Lewis Mundt is an ex-convict’s son. In a new piece from Poetry Observed, he explains why his father is no “broken man”.
Lewis Mundt is not ashamed of his father.
The son of a former convict, Mundt recalls a man who earned his high school degree while incarcerated, who rode a Harley Davidson full speed down neighborhood boulevards, who prayed with the swing of his hammer. After a prison priest tells him that the men he works with are “broken,” Mundt remembers all the things his father has fixed, has built from the ground up. Walking among the pews of a church his father could have built, Mundt offers a nuanced commentary on the sanctimonious, a reminder to reevaluate who we pity and who we scorn.
There are so many different ways to be fixed. Some people don’t need a priest to help them do it.
The poem, “Father Benjamin” was recorded last year in a church at Carleton College’s Skinner Chapel in Minnesota. The piece is one of many filmed for Poetry Observed, an arts organization dedicated to taking performance poetry off the stage’s confines and into the world. The project recently raised over $5,000 through Kickstart to film ten more New York based poets in 2013.
Described as “music videos for poetry,” these short performances are staged in abandoned apartments, winter beaches, rusted balconies, rooftops and old tunnels. The project succeeds in both elevating and demystifying the art form, the settings adding a visual context that intensifies the content.
A common complaint about performance poetry is the difficulty poets face in making sure their pieces are not just heard, but understood. When loosed from the page, the poets have power over how their works are presented, but the public may only hear them once, without the benefit of re-reading what they missed. Poetry Observed then looses those poets from the stage, allowing them to feed off connotative atmosphere and symbolic backgrounds to create a multi-sensory experience for the audience.
Some may argue a performance poet shouldn’t need these kinds of visual aids, but that’s bullshit. It’s par for the course in this age of competing stimuli, and these “music videos” for poetry create an immersive experience equal to the ones fostered at bongo-riddled coffee shop. These poets are reaching the people where they’re at, where they pray, where they fix themselves. And they can do it with or without a stage.
Photo: Lewis Mundt, “Father Benjamin”, Poetry Observed