Climate activists and poets, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Aka Niviana, travel to the latter’s home of Greenland to recite their collaborative poem, Rise, on a melting glacier that might threaten the former’s home nation of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific.
Dan Lin directed this poetry film for 350.org, which, oddly, only allows the Vimeo upload to be viewed on their website—which is unfortunate, because it includes subtitling options in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, and Japanese. The above YouTube version, which Bill McKibben shared at The Guardian along with an accompanying essay, is unlisted but—at time of publication, at any rate—shareable. The former link includes some background by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner:
With the last few poems I’ve written, I’ve tried to balance the piece by grounding it in some sort of legend … For this particular poem, I struggled with finding the right legend. … The legend I ultimately chose was “Ao Aorōk In Io̗kwe” a legend from Ujae that was transcribed by Heynes Jeik. The Marshallese version of the legend is below. There is no exact translation at this time, but here is my own (somewhat rough) summary:
The legend features sisters from Ujae who loved and respected each other very much. One day they decided to have a juggling competition around the entire island. They began their juggling competition – when the eldest reached a certain spot by the edge of the reef, she dropped the shells rock she was juggling, and she suddenly turned into stone. The younger sister, who was following close behind, noticed this strangely shaped rock – when she came closer, she saw that it was her sister. In her grief, she decided to drop the rock she was juggling as well, choosing to turn to stone, so she could stay by her sister’s side. The moral of the story is the love that connected the two sisters.
I asked the group I was skyping with a few questions – why did the elder sister turn into a stone at that specific spot? Was that spot magical? They weren’t sure. But one of the members from the Curriculum Assessment Team offered that she noticed we have many stories that featured the creation of stone, or people turning to stone. We reflected on this a bit, and an observation was offered that stones are permanent – they never disappear, and that stones are a part of our culture as well. After our skype session, I received a message from Heynes Jeik: “…Ij bar kakememej iok bwe ekkar nan jar ke roritto ijoke, rej ba deka ej motan manit in ad, em aolep men ko bunnid rej erom deka, ej einwot juon men eo epan jako nan indeio.” Which loosely translates to, “I just want to remind you that according to our elders, stone is a part of our culture, and everything becomes stone, it’s something that will never disappear.”
I ultimately chose this legend because it features sisters, which I felt fit nicely into the concept of me and Aka as “sisters of ice and snow/sister of ocean and sand.” I also appreciated the concept of stone – the concept of permanence against the destructive forces of climate change. My friend, Lyz Soto, who regularly edits my work, helped me think it through further “the idea of choosing stone so you can always be a part of your home.” This, ultimately, became the declaration I chose to focus on – choosing stone to always be a part of our home.
I’ve spent 30 years thinking about climate change – talking with scientists, economists and politicians about emission rates and carbon taxes and treaties. But the hardest idea to get across is also the simplest: we live on a planet, and that planet is breaking. Poets, it turns out, can deliver that message.
But they don’t watch impassively. Both are climate activists, and both have raised their voices in service of their homelands. Jetnil-Kijiner, 30, has been at it for years – she’s performed her work before the United Nations General Assembly and the Vatican. Niviana is newer to activism – just 23, she recited a poem at a recent Copenhagen climate protest, where she met a well-known glaciologist, Jason Box, and he, in turn, organised the complicated logistics of this glacier expedition.
A new film by Lori H. Ersolmaz based on a poem by Canadian poet Kate Marshall Flaherty. Click through to Vimeo for the text.
UPDATE: Read Lori’s process notes at Moving Poems Magazine.
I recently bought the award-winning translation of Adonis’ Selected Poems by Khaled Mattawa and have been enjoying it immensely. A little bit of searching turned up not only the above video, but 18 more such videos, all from a 2013 documentary about the Syrian-Lebanese poet from Oogland Film Productions, Land of Absence, directed by John Albert Jansen and supported in part by Poetry International. PI have created an album on Vimeo where you can watch Adonis recite all 19 poems with Mattawa’s translations in subtitles.
Here’s the description of Land of Absence:
A journey through the eventful life of the Syrian-Lebanese writer Adonis, one of the most eminent thinkers and writers of the Arab world. In Land of Absence he talks about his life and work, about Syria, the Arab world and Islam.
The Paris based Syrian-Lebanese poet Ali Ahmed Esber (1930), better known under his pen name Adonis, is sometimes called ‘the living legend of Arab literature’. For seventy years he has been writing poetry in which Arab identity is a central theme. His unique voice and independent mind has secured him a central role in the complex and multi-faceted Arab world.
In Land of Absence Adonis, in his Paris apartment, talks about his life, about Syria, about the Arab world and Islam. In his old age he is still as lucid and sharp and obstinate as ever. But first and foremost he is a great poet, who covers not only his own land, Syria, but a whole continent. ‘From writing in Arabic, you only learn that your homeland is not a place, that it can nowhere be found,’ he writes.
The DVD is still available for order.
If you liked This is America, the Childish Gambino rap video by Hiro Murai, you’ll be riveted by this latest film from Motionpoems. Serbian-American director Jovan Todorovic‘s interpretation of a Danez Smith poem is surely one of the most searing and impactful poetry films in Motionpoems’ history. See Todorovich’s website for the full credits.
The film debuted online not at Motionpoems but at Nowness, which included this quote from the director:
America and the American dream is an emotion, and it used to be an attainable dream. This sentiment is quickly dissolving. My wish is to address this despair purely on an emotional level. This is a poetic short film that explores what has happened to the idea of the American Dream… a visceral meditation on the idea of death and decay… and finally, rebirth.
They go on to interview Todorovich “about social sickness, alienation, and poetry’s relationship to film.” It’s worth reading in full; I’ll just quote the last bit:
NOWNESS: A poem is such a mercurial, elusive thing. What was it like turning a poem into a film?
Jovan: It was an exciting and specific process for me precisely because the inspiration was a poem. Because this poem creates feelings through the juxtaposition of very sensory pictures, scenes and moments I was inspired to construct the film similarly. Rather than writing by consciously building meaning I turned to some of my dreams and built the script and scenes around what I feel about the world today. This kind of ‘open’ process of building scenes allowed me to work with all authors on the film in a way where they would have space to put their own experiences and feelings about the theme while staying in line with the emotional tone and context that I’ve initially based the scenes upon.
The poem originally appeared in Buzzfeed on November 9, 2016—the day after the election of Donald Trump—and was reprinted in Smith’s celebrated 2017 collection Don’t Call Us Dead. It’s the latest episode in Motionpoems’ Season 8, “Dear Mr. President,” which has been pretty sensational so far. Kudos all around.
This film of Brendan Constantine‘s brilliant anti-gun poem (click through for the text) kicked off a promising new YouTube channel called Blank Verse Films, the work of L.A.-based filmmaker Mike Gioia. He described his modus operandi in an email: “I travel around filming poets, and then edit the recitations into little films.” He added,
Making the videos is much more challenging and exciting than I originally anticipated. I’m trying lots of different approaches but still don’t feel like I’ve “cracked the code” of how to film poetry. Later this month I’m going to try some experiments with dramatic reenactments of poems that will use actors who speak the lines of poetry.