Posts in Category: Spoken Word

Never Too Late by Malcolm London

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Just in time for Thanksgiving, a meditation on the power of family, community and love from Chicago-based poet Malcolm London and filmmaker Caves for Heart Of The City TV, in collaboration with Irish graffiti artist Maser. It was posted to YouTube in December 2013 with this description:

Chicago met Dublin a little over a month ago when we linked with Malcolm London and renowned Irish graffiti artist Maser for their “Never Too Late To Love” collaborative mural. Today, we drop the visuals. Enjoy.

If you’d like to check out the mural go to La Baguette Bakery’s alley on 2109 S Ashland Ave (at 21st St).

I looked up Malcolm London today because he’s in the news, but unfortunately not in a good way: he’s one of five activists who were arrested by Chicago police last night for what sounds very much like the usual trumped-up bullshit used by American police to punish people for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly:

One of the five protesters arrested in the Loop in the hours after the release of the Laquan McDonald video is an aspiring poet who has garnered national attention and was one of the organizers of the march.

Malcolm London, 22, of the 4900 block of West Huron in the Austin neighborhood, was charged with aggravated battery to a police officer, a felony, after he allegedly struck a cop, according to the Police Department.

He faces the most serious charge of those arrested during the demonstration, which lasted for hours and briefly stopped traffic on the Eisenhower Expressway.

London is accused of striking an officer in the 100 block of East Balbo Drive as police blocked protesters from marching across the bridge. He is scheduled to appear in bond court later Wednesday.

Supporters have created a Free Malcolm London hashtag and have urged people to call police to demand that he be released.

“He was just standing there and the police snatched him up,” tweeted the Black Youth Project 100, which organized Tuesday night’s march. London is listed as a co-chair of the organization’s Chicago chapter.

London is a member of the Young Adult Council of the Steppenwolf Theater and appeared on PBS for a TED Talk with John Legend and Bill Gates. In 2011, he won the Louder Than A Bomb youth poetry slam in his Chicago, according to a biography on his website.

In 2012, just graduated from Lincoln Park High School, London talked to the Tribune about growing up in Austin and how it affected his work.

“There are a lot of kids like me in places like this, places kind of pushed into the shadows by the people who run this city,” he said. “We have stories to tell, stories not told in the news and media. I am getting the chance to tell mine, and others can too.”

In September of that year, he made his national television debut in “Verses & Flow,” a series that features musical and poetry performances.

(Read the rest.) Three of the five activists are charged only with “resisting police officer,” which is one clear sign that this is B.S. Follow the #FreeMalcolmLondon hashtag on Twitter for updates. Please consider helping Malcolm and the other arrested activists raise money for their bond so they can get home for Thanksgiving. And be sure to visit Malcolm’s website for more videos of him performing his poetry.

UPDATE (25 Nov., 7:56 PM): The charges against Malcolm London were dropped and he was released this afternoon.

[A]fter an outcry from fellow activists, who said London did not hit an officer and was standing peacefully when he was targeted by police and arrested, the charges against London were dismissed Wednesday afternoon.

The Colors We Ascribe by Emi Mahmoud

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Death loves my people, the way they fall asleep at its feet…

Sudanese-American poet Emtithal “Emi” Mahmoud is originally from Darfur, and is now a senior at Yale. She was crowned the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam (iWPS) Champion on October 10, and has just been featured in The Guardian: “Darfur poet triumphs in international poetry slam.” Here she is performing at the National Poetry Slam in a video from Button Poetry, a Minnesota-based organization that “produces and distributes poetry media, including: video from local and national events, chapbooks, collaborative audio recordings, scholarship and criticism, and many other products.” On YouTube, they release a new poetry video every day.

Click through to the Guardian to read “Mama,” the poem with which Mahmoud won the iWPS championship.

Fifth Avenue by Hasan Mujtaba

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Oh my beloved country
When I sing of your separation
I return to myself
But all I hear in return,
Is the language of guns…

A poetry film in the style I like to think of as illustrated spoken word—a style that works particularly well for poems that blend the personal and the political. Sofian Khan of Capital K Pictures directed. Here’s the Vimeo description:

An exiled Pakistani poet finds fresh inspiration in his new home, while reflecting on the tragedy of partition that has left a legacy of war and strife in his beloved land. Fragments of a globalized world seem to coalesce here on fifth avenue, strung together in the poet’s mind.

Directed by Sofian Khan / Cinenmatography – Bob Blankemeier / Original Score – Joshua Green / Sound + Mix – Evan Manners / Animation – Will Clark / Makeup – Jackie Push / Starring – Arik Hartman

The English translation is by Annie Ali Khan. I couldn’t find a website for Hasan Mujtaba, but he’s active on Twitter.

