The Museum of English Rural Life in Reading has a legendary, frequently hilarious Twitter account, so like many of their followers, I guess I was expecting something a bit Monty Pythonesque when they first announced the upcoming YouTube premiere of a filmpoem called I, Sheep, “the profound story of a single ewe and her links to the lives of a farm and farming family.” It turned out however to be a deeply serious, moving, and brilliantly conceived film, influenced by Susannah Ramsay’s conception of the filmpoem as “a poetic composition that interweaves experimental film practices with film-phenomenological concepts and creative self-expression.” Poet Jack Thacker worked closely with the filmmakers—Teresa Murjas, a professor of theater and performance, director James Rattee—and a sheep named Jess, whose POV shots do lend a certain droll charm in character with The MERL’s online profile. As the webpage for the project explains,
One hot summer’s day in 2018, following a workshop at The MERL, Teresa Murjas (Professor of Theatre & Performance at the University of Reading) and filmmaker James Rattee travelled to see Jack and Jess on their remote farm. They brought with them a range of cameras, one of which Jess wore during filming. Multiple perspectives on their interlinking lives and rural environments were captured in the varied gimbal, go-pro and drone footage that was collected.
As the months passed, one creative act would generate another. Roles were performed, film footage was collated, poetry written, and footage edited. Readings were performed, recorded, footage was reshaped, and audio material collated. Sound, imagery and words were progressively layered and synthesised until now, in July 2020, when the filmpoem is about to be shown very for the first time.
It’s no surprise that this kind of prolonged, intensive collaboration should produce such a varied and satisfying film. I imagine it will do well on the film festival circuit, if and when film festivals ever resume. But I’m grateful they chose to release it on the web first.
One minor point of interest to those of us who struggle to connect audiences with poetry: Despite The MERL’s well-executed promotional campaign, and despite more than 153,000 followers on Twitter, the video unfortunately did not go viral, though it has garnered a respectable 1,227 views. But getting people to watch a 16-minute poetry film was never going to be easy. And merely creating viral content is not why they made the film in the first place:
I, Sheep is one of a cluster of creative works generated for a project at The MERL entitled Making, Using and Enjoying: The Museum of the Intangible (funded by Arts Council England). This explored intersections between the Museum’s tangible holdings, the idea of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) and creative and digital practices. As outlined by UNESCO, ‘cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.’ Responsively, The Museum of the Intangible project began by bringing people together around things, and then drew on their living experiences and relationships to explore, through creative practice, the significance of ICH within a museum context.
White Clouds is a musical poetry video that was filmed, directed and edited by the outstanding Taiwanese film-maker and poet, Ye Mimi, who released it to the web just two weeks ago. The story of the film…
This song is an adaptation of the poem “White Clouds” by Taiwanese poet Lo Lang (1927-2015). The recording was made by Lo’s daughter Sirong, a renowned, award-winning singer-songwriter in Taiwan. When Lo Lang wrote the poem in 1950, he was expressing his deep desire for freedom. At that time, many Taiwanese were suffering from extreme violence and political repression at the hands of the ruling Kuomingtang, which took over Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War to the Chinese Communists. This recording, made in 2018, marks a watershed moment for Lo Sirong and her now deceased father, as Taiwan flourishes today as a fully democratic society.
Lo Sirong sings White Clouds in the Hakka language. She has a marvellous voice, deeply expressive of her father’s poetry. The music overall is wonderful to hear. The English subtitles bring the welcome experience of the poem in written translation as well.
Ye Mimi’s earlier videopoems include I See Green and Golden Shadows as part of the Wild Whispers global videopoetry project, initiated by Chaucer Cameron in the UK. Dave shared three of Ye Mimi’s videos from earlier years here at Moving Poems, including from her own poems. One of these videos was also published by Cordite Poetry Review from Australia, where she wrote an interesting account of her relation to videopoetry.
Ye Mimi’s bio at Vimeo:
Ye Mimi is a Taiwanese poet and filmmaker. A graduate of the MFA Creative Writing Department at Dong Hwa University and the MFA Film Department at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she is the author of three volumes of poetry and has internationally exhibited several of her poetry films. Through collaging her words and images, she improvises a new landscape trying to erase the border between poetry and image making. Book-length translations of her work are available in Dutch and English.
