Semishigure by steve d. dalachinsky

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Poem by steve d. dalachinsky

Video by rousseaujj2, using audio from a live reading in Sasebo City, Japan, June 2006

Dalachinsky is a major New York performance poet whom I’ve gotten to know by publishing some of his work at qarrtsiluni. While there are various videos of his live readings on YouTube, this is the only video interpretation of his poems I could find. The video is pretty good, but the reading is extraordinary, I thought — a great evocation of cicadas from someone not generally thought of as a nature poet. Dalachinsky evidently also collaborated with the composer Vito Ricci on a CD called Cicada Music — Ricci says, “Steve Dalachinsky came back from Japan with a tape of cicada singing and a journal. This is the music including the cicada singing.”

I Hang Myself by Saghi Ghahraman

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Poem by Saghi Ghahraman, translated from the Farsi by Niloufar Talebi — read it here

Video created by The Translation Project and Invision Productions for the DVD, Midnight Approaches
Narration by Niloufar Talebi
Dance by Larissa Verduzen
Percussion by royal hartigan

I discovered this organization and its very fine videos completely by accident last night — just doing keyword searches on YouTube. It’s not entirely clear who the performers are on this particular film; the credits for the DVD as a whole are at the bottom of this page.

Iran has one of the richest poetry traditions in the world, so I’m very pleased to be able to feature some contemporary Iranian poets here, thanks to The Translation Project.

La Bailarina (The Dancer) by Gabriela Mistral

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Poem by Gabriela Mistral — full text here; excerpts used in the poem below

Animation by ultapopdsgn

La Bailarina
The Dancer

La bailarina ahor est danzando
la danza del perder cuanto tenia
The dancer now is dancing
the dance of losing it all

Se solto de su casta y de su carne
She loosed herself from caste and flesh

desnuda de todo y de si misma
stripped of everything and of herself

sigue danzando sin saberse ajena
she dances on, not knowing she is changed

unica y torbellino, vil y pura
alone, a whirlwind, foul and pure
(Ursula K. Guin, trans.)

An interesting attempt to convey the mood of a work with just a few fragments of text, given out of order, and a rapid, pop music-video-style succession of images. I like it!

Since this is Women’s History Month (in the U.S., at any rate), I thought this would be a good time to recall that Pablo Neruda was not the first Chilean poet to win the Nobel Prize. I’m not sure which are the best English translations, but the volume I own seems pretty good: Gabriela Mistral: A Reader, tr. by Maria Giachetti and ed. by Marjorie Agosin. Its only drawback is that it does not include the original Spanish. The translation used above comes from a more recent book — Selected Poems of Gabriala Mistral, tr. by Ursala K. LeGuin, which I haven’t seen.

Though never well known in North America, Mistral remains a beloved figure in Latin America. She appeals strongly to conservatives and leftists alike, who tend to project their own values onto the clear and deceptively simple surfaces of her poems, much as readers do here with Emily Dickinson. Unlike Dickinson, Mistral was very active on the world stage, and her mix of progressive activism and traditional Catholic religiosity makes her supremely dificult to pigeonhole. According to Petri Liukkonen,

In 2001 Mistral’s sexual inclinations arose fierce debate in Chile. Yuri Labarca’s film, La Pasajera, written by Francisco Casas, dealt with her relationship to Doris Dana, her American secretary. Mistral’s devoted readers considered the film outrageous and said that her true, traditional views of life and love were present in her works. However, an independent woman, Mistral has also been presented as a feminist icon. The absence of male friendship and her life as an unmarried woman has contributed to her image of a defender of all racial minorities and “the mixed-race mother of the nation”.

As for me, I am of course fondest of her nature poetry.

Recipe by Anne Carson

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Poem by Anne Carson, from Possessive Used as Drink (Me), a lecture on pronouns in the form of 15 sonnets

Video by Sadie Wilcox

Dancers: Julie Cunningham, Rashaun Mitchell, Andrea Weber

Carson writes,

I had to compose a lecture on pronouns for a conference at Harvard and this was the result. I wrote a sonnet sequence, which Stephanie Rowden recorded and made interesting. Then three Merce Cunningham dancers improvised choreography in response to the sonnets. Sadie Wilcox videotaped everything they did and edited it to fit (or not) the sound score.

Carson has generously uploaded six excerpts from the 25-minute performance to YouTube. I’ll probably link all of them eventually, but in the meantime they can be accessed via

The Untrustworthy Speaker by Louise Glück

Poem by Louise Glück — text is here (sorry for the popups)

The video credits say “created by: Jackie, Jaclyn, Mat” — no doubt without the knowledge or approval of the poet. I hope they don’t get a takedown notice from Glück’s publisher, because I think this really expands upon the message of the poem, as the best video poems seem to do. Some intelligibility is of course sacrificed with this spliced-recitation technique, but I think it’s worth it.

Snowmen by Agha Shahid Ali

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Poem by Agha Shahid Ali (reading by Carl Hancock Rux) — text here

Animation by Kyle Jenkins for the Poetry Foundations’ Poetry Everywhere series

A posthumous volume of Ali’s collected poems, The Veiled Suite, has just been released. He was a master who died much too young. As for the video, I’m not sure it adds anything to the poem or not.

Patricia Smith at the Lizard Lounge

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Patricia Smith is the reigning queen of slam, with four National Poetry Slam individual championship titles under her belt, and she’s a very fine poet on the page as well — her most recent book, Blood Dazzler, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. So who better to kick off the spoken word category here? And with the inclusion of the Jeff Robinson Trio, this performance takes us back to the 1950s jazz-club roots of the modern American poetry reading tradition. My only gripe with this video is that it doesn’t supply the title of the poem.

For more on the Lizard Lounge Poetry Jam and the Jeff Robinson Trio, see their website. They’re in Cambridge, Massachusetts, apparently, and they do this every Sunday. For more videos, see their YouTube channel.