Introduction as written in late August 2015
francine j. harris
francine j. harris
The video was originally produced in December 2014/January 2015.
“The Radio Amateur Is Patriotic. That’s what the manual says. It is your responsibility as an amateur radio operator to pass the word in time of trouble, time of war. Time of danger or disaster. Time of tragic loss. During flood or blizzard. Pass it along. Make everyone aware. This is the Amateur’s Code. You need to know it.”
– Ander Monson, from “Other Electricities”
Years ago, when I lived in Seattle, I was part of a pirate radio project for awhile. We didn’t often call it that. We promoted it as community radio – an act of civil disobedience. We were occupying the airwaves in order to reclaim them from corporate conglomerates that ruled the waves. We were trying to open access to the every person, to the individual voices in our community. You shouldn’t have to have tens of thousands of dollars it takes to obtain a license and buy state sanctioned transmitters just to be on the air! we would say. Which when I say aloud now, often to my students as anecdote, I clearly still get a little impassioned. But, of course, they sort of just stare at me blankly – ‘cause who the hell cares about radio anymore? The FCC isn’t even taking new applications apparently, and besides you can do anything you want on the internet!
I think part of the reason I was initially so excited when Gabrielle Calvocoressi asked me to do the Poemerica Project was because of how much I’ve been listening to radio and podcast lately. Last year, a friend of mine mentioned the program Serial to me and I downloaded Stitcher so I could listen. Though I have certainly listened to the radio on and off over the years, it had been a long time since I connected with any auditory programming again. I found myself following Serial religiously, replaying episodes, savoring some for when I was cooking or taking a bath. Since then, radio and podcast has become a part of my regular consumption again. Radiolab, Snap Judgment, WTF and fill my morning stream and local shows like Detroit’s Jay’s Place do music and music history a nice justice. I’ve also been more likely to listen to poetry podcasts like the ones from POETRY and The NewYorker, and LARB’s Radio Hour.
To date, I have not googled any photos of Greenland and Weiner, or Abumradand Krulwich. And though I wish there were more diverse perspectives coming from some of those more established radio shows, I have nonetheless found something reassuring about getting lost in the voices of the hosts and guests, without actually seeing their faces.
So when Gaby posed this project late last winter, she gave me a few prompts for talking about my region, where I’m writing from, and what I’m concerned about these days. She said “Maybe you could film a walk,” and that just kind of clicked for me.
Film a walk. With just my voice. That sounds cool. Kinda’ like radio.
It also seemed appropriate to me. Some of what I’m talking about in this short piece is invisibility. I was also writing about invisibility around this time in an essay I published here. I was writing about understanding invisibility as both a curse – and a privilege, given the times, and in the short film I discuss how this little town called Interlochen – near the northwestern tip of Michigan – seems to exist outside of me. I am sometimes in awe of this place, but don’t feel visible here and never have.
I decided to extend my chain to some other pretty amazing emerging writers I know who are also living in rather remote places, to let them speak to their poetic and cultural experiences there, given their hometowns. When I passed the prompts on to others, what I noticed in their responses was that most of them – Tommye, Sean, Jonah – also felt most comfortable behind the camera, not in front of it. And Marcelo took an opposite route, filming only himself, in that isolated white room, with no image of his surroundings. Somewhere in this, what lingers for me is how our surroundings either take over or are somehow entirely absent in our responses. What remains is the singularity, the starkness, of voice.
I like the idea that these filmed vignettes could so easily be listened to without the video. Some shaky camera work almost demands that the viewer look away in places. It’s funny to me, too, that now we are in a different season than where we were. Winter was long, wasn’t it? So long. Maybe it’s also appropriate that in these shots, the snow is still on the ground, and it’s July. Given some of the subject matter that the poets here are discussing – isolation, fear, ways to exist as marginalized poets and seek out places where we feel productive and safe – maybe the snow on the ground is appropriate.