Human Condition was written and performed by the one and only Rich Ferguson, beat poet laureate of California. For this spectacular film he teamed up with film director Mark Wilkinson and a marvellous ensemble of performers and musicians including gospel singer Stella Ademiluyi and James Morrison from the cast of Twin Peaks.
Human Condition is one of his best so far. It is highly musical, and at the same time funny, mournful and uplifting. The text of the poem is posted at YouTube in the video notes.
Yemen in Conflict is a national partnership between LAAF, the University of Leeds and the University of Liverpool exploring how Yemeni literature and poetry can be safeguarded, and how it can further the understanding of the situation in Yemen.
For the festival we are delighted to present four newly commissioned poemfilms (video works combining poetry and film) by Olivia Furber, Mariam Al-Dhubhani, Diyala Muir and Noor Palette, created in response to original poems by contemporary Yemeni poets Ahmed Alkhulaidi, Liverpool-based Amina Atiq, Hamdan Damaag and Dr Abdul Hakim Al-Qazi. […]
The cultural heritage of Yemen is at extreme risk due to conflict: displacement has resulted in many children not learning cultural traditions and linguistic practices of their regions. Many native speakers believe the only way to protect their oral heritage is to share the language of their regions. […]
The poems featured in the films premiered here were written in response to a series of workshops held in Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield and Cardiff in 2019. The aim of these workshops was to bring writers and readers together to explore poems written by Yemeni writers, some of which had been gathered specifically for the project under the loose theme of conflict resolution. With the help of a lead poet for each city, the workshops became places to hear historical as well as contemporary poems from Yemen.
Workshop attendance gave the opportunity for communities to read and write poetry together, and for poets in each city to share new work for the first time. As well, sometimes, as being charged with strong feelings of sadness at the current situation in Yemen, the workshops also emphasised the importance and joy of the ordinary. Writing poems brought into focus the pleasures, smells, textures and tastes of childhood; families, friendships, landscapes and beloved cities were evoked, and the poems and stories created in those workshops stand as a poetic embodiment of the communities who gathered to remember, write and imagine together. Hearing those new memories, poems and stories subsequently allowed the lead poets to reflect on their experiences, creating newly-commissioned works of their own. In doing so they speak both for and with the participant whose words and ideas helped so generously to bring them into the world.
Translated in turn by visual artists and filmmakers the poems again take on new and exciting forms. Three of the poems have been translated from Arabic into English, so that not only have the poems reached new versions of themselves in another artistic genre, but they also inhabit different versions of themselves through the mediation of another language. Whether they evoke the iconic streets of Sana’a or Liverpool, or the imagined gardens of the mind, these poems create what the poet Carolyn Forché has called a ‘poetry of witness’; they are part of a ‘living archive’ that speaks to the experiences of Yemenis in Britain today.
The website embeds all four films, so do check it out. Here’s the information they supply for No Words:
Mariam Al-Dhubhani is a Yemeni-Russian award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and curator. Al-Dhubhani is currently doing an MA in Museum and Gallery Practice at UCL Qatar. She first pursued her passion for media during the 2011 Arab uprisings and co-founded her first media production. Al-Dhubhani’s films have been screened globally in festivals such as Carthage, Interfilm, and Oaxaca. She also utilizes Virtual Reality in highlighting stories from Yemen.
Ahmed Abdul Raqeeb Alkhulaidi
Born 1970. Married with 7 children, 4 boys and 3 girls
Studied in Taiz University, Yemen, Faculty of Arabic Literature 1994. Works in one of Cardiff industries, UK.
A writer and a poet since childhood. Participated in many events in this area.
‘I dream peace will prevail in my country Yemen…and the war stops.’
Back in May, Dave wrote some words about a video from the poem The Long Burial by Brazilian-American writer Henrique Costa. That piece was a collaboration between Costa and UK film-maker and animator Jonathan (aka Jonny) Knowles.
They made A Sonnet to the Smartphone a few months earlier. It is an elegiac and then rousing cry for our times. For both videos they teamed up with actor Suzanna Celensu, also in the UK, who appeared and voiced the soundtracks.
All parts of this collaboration are equally wonderful. Let’s hope there are more videos from them in the future as well.
A new film interpretation of a classic poem by Jamaican-American writer Claude Mckay, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The director is Douglas Bernardt, with DP Adolpho Veloso and editor Victor Cohen. It was produced by Stink Films Shanghai and shot in Bangkok.