Chicago poet and sociologist Eve L. Ewing‘s 2017 poem in a 16mm film adaptation for Motionpoems (Season 8) by director Daniel Daly, with cinematography by Josh Farmelo. See its page on Daly’s website for the list of festival selections, which include ZEBRA in Berlin and the 50th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.
The voiceover is from the lone actor in the film, Khadija Shari, and while I would still like the film without knowing that, I do love how much this suggests about the way a cherished, powerful poem can inhabit someone until they know it by heart and it becomes part of the rhythm of their life. At that point, can it really still be said to be the sole property of its author?
The poem originally appeared in Ewing’s widely praised first collection Electric Arches from Chicago’s Haymarket Books, an increasingly prominent left-wing press named for the famous Haymarket riot of May 4, 1886. In a review for Public Books, Jehan Roberson notes:
To read Eve L. Ewing is to read Chicago. […] It’s important to know that Chicago has historically been an oasis for Black aspirations, particularly during northern journeys during the Great Migration; it is also the place where so many of those dreams fell prey to institutions built to halt Black prosperity. Redlining, predatory lending, forced segregation, and some of the nation’s highest homicide rates are part of the city’s backdrop, past and present. So are the hopes of Black folks. Black artists have charted both Chicagos: Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun, Richard Wright in Native Son, Gwendolyn Brooks in poetry that registered the city’s awe and perils.
In many ways and for many artists, Chicago is a genesis and a promised land. Ewing’s Chicago burns brighter than the many fires that have leveled the city, illuminates more strongly than the spotlights wielded by a media eager to highlight Black death. Her writing maps the spirit of the city, a spirit that many argue has vanished, but that Ewing maintains is still pulsating with Black dreams and potential.
This poetry film invites us to imagine that city by imagining how the poet or actor/reader might imagine it — a lesson for so many filmmakers whose first instinct is to treat a poem as a script.
I started making video poems in November 2019, when I teamed up with Jonny Knowles, an English director from Huddersfield, in the UK.
Since then, we have made five video poems. [The Long Burial] was written in 2017, but was reinterpreted by Jonny to address the strange times in which we are living now, in the spring of 2020.
I found the contrast between the formal sonnet and the glitchy, hyper-modern video especially effective. The soundtrack, including voiceover by Suzanne Celensu and music by Alias Here (AKA James Cunliffe) was also excellent.
Writer and artist Shin Yu Pai told us that
“Embarkation” was created with Scott Keva James and commissioned for the Ampersand Live! showcase in Seattle in Fall 2019. We initially created the piece as a performance-based work with a two-channel video projection (one on my body, and one on a screen behind me on stage); and then adapted it as a film. “Embarkation” also recently showed at Cadence Festival.
The YouTube description supplies additional background:
Embarkation reimagines the traditional Wang Yeh Boat Burning Festival, a Taoist ritual, that takes places in the southern port town of Donggang, Taiwan, every three years. A life-sized boat is built by the community and loaded with the hopes and the fears of the people. The gods are then invoked to pilot the barge up to the heavens in a send-off of fireworks and flames.
Footage of the festival was provided by Ye Mimi, a gifted filmpoet in her own right.
Jim’s poem was inspired by the experience of seeing Patti Smith in the ’70’s at a small theater in the Detroit area. By coincidence, Matt went to the same theater to see movies as a child.
For the film’s sound composition, Matt has sampled just the first powerful line of Patti’s voice in “Gloria”. In audio editing he rearranges the sung phrases to form a new, minimal, poem-song in itself. This is in sympathetic contrast to the printed words of Jim’s poem, which appear on the screen. It’s as if they are two poems side by side.
Matt says of his approach to making the piece: “It’s pretty raw intentionally as I was trying to catch that Patti Smith vibe.”
I find it hauntingly emotional, deep, original.
“Meet the Queens of Quarantine Poetry” is Houston Public Media‘s only slightly clickbaity title for this seamless blend of interview and videopoem. From the YouTube description:
In this time of quarantine and self-isolation, two friends have been co-writing a series of poems inspired by the coronavirus pandemic.
Houston poet Melissa Studdard and Seattle poet Kelli Russell Agodon connect across the miles through Zoom to read their poem “When We Get Lonely, It Will Be Together” and to describe what it means to create art during a pandemic.
I follow both poets on social media and have been reading their collaboratively written quarantine poems with great interest, so it was wonderful to get some background on how the project evolved: out of their pre-existing habit of writing together in a virtual shared study space, using video conferencing software and reading each other’s drafts on Google docs. It’s great that they’re letting the rest of us read over their shoulders, as it were, especially given the pressure from literary journals to hide all one’s poetry away in order to keep it eligible for submission. I advise following Kelli and Melissa on Twitter, where they post the drafts as jpegs. Here are links to some of the more recent ones, posted on April 21, April 22, April 25, April 27, May 5 – two on that day, and May 8.