~ theory ~

New online series ‘Poetry Film in Conversation’ debuts February 9

Poetry Film Live and Lyra Bristol Poetry Festival are holding an online series of events, ‘Poetry Film in Conversation’. The events kick off on February 9th 19.30 (GMT) with Animation, Motion Graphics and Text on Screen. Diek Grobler, Suzie Hanna and Jane Glennie will each give a presentation (Suzie’s will be pre-recorded) followed by a panel discussion chaired by Lucy English, and finishing up with an audience Q&A.

Diek Grobler is an artist working in various media and disciplines. Since 2010 his creative and theoretical focus has been on animated poetry-film. His films have been widely exhibited on international animation festivals, and his work has been shortlisted twice for the Weimar Poetry-film Award. He was awarded a PhD in Art from the University of South Africa and is an independent researcher on Poetry-film and experimental forms of animation.

Diek Grobler – Mon Pays – screenshot

Jane Glennie is a filmmaker, typographer, and founder of Peculiarity Press. Her films have screened worldwide, featured on www.shondaland.com, and received awards at competitions in the UK, Germany, and USA. Her poetry film with Rosie Garland, funded by Arts Council England, has now been published as a ‘book of the film with extras’.

Suzie Hanna is Emerita Professor of Animation at Norwich University of the Arts. She was Chair of NAHEMI, the National Association for Higher Education in the Moving Image from 2016 – 2019, and remains an honorary member of the executive. As an animator who collaborates with other academics and artists, her research interests include animation, poetry, puppetry and sound design. She has made numerous short films all of which have been selected for international festival screenings, TV broadcast or exhibited in curated shows. She also creates improvised animated projections for live performances of music and poetry. Recent commissions include short films for BBC Ideas and Cambridge University Creative Encounters Programme. She contributes to journals, books and conferences, and has led several innovative projects including online international student collaborations and digital exhibitions of art and poetry on what was Europe’s largest public HiDef screen. She works as a production consultant and as an international academic examiner, and she was a member of the AHRC Peer Review College from 2009-2014.

To book tickets please go to Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/poetry-film-in-conversation-animation-motion-graphics-and-text-on-screen-tickets-516766210647

New Art Emerging: Notes from a Symposium on Videopoetry

Editors’ note: the symposium titled New Art Emerging: Two or Three Things One Should Know About Videopoetry took place on 5 November 2022 in Surrey, BC, Canada. It was convened by the renowned theorist of videopoetry, Tom Konyves, who also curated a related exhibition program, Poets with a Video Camera: Videopoetry 1980-2022. Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas were guest speakers at the symposium and kindly accepted our invitation to write an account to appear here at Moving Poems Magazine…

To start, instead of cutting the information down to fit, it might be easier to just start a new videopoetry blog. That is not a serious proposal, it is just that every videopoet holds the potential to write a book in a conversation and each videopoem is a complete story in itself. Writing a report from within is new for us and to begin, we admit that our comments must be somewhat biased.

The exhibition Poets with a Video Camera: Videopoetry 1980-2022 at the Surrey Art Gallery formed the base for the Symposium, as well as providing the impetus for Poems by Poetry Filmmakers, readings at Vancouver’s People’s Co-op Bookstore that were organized by Fiona Tinwei Lam, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, 2022-2024 and the Symposium’s keynote speaker, Sarah Tremlett.

On Friday night, November 4, a major windstorm blew through the Lower Mainland with the City of Surrey being one of the hardest hit in the area. Large trees, weakened by months of drought, had been toppled, and on Saturday morning scores of BC Hydro customers were affected. Surrey was at the epicenter of the storm and the Gallery was without power but not powerless. Thanks to the quick action of Jordan Strom, Surrey Art Gallery’s Curator of Exhibitions and Collections, Rhys Edwards, Assistant Curator, and Zoe Yang, Curatorial Assistant, the symposium was efficiently moved to the Surrey Public Library, a stunning building in the City Centre. The schedule had to be retooled into a shorter program, but the room was packed and ready to see all the facets of this videopoetic diamond.

The symposium audience

To contextualize the place of the smposium it might be useful to have some information about the exhibition. From the gallery’s website:

Poets with a Video Camera presents the largest retrospective of videopoetry in Canada to date. The exhibition features over twenty-five works by some of the world’s leading practitioners. It is organized around five categories of videopoetry: kinetic text, visual text, sound text, performance, cin(e)poetry.

