“Meet the Queens of Quarantine Poetry” is Houston Public Media‘s only slightly clickbaity title for this seamless blend of interview and videopoem. From the YouTube description:
In this time of quarantine and self-isolation, two friends have been co-writing a series of poems inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.
Houston poet Melissa Studdard and Seattle poet Kelli Russell Agodon connect across the miles through Zoom to read their poem “When We Get Lonely, It Will Be Together” and to describe what it means to create art during a pandemic.
I follow both poets on social media and have been reading their collaboratively written quarantine poems with great interest, so it was wonderful to get some background on how the project evolved: out of their pre-existing habit of writing together in a virtual shared study space, using video conferencing software and reading each other’s drafts on Google docs. It’s great that they’re letting the rest of us read over their shoulders, as it were, especially given the pressure from literary journals to hide all one’s poetry away in order to keep it eligible for submission. I advise following Kelli and Melissa on Twitter, where they post the drafts as jpegs. Here are links to some of the more recent ones, posted on April 21, April 22, April 25, April 27, May 5 – two on that day, and May 8.
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.
I really hate to say this but this is the truth, there is no Iraq now.
From director Roxana Vilk and Al Jazeera’s Artscape: Poets of Protest series, here’s a short (25-minute) bio pic from 2012 featuring the Iraqi poet Manal Al-Sheikh and her life in exile with her two children in Norway. Interspersed throughout the film are a number of short poems treated filmpoem style, with the poet’s recitation in Arabic accompanied by on-screen English translation. Ian Dodds was the cameraman, and Ling Lee edited. Vilk has a mini essay accompanying the film on Vimeo that is worth reproducing in full:
FILMMAKER’S VIEW: Keeping the protest alive
By Roxana Vilk
I was really keen that we have an Iraqi poet in the Poets of Protest series. When I read Manal Al Sheikh’s fiery work I was immediately captivated, as she seemed to truly encapsulate the essence of a poet and activist combined.
As Manal says: “When you are a person from a country like Iraq you automatically have some anger inside you and this anger, if you are a poet or a writer, you can transfer it as an explosion in your text.”
Manal is originally from Nineveh in northern Iraq, one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity and a place renowned for its multi-cultural society. Since the 2003 invasion, Nineveh has been the scene of some of the bloodiest and most violent fighting.
“I witnessed everything, the bombing, the struggle between the parties, all these make you angry, so I protest with my text,” the poet explains.
However, Manal’s work as an outspoken poet and journalist in Iraq was fraught with danger and her life was constantly under threat. She had to make the heart-breaking decision to leave her country and her family and seek refuge with her two young children in Norway.
“For me as a female writer in Iraq, just being female it was of course a challenge; just to live there in a normal way with my thoughts and my ambitions for a future. But really I can say the main change in my life was becoming a single mother in that society. Suddenly I found myself a widow, a very young widow,” Manal reflects.
I travelled with Ian Dodds, the director of photography, to Stavanger in Norway in January 2012, during the depths of the Norwegian winter, as temperatures were plummeting to an unforgiving -20 degrees Celsius. Filming the stark contrast of the snowy cold white landscapes against Manal’s stories of Iraq made her struggle to have her voice heard all the more poignant.
At a time when it is dangerous to speak out in Iraq, especially as a woman, Manal had to travel half way around the world to keep her protest alive.
Our film follows Manal closely as she works through crafting a new poem, before presenting it to a public audience. Manal is a truly extraordinary poet, brave and defiant, at a time when Iraqi female voices are increasingly being silenced.
About the series:
Poets of Protest reflects the poet’s view of the change sweeping the Middle East and North Africa through its intimate profiles of six contemporary writers as they struggle to lead, to interpret and to inspire.
Poetry lives and breathes in the Middle East as in few other places.
This week at Moving Poems we’re marking the 15th anniversary of the US Congress’ nearly unanimous passage of the Authorization to Use Military Force on September 14, 2001, which launched the modern era of essentially endless, unlimited war. How better to begin than with Iraq War veteran Brian Turner‘s justly famous poem “Here, Bullet“? In an interview recorded at the 2009 Poetry International Festival at Rotterdam, Turner acknowledges the influence of Philip Levine’s poem “They Feed They Lion.” The video concludes with his recitation of the poem.
Generally, I think my work is interested in how history bears down on the individual and on communities, how it affects people’s lives in large ways, as in social policy, but also in kind of the small things that trickle down, like how much glass is on your kid’s playground.
For Fourth of July weekend, here’s a portrait of Detroit-based poet Lillien Waller combining interview excerpts with historic footage and Waller’s recitation of her poem. It was directed by Oren Goldenberg (Cass Corridor Films) for Kresge Arts in Detroit, where Waller was a Literary Arts Fellow in 2015. The soundtrack incorporates music by Sterling Toles.
A great feature on Irish haikujin Gabriel Rosenstock from the arts and culture TV program Imeall, produced by Red Shoe Productions. The English translations of the interview and haiku are excellent, which is no surprise: Rosenstock is a prolific translator and author, and his poetry blog is gloriously multilingual.
A great poetry film by Roxana Vilk, combining videopoem (with an English translation in subtitles by John Glenday) and a brief explanation of the poem by its author, Iraqi poet Ghareeb Iskander. This combination is one Vilk has used to good effect in other films, too, but for some reason I missed this one until now, when I spotted it thanks to its inclusion in the ZEBRA Poetry Film Club channel on Vimeo. The unusually complete Vimeo description includes Vilk’s description of her process, so let me reproduce it in full:
This film is a result of a commission from Reel Festivals as part of Reel Iraq 2013 and funded by Literature Across Frontiers and the British Council.
Based on a poem by Ghareeb Iskander, Directed/Produced & filmed by Roxana Vilk, Edited by Maryam Ghorbankarimi and Sound Design & Music Peter Vilk, Poem translation by John Glenday, bridging translation by Lauren Pyott and Assistant Director James Sadri.
In January 2013 I was invited to create films inspired by poets and poems I encountered from both Iraq and Scotland as part of the Reel Iraq festival in Erbil. It was an incredible trip and an honour to work with Reel Festivals again.
I first heard Ghareeb Iskander’s poem, during a magical evening in the mountain village of Shaqlawa when the poets were sharing the fruits of the first days of translating each others works over a glass of wine.. or two….
As John Glenday read out in English his translation of Ghareeb’s poem, I was immediately struck by the imagery in it and how the sentiment resonated with how I felt on coming to Iraq for the first time – a mixture of feeling the weight of the history mixed with an aching sense of loss.
I should also add at this point that the poem in the film is an extract of a much longer work (in three acts) on Gilgamesh.
Image wise I was drawn to empty sites across Erbil. First of all the many building sites that lay scattered across much of the city and how they had this haunted quality – almost like abandoned old theatres.
I was also drawn to filming in the empty ancient Citadel in the centre of Erbil which dates back over 3,000 years and had 3 years ago been emptied of its inhabitants to be preserved as a UNESCO site.
Both these locations resonated with the emotional landscape in Ghareeb’s poem for me and also lent visual space to house the images he was creating in the language.
It was pouring with torrential rain for most of our trip which seemed fitting in some way with the sound world of Ghareeb’s poem and one morning I asked him to walk through an empty building site, reciting his poem in his mind, as the rain dripped loudly on the floor of the empty site.
In terms of colour I wanted to reflect back Erbil exactly as I encountered it in January – devoid of much colour and somehow the locations had a monochromatic feel. So our ever sharp eyed editor Maryam Ghorbankarimi and I worked together strip the images back of colour and then use just touches of colour to create contrast.
Sound designer and composer Peter Vilk used the found real location sounds I had recorded Iraq ( such as the rain) which he then treated and manipulated with his software to create his sound design score, alongside a melody he wrote on the piano.
For those interested in technicals – I filmed on a Canon 7D and captured separate sound on a Zoom stereo Mic, synching the sound later in the edit.
Commissioned by Reel Festivals as part of their Iraq Project 2013 and funded by Literature Across Frontiers and the British Council.
For more of Roxana film works please visit roxanavilk.com
Iskander explained the two-step English translation process in an interview at Arabic Literature (in English).