Poetry Theatre

One of the best things about festivals is you can get introduced to a lot of new work, and new people in a very short period of time. On Thursday night, I got a chance to take in a screening of excerpts from Bob Holman’s documentary series, “On the road with Bob Holman.”

Bob Holman is a pretty fascinating guy. He’s a New York based poetry who founded the Bowery Poetry Club, and is connected with spoken word, slam and hip hop. He’s written 13 (good number) books, and released two cds.

His documentary series looks at endangered languages and what these languages means to culture. The audience, who braved Vancouver-like weather to come out to the Metro Cinema at the Garneau theatre, was treated to two documentary bits.

In the first one, Holman spent time with the Dogon people in Africa, learning about their divination, their dance and rituals and told through movement, a type of language itself.

In the second short documentary, Holman spent time in Israel, talking to various people about languages including Yiddish (an endangered language), Hebrew( which was dead and a lot like Latin until people decided to revive a few thousand years ago), and Arabic. Holman travelled around the city, and spent time with poets.

The documentaries could best be described as anthropological travelogues infused with Holman’s poetic sensitivities and observations. It was obvious he had a great deal of respect for the people he was meeting, their language and their creations.

When the lights went up, Holman, Cree poet Marilyn Dumont, filmmaker Tom Radford and the evening’s emcee, Jannie Edwards, assembled on the stage to talk about languages, their importance and their personal experiences. The audience was able to ask questions and interact with the panel.

What emerged through the documentary excerpts and the panel discussion was an exploration of language, and its ties to culture. Language is the tool of the poet, and the way a poet chooses to express himself/herself. The words or sounds a poet uses are both personal, political and shaped by culture and environment.

Alexis Kienlen is an Edmonton-based agriculture writer, poet, and friend of the festival.