ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Malaysia reviewed by George Szirtes

Though ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival‘s main event in Berlin only happens once every two years, they are regularly invited to screen selections of poetry films from their archives at festivals all over the world. I was pleased to see a review of one of these events by noted UK poet and translator George Szirtes, in his always interesting blog. He happened to have been in Malaysia for ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, where, according to Goethe-Institut Malaysia on Facebook:

In conjunction [with] Georgetown Literary Festival in Penang and with collaboration of Obscura-Kala and Art Printing Works in Kuala Lumpur, Dr. Thomas Wohlfahrt, Director of the Literaturwerkstatt Berlin and founder of ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival Berlin screened a selection of films all over the world as a part to promote poetry films in Malaysia.

Szirtes’ review deserves mention and excerpting not just because of his own prominence, but because any coverage of poetry film screenings by bloggers or journalists is unfortunately still quite rare. I liked Szirtes’ swerve into audience analysis and self-reflection—just the sort of personal take one expects from a good blog post—and I was fascinated to see which film-poet he thought was the stand-out. See if you agree. Here’s some of what he wrote:

The film show is in the evening at APW a converted printing works complete with auditorium, bar and much else. Slowly the hall fills up and, eventually, overfills. The idea of poetry-film is not films that may be poetic but rather the interpretation of an actual poetic text, often through computer work. We see about a dozen short films including a relatively early but ingenious version of Austrian sound poet Ernst Jandl created on an Amiga computer, move on to a snappy rhythmic interpretation of a Peter Reading poem and many others involving drawing, reading, performance, stop-frame animation, abstraction, grotesque and mixtures of them all. The one that takes my breath away is by  one by Taiwanese poet, Ye Mimi, They Are There But I Am Not. Here is the link to it. Its timing, its restraint, its depth, its spare lyricism, the quality of its feeling and thought and its sheer simple precision seemed far beyond the rest to me. There was a fine comic-grotesque version of a poem by Ingeborg Bachman, an excellent rap performance by an exiled American Cambodian poet, versions of Billy Collins (his ‘Budapest’) and Mahmoud Darwish at the end reading one of his to simple figure images and arabic script in motion. Everything was pretty good and some excellent. The ones that dealt with issues might be most effective in moving emotions but their intentions are clear from the start. They set out to do something and do it. Sometimes they collapse into a kind  of bathos (I don’t blame them, their cause is great and drives them into grander forms of rhetoric) before recovering. There are extraneous reasons for admiring these and indeed people do admire them. John Giorno speaks a fine comic poem against family values. Everyone laughs and claps loudly in approval of the message before returning to their family values. Another  poem rhapsodises about freedom and jazz,  and all the good things one might rhapsodise about and everyone claps. Sure we clap. It’s easy.

We like to be told we are free spirits laughing at convention. It help us to go on with our conventions. We have businesses to run, deals to clinch, jobs to go to, articles to write. I don’t think this is precisely hypocrisy but a kind of social behaviour, like people who want to be thought interesting at parties and declare, ‘I am mad, me, quite mad!’ You can bet your bottom dollar they are saner than you are.

But I love Ye Mimi’s film and I love her poem. The two together are a bringing out of the poem not by illustrating it or referring to it, but by realising it at quite another level. I shall be looking out for her work.

Read the whole post. And watch Ye Mimi’s films on Moving Poems here.

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here's a bio.