I like poems and poem-like things that can be enjoyed without any knowledge of the language. Hanafubuki says,
It’s me reading a Japanese tongue twister. the word “hato” means pigeon in Japanese.
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.
Baudelaire’s famous poem from Flowers of Evil turned into a chanson by Léo Ferré, from a recital given in 1969. The Fench text and multiple English translations may be found here; I’ve appended the translation by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which may or may not be the best (I don’t know French), but is certainly the most song-like.
When the low, heavy sky weighs like the giant lid
Of a great pot upon the spirit crushed by care,
And from the whole horizon encircling us is shed
A day blacker than night, and thicker with despair;
When Earth becomes a dungeon, where the timid bat
Called Confidence, against the damp and slippery walls
Goes beating his blind wings, goes feebly bumping at
The rotted, moldy ceiling, and the plaster falls;
When, dark and dropping straight, the long lines of the rain
Like prison-bars outside the window cage us in;
And silently, about the caught and helpless brain,
We feel the spider walk, and test the web, and spin;
Then all the bells at once ring out in furious clang,
Bombarding heaven with howling, horrible to hear,
Like lost and wandering souls, that whine in shrill harangue
Their obstinate complaints to an unlistening ear.
— And a long line of hearses, with neither dirge nor drums,
Begins to cross my soul. Weeping, with steps that lag,
Hope walks in chains; and Anguish, after long wars, becomes
Tyrant at last, and plants on me his inky flag.
1. June 16, 2009: “Defenseless People”
2. June 19: “Where is This Place”
3. June 20: “Listen Closely”
4. June 21: “Let Us Not Forget”
Even the poster of these four anonymous compositions puts “poem” in quotation marks, and indeed the subtitled translations exemplify many of the faults of quickly written, emotionally laden political poetry. But these are nonetheless extremely effective videos, of which the foregrounded words form only a part. The true poem here is Allah-o akbar, and the videos — pitch-black except for occasional flashes of light — create a quintessentially Islamic atmosphere of religious aniconism verging into political iconoclasm.
The title of this post is the preferred title of Chas Danner, the Brooklyn-based freelance writer who got them translated into English, added subtitles, and posted the results to YouTube. “Where is This Place” made the front page of the Huffington Post back on June 20th and was widely forwarded as a result, making it one of the most-watched video poems on the web.
Speaking of HuffPo, journalist Shirin Sadeghi posted a great essay there on Monday that should help put these videos in cultural context, Voices of Protest: The Iranian Word.
They are a nation with a keen sense of their rights, and an audacity to speak up for themselves, whether it’s in the streets, on the page or on the web.
They are also a nation that has never had a truly representative government and thus has adapted its discourse to the guile and euphemism which are required to express thoughts — political in nature — which could otherwise tempt misfortune.
Double entendres, metaphors and symbolism are a part of the gift of “gap” (the Persian word for “gab”) so it is no wonder that literature holds such an eminent position in Iranian culture.
For centuries, poetry in particular has been the ultimate form of expression for Iranians: Iranian poetry is a manual for life and thought, a centuries-old avenue for political dissent.
“In its essence, literature is not tied to politics. If literature has any duty, it is a commitment to language and the creation of beauty,” says Esmail Kho’i, Iran’s pre-eminent poet philosopher, “however in certain circumstances, writers and poets become forced to give rise to politics. The reality is that they do not seek politics, it is politics which obliges them.”
The article includes an excerpt from a poem called “The Rooftoppers,” by Iranian-American poet Mahnaz Badihian:
Our home is possessed
At night we turn to our rooftop
From rooftop to rooftop we protest
Asking ferociously: where is the compassionate God
Our voice echoes with the wind, blow dear courageous wind
Our voice grows taller than poplar trees, so together we stand
Up there, our naked souls together invent bravery, in the moonlight
From rooftop to rooftop we go, till the gaze of morning glories calls us
Up there, again we ask ourselves: who measured God on the rooftops
But we know up there the hands of fear are bigger than the eyes of truth
According to Sadeghi, the aniconic tradition lends an additional, potent weapon to the poet’s arsenal:
When all else fails, even silence is a defiant statement in Iranian literature. “The power of silence and the intentional refusal to take pen to paper can be a political act,” Kho’i says.
The article’s conclusion is worth reading in full.
Poem by the 20th-century Jewish Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti. The animation is by Daniel Lagin, “from an illustration by a Hungarian student based on Miklos Radnoti’s poem Root,” according to the information on the video’s YouTube page. This is a deleted scene from a documentary about Radnóti, Neither Memory Nor Magic, directed by Hugo Perez, “the story of a poet who continued to write poetry even as he faced almost certain death, and one poet’s triumph over the inhumanity of his age — a story almost entirely unknown outside of Hungary.”
The original poem, “Wurzel,” is in German (text here).