The title is a reference to Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera that has become iconic in experimental film discussions in advocating for a complete separation between the language of theatre and literature. Similarly, Konyves argues for videopoetry to be thought of as outside of poetry and video art. Instead, Konyves states that it is a form that is in its “early days . . . still in a process of redefining poetry for future generations.” This exhibition shows the humorous next to the serious, the experimental alongside the genre bending, the ironic with the sincere, and the timely together with the timeless expressions of this new form.

Jordan Strom opened the Symposium and introduced Guest Curator, Tom Konyves.

Tom Konyves

Tom stated his intention to provoke dialogue and to challenge perspectives. While developing a course in visual poetry for the University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford (2006), he had come to realize that he needed more sources for videopoetry than his own work. After contacting Heather Haley, she sent him 76 examples. From there, he came up with a definition of videopoetry that proposed a triptych of text, image, and sound in a poetic juxtaposition. He was able to further clarify his research findings in Buenos Aires when he met Argentinian artist Fernando García Delgado. Finally, Tom arrived at the idea that the role of the videopoet was that of juggler, visual artist, filmmaker, sound artist, and poet. He concluded that, within that mix, the videopoem as an art object, poetic experience, and metaphor, is created.

Sarah Tremlett

UK-based videopoet Sarah Tremlett delivered the symposium’s keynote speech in which she spoke about her definitive volume The Poetics of Poetry Film, as well as the importance of sound and subjectivity in an artist’s experimental audiovisual journey. Through her own work, as well as her contributions to the examination of poetry film, film poetry, and videopoetry, Sarah occupies a central place in the videopoetry world. While addressing the symposium, she also introduced her current work: research into a complex family history, spanning several centuries.

Heather Haley and Kurt Heintz spoke of their individual activities and collaborations in what is recognized as their history in the world of videopoetry. Their presentation, titled Entangled Threads: How One Canadian and One American Poet Took on Technology and Charted a Genre, proposed an engaging exchange on the shared commonality of early events linking not only poets in different geographic locations, but also text/voice to technologies. Among these commonalities was the early 1990’s Telepoetics project, a series of events using videophones to connect poets. As noted by Heather Haley on her website: “[…] before Skype or Zoom poets were using videophones to connect, to exchange verse, despite a myriad of limitations and challenges. […]”

Kurt Heintz and Heather Haley
Adeena Karasick

Poet, performer, essayist, media artist, professor, thinker Adeena Karasick, and artist-programmer, visual poet and essayist Jim Andrews delivered a high-powered and mesmerizing performance of Checking In, a work about our insatiable appetite for information. Jim’s coding meshed seamlessly with Adeena’s texts and her high-level acrobatics of spoken word and movement. Through the fusing of voice, text, and image, Jim’s video, and Adeena’s recitations/movements, the two delivered a performance that never missed a beat!

Founder and Director of the VideoBardo Festival, Javier Robledo (in absentia), planted himself onto a sofa and placed a bird cage on his head to present a playful performance/poetry mix. Reminiscent of early 20th-century Dada performances, he closed the performance when he blew a whistle that mimicked a caged bird. In his video presentation, and speaking about his work P-O-E-S-I-A, Javier spoke about the importance of the performative gesture and its repercussions in articulating meanings.

Javier Robledo
Matt Mullins

As Matt Mullins was also in absentia from the symposium, Tom provided an introduction to his work in the exhibition, as well as Matt’s own pre-recorded intervention about his creative process and the decisions made in the making of the three videos: Our Bodies (A Sinner’s Prayer), 2012; Semi Automatic Pantoum, a collaboration between Mullins and the Poetic Justice League of Chicago, 2019; and america, (i wanted to make you something beautiful but i failed), 2022.

When we spoke with Annie Frazier Henry a few days following the Symposium, she felt energized by taking part in the event. She is a writer with roots in theatre, music and film. In her presentation, she mentioned the influence that E. Pauline Johnson had on her growth. She generously expressed that the warm and safe space created by the meeting was about all of us. Grounded in her perspective, Annie talked about encouragement and relevancy. The words from her 1995 poem Visions resonate forward to the contemporary platform of videopoetry:

I don’t want to see stars in my eyes
I want to see stars in the sky,
Where they belong

When you enter a room
There’s invisible war paint on your face
And it looks good

Annie Frazier Henry

Fiona Tinwei Lam, the Vancouver Poet Laureate (2022-2024), presented The Plasticity of Poetry, a series of videopoems based on the dilemma of plastic pollution and its dizzying accumulation. Many of Fiona’s works are collaborative endeavours with animators. She also screened the work Neighborhood by Pamela Falkenberg and Jack Cochran which they state “is a look at modern life in the suburbs as the world courts climate disaster.” Neighborhood juxtaposes a poem by Fiona over live-action and animated scenes of suburbia. At the root of all of these works resides a deep desire to make a difference in the world.

