Review: ruth weiss: the Beat Goddess

Year: 2019

Runtime: 69 minutes

Director: Melody C. Miller

By Joan Amenn

“Walking on a tightrope

Is like any other road

Just believe your foot.”

-ruth weiss

An extraordinary life deserves to be celebrated and remembered and for too long, Ruth Weiss has been eclipsed by other poets of the Beat Movement. Unsurprisingly, the men of the era like Ginsberg and Kerouac were considered the founders of Beat poetry but there were also women who contributed to the scene, none more so than Weiss. “ruth weiss: the Beat Goddess” (yes, she always published her work with her name in lowercase letters) is like a lightning bolt in its brevity and energy, which is an altogether fitting tribute to its subject.

Weiss herself seems like an indomitable force of nature for all that she endured, lost, and gained in her long life of ninety-two years. A child of the Holocaust, the lingering trauma would fuel her poetry for years afterward. It is indeed fortunate for Weiss and for lovers of poetry that words never seemed to fail her. One of the joys of this film is listening to her describe her work process as she writes page after page of iterations before turning to her obviously well used manual typewriter for a final version. But Weiss was so much more than a writer of words.

Ruth Weiss from “ruth weiss: the Beat Goddess”

Although she does not claim to be the first, she was among the early pioneers who linked live readings of their work to jazz accompanists. This of course became the touchstone of what Beat poetry was and who it represented. It was built on diversity in artistic forms created by diverse people of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and regional backgrounds. Weiss fearlessly embraced the movement and made it her life’s work just as she boldly colored her hair teal back in the 1950’s and made it her signature look.

“ruth weiss: the Beat Goddess” brilliantly encapsulates her understanding that words inspire action by coupling some of her poems to modern dance. Director Melody C. Miller contrasts these set pieces to brief snippets of Weiss’ own performances onstage and in short films. It makes for a wonderfully engaging narrative that needs to be seen and appreciated for the unique artist that was Ruth Weiss.

ruth weiss: the Beat Goddess” will be streaming on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Tubi, Xumo, Plex, Google TV, Hulu, Kinema, Kanopy, and more on Weiss’ birthday June 24, 2022, and available on PBS channels on August 28th, 2022.

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