Filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce for the DVD anthology from Bloodaxe Books, In Person: 30 Poets, edited by Neil Astley. I was especially impressed by the way Ali’s translator, Peter Cole (So What: New and Selected Poems 1971-2005), translates something of his reading style into English in the second half of the video.
For a few more online poems by Taha Muhammad Ali in English, see his page at Poetry International Web.
There’s a real dearth of English-subtitled Arabic poetry recitation on the web; this goes a small way toward righting the balance. It’s interesting to see how poetry is chanted or sung in Arabic, rather than simply read (much less mumbled). Another thing that might be a little difficult for some of us to get our heads around is a poet becoming so popular that he could be branded an enemy of the state, and his works become a relying cry for people opposed to the established order. Such was the case with Nabeel Yasin, Iraq’s most celebrated poet (and last year, an unsuccessful candidate for prime minister), who has been compared to Bob Dylan in his impact on Iraqi society from the late 60s on.
“The Poet of Baghdad” was directed by Georgie Weedon for Al Jazeera, and has just been re-uploaded to YouTube as a single video. The blending of poetry recitation with reminiscence is very effective, I think, and the reflections on exile will probably resonate with emigrants, voluntary and involuntary, from many lands. Al Jazeera posted an interview with the director in early 2010.
This video includes six poems: “Here, Bullet,” “Hwy 1,” ”Eulogy,” “16 Iraqi Policemen,” “The Inventory from a Year Sleeping with Bullets” and “At Lowe’s Home Improvement Center,” taken from Brian Turner’s two books, Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise.
If I don’t post more poetry reading videos here, it’s because such videos are often poor quality (dark, out-of-focus, too quiet, etc.) and many poets don’t really know how to read their work. This video demonstrates how to do it right. In fact, the poems are so intense and so well read, I find I really don’t mind the utter minimalism of a single-camera close-up on the reader’s face. Neil Astley shot the video for Turner’s British publisher, Bloodaxe Books.
Brian Turner doesn’t appear to have a website, but here’s his Wikipedia page.
Hirshfield’s reading of “Tree” is preceded by a short but eloquent statement about the role of poetry in contemporary society that really resonated with me, as well as a few words about how she came to connect with poetry as a child. (Wish I could turn off the terrible background music, though!) This is from PlumTV. Like many prominent writers, Hirshfield doesn’t appear to have her own website, but here’s what the Poetry Foundation has for her.
Kevin Simmonds’ brief film is part interview, part reading. Simmonds is the editor of the forthcoming anthology Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality, which includes this poem by Amir Rabiyah.
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.