Tom Konyves, Kristian Pedersen and Nicholas Bertini at Poetryfilmkanal

Poetryfilmkanal, the Weimar-based website that also produces an annual print Poetry Film Magazine, has posted three new essays in English over the past month. First, the Italian author and animator Nicholas Bertini described the making of his experimental work in New Alphabets:

Encoding and decoding signs and shapes is the main focus of the research behind my work. It’s legitimate to say that communication is based on an alphabet, or better many alphabets, that lead back to writing. But what happens if, instead of a blank sheet having width and height, we have one including the dimension of time? Paradoxically a blank sheet that erases the hic et nunc of a mark, or that can contain hundreds or thousands.

Here shapes and signs, besides appearing in their two-dimensionality can mutate over time, allowing a level of communication that writing as we know it can not transmit. That’s what interests me in my research: the possibility to communicate through signs that can be decoded as new alphabets, thus including movement as part of the alphabet, like a sign or word.

In this process traditional writing is not left aside, there’s no intention to discredit or surpass it. Instead I find myself mixing this two languages, morphing and fusing them together.

On September 3, the prominent videopoet and theorist Tom Konyves weighed in with some Talking Points, which are divided into three sections: “Terms of service”; “Illustration and the function of the image”; and “Performance and the function of the poet’s body on screen”. Konyves’ points are well illustrated with embedded videos. I thought his consideration of literal interpretation in poetry film vs. the more allusive approach of videopoetry proper was especially interesting:

To convey a clear, unambiguous meaning of a pre-existing poem, the most effective visual approach an artist can take is a literal interpretation. While it presents a coherent relationship between word and image, any content on the image-track that is a direct representation of key words in the poem is bound to alert the viewer to a world view that values order, harmony and singular meanings.

Interviewed for BBC’s Sunday Feature: Crossing the Border – Poetry and Film, Alastair Cook commented on his 2013 filmpoem, Lifted, based on the poet Jo Bell’s experience at Lock 30 of the Trent & Mersey Canal, one of a series of canal-themed poems commissioned by the Canal & River Trust: »There is a literalness in this … I am visually illustrating what she is talking about,« which he then qualifies with »but very quietly, very much in the background.« In the background of the work, we can hear Jo Bell’s voice reciting the poem. It is accompanied by a series of (well-composed) shots at Lock 30: the canal, the water, the lock gates closing, close-up of the water, back to the lock gate, back to the water, extreme close-up of the lock gate, back to water, an extreme close-up tilt on the gate, back to water, back to the canal … This series of »establishing« shots does indeed convey the background to Bell’s poem. The shots say simply, quietly, Here. Here is where the poet gathered her observations and subsequently wrote the poem. Without ambiguity, the images connect the viewer with the spatial references in the poem. Jo Bell’s poem comes through unchanged, loud and clear. You have only to listen.

On the other hand, the world view revealed through a »metaphorical lens« cannot accept a coherent, orderly universe. Its approach takes for its subject the critique of conventional word-image associations, organizing its elements – in this genre by enlisting the image-track as the »dominant« element – to make associations surprising and »strange«, to be open to multiple interpretations of these associations and, most importantly, to use the unstable nature of language (the ambiguities in the text) to help us experience a videopoem in a new, playful, indirect way.

And most recently, the Norwegian animator Kristian Pedersen has a craft essay up, Graphic listening — “Visualizing The Bøyg: About my tribute to Oskar Fischingers concept of visual music in my film Bøygen (2016).” Pedersen has always been one of my favorite poetry animators, so it was great to read — and see, thanks to the copious illustrations — where one particular animation of his came from.

When making films tied to poetry or prose, I find abstraction to be a successful vessel. Like music, it can connect directly to emotion, and facilitate individual experience. I always turn to history of visual music – these works of art, some of them close to a century old, still stand as monuments of inspiration. The masters of abstract cinema paved such a vast area of experimentation, and stunningly beautiful works, there is always something new to learn from them. In every case, I always come back to Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967).*

This was especially significant with my visual music short Bøygen of 2016: From deep in the misty Norwegian mountains comes the unnerving sense of numbing apathy. This is The Boyg, in old Norwegian folklore known as a large, invisible serpent that seem to surround you and suggests you avoid challenges. Made famous by playwright Henrik Ibsen, the Boyg is today a term for a formless obstacle; lack of initiative, creeping anxiety or a problem difficult to untangle.

To express an abstract idea with an abstract visual language was a labyrinth of trial and error. But a successful marriage of sound and image can open a doorway directly into the synapses. Research for this project covered both ancient Norwegian folklore and film history. The starting point was a journey to the Center of Visual Music in February 2015.

Fascinating stuff. Do click through and read all three essays.

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.