Dave Bonta: Top Ten Multi-Poem Films and Videopoems

I wasn’t going to contribute a list to this series myself, since Moving Poems readers are already exposed to quite enough of my half-baked opinions, but this past week I found myself taking a closer look at multi-poem films and videos as I prepared to make one of my own. What strategies have film- and video-makers employed to gather multiple poems, whether by a single poet or several different poets, into coherent and cohesive assemblages? And what, if anything, might such longer and more complex videopoems suggest about the perennial struggle of videopoetry and poetry film to achieve a whole greater than the sum of its parts?


Bones Will Crow (poets: Aung Cheimt, Khin Aung Aye, Ma Ei, Maung Pyiyt Min, Maung Thein Zaw, Moe Way, Moe Zaw, Pandora, Thitsar Ni, and Zeyar Lynn)
Craig Ritchie and Brett Evans Biedscheid, 2012

A brilliant trailer for an anthology (Bones Will Crow, Arc Publications, 2012) that also works as a stand-alone silent film. Craig Ritchie, whose still photos appear in the film, appears to have taken the lead in putting it together. The animations by Brett Evans Biedscheid / Statetostate were “Commissioned by English PEN.”


Antiphonal (poets: Alistair Elliot, Bill Herbert, Christy Ducker, Colette Bryce, Cynthia Fuller, Gillian Allnutt, Linda Anderson, Linda France, Peter Armstrong, Peter Bennet, Pippa Little, and Sean O’Brien)
Kate Sweeney, 2014

See the original post at Moving Poems for the full story of this project. As I wrote there, this is an eight-minute filmpoem that still ends up seeming much too short. Digital artist Tom Schofield and filmmaker Kate Sweeney have created a truly masterful, immersive work that pays tribute to one of the glories of Medieval art.


First Screening (poet: bpNichol)
bpNichol, 1984

Canadian visual poet bpNichol jumped into digital literature with both feet. Thirty years on, these animated concrete poems still inspire and delight. (This is also on YouTube.)


Twenty Second Filmpoem (poets: Andrew McCallum Crawford, Mary McDonough Clark, Al Innes, Guinevere Glasfurd-Brown, Elspeth Murray, Janette Ayachi, Jane McCance, Donna Campbell, Ewan Morrison, Angela Readman, Gérard Rudolf, Zoe Venditozzi, Jo Bell, Sally Evans, Pippa Little, Tony Williams, Robert Peake, Stevie Ronnie, Sheree Mack and Emily Dodd)
Alastair Cook, 2012

For his 22nd Filmpoem, Alastair Cook got the brilliant idea of asking 20 poets to write short poems to accompany 20-second clips of found footage. The result—as I wrote on Moving Poems at the time—is both playful and profound, a lovely demonstration of the magic that can happen when poets write ekphrastically in response to film clips.


the rest (poems: Michelle Matthees)
Kathy McTavish, 2013

Something about those long bass notes on McTavish’s cello and the shifting play of lights and shadows behind the slowly scrolling texts makes this feel distinctly heroic (I was going to say “epic,” but the kids have ruined that word through overuse) somewhat in the manner of Pindar’s odes. McTavish is a terrific multimedia artist, and if you like this, there’s much more where it came from: “transmedia landscapes which flow from the digital web into physical installation and performance spaces.”


Cirkel – Circle (poets: Charles Ducal, Delphine Lecompte, Jan Lauwereyns, Leonard Nolens, Lies van Gasse, Marleen de Crée, Michaël Vandebril, Stefan Hertmans, Stijn Vranken, Xavier Roelens, and Yannick Dangre)
Swoon, 2013

A videopoem by Swoon (Marc Neys) incorporating 11 poems by 11 different Belgian writers, telling a single story of life, lust, love and loss. The poems range in style from experimental to formal verse, all ably translated by Willem Groenewegen. (Read more at Moving Poems.) Using visual storytelling to maintain viewer interest in lyric videopoetry is a strategy I often see makers of longer films adopting.


Twelve Moons (poems: Erica Goss)
Swoon, 2013

The connective glue here, I think, is the singular yet compound voice—words by Erica Goss, readings by Nic S. and music by Kathy McTavish—as well as the semi-narrative device of tracing “the hidden influence of the moon on one person’s life,” as Atticus Review‘s summary put it. Released to the web originally as 12 separate videopoems, Marc Neys also conceived of the series as a cohesive unit. I saw it screened at the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin last October and I’d say that he succeeded, based on one unsophisticated but dependable metric: I was disappointed when it was over.


In the Circus of You (poems: Nicelle Davis)
Cheryl Gross, 2014

Like Twelve Moons, this animated cycle of four poems from Nicelle Davis’ latest collection is unified by her distinct voice — and also by Gross’ unique artistic vision. Together, as Davis puts it, they “create a grotesque peep-show that opens the velvet curtains on the beautiful complications of life.” Their collaborative partnership works in part I think because they both gravitate toward a similarly high level of quirk.


Cento for Soprano (poetry by Christopher Phelps, selected and rearranged by Kevin Simmonds)
Kevin Simmonds, 2012

Composer and pianist Simmonds underplays his role as filmmaker in the credits and in the Vimeo description, which reads: “A cento is a poem comprised of various lines taken from different poems. This work for soprano, piano and voice is inspired by the poetry of Christopher Phelps.” I’ve seen the cento technique used effectively for poetry book trailers, too. What makes this film so powerful, to me, is the juxtaposition of soprano Valetta Brinson’s beautiful, seemingly disembodied head with the opening line, also repeated at the end: “It’s hard remaining human in the city.”


These sentences are not a poem.
Dot Devota, Emily Kendal Frey, Caitie Moore, Laura Theobald, and Kate Greenstreet, 2011

“Whose story is it, anyway?” asks Laura Theobold near the end of this uniquely improvisational, collaborative videopoem. Whether or not the texts here are poems or lines from a poem, the over-all effect is certainly lyric (with a narrative thread), and I love the quiet radicalism of the multi-author/filmmaker approach. Greenstreet is a masterful videopoet and no stranger to longer compositions, but here her role (according to the credits) was that of an instigator, co-writer and editor.


That last film in particular points to one of the things I most prize about videopoetry: at the same time that it expands our notion of poetry beyond mere text on a page, it also challenges the Romantic conceit of a single, genius creator, and exposes the polyvocalic essence of poetry. Influenced by remix culture, even the director’s pedestal seems to be shrinking, and the line between director and writer blurring where it still exists. While I love short, shareable poetry videos on the web as much as anyone else — and Lord knows they’re Moving Poems’ bread and butter — I hope this selection inspires other filmmakers to be a bit more ambitious with their translations of poetry into video or cinematic art.


  1. Reply
    cherylgross 23 January, 2015

    You rock!!!

  2. Reply

    […] easily would’ve qualified for inclusion in my list of Top Ten Multi-Poem Films and Videopoems, had I not already included two other Swoon films. It’s interesting to see how differently he […]

  3. Reply

    […] seen a number of innovative poetry films made with the words of multiple poets, but none with as many contributors (48), and few as profound and urgent in their message as this […]

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