Towards Definitions of Genres and Art Forms?

I have just begun brainstorming with a Cuban actress for a project that will include her live performance, multimedia and poetry. It has me thinking about the characteristics of the various art forms on their own and how they will work together, can work together and whether they are “collaborating art forms” or elements from differing art forms that collaborate to create a single art form (in this case Performance).

Isn’t this the same kind of question we are asking about video technology and poetry?

Despite my own penchant for the written word and visual impression of the written word as intrinsic to some poems, I concede easily to the idea that poetry is also defined as the metaphoric use of language and can be an exclusively aural experience.

However, is it possible to have a “videopoem” that has no words or oral language whatsoever? Does it count as poetry if the words alone don’t convey a poem, but rely upon the visual elements to convey an idea? If so- is this poetry or is this “elements of poetry” (if so-which then??) collaborating with elements of film to create a new art form?

Isn’t perhaps videopoetry actually more like performance than poetry and therefore videoperformance?
(I am excluding documentation of performances here in my tentative genre).

What are your thoughts?

Ren (Katherine) Powell is a poet, playwright, translator and teaching artist. She is a native Californian living on the west coast of Norway.


  1. Great question Renkat! It’s exactly what I’ve been questioning – how integral are the words in poetry? I see foreign language poetry films and sometimes I feel as if I’ve heard a gem of truth in my mother tongue.

    For example: – a Ukrainian poet spills her poem and I don’t understand a word, but the rhythm, modulation, earnestness in her voice pulls me in – I empathise with a pain I don’t know but fully understand.

    Poetry at that point is all about a familiar oral rhythm. But does your post talks more about the removal of sound, or perhaps human voice (and no written words)? I think you’ll be left with product that uses poetry in the metaphoric sense, ie the poetry of dance.

    Or else you’ll create a product that has ‘words’ implied. If you have dancers dancing to no sound but their bodies/movement is rhythmic, then music is implied. A video with a specific message implies words, but its is not a poem unless there is the lyricism and other poetic structure to the arrangement of images/narrative. Dancers dancing willy-nilly does not imply music, but rather noise.

    Looking back at your post I see I have veered off your point. Sorry – I think video poetry is poetry, because the visuals give an opportunity for more layering of meaning. We know this from how poetry is written on a page – it’s visual aspect, line breaks, stanza breaks add meaning.

    • “…how integral are the words in poetry” this goes to the heart of it, actually. Is poetry a genre of literature or is it something else. I don’t mean to be ridiculous about it, but if one is defining genres, it is important how we use the term Poetry and what we mean by it. Otherwise, why isn’t The Piano a videopoem? It is poetic and reaches toward Aristotle’s definition of poetry. “short” isn’t a definition of poetry. If that metaphor that lets us reach toward something beyond the actual topic at hand is what defines “poetry”, then isn’t ALL art poetry? That’s pretty unhelpful. ;.)

      • For some reason it’s never really bothered me that poetry can’t be precisely defined. Concrete or visual poetry often challenges my own, fairly conservative preferences, but that hasn’t stopped me from featuring examples on Moving Poems, and at qarrtsiluni as well. For me, yeah, poetry implies literature, but if visual artists want to call what they’re doing poetry too, that’s great. I guess I like messiness!

  2. However, is it possible to have a “videopoem” that has no words or oral language whatsoever? Does it count as poetry if the words alone don’t convey a poem, but rely upon the visual elements to convey an idea? If so- is this poetry or is this “elements of poetry” (if so-which then??) collaborating with elements of film to create a new art form?

    To me, it’s not useful to lump this into the same genre as what we’re calling videopoetry, though it is a related genre, to be sure. I actually run across examples of this fairly often while seaching Vimeo for recent uploads tagged “poem” and “poetry.” Not only do many filmmakers metaphorically refer to certain, lyric, non-verbal, non-narrative shorts as film poems or video poems; there’s even a new genre of haiku films which consist of three scenes of five, seven, and five seconds’ duration respectively.

    • Totally agree! Poetry is a tag thrown around to indicate lyricism, artiness, lack of narrative, or plain old self indulgent twaddle. I love it though.

      This visual haiku sounds interesting Dave, any interesting ones you know? I’m going to look for some.

        • I really like this. If I were going to be a real pedant about it all – which I am, of course, I would propose a distinction between videopoetry and videopoem. Aristotle’s definition of poetics isn’t about “poems”. A poem is an art object and poetry is a affect of art. Have I got it now? And a term like vid-po (are you here Tom?) would then encompass both?

          • Well, if that distinction makes things clearer for you, great. Seems a little Jesuitical, but come to think of it most Jesuits are pretty cool.

          • :-) I think I have an extremely reactionary almost visceral response to the idea of art being what an “artist does” and that an artist is defined as someone who dresses in black clothes, thinks deep thoughts and is lazy as all hell.

      • (Geez, I’ve never searched Vimeo for “haiku” before — a lot of interesting stuff that isn’t tagged “poetry” or “poem.”)

      • And here’s a compendium of 30-second video haiku by a guy named Charles Tashiro:
        In contrast to the previous example, here there are audio readings but no text. I like his description of the project:

        This is a composite version of a series of video haiku originally published weekly for a year at YouTube in 2006-07. This is the first time these have been shown online at full resolution.

        Self-imposed rules:
        1. Classic haiku format (5-7-5 syllable construction).
        2. No more than 30 seconds each. A couple are slightly longer to accommodate credits.
        3. Cuts and movement were allowed, but only within a single camera start/stop.

        Most of the shots were original for the project, although some dated from earlier efforts. The majority were taken with either a Canon GL1 or a Lumix FX3. All of the poems are original.

        • These are really illustrative, on the nose and lack suggestion and can’t be poetry in my mind. And I really liked the opening image! How strange that when I read a poem I want to know that is a grackle and not a “bird” – but when I hear it I don’t want it named for me like that.

          It has me thinking: the specifics in poetry are designed to create the mimesis that allows us to experience “poetry”, but when we have sound and images the words are unnecessary and can interfere in experience because it is pointing the viewer in the wrong direction (away from the mimesis and “a priori” poetry *apologies for the acadamese, I am in the middle of writing my thesis* and back to the intellect).

          VV is this why you dislike words on the page, too? But you said you like the post modern intellectual aim of some artwork… I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

      • Hey! There’s even a Video Haiku channel at Vimeo:
        It was prompted by a forum suggestion from a Vimeo user named Blake Whitmam (does that sound like the name of a poet, or what?),

        Structure – 5 seconds, 7 seconds, 5 seconds

        Use only diegetic sound, no music.

        Write your own Haiku, or use someone elses (make sure to credit!)

        Either read the Haiku or title it into the video (5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables)

          • Yeah, there were a couple that weren’t too bad as poems. I kind of liked the one with explosions, Lines I think it was called.

      • Okay, maybe there weren’t as many completely wordless haiku as I remembered.

        Setting aside the issue of whether the 17-syllable definition of a haiku in english makes any sense, I’m not sure that I like trying to convey the feeling of a haiku with a very short film. To me, haiku is all about concentration, focused attention, better expressed perhaps in one very long shot, with the poem coming (either as text or audio) at the end. That was the approach of this vidpo for a Ryokan haiku:
        and I liked it well enough to imitate the style in a couple of my own videopoems, such as

        • It makes sense to me that the haiku poetry film should be wordless. Haiku isn’t supposed to use metaphors, it is supposed to be a whole that serves as a metaphor – as you said, through concentration and focused attention.

          I think the Ryokan haiku is hilarious. I have no idea if that was the intention. If I rip it apart- I really enjoyed the hyper-awareness of my own attention span – thinking how much I enjoy watching things in nature really and how little time I give to it… then the haiku makes me laugh (post modern sticking it to ya!) – while I have been enjoying the view a thief has robbed me. Then the awareness of so what? The thief couldn’t take what is important. I think this works together a way that few manage to do and a way I would also strive to emulate!

          Admonition has got to be one of my favorites of yours, Dave. The same kind of morbid, post modern humor, but with all the craftsmanship of a “pre moderisnist” :-) … But here I would have liked an opportunity to give the words the same attention that I gave the images because I figure they are on equal footing and they go by too quickly for me to process them with the same care I did the images.

          • Haiku, classic haiku, were definitely intended to be humorous, even in the Basho school. I think people forget this, and latch on to Senryu as “funny haiku” in contrast to the others.

            Glad you liked “Admonition”; thanks for the feedback. I agree that many of my videopoems end too quickly — that’s one thing I would definitely try to fix if I were ever to clean them up for submission somewhere.

    • Yeah, I like Gerard’s definition a lot. (Probably deserves its own post here at some point.)

  3. Another definition from Heather’s Haley’s webpage:

    “…My friend and associate Kurt Heintz, of and director of award-winning videopoems, states it much more eloquently than I can:

    “Our extension of poetry into video seems only to ratify a deeper understanding, as poets and performers, that poetry rests in a continuous spectrum of expanded genres, each genre an amalgam, offering aesthetic expressions that conjoin text with some other creation. Poetry music. Poetry performance. Poetry theatre. Poetry film and video. Whole literatures in the cybernetic realm where the computer enacts by proxy the author’s will upon the text.

    The breakdown of psychological barriers from literature on the page to literature on the stage was the public’s prelude to realizing broader rewards in media poetry of all forms. Poetry video is the public’s first step beyond. Even in its most essential form, it demolishes the old assumption that page and poem are one. We now know poetry is where you find it, in the expressions the world offers. We construct, save, and transmit these experiences for the future. Images and sounds now operate as words where we had no previous literature because the symbols of our poetry were confined to paper in the reader’s hands. So we have not the end of a literacy, but the construction of a new one: visible, audible, temporal, conscious, tactile, bonding author and reader by their gaze.”

    She also says: I believe Jean Cocteau was the first poet to employ film. In 1930 he produced Blood of a Poet, usually categorized as surrealist art. Recently I read about “film poets” from the West Coast abstract school, James Broughton, Sidney Peterson and Hy Hirsh, the latter two collaborating with John Cage in 1947. In 1978 Tom Konyves of Montreal’s Vehicule Poets coined the term “videopoetry” to describe his multimedia work. Rather than get bogged down in semantics, I’d like to point out that I think in terms of moving images and don’t make a huge distinction between film and video. I have worked primarily in digital video as it is accessible and affordable, important considerations to a poet with a small budget and again, poetry exists beyond media.

    Though most of us in the West are visually literate, it is brave—foolish some say—to adapt the oral tradition to a medium where image is metaphor. I’m drawn to it simply because it’s natural for me, having grown up with television and cinema. According to my mother, I sat with my mouth open through the entire 78 minutes of Jungle Book, my first movie theatre experience. It’s a powerful medium and I still can’t resist its lure. “

  4. Here’s a new videopoem without any words:
    “This video was inspired by the poem Ambit, by Alex Skovron. The sounds of the words were translated into data that could be used and altered by a computer to generate sounds and images. This is an audio-visual improvisation created from that data.”

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