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Recent Digitizations from the Bob Holman Audio/Video Poetry Collection

Today’s post is written by Michael Grant, Media Preservation Associate in the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation & Conservation Department.

Recently, we have been working on the preservation of the Bob Holman Audio/Video Poetry Collection (MSS128) in the Media Preservation Unit. Holman is a spoken word poet and arts activist whose rich collection was acquired by the Fales Library in 2002. The collection consists of more than 800 pieces of media documenting a variety of poetry and poetry-related work, including poetry slams, “poetry spots” broadcast on WNYC-TV in the 1990s, hip hop documentation, and more. The series that we are currently preserving is the “Grassroots Poetry Videos, 1988-2001,” a diverse collection of about 150 VHS tapes documenting poetry in many forms and collected by Holman.

A small subset of the Grassroots Poetry Videos are straightforward camcorder documentation of poetry readings and recitations, but many more are edited works.  In their day, few of these were, strictly speaking, unique, but their distribution appears to have been of the most independent nature. Many tapes have handwritten labels bearing artists’ names and addresses, and even those with more professionally-produced packaging are of a “small label” origin.  Nevertheless, since many of the tapes were in some sense published, we are searching for each title to find whether it is currently in distribution, and digitizing only those which are not. This is both in order to use the preservation department’s resources wisely (why spend an hour digitizing a video that is readily available elsewhere and in a higher quality version?) and, more importantly, to adhere to  authors’ copyrights and steer users toward current distribution channels for still-published works.

In terms of form, the collection’s content is varied:  There are poetry performances, TV coverage of poets and poetry, documentaries on slam poetry, and — a fascinating area — many short poetry films.  Most of these shorts employ poetic narration and avant-garde visual styles, sometimes employing fascinating video processing effects. Some are shot on film and appear to have been made for a wider experimental film market, while others are beautifully low-budget, embracing a cheap but lovely shot-and-edited-on-VHS aesthetic.  Please enjoy this smattering of selections from the collection!

“Sun Worship” (Gwen Gosé, 1994, VHS) excerpt from “Short Shorts & Bell Bottom Bikinis” (MSS128_0428)

A compilation of Gosé’s experimental videos utilizing poetic voiceover and making a virtue of the in-camera special effects of the era’s camcorders, including decreased frame rates and digital zooms.

“We “Bought the T-Shirt” (Wayne Lammers, VHS) excerpt from “Wayne Lammers” (MSS128_0433)

Many of Lammers’s videos can be viewed on YouTube, but this tape contains a 40-minute documentary that contextualizes them amid documentation and interviews relating to his performances at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.  The documentary itself is excellent, but for brevity’s sake (and laughter’s!), we’ll confine ourselves today to “We Bought the T-Shirt.”

“for the ed” (Rise and Shine Productions, 1992, VHS) (MSS128_0425)

Finally, I’ll leave you with “for the ed,” a youth-produced hip hop paean to education.  Made in 1992 through a youth video education program by a team styling themselves DOME FX (Tyrone Wallace, Douglas Taylor, Bismarck Moore, Lawrence Thomas, and Desmond Williams), works of participatory community media such as this are, by their amateur nature and tape-bound state, often hard to see or even know of.  The ability to see it now underscores the importance of collections like this, and of efforts to digitally preserve analog media!

For additional information on the Bob Holman Audio/Video Poetry Collection, please visit the collection finding aid here.

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