Congratulations to Fran Sanders and her team in Houston for organising this richly programmed hybrid (first day live, the rest mainly online) poetry film festival this year. From poetry film curations and open mic performances by the deaf and hard of hearing (Willy Conley, Sabina England, Meridith Gray) to individual artists’ curations from literally all around the world (Colm Scully, Ireland; Steve Smart, Scotland; Ian Gibbins, Australia; Helen Matte /ZumTrobaR, Canada; and Giovanni Singleton, USA), to commissioned films from Houston-based Aurora Picture Show to performance with video (Amir Safi, Write About Now), they have surpassed themselves.
I am fortunate to be on the judging panel for the competition entries, and even more fortunate to have my poetry film with poem by Heidi Seaborn ‘Selfie with Marilyn’ selected by Ian Gibbins for his curation distURBANce. The description states: ‘No idyllic pastorals here. Instead we have a program of urban stories, distorted by the power of advertising, social media, celebrity, with more than a hint of corruption, crime and miscellaneous bad behaviour.’
I am also really pleased to share details about the short film to be shown at REELpoetry that chronicles the extraordinary collaborative public poetry project Love Letters in Light (May 2021) curated in LA county by artist, writer and public arts champion Leila Hamidi. In response to the devastating fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamidi wanted to hear the voices of the people speak, to bring healing and hope through art as poetry as a homage to Los Angeles. She has a skill and vision that has developed such large-scale projects concerned with art and well-being before, with an aim to ‘reconcile histories and imagine new futures’.
Through the simple device of 10 LED screens placed outside (and in partnership with) 10 LA county libraries (also part of the We Rise project run out of LA County Department of Mental Health), we can read 15-word poems (bilingual in English and Spanish) that encapsulate the mindset of those who are dealing with the new world that has arisen as we still grieve in these difficult times.
With a small group of core poets: Jerry Quickley, Victoria Chang, Imani Tolliver, féi Hernandez and Yesika Salgado, around 300 poems from the Los Angeleno community were selected through an open call, with each poem appearing for 24 hours.
As project translator and poet Yesika comments: ‘this project allows people a stake in the community in a way they never had before … a quiet, revolutionary thing we did.’ This is echoed by LA County Library director Skye Patrick (Library Journal’s 2019 Librarian of the Year).
Victoria Chang comments how great it is that the LED itself has been appropriated ‘not for something you don’t need, for capitalism’, but reflecting the truth of society itself. It made me think how the LED, once bringing objective truisms to the street (late 1970s) by leading American artist Jenny Holzer, has now become a vehicle for collective subjectivity, for the unvoiced. From ‘Abuse of Power Comes As No Surprise’ to ‘We have lived a moonless night. But morning comes.’
In parallel, across the decades our political world has shifted slowly in activating ‘othered’ voices: from women’s rights through to a diversity of communities and their perspectives. We need to reduce the dominating and pivotal power dynamics that have created many of the problems we face today and listen to all members of society. This project couldn’t have happened at a more important time.
As Victoria Chang states in the face of a grief that never dies: ‘Language can save you’; and simply but so profoundly féi Hernandez (trans, non-binary and Board President of Gender Justice, LA) observes: ‘Words are a way of documenting that we exist’. In a terrible sense we cannot take for granted this basic human right – of defining ourselves by ourselves.
The film is beautifully directed by Christian Bruno and Natalija Vekic (Electric Park Films), produced by Leila Hamidi and edited by Misha Scott, and it will be shown alongside a very interesting discussion with Leila Hamidi, Yesika Salgado, Fran Sanders, Amir Safi, and myself at 4:30–5:30 P.M. Sunday February 27th CST (or 10:30–11:30 P.M. UK).
Leila Hamidi is currently curating a multi-media theatre piece with a group of interdisciplinary artists, writers and musicians which will go live in 2023.