Poetryfilmkanal have just launched a new series of short, guest-contributed commentaries on “the fascination of poetry-film,” beginning with the Canadian videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. I found his essay, “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen,” admirably clear and precise. He begins by discussing semantics, anticipating, I think the usual objection from British and German commentators that film is a better word than video.
Man Ray’s »cinépoème« and Maya Deren’s »filmpoem« sang the praises of film at a time when commercial/entertainment ventures first threatened the aesthetic potential of the new art form of film; it was not about exploring a new form for poetry. In the early ’80s, William C. Wees recognized that the use of poems had become prevalent in short films; he differentiated these »poetry-films« from »film poems«, i.e. poetic films, including films without words. Substituting »video« for »film« effectively deflected the »mystique« of celluloid from the conversation.
Konyves also suggests that terms in which poetry follow rather than precede film- or video- are preferable if you want to give primacy to the poetry rather than to the film. This is certainly true for English, where word-order plays a key role in semantics. Given how international and multilingual poetry-film and videopoetry have become, however, I think it’s incumbent on all of us who think critically about the genre(s) to try to understand how a poetry-first or film-first emphasis might best be expressed in each language.
In the second part of the essay, Konyves strikes a distinctly conciliatory, even ecumenical tone for someone best known in recent years for a manifesto:
Similarly, not all texts, including written-poems, can be expected to produce a desired new meaning when juxtaposed with images. If the written-poem was originally perfect, it would not need to be completed with images. Yet videos are made to promote these written-poems and are most worthwhile; otherwise these poems would not reach a wide public. Their »meaning« is not intended to change nor will it change in a visual context.
I’m not sure I agree that there’s such a thing as a perfect, finished poem, and therefore I like to imagine that it might be possible for a true videopoem to be made with any poetic text. But that’s kind of an absolutist position, I guess, and could easily be used to devalue films/videos that are simply made to promote poems, rather than recognizing them as equally worthwhile as Konyves does.
Brief as it is, I found the essay thought-provoking. Regular visitors to Moving Poems won’t be surprised to hear that I very much agree with Konyves’ over-all emphasis on videopoetry as poetry. My own, upcoming essay in this series will be much sloppier in its terminology, I’m afraid. In part, that’s because of my role as a blogger/curator rather than a theorist or critic: I tend to accept whatever terms poets and filmmakers themselves use for their creations. But I do fear that my use of “videopoetry” as the catch-all category at Moving Poems has muddied things a bit.
Fortunately, we have Tom Konyves to step forward periodically and clarify things as only he can. Go read.