Atticus Review is one of a small number of poetry journals worldwide that regularly features videopoetry as part of its online presence. Edited by David Olimpio, it has been published from the USA since 2010, gathering a large readership. Videos are featured in the ‘mixed media‘ section, edited by Matt Mullins, a maker of outstanding videopoems himself. Many interesting hybrids of poetry and video have appeared there since this kind of work became part of Atticus in 2011. Towards the end of 2018, the announcement was made that the journal would for the first time stage a videopoetry contest, and calls for entries went out internationally. I was honoured to be invited to judge via the internet, from where I live in Queensland, Australia.
By the submissions deadline in early December, 115 poetry videos from different parts of the world had been sent to us. It was a pleasure to view all the work. I found quality in most of it. In fact, as a film-maker myself, the rich creativity of my peers was generally humbling (in a good way). The diversity and innovation of subjects and approaches inspired me. So it was a challenge to select only four awarded videos. These were published in Atticus Review on 11 January, along with some commentary on each of them from me, and further information about the film-makers and poets involved. They are best viewed on their respective pages on the Atticus site. Follow the links below to watch and learn more.
Things I Found in the Hedge (first prize)
Kathryn L. Darnell (director, animation)
Lucy English (writer, voice)
USA / UK
Qué Es El Amor (What Is Love) (second prize)
Eduardo Yagüe (director)
Lucy English (writer)
Spain / UK
The Whole Speaks (third prize)
Caroline Rumley (director)
Nelms Creekmur (writer, voice)
The Cleanest Hands (honourable mention)
Amy Bailey (director, writer, voice)
The Atticus contest will continue to happen yearly, a welcome addition to the international calendar of events surrounding videopoetry. To be among the first to find out when the next call for submissions goes out, and to receive regular news of ongoing publications in the journal, subscribe to email notifications.
I’m taking the opportunity now to share some more of the videos sent in to us. While they were not awarded in the contest, I find each of them uniquely inspired. They are presented here in the sequence I think is most conducive to viewing and appreciating each of them.
Things About Myself and the World That I Will and Won’t Explain to My Year-Old Daughter When She’s Older
Victor A. Guzman (director)
Rich Ferguson (writer, performer)
Tisha Deb Pillai (animator)
Fiona Tinwei Lam (writer)
Jane Glennie (director, voice)
Lucy English (writer, voice)
Sea Inside Me
Brendan Bonsack (director)
Amy Bodossian (writer, performer)
Ian Gibbins (writer, director, voice, music)
Song for Hellos and Goodbyes
Tommy Becker (writer, director, music, performer)
Mark Niehus (writer, director, music)
The Names of Trees
Pam Falkenberg & Jack Cochran (directors)
Lucy English (writer, voice)
USA / UK
small lines on the great earth
Edward O’Donnelly (director)
Malcolm Ritchie (writer, performer)
(turn on ‘closed captions’ for subtitles)
Yves Bommenel (writer, director, performer)
There are yet more videos I would happily share from the contest submissions, by artists whose work I admire. Alas, too many for one article.
I’ve now related my enthusiasm for the journal, the contest, the work received, the process of viewing and the honour of judging. So it may seem strange when I say that, in general, I’m not the biggest fan of competitions in the arts.
The arts can never be judged in a truly objective way, in the manner of sporting achievements, for example, that can be decided on measurable microseconds in a race. As I see it, the best we can do when adjudicating the arts is to be as impartial as possible in applying our personal preferences. Our individual sensibilities will have been formed from a combination of direct experiences in life, what we have learned in formal and informal cultural and educational settings, our raw responses to other work as audience members over time, and possibly our experience of participating in the creation process itself, including philosophies and methods we have developed. We will likely be affected by how these influences come together at the particular time when we are making our decisions, which might be different in another month, year or decade. Other factors might feed into this process, whether we are judges in a competition, or simply making personal choices about what to watch and recommend as the ‘best’. There’s nothing absolute in the arts. In short, as I see it, the reception of work in this arena is essentially subjective.
As an artist, and as someone who has been a teacher, I am concerned with the psychological, emotional, and ego ramifications of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in relation to creativity (when I say ‘artist’ in this context, I mean film-maker and/or poet). Competitions by their nature focus most attention and reward on the winners. Although we might not want to admit it, the much greater number of participating artists can be left feeling disappointed and lacking to varying degrees. Depending on stage of experience as artists, along with levels of personal and creative development, this may have an impact on ability to function in our work. In some cases, it can lead to artistic growth and more satisfying outcomes. In others, it is simply discouraging of an artist’s practice. Perhaps my attitude is overly maternal in relation to adult people responsible for their own response to challenges. On the other hand, the arts are an area where personal vulnerabilities are often put on the line in a rather naked way, and so the person behind the work may well be more vulnerable in ability to process a perceived ‘failure’. In an era when mental illness has risen to epidemic proportions, coupled with higher rates of this long known to exist in the arts, I think giving some consideration to these issues is warranted.
Competitions in the arts might also be seen in some ways as another expression of competition in capitalism. This makes me wonder: do we really want to approach the arts as survival of the fittest, or else as a kind of lottery? If we are idealistic, there might be some discomfort in approaching the arts in this manner, especially if political resistance or advocacy form any part of the motivation for being involved.
Then there is the issue of entry fees for competitions. For some time I refused to enter any of my work in events that charged a fee to submit. Like so many artists, I have lived in relative poverty my whole life, and have already freely invested time, talent, passion, skill, and whatever limited resources I have available, to produce the work. Then again, I know that there are significant expenses involved in staging competitions as well, and that organisers are usually giving a great deal of their time for free, as well as their energy, dedication, passion and skills (but watch out for the profit-making motives of some events). Still, wherever possible, I think it would be best to avoid entry fees. My personal view is that competitions don’t need to offer cash prizes. Without these, entry fees may not be needed, or kept to a bare minimum. I believe the honour and attention focused on winning works is ultimately the most valuable and practical reward.
Having said all that, I’m not really ‘against’ competitions. The shades of ambivalence I feel are mostly about idealism versus practical realities on the ground. While I have some hesitations, I recognise the value of competitions for generating excitement in artists and audiences, and for focusing and growing an artistic culture. Ultimately, the more ways to highlight creative work we love, the better.
In the specific case of videopoetry competitions, my personal experience has been positive in almost all instances of submitting, and of having work celebrated or declined. Rejection letters have been respectful, sometimes even encouraging. I find the videopoetry community to be unusually supportive of artists on the whole. But from past experience on the broader film festival circuit, and what I know of other artists’ experiences, this is not always the case in the wider world of the arts, where personal creative work can be treated much more like pure commodity. So I’m offering what I’ve said here as food for thought about the staging of arts competitions in general, and to encourage ongoing care in the treatment of artists and their work.
Videopoetry appears to be ever-growing, with artists from many nations now engaged in the practice, and a collective body of work increasingly exhibited and appreciated worldwide. This hybrid of poetry and cinema (including all its various generic labels), has roots going back a long way in film history, especially in the areas of the experimental and avant garde. As Helen Dewbery has suggested in a recent article, its roots may be more ancient still, if we think of the genre as simply one of the myriad contemporary expressions of poetry itself. In this line of thinking, it might be said that poetry began as an oral tradition and has adapted to new technologies and approaches throughout history. Long may this fine lineage continue, in any of the old and new forms the future promises.