It turns out
Martha McCollough, 2012
Several things about Martha McCollough’s work delight me. Her voice and reading style for one. Voice, where it is used, is almost overridingly important for me, and if vocals are off, the whole film is off. Martha’s voice and reading style carry her work superbly. I also love her double- or triple- (or more) narration style, where you frequently have the voice carrying one narrative thread, the kinetic text carrying another, and the visuals a third. You feel that text is an actual character in her films. I also enjoy how she plays around with vocals, using repetition, chorus, and other vocal effects. She has a great sense of humor! Check out Mr Lucky’s Jackpot for a more straightforward combination of her different techniques.
The Polish Language
Alice Lyons and Orla Mc Hardy, 2009
At eight minutes, this is far longer than my usual optimum video poem length (ideally, less than two minutes, three approaches a stretch…), but is so finely and imaginatively made that one instantly forgives. Again, kinetic text as character and dynamic role-player/narrator, but presented here in a truly fantastic variety of form. Background vocals only (as a separate non-English narration track — nothing obviously duplicating the text) and a wonderful mix of individual/chorus vocals, intermittent sound effect, intermittent tuneful piano, and (most of all) intermittent silence. So beautiful and moving.
Maria Elena Doyle, 2011
All my favorite elements here: kinetic text that plays as a dynamic character in the overall audio-visual story, marvelous visuals that combine regular video footage with animation, and nice vocals towards the end. Based on the poem “Rain” by Maori poet Hone Tuwhare. Poem text here.
Thomas Freundlich, Lumikinos Production & Art Slow, 2012
This short dance film is based on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 44. It’s an imaginative remix of a classic, and one that assumes audience familiarity with the original text. So rather than presenting the text in the usual linear, pedestrian format, the film-maker incorporates it in a dynamic, fragmentary fashion, so that it participates by inference, almost, and again, as a live character in the piece.
A Word Made Flesh
Eliza Fitzhugh, 2010
As Dave Bonta said at Moving Poems, this is “a fascinating linguistic deconstruction of the poet’s lines … The multiple accents should remind us that now more than ever, with the advent of the web, Dickinson’s poetry belongs to the world.” Poem text here. No particular visuals or film-making talent to admire in this one, but what pleases me is the word play, in every sense of the phrase, where both text and vocal versions of the word are presented and re-presented in shifting and re-shifting form. A sort of philological Greek chorus, moving the overall narrative forward with clever diversions and rest stops.
Tongue of the Hidden
David Alexander Anderson, 2007
Mysterious and beautiful, love poems of Hafez read in the original Persian, with illustration and animation based in Persian calligraphy. This is over five minutes in length, and as far as I can tell contains two poems, one that starts about 40 seconds in and a second that starts around the three-minute mark. I’m including the Persian version below. If you prefer to hear the same narrator read the poems in English, go here.
Instructions to Hearing Persons Desiring a Deaf Man
Raymond Luczak, 2014
I find this video extraordinarily moving. Again, no film-making virtuosity to admire, just a very talented and convincing poem performance by Raymond Luczak. I frequently rant on about reading poetry aloud for an audience at Voice Alpha, and for me, what is transformative about that act — what makes a poem and your relationship to it qualitatively different — is the act of putting the poem into your body, the physicalization of the poem in preparation for presenting it to an audience. This video gets at the same idea from a different perspective altogether — just beautiful to watch. And if you have a minute, take a look at this video from Sarah Rushford. The subjects close their eyes and recite lines from memory, to intriguing and convincing effect. Once more, I see the transformative effect of putting a poem into the body.
Kristian Pedersen, 2012
Over at Voice Alpha I am building a collection of readers I call ‘musical readers.’ People who, while they read poetry aloud for an audience, appear to hear an internal music which both guides and manifests itself in their reading. Cin Salach and Carl Sandburg are my favorite examples of this phenomenon. It manifests itself charmingly here in the voice of the Norwegian poet, Aina Villanger, who does the reading for this delightful videopoem. I love the spare imaginative use of simple abstract shapes and a minimal color palette to play out the action in the poem, marching perfectly along with the reading.
Scott Wenner (animation) and Motionpoems, 2011
I am not usually intrigued by or particularly drawn to Motionpoems‘ poetry films, as they generally tend, in my view, to be fairly literal visual interpretations of the text poem they engage. I also find their vocal tracks are often not quite ‘there.’ Not this one though — it’s pretty much perfect in every way. A dissonance that somehow really works between the text narrative by Dag Straumsåg and the visual narrative. That moth, that spider. The drum, the piano, the synthesizer. And that wonderful voice with its fabulous reading. Each element spare and solitary, but somehow they are all necessarily attached to each other. (Maybe the one thing I would have changed had I been in charge would have been to not snap the spider web at the very end…)
Fernando Lazzari, 2013
Kinetic text once more (this time in celebration of an actual specific typeface). I really like the reliance on text alone as the narrator and the fact that the film-maker does not feel the need to run duplicative vocal narration alongside the text presentation, as too often happens in kinetic text productions. Wonderful graphics. Very clever idea to present a city as the ‘stage’ for this segment of a Jorge Luis Borges poem, upon and across which the text ‘actor’ performs its dynamic role.
See five more poetry videos that didn’t quite make this list at Nic’s blog, Very Like a Whale. —Ed.