Video Poetry

A Short Introduction

Greg McCartney

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Some of you may wonder about the inclusion of video poetry/prose or text/visual pieces, such as that by Robert Peake above, in the Honest Ulsterman. For me it’s a logical extension of my work with the Abridged (www.abridgedonline.com) which fuses, visual art (mainly photography), poetry and design. If we at Abridged could find a way of including video on the printed page we would. The HU gives me the chance to do essentially do this, extending the written word into other disciplines. I know for some there is purity ‘in the page’ and additionality beyond the text, apart from perhaps an accompanying illustration is superfluous. This is of course a valid point of view to hold though not one I would subscribe to, particularly in an online environment. The internet and the comparatively easy availability of equipment and software offers the poet/film-maker the opportunity envelop the reader in a (so to speak) 3D environment, where the work is the world and nuances of tone and expression come alive.  

What exactly is ‘video poetry’ ? It has been described by Tom Konyves, one of the early practitioners of the form as ‘a genre of poetry displayed on a screen, distinguished by its time-based, poetic juxtaposition of text with images and sound.’ (http://issuu.com/tomkonyves/docs/manifesto_pdf) I am using the general term video poetry for ease of understanding whilst recognising that many practitioners would use more specific terminology. David Bonta, curator of the largest video poetry website on the internet defines a video poem as: ‘a wedding of word and image’He expresses that ‘achieving that level of integration is difficult and rare. In my experience the greatest challenge of this hybrid genre is fusing voice and vision, aligning ear with eye. For me, voice is the critical element, medium and venue secondary considerations. Unlike a music video — the inevitable and ubiquitous comparison — a video poem stars the poem rather than the poet, the voice seen as well as heard’. (http://discussion.movingpoems.com/2012/02/videopoetry-what-is-it-who-makes-it-and-why/) The ‘voice’ of course can be heard through being seen. Video poets/film-makers don’t need publishers, and use Youtube, Vevo etc. It is interesting that the editorial function now includes researching websites to discover new video work rather than waiting for work to be submitted and whilst the work may not be ‘new’ because of the vastness of the internet very few people may have seen it. Video poetry has blurred further the editorial/curatorial lines.  

Konyves defines five different categories of video poem:

KINETIC TEXT is essentially the simple animation of text over a neutral background. These works owe much to concrete and patterned poetry in their style – the use of different fonts, sizes, colours to create unusual visual representations of text.

VISUAL TEXT, or words superimposed over video/film images, presents the most significant challenge to the videopoet – to integrate the 3 elements. The role of the videopoet is to be an artist/juggler – a visual artist, sound artist, and poet combined – to juggle image, sound and text so that their juxtaposition will create a new entity, an art object, a videopoem. Text can include “found text”, i.e. text as image.

SOUND TEXT, or poetry narrated over video/film, is the videopoem without “superimposed text”. The “text” of the videopoem is expressed through the voice of the poet, accompanying the video/film images on the screen. Of the five forms of videopoetry, SOUND TEXT – with or without music – is the most popular; essentially, this is due to the facility of working within the traditional form of video/film, i.e. using the narrative techniques of the medium – without the additional difficulty presented by visual text – to illustrate a previously written poem. Once the illustrative function is removed, the work appears as the non-referential juxtaposition of sound and image.

PERFORMANCE is the appearance of the poet, on-camera, performing the poem.

CIN(E)POETRY is the video poem wherein the text is superimposed over graphics, still images, or “painted” with the assistance of a computer program. It closely resembles VISUAL TEXT, except the imagery is computer-generated, not captured by a motion picture camera. The term was introduced by George Aguilar, who works most often in this form. (https://vimeo.com/user1294729)

There will be undoubtedly more categories as technology and the internet environs facilitate further diversification.

It’s important to distinguish poetry videos from videos (or films) that are ‘poetic’ in feel or imagery. The visuals/sound of whatever type is intimately tied into the text however it is articulated. The film-maker provides a visual conduit to the text adding (intentionally or not) new layers to it. It is obviously not the same as reading the text on its own. Filmpoem’s Alastair Cook makes a good point:

‘The Poetry-film should successfully bring the work to the audience through visual and audio layering, attractive to those who would not necessarily read the poetry. The film needs to provide a sub-text, a series of suggestions and visual notes that embellish the poem, using the filmmaker’s subtle skills to allow the poet’s voice to be seen as well as heard. The collaboration remains with the words. If this subtext is missing, the film resorts to being a piece of media, the reading of a text over discombobulated imagery, a superimposition.’  (http://filmpoem.com/about/)

Whilst the poetry ‘book’ in whatever format (printed page, ebook etc) still is the most popular medium the video poetry field is growing with festivals being held throughout the world. It will be interesting to observe how the discipline (or more accurately cross-discipline) develops and changes. It is certainly an artform in itself. It can’t be denied that experimenting with text, visuals, sounds in contemporary and ever evolving media can only be good for literature. It also poses new challenges as the editor moves into the curatorial arena, in that you search through the vast online environment, sifting, linking, negotiating and discovering, rather than waiting for work to come your way. Something I’m always happy to do. I recently heard an opinion that curating was a purely (contemporary) visual art phenomena and that it shouldn’t be applied to literature, film or music. The advent of the video poem as well as the increasingly cross-disciplinary nature of literary projects, not to mention the evolution of the term ‘curate’ easily disproves this.