The Spotted Leaves of Some Marsh Orchids by Steve Griffiths

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If you haven’t been keeping up with the Late Love Poems film project (30 films featuring the poetry of Steve Griffiths in 30 weeks), you’re in for a particular treat this week, with the debut of Film 7. Griffiths comments:

This is an important poem for me, about an extraordinary moment of realisation when you fully see the individuality of the person you love. I read it at our wedding for that reason. What’s been done to it in this film is something else. It was the first poem I worked on really hard after unhappy trials in front of the camera, and I rediscovered levels, nuances, turns of rhythm and pace that I’d forgotten since I wrote it. Then there’s Eamon Bourke’s film work, and the first substantial, astonishingly sensitive, musical input from Ivan “Ogmios” Owen, of battlerap fame on YouTube, who I’ve known since he was two. The way it falls together feels special.

Watch all the films on the website or on YouTube.

A New Day Dawns by Nikky Finney

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It’s heartening to see South Carolina newspaper editors taking what poets have to say so seriously—an example of the general high regard in which writers are held in the South, I think. Yesterday I shared the video made from Ed Madden’s poem, which was reprinted in the Free Times and State newspapers. This poem by Nikky Finney appeared in The State on July 9, in text form as well as in the video by Matt Walsh, which incorporates footage of the previous days’ events.

[Finney] wrote the poem in the early morning hours of July 9, after House members voted to send Gov. Nikki Haley a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, realizing “I have been writing these 230 words all my life.”

For more on Nikky Finney, see her website. She’s also been featured in at least 11 other videos.

When we’re told we’ll never understand by Ed Madden

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It took me a couple of viewings to appreciate the genius of this deceptively simple videopoem, which hinges on the last, sung line of Ed Madden‘s poem. (For folks outside the US who might not recognize the line, it’s from the chorus of the South’s unofficial anthem, “Dixie.”) Brian Harmon is the filmmaker, and the description at Vimeo explains the circumstances:

The City of Columbia’s Poet Laureate, Ed Madden, reading his poem “When we’re told we’ll never understand” from “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015” written June 20, 2015. This poem was written in response to the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and in conjunction with the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the SC Statehouse grounds.

The poem was originally read as part of the Take It Down rally at the Statehouse on June 20, 2015 and reprinted in both the Free Times and State newspapers.

For the full text of this selection of the poem or the full longer version “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015,” visit the City of Columbia Poet Laureate website at

Late Love Poems 1: Spring by Steve Griffiths

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This performance-style poetry film is interesting not just for its content (which, as someone who just fell in love in my late 40s, I kind of identify with), but also for the very well thought-out publication strategy of which it is a part. As the YouTube description says:

‘Spring’ is the first of 30 Late Love Poems by Steve Griffiths going up on YouTube weekly from 27 July, culminating in the book of the same name to be published by Cinnamon Press in time for Valentine’s 2016. Find out more from

‘Spring’ is filmed in the Mortimer Forest in Shropshire, in the very landscape of the poem’s beginning, and at the same time of the year.

Funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Eamon Bourke (Park6 Productions) directed and edited, with sound, camera assisting and photography by Jules May. There’s a good biography of Griffiths on the Late Love Poems website, which also features his thoughts about the project on the About page. This is especially interesting because of what it suggests about the power of active collaborations between poets and filmmakers:

The feeling that I’d made something life-enhancing fed my desire to share these poems in a new way. I hope that with these films we’ve created a format with an intimacy, an immediacy, and something of the quality of a live reading, but which is retrievable and can be savoured and shared.

Thanks to the support of Arts Council England, I’ve had a great team for this project – and it’s certainly been a voyage of discovery for us. My initial flatness in our first experiments in front of a camera made me work hard once again on my poems, and I rediscovered intonations, insights, glancing emphases, that were there when I first worked on the lines, but had somehow gone missing over time. I’ll always be grateful for that: after all the preparation for standing in front of a camera, I can’t say how much I learned about the quality of attention to a line of poetry in performance. And hearing my wife read my poems naturally and beautifully in rehearsal as I worked to learn them reminded me of the multiplicity of voices that can own a poem – but of course, especially hers.

Over months, it took on new forms, with the visual dimensions and echoes glancing off the poems’ imagery from film-maker Eamon Bourke – and glancing off the map of my face in close-up – and the unexpected gifts of music from two friends I’d known for more than thirty years – one old, one young, and their meeting again in these films, responding to my poems, bringing sensitivities from spectacularly different worlds to enrich my work.

Finally, I must say I’m impressed with Cinnamon Press‘ commitment to this project, going so far as to hire an excellent PR consultant to get the word out. I wish that more of the really ambitious poetry-film and videopoetry projects that I’ve seen in recent years had had that kind of backing. The trouble is, most poets, filmmakers and video artists I know are really crap at promotion. It’s the one area where the DIY ethos isn’t of very much use.