Posts in Category: Performance Poetry

The Men Who Don’t Fit In by Robert Service

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Poem by Robert Service, recited by Christopher Herwig, 1-2 lines a day while hiking and rafting across Iceland with Alastair Humphreys from North to South in July 2010.

Mr. Herwig is also the filmmaker here, I think. Some very good editing and of a course a brilliant idea, even if one does get a little tired of looking at him by the end of it. Their journey across Iceland was truly epic, judging from Alastair’s report:

The plan was simple: we were trekking inland from Iceland’s north coast up into the central highlands. We would cross the Hofsjokull ice cap to gain access to the headwaters of Iceland’s longest river. There we would inflate the packrafts we were carrying and attempt to paddle down two separate rivers, eventually reaching the southern coast of Iceland, the ocean, and the end of our expedition.

We were carrying everything we needed. There would be no villages or resupplies on our route. We carried food for 25 days. We had camping equipment, and ropes and crampons for the glacier crossing. There was a fair weight of camera equipment, batteries and solar panel chargers. And we also were carrying all the gear you need for paddling glacial whitewater rivers. The weight of the packs crushed our knees and spine and gouged our shoulders and hips. We feared that we had bitten off more than we could chew.

The Body Show: How to Boil an Egg by Nora Robertson

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UPDATE (3 August 2015): I’ve found and swapped in the complete film.


This is actually a trailer for a short film by Jason Bahling called The Body Show, due out in November. The whole film is essentially a videopoem for “How to Boil an Egg,” which is from Nora Robertson’s unpublished collection Body-Making Cookery — or so I gather from Jason’s notes at Vimeo and a recent post at Nora’s blog:

About five years ago I appeared in a line-up at Borders downtown and read from my then-new collection Body-Making Cookery which is still in progress (cue internal groan). The collection is all recipe poems and explores the associations food has for us, that food is almost never just a way to keep our bodies going, that it reminds us of other things like family, personal biography, history, body image, desire, mythology, religion. When we eat, it’s my belief that we don’t just take the food into our bodies, but all of these associations into the body of our self. I was experimenting with a persona, the housewife, which later morphed into cooking show host gone awry as explored in the short film The Body Show, a collaboration with video artist Jason Bahling to be released in November 2010.

How to be Alone by Tanya Davis

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Another videopoem gone viral, with well over a million views at time of posting. It’s not high art, but I guess like a lot of people I love the message here, and I thought the film was charming, too. Andrea Dorfman is the filmmaker. Tanya Davis is the actor/performer as well as the author, justifying this video’s inclusion in my Spoken Word category.

Litany by Billy Collins

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A three-year-old recites Billy Collins — another reminder that YouTube is still a vast repository of wonderfulness if you can only find it among all the dross. Fortunately, this one has gone viral. The mother says in a comment,

Billy Collins did see this and wrote a letter to my son and I. We feel very honored.

Thank you all for your kind comments. We are working on a few new poems I hope to have up very soon. If there are any suggestions as to poems you think might be good ones for him to memorize, let me know! I will consider them, if he likes them too.

Here’s Collins himself introducing and reading the poem, in a selection from Fora.TV:

Fairground Man by Annie Clarkson

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I haven’t featured too many videos of poetry readings here, mostly because I haven’t taken the time to look for the ones that are well-filmed and edited with a listenable audio track. What I am saying is that at least 90 percent of the poetry-reading videos uploaded to YouTube and Vimeo suck. Here’s a great example of one that does not. It was brought to my attention by Christine Swint, in a post at Moving Poems’ news and discussion blog back in May. Christine wrote,

I’ve read her chapbook, Winter Hands, and it’s beautiful. Her video reading interests me because she first talks about her writing in general, as well as the authors who have influenced her. As she reads, she stands next to an antique lamp with tassel fringe, in front of a wall painted deep red. The sound of dishes clinking in the background gives the reading an immediacy. The filming is good, because normally when a reading is recorded the poet stands on a stage in front of a mike.

I doubt I would ever have a chance to hear Annie read live, so this recording is almost as good as hearing her in person.

For more on the poet, see her page at poetry p f — which includes the text of “Fairground Man.” The video was produced by the U.K.’s Literature North West — not a press, but “a promotional tool for the region’s independent presses and literature organisations.” This is one of 21 videos they’ve uploaded to YouTube.

How to Make a Crab Cake by January Gill O’Neil

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Another in our brief series of videopoems that riff on television. January Gill O’Neil makes nice use of TV cooking-show conventions for a poem from her debut collection Underlife. She blogged briefly about the making of the video here.

(Hat tip: Christine Swint in the Moving Poems forum.)

“And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake

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Continuing the theme of videopoems that riff on television conventions, here’s a poetry promo from the BBC disguised as a sporting news story from the BBC. The poem is referred to as “Jerusalem,” but it’s actually from the Preface to Milton. A popular hymn adaptation by Hubert Parry a century after Blake wrote it is reponsible for the new title, according to the Wikipedia.

The poem was inspired by the apocryphal story that a young Jesus, accompanied by his uncle Joseph of Arimathea, travelled to the area that is now England and visited Glastonbury. The legend is linked to an idea in the Book of Revelation (3:12 and 21:2) describing a Second Coming, wherein Jesus establishes a new Jerusalem. The Christian church in general, and the English Church in particular, used Jerusalem as a metaphor for Heaven, a place of universal love and peace.

That’s one of those metaphors that would seem to have outlived its relevance, except perhaps in the writing of the late Mahmoud Darwish.