Posts in Category: Performance Poetry

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.

Oblogo Concerto by Atukwei Okai

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Ghanaian poetry videos are a little thin on the ground, but I found three in the International Poetry Festival of Medellín’s massive video archive (African poets section), and was fascinated by Okai’s dramatic style and use of extreme alliteration. Atukwei Okai “was the first to try to take African poetry back to one of its primal origins, in percussion, by deliberately violating the syntax and lexicon of English, creating his own rhythms through startling phonetic innovations,” according to the Nigerian scholar of African Studies Femi Osofisan. In typical Medellín video style, we are shown the audience’s reactions — or lack thereof — as the poet recites.

For more on the festival, see the Guardian Weekly article, “Medellín’s poems of peace.” I would love to see the same kind of media coverage given to this festival as to the World Cup, at least on Univision. But I imagine it would have to be turned into a poetry slam-style competition for that to happen, and that would probably clash with the festival’s peace agenda.

Ballad of the Skeletons by Allen Ginsberg

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This is basically a glorified music video from 1997, directed by Gus Van Sant — but with music by Philip Glass and Paul McCartney, and spoken word by none other than Allen Ginsberg. I got a charge out of seeing him dressed as Uncle Sam, though by the end of the video I was beginning to tire of the poet-as-prophet schtick.

Incidentally, Howl, the movie, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, is set for release in September. That should breathe some new life into the Ginsberg cult.