Doing videopoetry live, karaoke-style

I have an essay up at Voice Alpha, a group blog about reading poetry alive for an audience, on the unique challenges and rewards of doing a live reading accompanied by “karaoke” versions of videopoems — videopoems from which the poem has been stripped. I began by discussing a terrific example of this kind of performance which I’d been lucky enough to see this summer at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland — the inspiration for my own first venture into videopoem karaoke this past Wednesday. Here’s part of what I concluded:

There was simply no question that I’d have to practice my ass off for a couple of days in advance, reading the poems over and over while the videos played in a VLC playlist on my laptop. With regular poetry readings, practice might seem optional (at least to poets who don’t read this site), but with audiovisual accompaniment, you have to come in on cue or the whole thing flops. I had assumed the screen would be behind me and prepared accordingly, but with it situated to my right, I didn’t have to glance exclusively at my laptop for visual cues.

Complete memorization of the poems would not have been a bad thing, much as I resist internalizing my own words to that degree. I wouldn’t have had to fumble with a book and set list, and possibly could’ve engaged more with the audience. However, with the audience focused on the screen, what really mattered was my vocal delivery, not eye contact. And with the accompanying music being generally melodic and at points down-right funky, it took off the pressure to give an absolutely flawless reading. So in a way, this approach offers a bit of a crutch to those of us (95% of poets?) who are not highly skilled performers.

There’s nothing like a live reading to improve one’s delivery, though. I had been afraid that the necessity to sync up my reading with prerecorded music and images might make for kind of a mechanical delivery, but I don’t think that happened. In fact, for some of the poems in the set, I found myself reading in a more intense, impassioned style than I used when I’d recorded myself alone in a quiet bedroom for the online versions of the videopoems. And since I had to pay close attention to the music for many of my cues, I think this approach actually improved my over-all sense of timing and rhythm.

I’d love to hear impressions from other poets who have given audio-visually enhanced readings. I know of quite a few.

Dave is the founder of Moving Poems, and posts videos for his own poems (along with lots of other stuff) at Via Negativa. Here's a bio.