Posts in Category: Spoken Word

Interstates and States of Grief by Phil and Angela Rockstroh

This blew me away. The Rockstrohs have produced a searing videopoem in the style of a political documentary weaving together American militarism, consumerism, capitalism and the interstate highway system without ever getting too preachy for my taste, somehow. Here’s the description at Vimeo:

On US Interstates, we meet the US empire coming towards us. In this evocative video, we meet confederate ghosts and demons of consumer emptiness. We travel down the highway, propelled by engines of extinction, towards empire’s end, where we find ourselves bearing much grief yet are stranded amid ferocious beauty.

I queried Phil about whether he was O.K. with my characterizing the script as a poem, and how their collaboration worked. He wrote: “You can describe the work as a spoken word piece or a long poem if it suits you. That is what I was going for when I wrote the script. And, yes, please, credit Angela and me as the filmmakers. We co-directed and collaborated on the imagery therein, and Angela has the mastery of the technology involved to create the evocative visuals.”

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist, and essayist, published widely across the progressive internet. Angela Tyler-Rockstroh is a broadcast designer/animator who currently works with HBO. She has worked with major networks such as the Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, and PBS, as well as with Michael Moore on his documentaries Fahrenheit 911 and Sicko.

Dupont Circle, 3 A.M. by Raymond Luczak

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Another sign-language “reading” by poet and filmmaker Raymond Luczak. He notes at YouTube that the music was composed especially for the video by John Stutte. The book is available from Sibling Rivalry Press.

Orphans by Raymond Luczak

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The description at YouTube:

Why do so many Deaf people seem so clannish? In this clip, Raymond Luczak explains why in a poem from his book MUTE (A Midsummer Night’s Press). Naturally, it’s subtitled for those who don’t know American Sign Language (ASL).

I’m putting this in the Spoken Word category even though it’s clearly unspoken word. For more on the poet, check out his website. Luczak is also a filmmaker, with two documentaries and two ASL storytelling collections under his belt. Thanks to Nic at Voice Alpha, a blog devoted to the art and science of reading poetry, for this great find.

Self Portrait by Edward Hirsch

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The wacky folks at Teleportal Readings say about this one:

We filmed esteemed poet Ed Hirsch during a shoot Teleportal did in collaboration with Rattapallax at the Bowery Poetry Club last summer. Though “trippy” isn’t a term we’d normally use to describe Hirsch’s work, the hand-painted, rotoscoped animation by Teleportal art director Scott Gelber makes the poet’s “Self Portrait” just that.

For more on Hirsch, see his page at the Poetry Foundation website.

Seasonally Affected by Hannah Stephenson

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This film, called “Seasons,” was made in response to a poem Hannah just wrote and posted to her blog last Thursday. The anonymous filmmaker grow365 says, “This is part of my 365 project to do something creative every day. You can see other experiments at http://grow365.posterous.com […] It’s the first time I’ve ever done this sort of thing.” The soundtrack incorporates Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Second Movement, performed by Daniel Hope, which means of course that she’s in risk of YouTube stripping it out.

The poet herself also posted a video of the poem, also her first such effort. It’s extremely lo-fi, made with the camera on her laptop, but more imaginative than at least 90% of poem videos made in that fashion.

(The poet moved to Columbus, Ohio in December, and I keep wanting to shout, Put on a damn coat and hat, Hannah! You’re not in L.A. anymore!)

Egypt’s poetry of revolt

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I’ve long avoided demonstrations here in the U.S., even ones I strongly support, due to my aversion to stupid, boring, time-worn slogans. So I was really excited to read that

The slogans the [Egyptain] protesters are chanting are couplets—and they are as loud as they are sharp. The diwan of this revolt began to be written as soon as Ben Ali fled Tunis, in pithy lines like “Yâ Mubârak! Yâ Mubârak! Is-Sa‘ûdiyya fi-ntizârak!,” (“Mubarak, O Mabarak, Saudi Arabia awaits!”). In the streets themselves, there are scores of other verses, ranging from the caustic “Shurtat Masr, yâ shurtat Masr, intû ba’aytû kilâb al-’asr” (“Egypt’s Police, Egypt’s Police, You’ve become nothing but Palace dogs”), to the defiant “Idrab idrab yâ Habîb, mahma tadrab mish hansîb!” (Hit us, beat us, O Habib [al-Adly, now-former Minister of the Interior], hit all you want—we’re not going to leave!). This last couplet is particularly clever, since it plays on the old Egyptian colloquial saying, “Darb al-habib zayy akl al-zabib” (The beloved’s fist is as sweet as raisins). This poetry is not an ornament to the uprising—it is its soundtrack and also composes a significant part of the action itself.

That’s Elliott Colla in an essay titled “The Poetry of Revolt” in Jadaliyya. Following a concise history of Egyptian revolutions and uprisings, he lists some of the most famous literary poets of revolt since the 1880s, and describes the extent to which their poems have been used to inspire demonstrators and galvanize action.

But beyond these recognized names are thousands of other poets—activists all—who would never dare to protest publicly without an arsenal of clever couplet-slogans. The end result is a unique literary tradition whose power is now on full display across Egypt. Chroniclers of the current Egyptian revolt, like As’ad AbuKhalil, have already compiled lists of these couplets—and hundreds more are sure to come. For the most part, these poems are composed in a colloquial, not classical, register and they are extremely catchy and easy to sing. The genre also has real potential for humor and play—and remind us of the fact that revolution is also a time for celebration and laughter.

Colla goes on to speculate that this communal experience of poetry is key both to building crowd solidarity and helping them overcome their fear of the regime through laughter. Read the full essay. There’s also another YouTube video of protestors at Tahrir Square which includes a translation of sorts in the description.

I am indebted to a Facebook friend (who is @kitabet on Twitter, but otherwise currently blogless) for links to both the essay and the video, and I gather from the notes at YouTube that we owe the translation to Facebook, as well—not surprising given the site’s role in the uprising.

Video previously posted on Facebook, “Bravest Girl in Egypt”, translated into English. You can now read and understand the slogans of the demonstrators. Translated by Iyad El-Baghdadi, subbed by Ammara Alavi. A shout out to Dana Kagis from Vancouver who asked for a translation.

Skinhead by Patricia Smith

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The great Patricia Smith performs at (I think) the HBO show Def Poetry Jam.

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