interest in haiku.”