~ Performance Poetry ~

The Self as Product by Tom Disch

A 2020 upload from Blank Verse Films, one of the channels added to our freshly updated links page. Director Mike Gioia told me in an email that he ‘borrowed the concept of the Stage Manager from Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town” and applied it to the poetry. I made the poet a physical character in the scene but one who is distinctly apart from it.’ It works brilliantly, in part because the guy playing the poet, Brendan Constantine, is a very good performance poet in his own right.

The YouTube description notes that ‘The music is “Tango Cool” by Ted Gioia, copyright Time Records.’ Here’s what it has about the poet:

Tom Disch (1958-2008) was a gifted, witty, and biting writer. Disch wrote poetry under the name Tom Disch and wrote science-fiction and fantasy under the name Thomas Disch, including the children-adventure series The Brave Little Toaster, which was later adapted into a Disney movie. Disch’s dark yet hilarious take on the world is beautifully condensed in this poem “The Self as Product”, which was originally published in his 1991 collection Dark Verses & Light.

You can find out more about Tom Disch on his wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_M._Disch

You can read more of Tom Disch’s poetry here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/tom-disch

Cathedrals by Salena Godden + The Tyger by William Blake

British author and performance poet Salena Godden reads “Cathedrals” from her just-published collection With Love, Grief and Fury in a video from the production company STORYA. This is not a book trailer, however, but something new to me: a museum exhibition trailer in the form of a videopoem!

The exhibition is William Blake’s Universe at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, UK., and the museum also worked with STORYA and Godden on a more conventional video trailer: a reading of Blake’s most famous poem, “The Tyger” which I’ll append below. But they had the sense to include Salena’s own, personal reactions to Blake and the exhibition at the end of that trailer, and then—or perhaps from the inception—they had the brilliant idea to ask her to read a poem of her own, placing her in conversation with the poet whose multimedia works are the focus of the exhibition.

STORYA is Lucy Andia and Frederick Shelbourne, both profiled on their About page. They say they specialize in videos about artists and exhibitions, and in fact their filming of “The Tyger” is one of the two highlighted projects on their website:

To coincide with the Fitzwilliam Museum’s exhibition, William Blake’s Universe, we were commissioned to create a film. The brief? Capture the exhibition’s striking design and draw inspiration from Blake’s powerful poetry.

Salena Godden, a poet deeply inspired by Blake’s rebellious spirit and unwavering dedication to creativity, was the perfect choice for a reading. Her selection: the iconic poem, The Tyger. Through creative brainstorming sessions, our team identified fire as the poem’s central element to visualise.

Flickering lights and shadows of tigers and foliage were used to create an immersive atmosphere surrounding Salena’s reading. This museum film, a testament to the power of collaboration, is the result of many creative minds coming together.

Godden has a whole blog post about the shoot, full of photos—check it out. As she notes, “Radical British poet, painter and visionary William Blake believed in the power of art and words to bring us together.”

Malecón/Miami by Leslie Sainz

Cuban-American poet Leslie Sainz performs her poem in this 2023 film from The Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation, “Directed by Eric Felipe-Barkin and shot in Coconut Grove and Biscayne Island, Miami.” It’s one of ten films in a series called Read By Miami, produced in cooperation with O, Miami Poetry Festival, which runs throughout the month of April each year.

Fuck / Our Future by Inua Ellams

A video made for some kind of climate series at The New York Times, locked behind the paywall, I think. My request for clarification on filmmaker(s) has gone unanswered, but it seems the result of a collaboration with the photographer named at the beginning, Josh Haner, a Pulitzer-winning feature photographer for the paper. Ellams himself also works in graphic art and design. I like how the poem’s searing language is mediated by the intimate space of an online reading, giving way to natural places and a more-than-figurative tree of life.

Earlier we shared a film by Jamie McDonald for the title poem from Ellam’s 2020 collection The Actual, among several other video interpretations of Ellams’ work. It’s fascinating to see giant legacy media organizations like the NYT and the Financial Times promote Ellams’ poetry, almost as cover for their ceaseless promotion of the planet-destroying financial and military/industrial machines.

I Am Here by Porsche Veu

Porsche Veu writes, directs and performs in I Am Here, an inspiring dance and music video on personal empowerment.

Porsche Veu aka The Poetic Activist is an unapologetic author, spoken word poet, speaker, educator, and artist of many talents from Oakland. (source)

Porsche uses her art to fight social injustice, empower women, youth, & the Black community, and advocate for mental & emotional health. (source)

The film was winner of the multimedia category in the Button Poetry Video Contest in 2022. The poem can be read on the page here.

Careful What You Wish For Orangutan by Pete Mullineaux

Pete Mullineaux won the 2023 Poetry & Folk In The Environment competition sponsored by UK performance-poetry organization Home Stage with this highly entertaining video, a collaboration with Roj Whelan AKA The RoJ LiGht of RoJnRoll Productions in Dublin, who handled the camerawork and editing.

Thru Hell by S’phongo

Thru Hell is a video I found among the finalist films from the 2022 Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film Competition. It is by S’phongo, an artist born in Zimbabwe and now living in Sierra Leone.

A village boy with a dream, S’phongo is a published author and spoken word artist from south-east Zimbabwe. With two slam champion titles three years into his career as an artist, S’phongo has appeared on stages in Zambia, Sierra Leone, Italy, Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe. One of his poems has been published on poetrypotion.com (South Africa). He currently works as the Operations Director for VAfrica, a youth media organisation in Sierra Leone and as the senior Technical Officer at LitFest Harare. (source)

S’phongo writes about his poem:

In my life, things weren’t easy, and I believed they weren’t until I adopted a new set of eyes. At that moment, I realized that if my life hadn’t turned out the way it did, I wouldn’t have been able to experience that moment.

Looking around me, I saw birth, growth, and death. Every year we chain the oxen to a plow, take baskets of grains, chasing behind the oxen, dropping them into freshly plowed earth. A week later, life shoots off the ground in hundreds of tiny microgreens. These include growth hindering weeds that will be killed only a few weeks into their lives. Death.

Life continues for the grains while some fade into nutrients for the living. Three months down the line, we witness another birth. The only difference now is it’s in abundance. One grain has become a hundred, then it withers.

This pattern of birth, life, and death can be seen even in man-made objects. It is what it is. We give birth to habits; they live through us and we can kill them at will. I killed some and gave life to some, this being one of the living at the moment. (source)

His synopsis for the video:

Thru Hell explores how all human interaction has the potential of being hell when it is not nurtured from a place of love. It is a reminder that we are all similar, and that hurtful intentions, no matter what their source is, can hurt the same. Most importantly, they can be survived. (source)

More videos from S’phongo can be found here.

Everything Is Radiant between the Hates by Rich Ferguson

I remember seeing this on social media when it came out in 2020, but forgot to share it here—better late than never, I guess! L.A.-based Beat poet Rich Ferguson is also an accomplished videopoet, resulting in an interesting hybrid between a spoken-word-style video and a regular videopoem. It took 3rd Place in the 2020 Deanna Tulley Multimedia Contest from Slippery Elm magazine. The camera work is by Ferguson, Christianne Ray, and Butch Norton, who’s also the drummer.

To Touch & Taste a Comet by Caroline Reid

Caroline Reid‘s marvelous poetry and performance combines with film-making by Patrick Zoerner in this videopoem, To Touch & Taste a Comet. The poem can be read on the page at Cordite Poetry Review. It is the first in a collection of Caroline’s prose and poetry titled Siarad (a Welsh word meaning to talk, to speak). From a review of the book by Alison Clifton in Stylus Lit:

Reid’s poems and short stories are allegorical in their impact: seemingly mundane events are elevated to the symbolic and the sacred… While Reid’s striking similes and surprising metaphors are a true joy, her observations about the human condition are also brilliant – in turns poignant and pointed… To find novelty in the commonplace, seek the exceptional in the banal, and write thought-provoking observations without resorting to cliché – these are remarkable skills.

Last month we shared another of Caroline’s outstanding collaborative videopoems, murder girl gets wired.

The Wild Iris by Louise Glück

This is Iris, a translation of Louise Glück‘s famous poem into sign language (I presume Dutch Sign Language) by the deaf Dutch poet Wim Emmerik. It was recorded in 2014, the year before Emmerik’s death, by Ellen Nauta, edited by Max Vonk, and uploaded to Vimeo by Onno Crasborn, a linguist specializing in sign language at Radbound Univeristy in the Netherlands.

I chose this video for today in honor of Glück being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which I’m very happy about—her work has been a huge influence on me as a poet and a reader. Of all the films of her poems on Vimeo at the moment, this unpretentious, performer-focused video with a green screen struck me as by far the most compelling, even for someone like me with no knowledge of sign language whatsoever.

I can’t find an authoritative link for the text of the original, so let me just paste it in:

The Wild Iris

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

Human Condition by Rich Ferguson

Human Condition was written and performed by the one and only Rich Ferguson, beat poet laureate of California. For this spectacular film he teamed up with film director Mark Wilkinson and a marvellous ensemble of performers and musicians including gospel singer Stella Ademiluyi and James Morrison from the cast of Twin Peaks.

Rich has collaborated with other film-makers, and released a great series of videos with Chris Burdick. Most recently, while locked down in Los Angeles, he has started making them himself.

Human Condition is one of his best so far. It is highly musical, and at the same time funny, mournful and uplifting. The text of the poem is posted at YouTube in the video notes.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico by Sabina England and Chaucer Cameron

Watch on YouTube.

Last week we shared a film from the series of 12 that were created for the Wild Whispers project. Each video was made in response to a poem by Chaucer Cameron in the UK. The poem went through a number of ‘blind translations’ in a film-making chain across the world, each video uniquely expressing the poem’s transformation through languages.

This film in the series is by Sabina England, whose brilliant Deaf Brown Gurl appeared on Moving Poems back in 2015. She says this about her Wild Whispers film:

When I first read the poem, it made me think of Native Americans and how much their ancestors had greatly suffered through history. As a Deaf Bihari/South Asian American, I wanted to highlight the themes of suffering and refuge of the poem by showcasing Native American culture(s) and show that despite centuries of cultural genocide, settler colonialism and violence, Native people and their cultures still thrive and resist to this day. I also wanted to draw a parallel between the sufferings of Native Americans with refugees from all over, including Syria, Myanmar, Central African Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc. As an immigrant in the USA, I wanted to honour Native Americans by showcasing the beauty of the Navajo language and Pueblo cultures in New Mexico.

Lastly, Plains Indian (Native American) Sign Language was a major influence on American Sign Language, which I used to perform the poem with Navajo voice over.

Wild Whispers: New Mexico
Country and place of production: New Mexico, USA.
Languages: Navajo, American Sign Language and English.
Filmmaker and editor: Sabina England.
Translators: Meryl Van Der Bergh (Dutch to English translation), World Translation Center (Navajo), Sabina England (American Sign Language and improved English prose).