Posts in Category: Spoken Word

V. by Tony Harrison

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An epic film-poem produced by the U.K.’s Channel 4 in 1987, the airing of which was apparently a bit of a cultural watershed in Thatcherite Britain. Let me start by quoting the Wikipedia entry on Tony Harrison:

His best-known work is the long poem V. (1985), written during the miners’ strike of 1984-85, and describing a trip to see his parents’ grave in a Leeds cemetery “now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti”. The title has several possible interpretations: victory, versus, verse etc. Proposals to screen a filmed version of V. by Channel 4 in October 1987 drew howls of outrage from the tabloid press, some broadsheet journalists, and MPs, apparently concerned about the effects its “torrents of obscene language” and “streams of four-letter filth” would have on the nation’s youth. Indeed, an Early Day Motion entitled “Television Obscenity” was proposed on 27 October 1987 by a group of Conservative MPs, who condemned Channel 4 and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The motion was opposed by a single MP, Mr. Norman Buchan, who suggested that MPs had either failed to read or failed to understand (V.). The broadcast went ahead, and the brouhaha settled quickly after enough column inches had been written about the broadcast and reaction to the broadcast. Gerald Howarth said that Harrison was “Probably another bolshie poet wishing to impose his frustrations on the rest of us”. When told of this, Harrison retorted that Howarth was “Probably another idiot MP wishing to impose his intellectual limitations on the rest of us”. Thom Yorke, the frontman and lyricist of Radiohead, considers Harrison as one of his heroes, describing V as both “straightforward and wonderful”.

The comments at YouTube convey some of the emotions this stirred in the British public. I asked the friend who originally shared the link with me to try to describe the impact that the broadcast had on her. Here’s what she wrote:

When Tony Harrison’s V was eventually broadcast on British television, to view it seemed like a devotional act. Or certainly to me who felt an outsider both for loving poetry and for coming from a conservative background and holding grimly, determinedly, to socialist ideals — and this during the violent eviscerations of the Thatcher years. Here was a poet, a long-form poem, a political poem far beyond the merely polemical. A poem that, in its planned presentation on the dominant medium of the time, domestic television, had the political, intellectual and cultural “arbiters” howling with rage and scorn. I still remember the incantation of regional vowels (unusual then, though not now) as the poet paced the snow of the bleak cemetery. A spell-binding of so many disparates — class and culture, poetry and popularity, word and image. It was, I remember, a promise and an affirmation.

The British Council’s Literature website describes Tony Harrison as “Britain’s leading film and theatre poet.”

His films using verse narrative include v, about vandalism, broadcast by Channel 4 television in 1987 and winner of a Royal Television Society Award; Black Daisies for the Bride, winner of the Prix Italia in 1994; and The Blasphemers’ Banquet, screened by the BBC in 1989, an attack on censorship inspired by the Salman Rushdie affair. He co-directed A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan for Channel 4 in 1994 and directed, wrote and narrated The Shadow of Hiroshima, screened by Channel 4 in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the first atom bomb. The published text, The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems (1995), won the Heinemann Award in 1996. He wrote and directed his first feature film Prometheus in 1998.

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

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Monika Lind directs a shared reading/dramatization of the sonnet by five young actresses: Sascha Alexander, Katherine DuBois, Lee Hanson, Adrienne Marquand, and Daniele Watts.

Poetry in Motion by Brandon Wint

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Don’t be put off by the title: Craig Allen Conoley, the director, told me, “We chose to use the cliche title in an ironic manner… we wanted to subvert the cliche!” If you watch this through till the end, that should become abundantly clear.

This was screened at Visible Verse 2011 and the 2011 Ottawa International Film Festival. For the full credits, see the page at Vimeo, which also includes this description:

The short film/music video provides a visceral account of a poet’s mind/body relationship, mediated through his prose and the language of story. Shot in the subways and busy streets of Montreal, the video was designed to subvert a voyeuristic and often conforming societal gaze by placing Brandon’s point of view in direct contest with everyday motion and its marriage to the status-quo. The video features Claude Munson on guitar.

For more about the Ottawa-based spoken word artist, writer and singer Brandon Wint, see the bio on his website.

enough by Kai Lossgott and Mbali Vilakazi

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A marvellous video collaboration produced for a 2009 poetry festival in Cape Town called Badilsha Poetry Exchange, sponsored by Africa Centre, whose description of the film at YouTube is worth quoting in full:

Sometimes you’ve had enough. And sometimes you have enough. A fusion of sound and light, video poet Kai Lossgott’s and performance poet Mbali Vilakazi’s authentic and intimate multimedia poetry performance enough takes you into the dream cycles of obsessive behaviour and uncomfortable truths in the search for wholeness. It is about the breakdown of society, and people at breaking point.

In a lyrical conversation of experimental music and cinema, the poets draw their self-portraits only to erase them, through testimonies that become ciphers in the round-trip between abundance and gratitude, lack and self-pity. Through spoken word, dance, and gesture, they journey with the audience through breathing rhythms of take and give, where insecurity comes up for air and we open like blossoms.

For more about the poets, see their websites: Mbali Vilakazi and Kai Lossgott.

What I Have Learned So Far by Mary Oliver

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O.K., this is something different for Moving Poems — a videopoem made to embody the mission of a university. Marquette University is a Jesuit school whose motto is “Be the Difference.” (Gotta love Jesuits!) The filmmaker is James P. O’Malley of Carnaval Pictures. Here’s what he says in the description at Vimeo:

Using Mary Oliver’s inspirational poem as a script, I created this Poem-Videoclip for the inauguration ceremony of Marquette University’s new president.

I shot all the images solo with my Canon 5D Mark2, using Nikkor and Canon lenses and available light. The sync sound day included John Egan, of Egan Audio Services, and Patrick O’Malley as assistant. Patrick composed, recorded and mastered the piano solo, and John Egan created the sound design and audio master.

The readers are Marquette University students, and all on-camera performers are “non-pro” or “real-people”.

I edited and mastered on FCP, except for the simple graphic call to action I exported from After Effects.

The result is lightly branded enough, I think, to engage Oliver fans unconnected with Marquette. I know I enjoyed it.

Tomas Tranströmer

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This new film from Bloodaxe Books, one of Tranströmer’s English-language publishers, incorporates footage of the Nobel Prize announcement and the Tranströmers’ reaction, as well as footage of Tranströmer playing the piano which Pamela Robertson-Pearce had just shot in August. Robin Fulton’s translations appear as subtitles for the Swedish-language readings, which include “The Nightingale in Badelunda,” “Allegro,” “From the Thaw on 1966,” “The Half-Finished Heaven,” “April and Silence,” “From March 1979,” and “Tracks.” This is of course something that the film/video medium is particularly well suited for: it’s wonderful to hear the poet reading in Swedish and know (more or less) what he is saying.

Do read the extensive notes on the Vimeo page. The detail that “Swedish composers have written several left-hand piano pieces especially for him to play” speaks volumes about his status in his homeland. (Hat-tip: Teju Cole on Twitter)

Icicles by Todd Boss

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A motionpoem created by Michael Guncheon and Ben O’Brien.

And speaking of Motionpoems, if you can get to Minneapolis on October 25, they’re planning to screen a whole new season’s worth of films, which will include poems by Jane Hirshfield, Mark Strand, Richard Wilbur and others — a dozen in all, produced to accompany the Best American Poetry 2011 anthology From Scribner. See their website for details.

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