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.
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.
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:
We can’t plan a party for the apocalypse
because friends of the apocalypse know
the apocalypse always shows up
uninvited and with a bag of half-eaten chips.
A film Marie Craven made for a poem by Seattle-based poet Kelli Russell Agodon for the 2019 series of Visible Poetry Project films. Glass journal, where the text originally appeared, included a process note from Kelli:
This poem was written on a poetry date with Susan Rich. I’m not sure what prompted the poem, but I was thinking about loss and death (as one normally does on a Friday) and this poem came from that moment. As someone who carries not only a saint in her pocket, but also anxiety too, I’ve found one of the easiest ways to lose my midnight fears is by knowing sometimes I just need to stand outside on my deck at 2 in the morning to feel secure.
And here are Marie’s process notes from her blog:
In 2017, I followed a series of videos appearing during the month of April, also known as National Poetry Month in the USA, a celebration that is global in various forms as well. These interesting pieces were being published daily by the Visible Poetry Project, based in New York. In mid-2018, I happened to see a call for film-maker submissions for the 2019 VPP series. I sent my application that same night. A few months later, I was delighted to have been selected as one of 30 film-makers from around the world to participate in this year’s series. The process firstly involved reading a series of poems from 60 writers, and returning a shortlist of three poets I might like to work with. VPP soon announced that I was to collaborate with my top choice, the well-known US poet, Kelli Russell Agodon. Kelli and I then started communicating directly, and she sent me a larger collection of poems, three of which I felt drawn to adapt to the screen. I vacillated between two of them for a little while, until Kelli suggested I ‘go with my gut’. At this point I knew the poem of choice would be I Don’t Own Anxiety, But I Borrow it Regularly (eventually shortened to I Don’t Own Anxiety for the film adaptation). I straight-away knew who I would most like to ask to voice the poem, and so I contacted poet and film-maker, Cindy St. Onge, with whom I’ve been fortunate to have prior collaborations. Cindy’s readings of the poem were recorded by Eric Sorenson, both of them in Portland, Oregon. Eric had quickly responded to my call-out on social media for a technician in that city to assist with recording Cindy’s voice. As always, Cindy’s readings of the poem were sensitive, articulate and well-modulated – a joy to receive and work with them. VPP allocated a producer to our project, Alina Sodano, who monitored progress through a series of rolling deadlines leading towards the film’s release date in April 2019. Alina was instrumental in securing the music I most wished for our film, a piece entitled Blames and Revelations, by Matt Howes & Dan Slatter, licensed for our project via Premium Beat. Footage for the film was sourced from royalty-free subscription site, Videoblocks, including work from their contributors, Vadim Key (Belarus), WeAre (Ukraine), ProStock (Slovenia), Oles Ishchuk (Ukraine), glowonconcept (Thailand), and Sergey Gribanov (Russia). Editing is my primary area of interest and pleasure in film-making, which accounts in large measure for my easy embrace of ‘found media’, such as may be sourced on licences like royalty-free, creative commons, copyleft, and public domain. Sourcing media in this way gives me legal permission to adapt, remix and re-create it in my non-commercial videos, each fragment given new life in the new contexts I create. As with Half Measures, written up earlier in this blog piece, the editing challenge for I Don’t Own Anxiety was bringing together the diverse written, vocal, musical and visual elements, to create a film that, in its final form, felt organic and whole. Our film was released on 28 April and will continue to be distributed now with the other films in the 2019 series by the Visible Poetry Project.