A wonderful primer on the personal and political meanings of hair in the Black community by Palo Alto, California-based poet Sojourner Ahebee, directed by Christian Osagiede. I saw an earlier version of this film appear on Vimeo five months ago, and didn’t share it then because the credits indicated that it was a submission to the 2017 Button Video Contest, and I had a hunch it might place. Sure enough, it’s a runner-up! Here’s the description that Ahebee posted then:
This poem, “Elegance/Refusal,” is interested in mapping a brief history of hair in the Black community. The poem’s title is drawn from a Coco Chanel quote in which she says: “Elegance is refusal.” For me, Chanel’s words lit a fire inside of me and pushed me to document/give language to the ways Black women/femmes perform resistance (“refusal”) through fashion/hair; how they use beauty aesthetics to ask the world to see them, and how they create and constantly re-create new visions of themselves for themselves. This is also a poem about intimacy between Black women. Hope you enjoy.
To read more poems from my debut poetry collection, check out my chapbook, “Reporting from the Belly of the Night” at sojournerahebee.com
Performance poet Kevin Yang’s poem in a film directed and edited by Vokee Lee, who writes:
The narrative in this music/poem video expresses the thoughts and feelings of being lost, lonely, the comfort of being in your own bubble, all the while the poem is meant to express a possible love letter to an ex-wife/lover/girlfriend. The video and poem itself is meant to be an awakening of “loving & finding”[.]
Aeryn Austin-Elbaz stars, and Ricardo Vasquez—not Kevin Yang—is the narrator. This is part of a short series of spoken word films produced by Motionpoems last year between its regular Seasons 6 and 7.
For those who want to hear and see the poet’s own interpretation, here’s the super popular video (712k views) from Button Poetry:
It occurred to me as I re-watched this that the opening sequence of loons calling with the title superimposed is a great example of a circumstance in which it makes sense to break the rule against straight-forward illustration in video- or filmpoetry: so few people nowadays can be assumed to know what a loon call sounds like, and it’s really helpful to know that if you want the full, melancholy effect of the poem. And I like how the images in the film and the text slowly diverge over the next couple of minutes: an uncoupling that seems appropriate for a poem about memory and mortality. Finally we reach the ending sequence — back out on the water with the loons — and learn that the filmpoem is For Roald Carlson (1925-2015). Beautifully done (and a good mate to the in memoriam filmpoem by George and Eleanor Hooker that I posted on Wednesday).
Canadian poet Steve Currie stars in this video, directed by Kayla Jeanson with illustrations by Sergio Garzon and music by Kevin McLeod. “Created for F-wordz – Winnipeg Film Group 2015,” it was re-released last June by Button Poetry.
Although Currie doesn’t appear to have a website, a quick search reveals that he was the 2012 slam champion of Winnipeg, currently teaches high school in British Columbia, and is not landed gentry. Assuming that’s all the same guy.
Sometimes, what a poem does not say is the most important part.
That’s what Beth Copeland found while writing “Falling Lessons: Erasure One,” a poem that explored her father’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease.
Before his death four years ago, Copeland wrote a longer narrative piece about the last few years of his life. But then, she did something unusual: she deleted most of it.
That process of erasure was a way to put herself in her father’s place, replicating what had happened as his disease progressed.
“I became interested in the idea of erasure, because I felt that the process of erasure is a reflection of what happens to people when they have memory loss,” she said. “I found out as I was doing it that the distillation process made the poems stronger.”
“Erasure One” is the first in a series of three pieces. In each successive poem, Copeland used the same technique, erasing parts of the previous poem and distilling it to the words that are left behind.
Writing the series helped her understand more about her father’s mind near the end of his life, she said. “I had time to really reflect on the process that he had gone through … I think I did learn more about my father’s experience,” she said.
Director Anh Vu, working with the organization Motionpoems, brought Copeland’s poem to the screen in a short film. The film interweaves images of the natural world with books, papers and other evidence of academia — a combination of her father’s passions, Copeland said.
Copeland wrote more extensively about her parents, who both experienced dementia, in a new manuscript titled “Blue Honey,” which is seeking a publisher. “Writing about what happened to both of my parents has been an opportunity for me to process a lot of the feelings that family members have when they have someone in the family with some type of dementia,” she said.
A Staff Pick on Vimeo, Falling Lessons: Erasure One was also one of the first two Motionpoems to be released on YouTube by Button Poetry, which has, I believe, the most popular channel for poetry videos, with 502,636 subscribers and 109,923,559 views to date. Almost all the videos they share on YouTube and on their Tumblr blog are straight-forward documentary videos of readings or recitations, many of which they produce themselves, with a heavy emphasis on material from the spoken word community. So it’s been interesting to see the enthusiasm with which their fan base has reacted to Falling Lessons: Erasure One, uploaded on March 17, and The Mother Warns the Tornado, the Isaac Ravishankara film based on a poem by Catherine Pierce, which they uploaded on March 4. The former has been played 15,206 times and the latter 22,037 times—about average for Button Poetry videos. What is perhaps more astonishing is that the comments for both videos are entirely positive so far—apparently YouTube trolls haven’t discovered Button yet?—suggesting that the supposed gulf between performance poetry and mainstream poetry may not actually exist, and that we all need to do a better job of reaching out to this most obvious and receptive new audience for poetry film. Typical reactions to the two Motionpoems videos include: “Utilizing the power of film and score with poetry was a beautiful idea”; “I absolutely LOVE these motion poems, the perfect combination of visual artistry and spoken poetry”; “I would love to see more videos that are actually stories to poems! I was left speechless at the end of this. The poem itself is amazing but the addition of the visuals made it that much more powerful”; and “Please make a million of these.”
Click through to Vimeo for the full credits. Oddly, the film has not been featured as an “episode” on the Motionpoems website just yet, so I suspect there may be some interviews or other bonus materials in the offing. Keep an eye out for that.