Posts in Category: Performance Poetry

Human Condition by Rich Ferguson

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Human Condition was written and performed by the one and only Rich Ferguson, beat poet laureate of California. For this spectacular film he teamed up with film director Mark Wilkinson and a marvellous ensemble of performers and musicians including gospel singer Stella Ademiluyi and James Morrison from the cast of Twin Peaks.

Rich has collaborated with other film-makers, and released a great series of videos with Chris Burdick. Most recently, while locked down in Los Angeles, he has started making them himself.

Human Condition is one of his best so far. It is highly musical, and at the same time funny, mournful and uplifting. The text of the poem is posted at YouTube in the video notes.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico by Sabina England and Chaucer Cameron

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Watch on YouTube.

Last week we shared a film from the series of 12 that were created for the Wild Whispers project. Each video was made in response to a poem by Chaucer Cameron in the UK. The poem went through a number of ‘blind translations’ in a film-making chain across the world, each video uniquely expressing the poem’s transformation through languages.

This film in the series is by Sabina England, whose brilliant Deaf Brown Gurl appeared on Moving Poems back in 2015. She says this about her Wild Whispers film:

When I first read the poem, it made me think of Native Americans and how much their ancestors had greatly suffered through history. As a Deaf Bihari/South Asian American, I wanted to highlight the themes of suffering and refuge of the poem by showcasing Native American culture(s) and show that despite centuries of cultural genocide, settler colonialism and violence, Native people and their cultures still thrive and resist to this day. I also wanted to draw a parallel between the sufferings of Native Americans with refugees from all over, including Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. As an immigrant in the USA, I wanted to honour Native Americans by showcasing the beauty of the Navajo language and Pueblo cultures in New Mexico.

Lastly, Plains Indian (Native American) Sign Language was a major influence on American Sign Language, which I used to perform the poem with Navajo voice over.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico
Country and place of production: New Mexico, USA.
Languages: Navajo, American Sign Language and English.
Filmmaker and editor: Sabina England.
Translators: Meryl Van Der Bergh (Dutch to English translation), World Translation Center (Navajo), Sabina England (American Sign Language and improved English prose).

Breaks and Tunnel Vision by Kate Tempest

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No one straddles the line between music and poetry better than British spoken-word superstar Kate Tempest (website, Wikipedia page). Here’s a live performance in the studios of Seattle’s KEXP radio station of the closing tracks from Tempest’s 2016 album Let Them Eat Chaos. The video was edited by Justin Wilmore for KEXP’s popular YouTube channel.

Tempest’s band members are Kwake Bass on drums, Dan Carey on synths and Clare Uchima on keyboards. I wanted to contrast her extremely passionate and intense performance style, which is more than enough to carry a video, with the following film interpretation of “Tunnel Vision” on Tempest’s own channel:

London-based director Akinola Davies Jr (bio here) told mxdwn Music that it was “an honour to collaborate with an artist like Kate and be entrusted to make visuals that we both think best reflect and fit with the body of work she has created. She is an exceptional artist and the positivity of her team has been inspiring.” For the full credits (which are extensive: a reminder that professional music videos are typically made on a much higher budget than poetry films!) see the YouTube description. The video also appears on Davies’ Vimeo page.

It Would Sound Like a Dream by Camille Rankine

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New York City-based poet Camille Rankine recites her poem in a new film directed by Irish photographer Matthew Thompson.

This is from a new YouTube channel of poetry videos from something called The Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation, which “aims to expand access to poetry and educational poetry materials, gathering outstanding poems from across places, eras, and traditions for audiences worldwide to enjoy.” Thompson has directed all of the films so far, and they all feature either the poet or other readers reciting and, as it were, inhabiting the poems. The films were produced in association with the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and Poet in the City, London, so there’s a good, transatlantic mix of poets.

I imagine the project was already planned before the pandemic hit, but it’s a great model for others who want to produce these kind of performance videos, especially for poetry that isn’t necessarily performance poetry, and therefore may be more writerly and difficult to convey in one reading. I’ve watched almost all the videos in their “Read by” series, which are exclusively voiced by the authors themselves, and didn’t see any that were marred by the sort of boring recitations or “poetry voice” that are often the norm in live readings — and mar all too many poetry channels of this kind. I don’t know how much of that is down to the care that producers have taken in choosing whom to film, or whether poets may have received coaching from voice actors. (I can tell you from long experience of mostly unsatisfactory performances myself that reciting poetry well is not easy!)

The channel also includes a shorter series, Words We Share, “a limited series for spring 2020, in which poets and actors at home share poems of solace and resilience and thoughts on creative practice during unprecedented times.” Here’s Camille Rankine’s contribution to that series:

Lost by Caroline Reid

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Lost was written by performance poet Caroline Reid in South Australia, teaming up with film-maker Pamela Boutros to produce this warm and frank video. The notes on the Vimeo page describe it this way:

A playful fusion of poetry, visual art and film in which a reflective middle-aged poet discovers that life’s interruptions to writing poetry are the very substance from which poems emerge.

Caroline was one of the top five Australian Poetry Slam finalists in 2018 and 2019. Her bachelor’s degree is in theatre and writing. This collaboration with Pamela Boutros brings together its creative elements so well.

Лялька / A Doll by Hanna Komar

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Click the CC icon for English subtitles.

A poetry video from Belarus, made collaboratively by the poet and performer, Hanna Komar, and photographer/artist Oleg Agafonov. Both are based in Minsk.

Hanna is the author of two poetry collections, Fear of Heights in Belarusian and a bilingual collection, Recycled, as well as a collection of Belarusian translations of Charles Bukowski. She writes in Belarusian and translates her texts into English. In addition to her YouTube channel, she also shares her work on Patreon.

Catarsis / Catharsis by Lilián Pallares

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A 2019 video from the ongoing creative partnership of Colombian poet Lilián Pallares and New Zealand filmmaker and poet Charles Olsen, who wrote:

This was made originally as a book trailer, to capture the essence of Lilián’s latest collection Bestial published in Zaragoza, Spain, by Papeles de Trasmoz, Olifante Editions, 2019. Her collection explores her Afro-Colombian roots and the death of her father. While writing the poems she was taking African dance classes in Madrid and we wanted to capture something of the African influence in this poetry film.

We live in a neighborhood of Madrid with a large migrant population, with people from Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Morocco, Bangladesh, China, etc., and us (Colombia and New Zealand), and we decided to film this at night in streets with the dancer Marisa Cámara (Guinea-Conakry) and the poet and performer Artemisa Semedo (Galicia/Cape Verde). The music is ‘Zuru’ by the Colombian duo Mitú.

I include Catarsis in my Poesía sin fronteras program exploring translation, otherness, identity and death in cinepoetry from across the Americas, which by the way is available for public screening anywhere in the world — whenever such a thing becomes possible again. In the meantime, you can watch all the films here.