Posts in Category: Videopoems

Human Condition by Rich Ferguson

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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.

Rich has collaborated with other film-makers, and released a great series of videos with Chris Burdick. Most recently, while locked down in Los Angeles, he has started making them himself.

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.

No Words by Ahmed Abdul Raqeeb Alkhulaidi

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This new film from Yemeni-Russian director Mariam Al-Dhubhani was commissioned by the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, part of a four-film project: Yemen in Conflict.

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

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.’

A Sonnet to the Smartphone by Henrique Costa

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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.

I Know My Soul by Claude McKay

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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.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico by Sabina England and Chaucer Cameron

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Watch on YouTube.

Last week we shared a film from the series of 12 that were created for the Wild Whispers project. Each video was made in response to a poem by Chaucer Cameron in the UK. The poem went through a number of ‘blind translations’ in a film-making chain across the world, each video uniquely expressing the poem’s transformation through languages.

This film in the series is by Sabina England, whose brilliant Deaf Brown Gurl appeared on Moving Poems back in 2015. She says this about her Wild Whispers film:

When I first read the poem, it made me think of Native Americans and how much their ancestors had greatly suffered through history. As a Deaf Bihari/South Asian American, I wanted to highlight the themes of suffering and refuge of the poem by showcasing Native American culture(s) and show that despite centuries of cultural genocide, settler colonialism and violence, Native people and their cultures still thrive and resist to this day. I also wanted to draw a parallel between the sufferings of Native Americans with refugees from all over, including Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. As an immigrant in the USA, I wanted to honour Native Americans by showcasing the beauty of the Navajo language and Pueblo cultures in New Mexico.

Lastly, Plains Indian (Native American) Sign Language was a major influence on American Sign Language, which I used to perform the poem with Navajo voice over.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico
Country and place of production: New Mexico, USA.
Languages: Navajo, American Sign Language and English.
Filmmaker and editor: Sabina England.
Translators: Meryl Van Der Bergh (Dutch to English translation), World Translation Center (Navajo), Sabina England (American Sign Language and improved English prose).

Breaks and Tunnel Vision by Kate Tempest

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No one straddles the line between music and poetry better than British spoken-word superstar Kate Tempest (website, Wikipedia page). Here’s a live performance in the studios of Seattle’s KEXP radio station of the closing tracks from Tempest’s 2016 album Let Them Eat Chaos. The video was edited by Justin Wilmore for KEXP’s popular YouTube channel.

Tempest’s band members are Kwake Bass on drums, Dan Carey on synths and Clare Uchima on keyboards. I wanted to contrast her extremely passionate and intense performance style, which is more than enough to carry a video, with the following film interpretation of “Tunnel Vision” on Tempest’s own channel:

London-based director Akinola Davies Jr (bio here) told mxdwn Music that it was “an honour to collaborate with an artist like Kate and be entrusted to make visuals that we both think best reflect and fit with the body of work she has created. She is an exceptional artist and the positivity of her team has been inspiring.” For the full credits (which are extensive: a reminder that professional music videos are typically made on a much higher budget than poetry films!) see the YouTube description. The video also appears on Davies’ Vimeo page.

It Would Sound Like a Dream by Camille Rankine

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New York City-based poet Camille Rankine recites her poem in a new film directed by Irish photographer Matthew Thompson.

This is from a new YouTube channel of poetry videos from something called The Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation, which “aims to expand access to poetry and educational poetry materials, gathering outstanding poems from across places, eras, and traditions for audiences worldwide to enjoy.” Thompson has directed all of the films so far, and they all feature either the poet or other readers reciting and, as it were, inhabiting the poems. The films were produced in association with the 92nd Street Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center and Poet in the City, London, so there’s a good, transatlantic mix of poets.

I imagine the project was already planned before the pandemic hit, but it’s a great model for others who want to produce these kind of performance videos, especially for poetry that isn’t necessarily performance poetry, and therefore may be more writerly and difficult to convey in one reading. I’ve watched almost all the videos in their “Read by” series, which are exclusively voiced by the authors themselves, and didn’t see any that were marred by the sort of boring recitations or “poetry voice” that are often the norm in live readings — and mar all too many poetry channels of this kind. I don’t know how much of that is down to the care that producers have taken in choosing whom to film, or whether poets may have received coaching from voice actors. (I can tell you from long experience of mostly unsatisfactory performances myself that reciting poetry well is not easy!)

The channel also includes a shorter series, Words We Share, “a limited series for spring 2020, in which poets and actors at home share poems of solace and resilience and thoughts on creative practice during unprecedented times.” Here’s Camille Rankine’s contribution to that series: