~ Poet: Alexis Krasilovsky ~

“What Memphis Needs” by Alexis Krasilovsky

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Acclaimed author and filmmaker Alexis Krasilovsky recently spoke with Moving Poems about her videopoem, “What Memphis Needs” (1991). The film offers a unique view of social inequalities prevalent in Memphis, Tennessee throughout the 1970s and 80s but feels just as relevant today. Featuring original 16mm footage taken by Krasilovsky in the 1970s while she was working on the documentary, Beale Street, she is also the author and narrator of the poem around which the film is centered.

What Memphis Needs ( l to r): Reseda Mickey ( Associate Producer); Alexis Krasilovsky (poet/director); Sabrina Simmons (additional cinematographer).

The story behind “What Memphis Needs” reveals a small piece of videopoem history and serves as an interesting reminder of how this form has always held a close relationship with technology and continues to evolve. Editing for the videopoem took place in the early 1980s and 90’s and the work was completed and screened at the Museum of Modern Art in 1991. Krasilovsky writes, “Back in those days, I relished using sharpies and yellow grease pencil to mark off frames of 16mm soundtrack and workprint on the Moviola while figuring out the rhythmic beats and counterpoints of ‘What Memphis Needs.’” The result is a poetryfilm which serves as a snapshot of an American city at historical and social crossroads, as well as an enduring social commentary on racial tensions in the South.

Calvin Brown at the Lorraine Morel, Memphis, Tennessee- from “What Memphis Needs” by Alexis Krasilovsky

When asked about the origins of the title poem, Krasilovsky’s response highlights a fascinating history:

“What Memphis Needs” is my own poem: I wrote it myself. I also included it in my chapbook, Some Women Writers Kill Themselves (A Street Agency Publication: Los Angeles, 1983) and my DVD, “Some Women Writers Kill Themselves: Selected Videopoems & Poetry by Alexis Krasilovsky” (Rafael Film: Los Angeles, 2008). However, I was inspired by Etheridge Knight and his Free People’s Poetry Workshop, which he held in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1970’s. (I was one of the token white members of the workshop.) I later became Etheridge Knight’s West Coast poetry tour coordinator and dedicated the poetry video, “What Memphis Needs,” to him.

Described in the poetry film’s abstract as providing “a searing cross-section of Memphis history and society,” the piece also features musical acts by Harmonikeys and Roosevelt Briggs. The production of “What Memphis Needs” runs parallel the blues documentary work Krasilovsky was doing at the time for the film Beale Street (1981. black and white, sound, 28 min). The filmmaker explains that, “It was an interview-intensive documentary with over a hundred hours of B.B. King, Bobby Blue Bland, Ma Rainey II, Little Laura Dukes, Rufus Thomas, Nat D. Williams, Fred Hulbert, the Hooks Brothers, Ernest Withers, and many others who knew this 125th Street of the South, where Martin Luther King, Jr. last marched before he was assassinated. It was taking forever to complete (—although we did finally complete it: it’s available on Kanopy.com), and in the meantime, Eastman Kodak was offering free samples of a new 16mm film stock to select filmmakers to test out its color palette.” This is one reason why “What Memphis Needs” is marked not only by the rhythms and sounds of the blues but also by an iconic color palette.

“What Memphis Needs”

Alexis Krasilovsky continues producing quality videopoems to this day, having recently collaborated with poet Rodger Kamenetz to create a film based on his poem, “Rafael,” originally published in his collection, The Missing Jew: Poems 1976-2022. The poem spoke to Krasilov on multiple levels because, as she explains, “Rodger’s poem is about the angel Rafael, but Rafael is also the name of my film company, and my middle name.” Krasilovsky continues:

I greatly enjoyed these experiences in collaborative poetry filmmaking. “Rafael” was awarded Best One-Minute Film at the Luis Buñuel Memorial Awards in Kolkata, India. “A Petal Pushed By a Breeze” won “Best Mobile Film” at the World Film Carnival in Singapore and other awards. And “Positive Thinking” won Best One-Minute Film at the Filmzen International Competition in Paris, France, as well as at the Cult Jury Film Festival in Gurgaon, India. “Positive Thinking” also won the “Free Speech” Award at the Gangtok International Film Festival in Goan, Sikkim, and was an official selection along with “A Petal Pushed by a Breeze” at the Crimean Tatar Cultural Center in Odesa, Ukraine on May 28, 2023.

VHS cover, “What Memphis Needs” Photo of Etheridge Knight by Alexis Krasilovsky

In addition to producing videopoems, Alexis Krasilovsky is a screenwriter (member of the Writers Guild of America West) as well as the author of the book, Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling (Routledge – 2nd place winner, 2019 International Writers Awards). On an interesting note, one of her poems, “No Sex, No Violence,” which also came out of the Etheridge Knight Free People’s Poetry Workshop, is being made into a film. But, she explains, “rather than make a poetry film from my ‘No Sex, No Violence’ poem, I wrote a novel.” Krasilovsky is currently putting her expertise in screenwriting and adaptation to work as she adapts this novel, titled A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman. She explains,

I love the interfacing of visual media with written poetry,” and her  recent book, Watermelon Linguistics: New and Selected Poems (Cyberwit: India – finalist, 2022 International Books Awards) “includes three short poems that are woven into the soundtrack of my 2021 poetry film, ‘The Parking Lot of Dreams,’ which is about the pandemic. The film’s visuals are collated from dozens of photocollages that I made in a deserted parking lot, which was the only safe place I could find to take walks during the early months of Covid.

For more information about Alexis Krasilovsky’s videopoems and books, please see www.alexiskrasilovsky.com and https://canyoncinema.com/catalog/filmmaker/?i=182

BIO: Alexis Krasilovsky was born in Alaska, survived sexual assault at gunpoint, and knows what it’s like to be completely deaf. After graduation from Yale and receiving an MFA at CalArts in Film/Video, Krasilovsky became an award-winning filmmaker and the author of “Great Adaptations: Screenwriting and Global Storytelling” (– 2nd Place Winner, 2019 International Writers Awards). Her recent book, “Watermelon Linguistics: New and Selected Poems,” was a finalist for the 2022 International Book Awards. She also contributed to Reclamation: A Survivors Anthology and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. As writer/director, her films have screened at the Museum of Modern Art and in festivals around the world. Her recent poetry films won an Outstanding Achievement Award (Experimental Film) at the Tagore International Film Festival in India and the Best Original Concept Award (Experimental Film) at the Jane Austen International Film Festival in the UK, and other awards. Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center has called her “Southern California’s poetry video diva.”