Fiona Tinwei Lam

As for us, we presented Rust Never Sleeps: Nuances in Collaborative Creation, a talk on collaborations and the diverse ways that we have collaborated while continuing to each work on our own individual projects. Collaboration begins with a discussion, and that exchange frames the outcome of any project. It is a shared authorship and to work in such a way, one must be ready to let go of preconceived ideas and to be ready for whatever might arise.

Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas

Conclusions

To accommodate the time frame for the venue afforded by the library, the Q&A was pushed to the end of the day. One member of the audience, Surrey-based poet Brian Mohr, has a story worth mentioning. When he showed up at the gallery to see the exhibition on Saturday morning after the storm, he was redirected to the library. He knew about the exhibition but not about the symposium. Brian, who is in the process of making his first videopoem, went with the flow and ended up participating in the event. He had a question for the panel about using video games as source locations for videopoetry. Several presenters addressed his question and according to discussions we had with him later, the symposium gathering was of utmost importance to his development as a videopoet.

Just as Jordan Strom finished his closing remarks, a loudspeaker announcement resonated through the building: “The library will be closing in five minutes!” Videopoetry is all about timing, and so was the conclusion of the symposium.

A symposium is designed to bring together, a group of people with common interests. When they come away from the meeting, they should have learned something new, made new connections, and should have possibly established the grounds for future collaborations. The Surrey Symposium made visible a complex web of relations and affinities between videopoets. It revealed the contour of a community of artists/poets, and affirmed that we are not isolated, that we are not living in a vacuum; that we have a place in the world. This sentiment was echoed in a comment that Kurt Heintz wrote on an email thread after the Symposium:

While I have long been aware that I’m not the only person doing what I do, I’ve often felt quite solitary. And so, one of the biggest takeaways for me is simply having experienced a critical mass of minds, if only for a weekend. Certainly, we’re all very different people with different perspectives on the art we make and/or study. Our critical languages often differ. And we’re far-flung; the exhibit plainly speaks to the international origins for poetry in cinematic form. And yet, that very mix is what actually pointed to a body politic.

This symposium answered some questions surrounding the creation of videopoetry. It also made it clear that videopoetry operates on many different levels of consciousness. The event accomplished its mission, and if there might be an idea to improve upon the gatherings, it might be to increase the meeting to a full day, which would allow more time for Q&A as well as informal discussions. A dream would be to have a bi-annual videopoetry symposium.

From the art gallery to the library, this symposium managed to bridge two of the fundamental sites of videopoetry: visuals and words. The voices that we heard on that afternoon were the third element — a perfect poetic juxtaposition.

Seated left to right: Adeena Karasick, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Jim Andrews, Annie Frazier Henry, Jordan Strom
Second row: Kurt Heintz, Sarah Tremlett, Heather Haley, Valerie LeBlanc, Daniel H. Dugas, Tom Konyves

Photos: Pardeep Singh

The Inevitability of Narrative

As humans, we are driven to narrative. It is almost impossible for us to experience a sequence of events and not attempt to ascribe some kind of narrative arc to it. What just happened? What does it mean? How did it start? What will happen next?

There is a considerable literature on the theory and practice of creating narrative in different contexts: fiction or non-fiction; in print or on stage or screen; or via any other medium. Narrative can be language-based, as in a novel, or non-verbal, as in a choreographed dance, or a combination of both, as in a movie. But the basic structure of narrative mostly boils down to a few key points: there is a beginning, middle and an end; something changes along the way; it occurs in some kind of contextual framework. If any of these key elements is missing, we, the readers or viewers, inevitably will try to fill in the gaps.

