It’s heartening to see South Carolina newspaper editors taking what poets have to say so seriously—an example of the general high regard in which writers are held in the South, I think. Yesterday I shared the video made from Ed Madden’s poem, which was reprinted in the Free Times and State newspapers. This poem by Nikky Finney appeared in The State on July 9, in text form as well as in the video by Matt Walsh, which incorporates footage of the previous days’ events.
[Finney] wrote the poem in the early morning hours of July 9, after House members voted to send Gov. Nikki Haley a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, realizing “I have been writing these 230 words all my life.”
It took me a couple of viewings to appreciate the genius of this deceptively simple videopoem, which hinges on the last, sung line of Ed Madden‘s poem. (For folks outside the US who might not recognize the line, it’s from the chorus of the South’s unofficial anthem, “Dixie.”) Brian Harmon is the filmmaker, and the description at Vimeo explains the circumstances:
The City of Columbia’s Poet Laureate, Ed Madden, reading his poem “When we’re told we’ll never understand” from “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015” written June 20, 2015. This poem was written in response to the tragedy at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and in conjunction with the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the SC Statehouse grounds.
The poem was originally read as part of the Take It Down rally at the Statehouse on June 20, 2015 and reprinted in both the Free Times and State newspapers.
For the full text of this selection of the poem or the full longer version “Hercules and the Wagoner: Reflections, South Carolina, June 17-22, 2015,” visit the City of Columbia Poet Laureate website at columbiapoet.org.
This performance-style poetry film is interesting not just for its content (which, as someone who just fell in love in my late 40s, I kind of identify with), but also for the very well thought-out publication strategy of which it is a part. As the YouTube description says:
‘Spring’ is the first of 30 Late Love Poems by Steve Griffiths going up on YouTube weekly from 27 July, culminating in the book of the same name to be published by Cinnamon Press in time for Valentine’s 2016. Find out more from www.latelovepoems.com.
‘Spring’ is filmed in the Mortimer Forest in Shropshire, in the very landscape of the poem’s beginning, and at the same time of the year.
Funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Eamon Bourke (Park6 Productions) directed and edited, with sound, camera assisting and photography by Jules May. There’s a good biography of Griffiths on the Late Love Poems website, which also features his thoughts about the project on the About page. This is especially interesting because of what it suggests about the power of active collaborations between poets and filmmakers:
The feeling that I’d made something life-enhancing fed my desire to share these poems in a new way. I hope that with these films we’ve created a format with an intimacy, an immediacy, and something of the quality of a live reading, but which is retrievable and can be savoured and shared.
Thanks to the support of Arts Council England, I’ve had a great team for this project – and it’s certainly been a voyage of discovery for us. My initial flatness in our first experiments in front of a camera made me work hard once again on my poems, and I rediscovered intonations, insights, glancing emphases, that were there when I first worked on the lines, but had somehow gone missing over time. I’ll always be grateful for that: after all the preparation for standing in front of a camera, I can’t say how much I learned about the quality of attention to a line of poetry in performance. And hearing my wife read my poems naturally and beautifully in rehearsal as I worked to learn them reminded me of the multiplicity of voices that can own a poem – but of course, especially hers.
Over months, it took on new forms, with the visual dimensions and echoes glancing off the poems’ imagery from film-maker Eamon Bourke – and glancing off the map of my face in close-up – and the unexpected gifts of music from two friends I’d known for more than thirty years – one old, one young, and their meeting again in these films, responding to my poems, bringing sensitivities from spectacularly different worlds to enrich my work.
Finally, I must say I’m impressed with Cinnamon Press‘ commitment to this project, going so far as to hire an excellent PR consultant to get the word out. I wish that more of the really ambitious poetry-film and videopoetry projects that I’ve seen in recent years had had that kind of backing. The trouble is, most poets, filmmakers and video artists I know are really crap at promotion. It’s the one area where the DIY ethos isn’t of very much use.
Bermudian poet Yesha Townsend in an exemplary performance-poetry film by Alyson Thompson. The poem lives up to its title, so the low-key camera work (no cliched “trippy” effects) provides just the right balance, I think.
Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner‘s impassioned poem about climate change in a video from CNN, part of their correspondent John D. Sutter’s two degrees series. It aired in late June. Jonathan “jot” Reyes, the creative director of video development at CNN, included half a minute of motion graphics in a film that otherwise hews closely to the standard TV formula for poetry: shots of the poet alternating with a collage of complementary footage, more or less illustrative of the text. For a dash of irony, you can watch this on the CNN website, where it’s preceded by an automobile ad. But a longer, interactive web feature on Sutter’s visit to the Marshall Islands also includes the video poem (which is the term he uses for it), along with some prefatory text:
During my brief time in the islands, I met people like Angie [Hepisus] who are witnessing climate change and who are trying to do what’s best for themselves and their families. By sharing their stories, they hope the rest of us might listen — might realize our actions have consequences for places we’ll never see, for people we’ll never meet. I also had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a young mother and poet who has emerged as one of the country’s pre-eminent storytellers. A teacher at the College of the Marshall Islands, the 27-year-old also studies the oral stories that form the fabric of her nation and culture.
The article continues with two of Jetnil-Kijiner’s stories; click through for those. As Sutter points out, she spoke at the UN last fall, reading a different poem which was also made available as a video.
Incidentally, this isn’t jot Reyes’ first foray into videopoetry. I’ll be sharing another of his creations soon.
One of the more ingenious performance poetry videos I’ve seen. Here are the details from the Vimeo description:
In fond memory of Andy Parkinson who wrote and performed the poem.
Music by Matthew Marks
Part of Insight In Mind produced by Swings and Roundabouts with a Mind Millennium Award and previously seen on Channel 4
Initiated and produced by Penny Arnold
Directed by Daniel Saul 2002
Insight in Mind is a 27-minute video containing 14 poetic pieces, of which this was one.
‘Insight In Mind’ vividly demonstrates how it feels to experience highs and lows, through the use of poetry, visual imagery, photography, animation and music; taking the viewer on an emotional and informative journey.
The 14 poetic pieces are interwoven with the voices of survivors and carers, talking openly about their experiences, married with artworks contributed from mental health survivors.
Throughout the film, with the exception of two performers, everyone you see or hear has personal experience of bipolar disorder or depression, or are carers for people who have these experiences. This includes the recorded voice-overs which were edited together from interviews with survivors and carers. Alongside these spoken sections of the film are over 200 artworks by survivors of bipolar disorder or depression. The poems and artworks were selected from material contributed during the research undertaken by ‘Swings and Roundabouts’.
Andy Parkinson, AKA Andy Postman, was one of the five members of Swings and Roundabouts, and died in 2008. There’s a tribute page to him on the same website. It begins:
Andy Parkinson, also known to many as Andy Postman sadly passed away aged 53 in October 2008 from a sudden heart attack, a condition that runs in his family.
Andy made an incredible contribution to Insight in Mind. He was an inspiration to us during the planning and production of the film, with his stream of infectious and elaborate ideas. He wrote 4 (and adapted another) of the poems in the film and conceived many of the ideas for the filming of 2 of the poems, Mutter and ABC which begin and end Insight in Mind. Andy put an extraordinary amount of careful consideration into the construction of these pieces.
Juan Felipe Herrera is the author of more than 20 books of poetry, novels for young adults and collections for children, most recently “Portraits of Hispanic American Heroes.” He is the son of migrant workers from Mexico, and today he becomes the first Latino to serve as poet laureate of the United States. Jeffrey Brown travels to the poet’s home in California’s San Joaquin Valley.