Cross posted from Vimeo See also The Vehicule…

Cross-posted from Vimeo. See also The Vehicule Poets.

I’ve always been interested in experimental poetry, that is, exploring new ways to express an old form. I began by creating visual poems on the page as well as combining poetry with performance art. When I produced my first “videopoem” in 1978, I was a member of an artist-run gallery, the Vehicule Art Gallery in Montreal, where I was witnessing the advancements in painting, in installation and performance art, in graphic, multi-media and video art, so it was almost natural for me to experiment with video. I no longer saw poetry as limited to the printed page. Over the years, I produced numerous videopoems, which led me eventually into the video production field, where I began writing and producing documentaries, as well as other commercial work.

These days I am in the process of completing my research on materials for an examination of videopoetry (or filmpoems, as they were referred to in an earlier time). I began producing videopoems in 1978; now more than 30 years later, I find myself teaching a course in “Word and Image” at the University of the Fraser Valley here in BC, Canada. For the past 2 years, I have travelled to various archives in Berlin, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Toronto, taking notes on the work I encountered, eventually arriving at a workable definition and five main categories of the genre.

Videopoetry is a genre of poetry displayed on a screen, distinguished by its time-based, poetic juxtaposition of text with images and sound. In the measured blending of these 3 elements, it produces in the viewer the realization of a poetic experience.

The poetic juxtaposition of the elements implies an appreciation of the weight and reach of each element; the method is analogous to the poet’s process of selecting just-the-right word or phrase and positioning these in a concentrated “vertical” pattern.

To differentiate it from other forms of cinema, the principal function of a videopoem is to demonstrate the process of thought and the simultaneity of experience, expressed in words — visible and/or audible — whose meaning is blended with but not illustrated by the images.

***

In its early stages, “poetry film” used text to illustrate the soundtrack (for example, the vocal performance of a poem whose text is simultaneously presented on the screen) or illustrated the text with images which are easily identifiable with their verbal references. It has also been used to describe recorded performances at poetry readings and, in many cases, music videos with poetic elements.

***

There are 5 principal forms of videopoetry, including a combination of any of these:

KINETIC TEXT
VISUAL TEXT
SOUND TEXT
PERFORMANCE
CIN(E)POETRY

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. image as text.

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. Some poets will mimic the MTV-music video style of presentation.

CIN(E)POETRY is the videopoem 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.

***

In addition to image and sound, text is THE essential “element” or raw material of a videopoem, implying a differentiation from the ‘poetic film’ which relies, almost exclusively, on the visual treatment — the composition and editing of the images — in contradistinction to its verbal treatment. Indeed, the text, whether displayed on the screen or heard on the soundtrack of a videopoem, need not be an appropriation of a previously published poem.

What differentiates videopoems from poetry-films today is the use of non-poetic texts to effect the experience of a poem — my interpretation of Maya Deren’s “verticality” — in which the text, when extracted and examined as an independent element, can not be identified as “poetry”. The poetry is the RESULT of the juxtaposed, blended use of text with imagery and sound.

Tom Konyves

Born in Budapest, based in Montreal until 1983, Tom Konyves is one of the original seven poets dubbed The Vehicule Poets; his work is distinguished by Dadaist/Surrealist/experimental writings, performance works and “videopoems”.

In 1978, he coined the term videopoetry to describe his multimedia work, and is considered to be one of the original pioneers of the form. He is the author of “Videopoetry: A Manifesto”, published on Sept. 6, 2011.

As one of the leading theorists of the genre of videopoetry – his Manifesto was reposted in numerous blogs, including W.J.T. Mitchell’s Critical Inquiry, and to date has been accessed by readers in 51 countries – he has been invited to address festivals, conferences and symposia in Buenos Aires, Berlin, New York, London and Amsterdam, among others.

Since 2006, he has been teaching screenwriting, video production, journalism and creative visual writing courses at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

16 Comments

  1. Tom, thanks for sharing these thoughts. I very much admire not only your zeal for this genre, which I share, but also the way you’ve changed and expanded your definition over time to accommodate more of what people are producing. Even still, I think there are closely related genres that remain outside your summary here, and perhaps that’s as it should be. But I am wondering whether, for example, the Performance category could be expanded to include films of interpretative dances? There are so many high-quality examples of this sub-genre on the web now, I’ve created a separate category for it at the main site: here. Anne Carson’s sonnet series is especially interesting to me because of the active collaboration of the poet with the videographer, Sadie Wilcox, and the three Merce Cunningham dancers. Another, very popular way in which poems are posted to YouTube and other video-sharing sites is what I call the video slideshow: still images of the text of the poem or illustrations of its content, with a reading as the soundtrack. These might not be too interesting in general, but occasionally they can juxtapose images and text in a true gestalt, which I think you’re correct in identifiying as the goal — if not always the reality — of videopoetry.

    I’m also wondering about the influence, historic or on-going, of video installations on videopoetry. Since I live out in the sticks and rarely visit a city, I have little notion of what video artists are up to these days aside from what I read online, whcih indicates that video installations are taking over the art museums. I get the impression that some of the same artists creating installations are also making videopoems, and that a sort of hybrid medium exists: videos created specifically as backdrops or perhaps rivals to live poetry readings. Indeed, I’ve begun to give some thought myself to how I might better incorporate video into my next live reading, aside from just turning the lights out and projecting some of my videopoems on the wall.

    Another thought is that I really ought to expand the Concrete Poetry category at Moving Poems to include kinetic text videos, since as you suggest these seem at times pretty closely related. Film students also use the term “motion graphics” quite a bit in lieu of, or in addition to, “kinetic text.” Until now I’ve lumped these in with animation, since that tends to be how their makers regard them. Perhaps the animation-live action distinction isn’t as important — or even always as possible! — as I tend to think.

    • “I am wondering whether, for example, the Performance category could be expanded to include films of interpretative dances?”
      Of the five categories, PERFORMANCE is still the most problematic. My dilemma begins with the nature of the images presented in a videopoem. I was not the first to demand that the visual element not illustrate the text (displayed or voiced). Essentially, it was a question of demystification; images – of the “real” world – tend to describe, but also to explain (break down not break open) the moment we are presented with. (What I always loved about poetry was its power of suggestion, how words/sounds/text could transport us into experiencing the marvelous, whether it was unexpected emotions or perceptions of a conceptual truth that would leave us so astounded that we would have to reread the poem to trace the clever strategies of the writer.)
      Early attempts at integrating poetry and film were, as you may expect, illustrations of popular poems; the text of the poem was used as the script for the film. These “literal” interpretations would bring a new audience to poetry but did little to advance the evolution of a new integrated form of poetry and film. The access to and affordability of video technology enabled entire poetry readings to be recorded, mostly for archival purposes. My own experience with video began thus in the late ‘70s when I organized a series of poetry readings and decided to record the poets’ performances. I would press record/play then sit down. Sometimes I got up and “zoomed in”. Later, I would “zoom out”. Fade to black.
      Coincidentally, I was also seeing the beginnings of video “art”, performance art, installations, etc., the new forms which we assumed were defining who we were and what we were ‘all about’. I began working with video to express my poems, a new medium for a new “kind” of poetry. I instinctively knew that visual treatment was critical, that there must be a symbiotic relationship between text and image.
      Which brings me to the interpretative dance videos. Videopoetry is foremost a work to be screened; of the 24 videos tagged “Dance”, most are documentations of performances. These performances were created/produced for a live audience, not for screening as video works. However, the visual treatment in these works – not the content of the frame, which is pleasing, to watch dancers perform to a recorded soundtrack of a poem being recited is most often pleasing – the visual treatment is non-existent. The camera-view is no more than a cycloptic pursuer of action, a faithful recorder of a performance meant for a live audience – not for us. It is no different from a video recording of ANY live event. In a videopoem, we are always aware of (working with) the frame; it constrains and defines the image, the creator’s point-of-view. The challenge facing the artist/videopoet is to select just-the-right-image to juxtapose with the text and soundtrack – to create a “suspension of disbelief”, to avoid the viewer’s recognition that the camera operator is in the first row of the balcony, “zooming in” and “zooming out”. The “two-camera switched” method is no better solution.
      “The Edge” by Josephine Jacobsen is a step in the right direction but the echo of her voice reminds us that she is in a studio with imperfect acoustics. The Anne Carson poems use interesting low-angle composition but I still can’t ignore the studio lighting (it’s perfect and, as such, noticeable). Donna Kuhn’s treatment – visual and sound treatment – of Dana Guthrie Martin’s poem can be considered a perfectly valid (alas, low-res) example of videopoetry. (I came across her videopoem “As You” on the Poetry Visualized website a couple of years ago and noted her interest in dance; it’s quite a smorgasbord of imagery but also has a powerful multi-layered soundtrack.)
      I should mention some PERFORMANCE category works which managed to “suspend” my disbelief: John Giorno’s “Just Say No To Family Values”, (2005); Kurt Heintz’ “H.O.D.” (1992); Anne Waldman’s “Plutonium” (1982); Patricia Smith’s “Undertaker” (1995) and “Chinese Cucumbers” (1994); Henry Hills’ “Kino-Da” (1981); Sheri-D Wilson’s “Airplane Paula” (2001) and “The Panty Portal” (2008) and, of course, the original, Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965).
      “I get the impression that some of the same artists creating installations are also making videopoems…” I doubt it.
      “Indeed, I’ve begun to give some thought myself to how I might better incorporate video into my next live reading, aside from just turning the lights out and projecting some of my videopoems on the wall.”
      It’s always a good idea to add a visual element to a reading. Make the video “ambient” and be sure to time your reading with the video, because Charles Bernstein says poetry is “all about timing”.

  2. It was also interesting to read your older piece on The Vehicle Poets site. E.g.:

    For the longest time, I have wrestled with the definition and poetic was not a frivolous or facile use of the word. “Combination”, “integration”, “fusion”, even “marriage” (Heather Haley’s term) are the usual words employed to describe the presence of the three elements. What initially motivated my search for a better definition was the problem I had with the evaluation of how these 3 elements contributed to the experience one could call poetic. It was only my experience/practice of the form that suggested “juxtaposition” and later, “judicious blending” – as a measure of success (or failure). I often compare the practice to a form of “juggling” text, image and sound, whereby the artist/videopoet sustains the poetic experience.

    “Marriage” appeals to me, but then I’ve never been married. “Juxtaposition” is certainly more clinical.

    • I have been thinking about these things:

      “To differentiate it from other forms of cinema, the principal function of a videopoem is to demonstrate the process of thought and the simultaneity of experience, expressed in words — visible and/or audible — whose meaning is blended with but not illustrated by the images.”
      The challenge facing the artist/videopoet is to select just-the-right-image to juxtapose with the text and soundtrack – to create a “suspension of disbelief”, to avoid the viewer’s recognition that the camera operator is in the first row of the balcony, “zooming in” and “zooming out”. The “two-camera switched” method is no better solution.
      “The Edge” by Josephine Jacobsen is a step in the right direction but the echo of her voice reminds us that she is in a studio with imperfect acoustics. The Anne Carson poems use interesting low-angle composition but I still can’t ignore the studio lighting (it’s perfect and, as such, noticeable).

      Am I right that your aesthetic here is one of non-artistry? Why would videopoetry be obligated to appear spontaneous? One can certainly achieve gestalt with careful craftsmanship.

        • “has it in for you”? On the contrary, my respect and admiration for Heather Haley as poet, media artist, curator, promoter, has only grown since I’ve known her. For more than a decade – given limited financial resources – Heather has championed the dissemination of videopoetry and is unequalled in her determination to raise the profile of the genre. My misquote should never be mistaken for anything other than simply that – a misquote.

          “Wedding” is a better word, implying an act, not an institution.

  3. Well… this is getting interesting.

    Tom: Just a quick note about Cin(e)poetry. You should add there the interactive element.
    I think that was one of the ideas Aguilar had when he came up with that term as he wanted to separate (termically speaking) from “normal” videopoetry. Haven’t seen these yet but I thinks it’s just a matter of time.

    And Dave:
    “Indeed, I’ve begun to give some thought myself to how I might better incorporate video into my next live reading, aside from just turning the lights out and projecting some of my videopoems on the wall.”

    –> go and have look at London Poetry System’s stuff. They have A/V artist with them when they perform poetry,

    –> And to continue from here: I am thinking of a way to make a live videopoetry “reading”, which means that with the help of VJ software and some musicians it would be possible to create a live videopoem to be performed at a club or where ever… One could call it improvised videopoem. So many thing are possible now a days. And for videopoets I really think that the new consuming gadgets (like the iPad) will get us closer to the audience, the people who consume art, books, poetry… and they also give us new possibilities as we already have a way to make ebooks that includes video/audio/animation.

    Get back to you later with more time…

    -JP

  4. Thank you Tom, Dave, and JP for the interesting analysis. I have just published Cache Girl Saves the World: A Novel in Visions. As the term “novel in visions” implies, this DVD combines audio of myself and other actors reading the text of the novel with still photos that depict some of the action of the novel. Some of the photos are concrete, and are meant to be literal representations of the characters, places, and events being described, while other photos are more abstract, meant to engage and stimulate the viewer’s imagination in the way a traditional print novel does. Unlike with most films made from novels, there is no condensation of the plot of the novel and no editing/rewriting of dialogue. Instead, you get every word of the novel: every internal thought of the narrator, every exchange of dialogue, spoken by myself and the other actors involved. Nothing is cut, not a word is lost. More info about Cache Girl Saves the World is available at my website: http://www.adamestone.com. Included there is a link to the IMDb listing for the novel in visions, where you can view 3 short excerpts from it.

  5. At the end of next week, “See The Voice: Visible Verse” will celebrate its 10th anniversary with 2 evenings of screenings as well as a panel discussion (which I will be participating in). The moderator has asked for the bios of the panelists so she can “prepare some juicy questions.”

    Any thoughts on the big questions facing videopoetry today?

    • I guess the biggest question in my mind concerns the on-going spread of digital videography and the popularity of free video-upload sites such as YouTube. An online friend who majored in film 20 years ago recently made a few videopoems and marveled at the ease of it: a project that would’ve taken weeks back then now takes days or even hours, and costs almost nothing to produce. What does the online digital video revolution mean for videopoetry? Well, for one thing, it’s giving it a lot more visibility. Those of us in remote, rural areas can keep up with, and even contribute to, what used to be a pretty esoteric art form. And thanks primarily to Facebook, certain videopoems have gone viral and logged over a million views, so filmmakers can reach much larger audiences now. My hope is that the rapid proliferation of poetry videos on the web will also help bring new audiences to poetry in general, but that remains to be seen. Also, as videopoetry goes mainstream, what does that mean for the more avant-garde pioneers of the genre such as yourself? Do you worry about more serious work being drowned in a sea of mediocrity?

  6. In my view, mediocrity in videopoetry is that which does not advance the genre.

    Our precursors, D.W.Griffith (whose adaptation of poems served as scripts/intertitles for many of his early short films ) and Marcel Duchamp (whose non-referential use of language in a visual medium produced a new context for a poetic experience), suggested markedly different paths for the integration of word and image that would culminate in two forms of filmpoems or videopoems: illustrative and non-illustrative. Narrative and anti-narrative.

    While narrative or illustrative videopoems have served to advance the genre of poetry in no small measure (many excellent poems have reached a wider audience than their print origins), these works do not define a new genre of poetry; their appeal is the demystification of a poem, a comforting series of images directly related to the text of a previously composed series of words.

    Non-illustrative videopoems propose new, complex relationships between words and images — and sound, of course, whose illustrative or non-illustrative use should also be considered — wherein poetry is created from the unexpected collision of text, image and sound; it is a new “genre” of poetry that can only be experienced in its integrated form. If we were to dissect this new form of poetry, we should not find the poem in any of its elements; it exists only in the juxtaposition of its elements.
    .

  7. A fascinating discussion. Re: dance, I was reminded of Jackson Mac Low’s collaborations with his modern dancer daugher. I will check with his wife Anne Tardos and Poet’s House in NYC to see if they might share with us any video they might documenting these performance. On the film side, I will contact Jonas Mekas and the Anthology Film archives (I’m particularly interested in his own work as a foremost Lithuanian poet for whom film seemed an extension of his earlier lyrical textual documentaries). I have also invited Richard Kostelanetz to join in this discussion to share his long experience across the kinetic/visual/sound part of this spectrum.

  8. Dear Tom!
    Translating now your article into Russian. In this regard, we have to ask you. Could you, for clarity, to provide us links to the five videos (which illustrate each of the forms of videopoetry)?

  9. Here are examples from the 5 categories—

    If videopoetry is the interaction of three elements, or modes of expression, i.e. text, image and sound, Kinetic Text includes those works in which the text appropriates to itself the role of the image; it is a concrete-poem-inspired assertion that words (also letters and punctuation marks) can signify additional meanings by virtue of their appearance. It is also a controlled reading experience, self-reflexive in its presentation of rhythmic motion (accelerated/decelerated) and on-screen duration while always in contact with a counterpointed soundtrack.

    By definition, the title of a work is the dominion of text. W. Mark Sutherland’s parentheses present an alternate reading of ‘what is to follow’; the emphasis is on the function of the visual characteristics of the text – its shape, color and motion – intensifying the emotional content (AIDS) in the resulting poem.
    ##
    Kinetic Text:

    (Visual) Aids, W. Mark Sutherland, CAN, 1993
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnqjR2YvIA8&feature=youtu.be

    I prefer to differentiate text in a videopoem from its poetry.

    Poetry in a videopoem happens when text, image and sound converge in a particular way. It’s entirely different from what we commonly refer to as poetry (read at our leisure or hearing a poem read). It cannot be simply a vehicle for the perfect, written, printed, published poem that is already complete-in-itself.

    A videopoem enables words (displayed or voiced) to discover a new meaning when encountering the image or series of images – whose meaning also changes in the very moment of that encounter. It is in the demonstration of these new relationships that the poetry of a videopoem emerges; separating the elements, we should be able to perceive the incompleteness, the as-yet unrealized significance of each of the elements. Perhaps this is the reason that images of/from nature – a picture-perfect landscape, a stand of trees, the sun or moon through branches, a waterfall, a running stream – can become problematic in the pursuit of collaboration with the text. The collaborative property of an element – text, image or sound – will always reside in the degree of its incompleteness.

    The skill displayed in a videopoem is directly proportional to the discovery of purposeful yet surprising relationships between its elements. The significance of an image may not become apparent until it is brought into juxtaposition with a particular text. The viewer should be able to identify the significance of such a juxtaposition as an authentic, one-of-a-kind discovery, one where no other image could have been used.

    The links below should demonstrate the operation of text in the following environments: Visual Text, wherein the text is displayed on the screen; Sound Text, wherein the text is voiced (it should be noted that in Hubert Sielecki’s Unequal Brothers, the subtitles inadvertently display text where none was intended – multiple views, with and without the subtitles, may be necessary to appreciate the original work); Performance, wherein the text is voiced on-camera (the juxtaposition of the performance with its visual context/location/perspective); and Cin(e)poetry, wherein the visual element is significantly altered by digital means.

    Of course, the aesthetic value of any videopoem is in the ‘eye of the beholder’. When I first watched these videopoems, my first reaction was “the surprise and joy of finding oneself in front of a new thing.” (Pierre Reverdy)

    Visual Text:

    Splitting Image, Valerie LeBlanc, CAN, 2009
    https://vimeo.com/12363074

    Sound Text:

    Unequal Brothers, Hubert Sielecki, Austria 2007
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axG346z5b4w

    Performance:

    Just Say NO to Family Values, John Giorno, US, 2005
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uX2ChhMiOmk

    Cin(e)poetry:

    Snow Queen, Machine Libertine, Natalia Federova, Taras Mashtalir, Russia, 2011
    http://vimeo.com/33995333

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