Recent talks on filmpoetry and videopoetry: Alan Fentiman, Tony Williams, Ross Sutherland, Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas

Terra Incognita: Mapping the Filmpoem is a beautifully shot conversation between filmmaker Alan Fentiman and poet Tony Williams. Two years ago, they collaborated on a documentary about the link between walking and poetic inspiration called Roam to Write, which is also very worth watching. As for Terra Incognita,

This film paper was shown at the “Topographies: places to find something” conference at Bristol University on 15th May 2015.

This is the beginning of an ongoing discussion. We would welcome any comments or suggestions for other film poems to look at. [link added]

And here’s a very different talk: Ross Sutherland‘s Thirty Poems / Thirty Videos: End of Residency wrap-up for The Poetry School. I’ve been sharing some of those videos at the main site, but you can watch them all in chronological order at the Poetry School blog or in reverse chronological order at Sutherland’s Tumblr.

It’s instructive to compare these two videos. Right away, the difference in production values should clue us in to the gulf that separates these two aesthetic philosophies. Fentiman is a trained filmmaker, as shown by the care taken even to coordinate their wardrobe with the background, while Sutherland’s vlog-style video seems relatively unpremeditated and completely unedited, with the annoying result that the sound and picture get badly out of sync by the end of it. But Sutherland’s background as a maker of poetry videos is in literal videotape:

So in some respects, the aesthetic differences between these two talks, both in their style and in their substance, can be ascribed to the distinction between poetry film and videopoetry often drawn by Tom Konyves, for example in his recent essay, “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen“:

The way I see it, the writer who uses “poetry film” automatically designates the work as more film than poetry. I myself began to create what I called “videopoems” when I was more a poet than a video artist, so I naturally considered these works as “poetry”.

However, it’s not quite that simple, because none of these gentlemen seems quite ready to think of a film or a video as a poem per se; some of Sutherland’s videos are mere illustrations of pre-existing texts, while Fentiman and Williams speak favorably of Alastair Cook’s Filmpoem model, which goes part-way toward Konyves in its embrace of the centrality of poetic juxtaposition of images and text. But most interesting of all, I think, is the fact that the talks converge in emphasizing the positive results that can come from working ekphrastically: starting with film footage or found video and writing a text in response. So more than anything, I think, the differences here reflect a difference in venue and audience. Sutherland is making web videos for a younger audience weaned on YouTube remixes, vlogging, and live performance poetry, while Fentiman and Williams are oriented toward the film world with its focus on art houses and festivals, and perhaps share a preference for more mainstream, page-poetry.

Incidentally, for those who’d like to see Sutherland in person, there are still tickets available for the second run of his Standby For Tape Back-Up performance at London’s Soho Theatre, July 6-11.

Bridging the gap between these two talks is a third pair of talks given by Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas in late April at the Galerie Sans Nom in Moncton, New Brunswick, as part of the Text(e) Image Beat videopoetry exhibition. These however are available not in video form but as a PDF. LeBlanc alludes to the influence of yet another audience and medium: television.

Creators are now presenting their texts visually and / or performing their poems. Many have realized that messages can be effectively conveyed using the multimodal character of video poetry. Similarly to advertisements created for marketing campaigns, these works are characteristically short, less than 5 minutes in duration. You have probably all seen the new ads that read like poetry, drawing you into new lifestyles through product placement. Picture the mood and a message without the bottom line and you might be closer to the concept of video poetry.

She goes on to say:

While many of the historical examples of text(e) / image / beat used in combination do come from advertising / product placement / war propaganda, the tools and techniques out there for relaying messages have become highly accessible for artist use in this new century. In the late 1990’s when access to digital tools opened up, artists stepped in to embrace the possibilities for expanding their use. While New Media currently tends to imply experimental computer programming, video use in storytelling continues to hold interest.

Whether working with images, text and sound or all three, these media tools offer the possibility of bringing something that has escaped from the marketing machine we are all rolling with, and sometimes under. It is the possibility for impacting an internal change through a product that is not defined by its bottom line. It might be through ideas embedded in a world apart from imagined clichés. It might be an opportunity to change the pace, which at times might be useful for resetting the clock.

Do read the whole thing. Brief as it is, her talk opens up new avenues for thinking about videopoetry, at least for me.

As for Dugas’ talk, “DONNER UN SENS AU MONDE ENTIER,” I don’t know French, so I’m not entirely sure what he said, but I gather from Google Translate that there’s some emphasis on the influence of video art, the relationship with political and environmental activism, and the central role of the digital revolution. His conclusion:

Lorsque j’ai commencé à écrire de la poésie, j’ai aussi commencé à expérimenter avec le super-8, créant des bandes sonores en direct pour mes films. Le mélange du texte, de l’image et de la musique semblait une opération naturelle, mais aussi magique. Il ne s’agissait pas seulement d’un va-et-vient entre le texte, l’image et le son : la nouvelle entité devenait une traverse pour découvrir quelque chose de nouveau. Nous savons maintenant que l’espace entre les disciplines est fragile, que les murs sont maintenant pénétrables et nous sommes reconnaissants pour cette évolution des choses. Nous pouvons enfin voyager d’un genre à un autre pour essayer de donner un sens au monde entier.

[When I began to write poetry, I also started to experiment with super-8, creating soundtracks live for my films. The mixture of text, image and music seemed a natural process, but also magical. It was not just a back-and-forth between text, image and sound: the new entity became a crossbar for discovering something new. We know now that the space between disciplines is fragile, the walls are now penetrable, and we are thankful for this evolution of things. We can finally travel from one genre to another to try to make sense of the world as a whole.]

Dave Bonta

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.

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