I’m going to break my informal rule against featuring slideshows today, because I think these are exceptionally well done. The poet is Kwame Dawes, and the photographer is Joshua Cogan. The slideshows were produced by the Pulitzer Center, and are only one facet of a multimedia website, Live Hope Love, which includes interviews, audio of many other poems, and more. Dawes took three trips to his native Jamaica to collect materials for the project; it resembled a regular work of investigative journalism in every way, except for the fact that one of the final products was a collection of poems. His mission, according to the Pulitzer Center: “to explore the experience of people living with HIV/AIDS and to examine the ways in which the disease has shaped their lives.”
A tad on the literal side, but nicely done, I thought.
Video by Rachel Burnham with Media Mike Hazard and David Bengtson from Listen Up! youth media network
A nicely minimalistic treatment, though I’m not sure why they changed the title. Hearing it in a kid’s voice really adds to the impact of the poem for me.
Animation by Kwok Tung Shuen for the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere series
Poem by Paul Celan
Video by Philipp Fröndt, Max Straßer and Martin Race
This perhaps overly literal interpretation of the poem is the only one on YouTube to employ moving images. The slideshows, however, use a recording by Celan himself. Here’s the one I found the most effective:
To put Celan’s reading in context, Gail Holst-Warhaft writes,
The Todesfuge has acquired a unique status among poems about the death camps. To many of its readers, it seemed to contradict Adorno’s famous dictum about the impossibility of writing poetry after Auschwitz. Of all Celan’s poems, the Todesfuge has been the most discussed, anthologized, and translated. Celan’s own reading of the poem, preserved on record, emphasized its relentless rhythm, an effect achieved by repetition, alliteration, and a dance-like beat that reinforces the grotesque musical imagery of a poem originally published in Romanian and called “Tango of Death.” The title recalls the Jewish musicians forced to perform by the S.S. At the Janowska camp near Lvov (not far from Celan’s birthplace in Czernowitz) Jewish musicians were ordered to play a “Death Tango” during marches, grave-digging, tortures, and executions. Before liquidating the camp, the S.S. shot all the musicians. At Auschwitz, the term “Death Tango” was used for whatever music was played when groups of prisoners were executed. Without the lilt of this macabre dance music, the poem loses much of its effect.
Inevitably, then, the poem attracted the attention of composers. Here’s a video of a live performance of Elmir Mirzoev’s setting: