Posts in Category: Musical settings

Cuerpos de Agua (Water Bodies) by Lilián Pallares

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Half videopoem, half music video, this new film from antenablue — director Charles Olsen and poet Lilián Pallares — features Pallares acting and supplying the voiceover together with a musical arrangement of her poem by Nestor Paz and Manuel Madrid from Poesía Necesaria. Be sure to click the closed captioning (CC) icon to access Olsen’s English translation.

The Shrouding of the Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

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Filmmaker Devansh Agarwal and singer-songwriter Sonali Argade collaborated on a music video-like poetry film of John Webster’s 17th-century poem for the Visible Poetry Project. Argade is also the actress. Her musical interpretation appears to be a cover of the 1924 Peter Warlock composition, from his 3 Dirges of Webster, now in the public domain. Here’s a more standard performance by the Baccholian Singers of London:

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.

New Orleans by Matt Dennison

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This is Have Made It, a 2013 film by Michael Dickes using a text by Matt Dennison. It’s kind of a videopoem-music video hybrid, with Dickes’ music taking central stage half-way through.

Have Made It appears in the most recent issue of Gnarled Oak, an online literary magazine distinguished by, among other things, its willingness to include previously published/uploaded poetry videos. Their next issue is open for submissions through March 31.

Song for Koko by Tommy Becker

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A poetic music video or a musical videopoem? Tommy Becker‘s videos for his Tape Number One project are hard to categorize, which is why I haven’t featured them here as often as I should. They blend “the artist’s poetics, songwriting, performance, costuming with found footage and computer design,” according to the statement on his website.

“Song for Koko” is from 2015. The accompanying text on Vimeo reads:

An elephant escapes from the circus and begins a rampage down a city street. His trunk tosses aside everything in his path. We cheer for him. Why? A man sits on an alligator and attempts to tie his mouth shut. The alligator contorts his body, throwing the man off before turning to bite. We are unsympathetic. Why? We take our children to the zoo to look at the monkeys. The children complain about their inactivity and we feel a sense of betrayal as we admit to ourselves that our observations are a fraud. What’s important in these situations of conflict and captivity is that we are seeing animals as equals. They are no longer the lesser species. A life force is being held against its will or once again running wild through the streets. The moment the lion lunges at the tamer we understand his motives. We relate viscerally to his oppression as we connect to the soul of its being.

Subterranean Homesick Blues by Bob Dylan

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This clip from D. A. Pennebaker‘s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back remains an innovative, proto music video. Poetry-film expert Alice Lyons included it in her list of “Ten Films to Look at When You Want to Think About Poetry and Film.”

Eleven Reflections on September, part 11: Judgment / Traveling by Andrea Assaf

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Thinking about how the entirely preventable tragedies of the so-called War on Terror unfolded after September 11, 2001, and agonizing about what we might’ve done to stop it, language breaks down. From poet Andrea Assaf and the Art2Action theater group, including video artist Pramila Vasudevan, “Eleven Reflections on September” is

a poetry/spoken word, multimedia performance on Arab American experience, Wars on/of Terror, and “the constant, quiet rain of death amidst beauty” that each autumn brings in a post-9/11 world. This production is based on the series of poems Andrea Assaf has been writing since 2001, spanning the fall of the towers, the on-going wars, and the current revolutions and conflicts sweeping through the Arab world. Aesthetically, the poems explore the disintegration of language in the face of violence, prejudice, and unspeakable horror; as such, they progress from lyrical to abstract and broken. The annual witnessing of autumn leaves becomes a metaphor for the fallen–soldiers and civilians … This multi-disciplinary project includes performances with interactive media design and live music; community dialogues; visual arts exhibits; open mics, panels and opportunities for action through partnerships with Iraq Veterans Against the War and other peace organizations.

The Vimeo description for this video reads:

An excerpt from “Eleven Reflections on September” by Andrea Assaf

Poem # 11: Judgment
Post-script 1: Traveling

Video Art by Pramila Vasudevan.
Sound Design for “Judgment” by Owen Henry & Keegan Fraley.

Choreographic Assignment: Raise me from the dead. From the metaphorical underworld to the heavens. Once you have lifted my body-spirit from the ground, help me travel to the afterlife. Travel with me, and send me on my way.

Cue: After the poem “Judgment” ends (repeating “just stop” 3x), the Daf pulses three times, followed by a chapreez — and the ritual to raise the dead begins. It will continue through the end of “Traveling”.

Movement during the re-mixed/voiceover section of “Judgment”: I am responding to the fragmented, falling, exploding words with my body — torso, arms and head only, while kneeling on the ground. This section is my descent into the underworld, so to speak — or simply my disintegration, from which you will raise/remake me…

A note on “Traveling” — This poem is an English translation of Mohamed Bouazi’s suicide note to his mother, posted on his Facebook page. Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad ibn Bouazizi, a 26-year old Tunisian fruit vendor who quit high school to work and support his mother and sisters, set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, after his wares were confiscated … A fire that sparked the revolution now known as “The Arab Spring”. His last note is pure poetry, his final act pure protest. The poem, by Andrea Assaf, was published by Mizna in the Spring 2012 issue on “Literature in Revolution.”

Visit the Eleven Reflections on September channel on Vimeo to watch other excerpts from the piece, including live performance videos.

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