Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Amiri Baraka, Rachel Eliza Griffiths & #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

Photographer, videographer , and poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths accomplishes much with her contribution to #BlackPoetsSpeakOut. For one, she reads Amiri Baraka's poem "Incident," a powerful piece that describes a man's murder. Given the circumstances of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, and many others, the poem would resonate on its own. But Griffiths goes further.

She reads the poem and adds a soundtrack of a heartbeat-like, pulsating beat that fluctuates speeds throughout the piece.  In addition to a straight-forward reading, Griffiths adds another track that repeats, in a whisper, the words of that the main speaker delivers. And that's just the audio. 

The visual component includes words, still images, and video footage. Griffiths points out in a note to the video that the words include lines from Allen Ginsberg's "America," Carrie Mae Weems's "From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried," and Gil Scott-Heron, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." There are additional words, including Garner's haunting last statement "I Can't Breathe," the names "Trayvon Martin," "Mike Brown," "Rodney King," "Tamir Rice," and even poet "Henry Dumas," who was killed by a transit police officer in 1968. 

Lines from Baraka's poem appear in the video, including "Pictures of the dead man, are everywhere," a particularly fitting and potent sentiment given the many images we see of black men who have been killed. Griffiths presents the image of the body of Mike Brown lying in the street, Emmett Till's battered face and his mother crying at his casket, George Zimmerman, a police officer holding his middle finger up to the camera, Trayvon Martin in a hoodie, and a recurring image of a lynching, among other images.

The video footage shows several instances of police officers using excessive force against black people, such as the choke hold used to kill Eric Garner. The footage also includes images of Civil Rights activists being sprayed with fire hoses and handled roughly by police officers. We see images of officers dragging and punching black people. Over and over.

The poem and confluence of words, still images, and disturbing video footage come to us quickly within the span of 141 seconds. Multiple viewings are necessary to grasp all that Griffiths presents here. She really stretches the boundaries of poetry, video, and artistic protest. Her contribution is a really distinguishing moment in the production of #BlackPoetsSpeakOut and beyond.

A Notebook on #BlackPoetsSpeakOut

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