The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: “Ursonate (an excerpt)”

Ursonate (an excerpt)
Poetry by Kurt Schwitters
Film by William Shum

According to the description on Vimeo, this is

A short excerpt from Kurt Schwitters’ sound poem, “Ursonate”. The typeface was created from scratch and inspired by the “Merz” art Schwitters created, hence the name, “Merzy”.

Kurt Schwitters, along with Hugo Ball and Hans Kasper Ivan Karp, was a major pioneer of sound poetry. This art form gained recognition in the early 20th century. A product of Dada, sound poetry has been popular in several movements and has successfully influenced and moved into postmodernism. I would say with confidence that its influence has also made its way into hip-hop and rap.

Dada is probably my favorite movement. There were so many rules that were broken. It gave significance to graphic design, paving the way for it to become a viable art form and not just a vehicle for advertisements. Dada allowed for experimentation. I believe this way of thinking was the result of World War I and its aftermath. Artists always have a lot to say but at this point in time, there wasn’t much to lose and Europe was in the process of trying to recover. Needless to say, the impact of history will always be significant because we use art to record our culture. That said, I will get on with my opinion of this mini masterpiece.

Ursonate is one of Schwitters’ better-known works. The video by William Shum is an excerpt from the poem. The typeface may be the first created from scratch and used in a video poem. What I like most about this piece is the fact that it is stimulating and I have no idea what the poet is saying. I don’t need to know. The message comes across perfectly through the images and the recording of the sound, which is Schwitters’ voice.

I love the black and white video; the imagery of toys (by the way, I had the Charlie Weaver Bartender toy that appears in the beginning of the video) interlaced with street scenes, dogs, and stoop-sales continues to enhance the feeling of a time that, although not too long ago, is rapidly dissolving. The type flies in, out, overlaps—creating a flow that keeps us at this point in time. The subway scene at the end is a very nice touch. This too has sound, which although it isn’t made up of words, seems to complete the video very nicely.

If sound poetry was invented for performance, then video poetry could be a feasible fit. It’s as if the two genres were made for each other.

Here’s what the Wikipedia article on sound poetry says about the poem:

Schwitters composed and performed an early example of sound poetry, Ursonate (1922–32; a translation of the title is Original Sonata or Primeval Sonata). The poem was influenced by Raoul Hausmann’s poem “fmsbw” which Schwitters heard recited by Hausmann in Prague, 1921. Schwitters first performed the piece on 14 February 1925 at the home of Irmgard Kiepenheuer in Potsdam. He subsequently performed it regularly, both developing and extending it. He published his notations for the recital in the last Merz periodical in 1932, although he would continue to develop the piece for at least the next ten years.

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