Janet Lees‘ first poetry film with a text by another writer sees her trying out a completely new filmmaking approach as well. Manx author and performance poet Jackie Morrey-Grace recites her poem ‘Secrets of the perpetually sick’ in a hospital, but does anyone hear her? As Janet wrote on the Poetry Film Live Facebook page,
We were filming in a hospital training room last year and I was drawn to the security camera footage which was showing on a screen in an adjacent room. I filmed this and slowed it down and really like the dark quality of it, simmering with the rage, despair and alienation Jackie has experienced due to chronic and severely crippling autoimmune health challenges. Redacting her much longer poem felt quite brutal, but in a sense that was also fitting, because in the system Jackie was often unheard and outright dismissed.
This prophetic poem by the late, great Gil Scott-Heron has been on my mind a lot lately. I went to see if anyone had ever made a decent video for it, and found this on YouTube (though I subsequently swapped in the production company’s own upload from Vimeo). It was produced in 2001 by Peter Collingridge and directed by Julian House as a video trailer for Scott-Heron’s collected lyrics and poems, Now and Then (Canongate Books). A link in the YouTube description took me to Collingridge’s Apt Studio, a British “digital consultancy to publishers,” where I found a page for the film, as well as the original Flash version, still live:
A chaotic, hedonistic vision of—and soundtrack for—urban revolution. Greek videopoet Tasos Sagris collaborates with the musician/composer Whodoes. This is the digital single and official video clip from their upcoming LP, Phenomenology of the Guillotine.
Sagris directed the video, with camera work by Alkistis Kafetziis and actors Sissy Doutsiou, Lily Tsesmatzoglou, Katerina Pantouli, Ioanna Kordoni, and Anastasia. They sent us some promotional material, which is worth quoting at some length as one example of an alternative to the more standard ways in which poetry tends to be published and disseminated.
The TASOS SAGRIS + WHODOES duo presents the sound of endless metropolitan pressure. Through his poetry, Tasos Sagris photographs the current era on a political, social and existential level, domestically and globally, asking questions about the present and the future of this world, looking for moments of revolt and escape routes. The synthetic diversity of Whodoes enhances the emotional meaning of the words with post-rock, darkwave, ambient, new classical, avant-garde, electronica and ethnic compositions that travel lyrically while giving a cinematic dimension to the whole work.
The above mix with synchronized video art screenings in their live performances is a unique experience for the public, which makes it special in its artistic categories. Breaking the barrier of classical poetry gatherings, they tour for concerts and performances in Greece and in institutions of known value abroad, such as the Frankfurt School of Fine Arts (Portikus Museum), the London School of Economics, etc.
Tasos Sagris is a poet, theater director and activist born in Athens in 1972. In 1990 he co-created the international anarchist cultural group Void Network and at 2008 the Institute for Experimental Arts- a contemporary theater group for research, performance and cultural education. He tours often in Europe, Asia, Mexico and USA for talks, multimedia poetry actions, exhibitions, performances and theater shows. His poetry is a melancholic call out for chaos, revolt, hedonism and social awareness.
Tasos Sagris was poet and frontman of the Greek music band Horror Vacui during the 90s and from early 90s until today he presents poetry events – cross platform collaborations of poets, djs, video artists and musicians. Organizing for more than 30 years festivals, events and actions in public spaces around the world he is an anarchist artist from 21st century. He participates in social movements in Greece and Europe. […]
Whodoes was born in Greece-Athens in 1981. Whodoes’ music is a combination of ambient / soundtrack music, post rock, shoe-gaze, cinematographic electronica and ethnic soundscapes. His poetic sound works like a bridge for experiences of the past to the present and the future, while at the same time sensitively approaching the functions of life in direct connection with urban environments and secret nature. Guitarist – a composer, a true fan of experimentation, research and improvisation, sharpening his imagination using foreign bodies on the guitar such as effects, violin-bow, metal slide, e-bow, wood (turning the electric guitar in a Mediterranean traditional “Santuri” instrument), combined with the use of music technology, turntables, loops and programming creating a special sound with which he composes. With his own musical identity and style, he presents alone or together with poet Tasos Sagris a unique audiovisual spectacle on stage.
There’s a Facebook page for the duo.
Chicago poet and sociologist Eve L. Ewing‘s 2017 poem in a 16mm film adaptation for Motionpoems (Season 8) by director Daniel Daly, with cinematography by Josh Farmelo. See its page on Daly’s website for the list of festival selections, which include ZEBRA in Berlin and the 50th Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam.
The voiceover is from the lone actor in the film, Khadija Shari, and while I would still like the film without knowing that, I do love how much this suggests about the way a cherished, powerful poem can inhabit someone until they know it by heart and it becomes part of the rhythm of their life. At that point, can it really still be said to be the sole property of its author?
The poem originally appeared in Ewing’s widely praised first collection Electric Arches from Chicago’s Haymarket Books, an increasingly prominent left-wing press named for the famous Haymarket riot of May 4, 1886. In a review for Public Books, Jehan Roberson notes:
To read Eve L. Ewing is to read Chicago. […] It’s important to know that Chicago has historically been an oasis for Black aspirations, particularly during northern journeys during the Great Migration; it is also the place where so many of those dreams fell prey to institutions built to halt Black prosperity. Redlining, predatory lending, forced segregation, and some of the nation’s highest homicide rates are part of the city’s backdrop, past and present. So are the hopes of Black folks. Black artists have charted both Chicagos: Lorraine Hansberry in A Raisin in the Sun, Richard Wright in Native Son, Gwendolyn Brooks in poetry that registered the city’s awe and perils.
In many ways and for many artists, Chicago is a genesis and a promised land. Ewing’s Chicago burns brighter than the many fires that have leveled the city, illuminates more strongly than the spotlights wielded by a media eager to highlight Black death. Her writing maps the spirit of the city, a spirit that many argue has vanished, but that Ewing maintains is still pulsating with Black dreams and potential.
This poetry film invites us to imagine that city by imagining how the poet or actor/reader might imagine it — a lesson for so many filmmakers whose first instinct is to treat a poem as a script.