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Monday, September 25, 2023


Poets punctuate world of silent films

UH creative writing student Katherine Robb reads from her poetry at the “Alternative Neo Benshi Night” at East End’s Bohemeo’s cafe on Friday.  |  Jackie Andrade/The Daily Cougar

UH creative writing student Katherine Robb reads from her poetry at the “Alternative Neo Benshi Night” at East End’s Bohemeo’s cafe on Friday. | Jackie Andrade/The Daily Cougar

A unique and exciting literary event that combined silent film with poetry and prose occupied a local cafe on Friday night.

Bohemeo’s, the café on Telephone Road that bills itself as the East End’s first music and art coffee house, was packed with a throng of UH students — a majority of them creative writing or communication majors — for “Alternative Neo Benshi Night.”

Colin Sturdevant, the host and creator of the event who’s involved in a variety of literary groups on- and off-campus, says, “I learned Neo Benshi (the practice of producing live alternate voice-overs for movies) in a poetry class back in 2007… Oh, God, I feel old now… (while) floating around at the what seemed ‘hopeless’ HCC central campus from my good friend and former mentor Stalina Villareal.”

“Stalina actually helped me get in contact with Lupe Olivarez, the original and now co-owner of Bohemeo’s,” said Sturdevant.

Poets like UH’s own Katherine Robb, Stephen Cronin, Erika Andrade and other members of the Houston community went on stage and read their work as a film silently whooshed by with startling images — some humorous, others depressing, but mostly thought-provoking stills — that underlined or totally juxtaposed the poets’ words in a clever form of art.

Bohemeo’s was a great setting for this particular event because of its casual atmosphere, bright colorful art work that adds flavor to the already eclectic walls, cheap and tasty food and the unpretentious crowd that packed the restaurant for Friday’s Sturdevant’s production.

“No more seats were left, and… that makes me proud… not proud of myself but more of a segment of culture that thrives. That is rare, beautiful,” he said.

The night began with Sturdevant reading his very own piece, “My Antithesis Valentine,” which was filled with rich and lyrical descriptions of a would-be love and played around between lighthearted, amusing sentences to deep and powerful ideas.

The poets and their poems were shadowed with distinct images that haunted their words. Scenes from Japanese anime to the classic film “The Red Shoes” were hard to forget as the poets read in a one-of-a-kind production.

“As far as I know, it has happened at Aurora Picture Show, but what they had was traditional Neo Benshi, where writers will narrate as voice-overs. It has been so long trying to find anyone who has ever performed Neo Benshi, but what we did was (not) very traditional and probably a first-ever event of its kind in Houston,” Sturdevant said.

The next event that Sturdevant is hosting is “Idioms, Images, and Form: An Alternative Ekphrastic Evening,” Feb. 17 at Bacchus at the Elysium, a Mediterranean Coffee and Wine Bar.

For more information visit the Facebook page of the same name.

“I encourage anyone with a pulse to attend,” Sturdevant said.

“In this day and age, what is the point for storytellers to sit alone without audience or one another? Why spend $20 a pop on a poorly constructed film at a movie theater when you can enjoy yourself for less and experience something new, uplifting, and inspiring?”

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