Marvin Hiemstra is living proof that a poem can make a person smile, even laugh out loud, and still be filled with social relevance, high-wire poetics, and deeply-felt emotion. I’ve been fortunate to see Marvin’s live performances twice now; once in Oakland, and again in San Francisco. He brought down the house. Now his work can be enjoyed on DVD. (If this sounds like a blurb, it’s not. I just plain like this guy and his work).
Marvin created this DVD to, as he puts it, “suggest the wild and wooly kick of poetry before the Victorians so relentlessly glued poetry to the printed page and sat on it.” French Kiss Destiny is not Spoken Word. Nor is it Performance Poetry in the vein of Hedwig Gorski’s poem-songs. Marvin’s performances are more akin to a theatrical experience. He makes full use of his voice and body and even a magical ring that whispers phrases into his ear just when he needs them: “arrogant hangnail.”
There’s a playful tenderness at the heart of Marvin’s poems. He’s “never met a quark I didn’t like;” he tells us “angels never need to floss or wax or flush;” and he thanks Vaughn, a beloved cat, whose “twelve years gave us a gentle world.”
The production value of French Kiss Destiny is good, but no frills. Marvin is at center stage. The poems are clear and audible. The DVD is organized into three segments, shot at three locations: The Garden, The Heart, and The Sky.
The Garden is filmed in an urban garden with the sounds of the city in the background, including the occasional horn and siren. He introduces us to “Reincarnation for Beginners” and provides a remedy to an age-old problem of people falling asleep during poetry readings: a Chinese tone block that he raps between phrases. He also tells us, “Poetry is just like fishing. Some days you don’t catch a thing.”
The Heart is set in the silence of a Japanese mediation room—the sliding door slightly ajar to remind us there is still a world out there. “Some poets can’t find themselves,” he says. “Why don’t they look in the nearest mirror?” He asks us to “begin each day with a quick review of your destiny” and to appreciate coincidence, which “never let’s you down.” In one poem, Marvin tells a story of himself as an Iowa farm boy just having seen Marilyn Monroe in the movie “Bus Stop.” He pronounces Marilyn a Star to his traditional Dutch community, who simply chalk his enthusiasm up to hormones. As an adult, years later, after watching “The Prince and the Showgirl” on television, he reaffirms his youthful pronouncement. “Let’s just screw gender for a minute,” Marvin says. “Nobody will ever be that irresistible, with that much delicious class, ever again.”
In the final segment, The Sky, Marvin takes us up onto a rocky hilltop. “Where oh where is my audience?” he asks. “Ah, deep blue sky.” He invites us to make our own trek to the mountaintop. “Please take your poem to the top of the nearest cooperating mountain and shout it out. Listen to the echo.” He brings us back to sea level and down to the very ground itself, kneeling to bestow a kiss of gratitude. “I always want to kiss the earth.” Kiss. “After all, I owe the earth big time.” Kiss. “I wouldn’t be where I am without you.”
French Kiss Destiny: The DVD offers the viewer a refreshingly good time. What I hold closest to my heart is Marvin’s reminder of “the importance of human affection in this totally terrifying 21st Century.”
You can order French Kiss Destiny (Zippy Digital, 2007) directly from Marvin. His email is email@example.com. The price is $14.95. Book Stores can order it from Books in Print: the Video Listing. French Kiss Destiny: The Book is forthcoming.
A final note: Marvin’s poems read well on the page, too. A Pulitzer nominee, Marvin often writes about the challenges of writing poems intended to be both read on the printed page and heard in performance. Check out his column, “Poetry In Spite of Itself,” in the Bay Area Poet’s Seasonal Review.