Sharing poetry film festivals and exhibitions on the web: “Poems, Places & Soundscapes” points the way

All the work exhibited at the Poems, Places & Soundscapes audiopoetry and videopoetry exhibition is now on their website, for the benefit of anyone who couldn’t make it to Leicester in April. It would be great if more poetry-film screening events followed their lead. They’re even promising to post feedback and appreciation from the comments book and audio recording from an informal panel discussion held in conjunction with the exhibition.

As an exhibition rather than a festival, though, this may be something of a special case. Off-hand I can only think of three poetry film festivals whose websites archive a significant percentage of the films they’ve screened: Liberated Words (Bristol, UK), Co-Kisser (Minneapolis, US) and The Body Electric (Fort Collins, US). A more common approach is to share a list of the winning films, sometimes accompanied by screenshots. A few festivals have let their websites lapse altogether… and of course some never had a website to begin with, which is puzzling, to say the least.

It’s interesting to think about the different mind-sets that people bring to the poetry film genre(s). My own background as an online magazine editor and a poet for the page leads me to prioritize viewing videopoems/filmpoems on the web, because in part it’s so strongly parallel to the reader’s experience: it’s generally solitary, and one can go back and re-watch (re-read) as often as one likes. By contrast, people with a background in film tend to think in terms of festivals, theater runs and TV broadcasts: one-time or serial events, in connection with which the creators’ rights must be scrupulously protected. It’s to be expected, therefore, that to festival organizers, sharing screened works online must seem like a decidedly secondary affair, and potentially a bit of a hassle. But I would suggest that:

  • you can reach a larger and more diverse audience online, and at the same time generate interest in attending future events by encouraging social-media sharing of the best films;
  • many filmmakers these days are already uploading their works to video-hosting platforms as a matter of course, and in some cases only delay in posting them because film festival organizers have asked them to;
  • sharing videos online is as easy as signing up for a free site, posting a Vimeo or YouTube link on a line by itself (thanks to the magic of oEmbed), and enabling Twitter and Facebook sharing icons at the bottom of the post.

There is a third, major stream of influence on videopoetry, however: video art, which strikes me as uniquely well-adapted to the web since the emphasis has always been on multiple plays for a maximum number of visitors. The difference I think lies in the quality of attention we bring to exhibitions in a physical as opposed to an online gallery. But in any case, the appeal of this approach is reflected in its near ubiquity now. Video screens have spread out of the art galleries and into all kinds of other museums and exhibition spaces, even leading to hybrid festival/exhibitions where multiple screens display suites of films in continuous loops. There are of course trade-offs involved in every decision on how to present filmic work, but given that videopoetry/filmpoetry is itself a hybrid genre, doesn’t it make sense to think in terms of multiple approaches to presentation, with no single outlet—web, festival, TV broadcast, art gallery—becoming the standard?


Returning to the Poems, Places & Soundscapes exhibition, I was interested to hear that it may have succeeded in doing something that a lot of poets claim as motivation for making videos of their work: reaching a broader audience than the usual poetry scenesters and academics. In an email, co-organizer Mark Goodwin wrote:

Overall the exhibition was received very well. There is a very positive and attentive review here:

The final exhibition gate-count was 1026. The Phoenix said that such a count was average to good for an exhibition in the Cube Gallery in April – they had estimated that the count would be around 700. So, considering this was essentially a poetry exhibition, I feel very pleased, and would suggest that for the presentation of poetry this is a long way above the average. […]

I saw quite a few folks who otherwise wouldn’t usually take time to engage with poetry, simply become poetically sucked into elsewhere via headphones! It really doesn’t get much better than that!

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