Dear David by Elaine Equi and Joanna Fuhrman

Two of my favorite artists, poet Elaine Equi and composer Alban Berg, in one videopoem! This 2019 film directed by Joanna Fuhrman, who co-wrote the poem with Equi, has a wonderful, scrapbook-like feel thanks to collages by David Shapiro, the poet to whom the videopoem is dedicated, as Fuhrman explained in an essay at Fence. Here’s the conclusion:

In the era of #MeToo, when more and more women are sharing their horror stories of male mentors, I am increasingly grateful (and aware of how rare it is) to have found a male mentor who was always generous, respectful, loving and never inappropriate. I remember David complaining about the sexism of his generation and how often after dinner the male poets would sit in one room while the wives, some of whom were poets themselves, would go off to the kitchen to clean up. He would often ask if I thought a line of his was sexist or objectifying, and I felt comfortable enough to say if I did. He was always supportive of me as a poet and a person. We spent hours on the phone talking, because, as David said, “Gossip is a form of protection.” His friendship gave me permission to be a poet even when devoting my life to poetry felt like a completely crazy thing to do.

Elaine Equi is also a close friend of David’s, so we thought it would be meaningful to write a collaboration as a tribute to him and his most recent collection. David is well known for the beautiful collages he makes out of postcards and stickers. If you visit my Brooklyn apartment, you’ll see them all over the walls. For our poem, Elaine and I emailed each other photographs of the collages we owned and found other images of them online. We picked images we felt inspired by and wrote lines (or two or three) for each one. As we worked, we emailed lines to each other, and each riffed on what the other had written. We were inspired by David’s own poetry as much as by the images. At the end, I pieced the lines together of our poem “Dear David” and made a video out of it. I wanted to use a piece of music by the Viennese composer Alban Berg, because the title of David’s most recent book is a reference to the composer’s Violin Concerto. David would probably find it funny that I wanted to pay tribute to Berg, because I kept telling him that I liked his manuscript’s original title, Cardboard and Gold, better than the title he ultimately chose. David says Cardboard and Gold sounds “too New York School,” but as a devotee of the New York School and a music novice, I love it.

I was honored to be able to work with one of my other poetry heroes, Elaine Equi, on this project. I hope that our poem will be seen as a tribute to David’s work as a poet and collage artist, as well as a great person and friend.

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