Swedish-American poet Rönnog Seaberg and her husband Steve Seaberg invented what they called acrobatic poetry. Rönnog isn’t in this performance, and I’m guessing that’s because it happened after her death in 2007. Steve has posted a number of videos of their acrobatic poems on YouTube and on Vimeo, which houses the nude ones. The acrobats in this performance are Steve Seaberg, Mark Wolfe and Ashkey Winnig. You can find the text of the poem on the Vimeo page.
The Seabergs and their frequent collaborator Mark Wolfe spoke to Art Interview magazine in 2005. Here’s a snippet:
Rönnog Seaberg: […] We have a group now that basically consists of 3 people; Steve, Mark and I and we have an outer circle of people who also appear with us here in Atlanta. We take my poetry, which I recite, and we illustrate it and enhance it with acrobatics to make a visual still life.
Steve Seaberg: It’s like how an illustrator illustrates a poem in a book or how William Blake wrote his own poetry and illustrated it as well. There are all sorts of techniques for doing that. We use 3 dimensional space for our illustration. The poetry, instead of being printed, is actually read by Rönnog so it is a real event and we then perform the illustrations for the poem, which often are acrobatic but not necessarily so. Sometimes we simply pose in positions that seem related to or illustrative of the poem. Her poetry is often divided into verses and each verse we do with different poses. There might be three, four, five, verses to an entire poem. So it’s a series of tableaus. Sometimes it might seem like we are imitating art but we’re not. We’re composing the work ourselves but some of the poses of course are comments on or are taken from or inspired by sculpture going back in the whole history of art. We comment upon things that people do, ways of relating to each other in space. Some are more complicated acrobatically and take quite a bit of training and practice to do. Our goal is to create an image. I guess it is something like talking sculpture. But we have also had people who work with us who do movements. Recently we worked with some dancers.
Rönnog Seaberg: And we also add music quite often with live instruments.
Steve Seaberg: A couple of times we have done this with musicians. They sort of softly improvise while we read the poetry. That is always wonderful, it’s lots of fun to do.
Some poems inspire many YouTube videos, and “My Papa’s Waltz,” by Theodore Roethke, is one of them. This is the only video though that seemed worth sharing here, despite a foreshortened ending. The nicely non-literal mesh of of Roethke’s recording with public-domain footage from archive.org really works for me. Video by epittsburgh.
Despite some technical problems with the video quality, I’ve decided I really like this simple film by Theresa Williams, not least because it uses a recording of James Wright reading his own poem, and he was a great reader.
Sad that it’s taken me this long to post something by one of my favorite poets, Lucille Clifton, but I’m not crazy about the animation here, by Jason Walczyk. Like many if not most of the animations sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, in its effort to make the poem accessible it ends up diminishing much of its mystery and power.
The text of the poem is here.