Over the last 20 years, neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have made significant advances in understanding how – and to some degree, why – the brain creates narrative. Much of this new research complements well the ideas of theorists and practitioners concerning the role of narrative in literature, cinema, theatre and dance. Indeed, many authors have integrated data across the sciences and humanities to build new appreciations of how and why narrative works. Key foundation texts in this field include The Poetics of Mind: Figurative Thought, Language and Understanding by Raymond W Gibbs, Jr (1994); On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition and Fiction by Brian Boyd (2009); and How Literature Plays with the Brain: the Neuroscience of Reading and Art by Paul B Armstrong (2013).

From a cognitive point of view, we can consider the construction of a narrative as coming in different flavours: for example, we can describe a series of external events, that is, things that others can also describe from their own experiences of the same events; we can create a story from our own remembered experiences that is essentially private, since no one else can have those same memories; or we can create a fiction, a story that no one has ever actually experienced, even though such a narrative necessarily contains elements that are relatable to the external world.

Autobiography, memory and narrative

In order to create a narrative, we must access several different elements of memory. There is no single phenomenon called “memory”. Rather, there are many forms of memory, some of which are so fundamental to neural processing that we are not consciously aware of them. The duration of different types of memory can range from a few tenths of a second (eg the early steps of processing visual or auditory stimuli) to a lifetime (eg learning to walk or knowing what a flower is). Furthermore, many forms of memory lie outside easy verbal description, eg how to button up a shirt; how you solved a crossword puzzle; how you felt at lunch-time yesterday.

The components of a traditional first-person narrative (“I did this, and then I did that…”) rely on what is generally known as “autobiographical memory”. This is memory of what you have done in the past. It is fully private, in that only you can access it. Unless you have a very specific type of brain injury, it is updated continuously as you consciously experience the world. There are several remarkable features of this memory system:

  • It is initially encoded by the same part of the brain (the hippocampus) that also encodes and keeps track of our movements through space and time in our local environment. 
  • This means that salient events are automatically linked to a time and place.
  • Some time after these events are first recorded into memory, they are transformed into long-term memory stores elsewhere in the brain where they are associated with other memories of varying degrees of relevance or significance: the nature of event itself, the weather beforehand,  the person who wasn’t there, the name of the movie, the music playing at the bus-stop…
  • Each time these long-term autobiographical memories are actively retrieved they are remade: in effect, they are re-remembered.
  • The neural processes involved in imagining a future autobiographical event are almost the same as those remembering a past autobiographical event. People with a damaged hippocampus not only cannot remember what they did in the past, they cannot imagine themselves doing something in the future.
  • As a consequence, autobiographical memory, most of the time, is hopelessly unreliable (there are other factors contributing to this, but that’s another story).
  • And as a consequence of that, virtually all narrative is a construction of unreliable memories. In other words, I suggest, all narrative can be considered to be first-person fiction (and that is yet another story…)

For the reader or viewer of a narrative, we automatically feed the story (such as it might be) through our own autobiographical memory processor. We identify the temporal sequence, the salience of each component, the relationships between the components, assign meaning to elements we recognise and make a guess at the meanings of elements new to us. Even the most abstract, abstruse, uneventful “narrative” will have a beginning, middle and an end, a context in which it is viewed, an emotional and cultural framework within which we will evaluate it. And so we create our own narrative version of “the story”, almost certainly incomplete when compared with the narrator’s intent, perhaps remembered only fleetingly, but more likely, generating a new entry of our own autobiographical memory (“Let me tell you about the movie I saw last night…”).

Selling the story – you don’t need much…

This ability for the viewer to make narrative out of minimal clues has been well recognised for many years. A famous experiment by Heider and Simmel (1944) showed how moving abstract shapes are commonly read as behaving like people within a strong narrative arc.

Similarly, short form texts such haiku, one-sentence poems, even Tweets (!!) can be commanding in their narrative intensity. Advertisers have known all this for a long time. Successful television advertisements must tell a story in as few as 15 seconds (“Look at this! See, it’s amazing! That’s why you need it… Buy one now! Get it here!!”). Indeed, some television advertisements have been recognised as stand-out examples of short-form video narration, for example, highly-regarded productions for Budweiser and Google.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZhO57NBJm0

Most television advertising lacks such sophisticated production values, but even the most simple, hackneyed approaches can inspire a poetry video narrative. In my 42nds, the timing of the scenes and the amount of text per scene closely follows that of typical advertisements 15-45 seconds long. This video was commissioned for outdoor screening in a downtown shopping mall and has since been screened on other public locations mixed in with genuine advertisements.

I’ll finish with two examples of masterful, albeit unconventional, poetry videos, both of which have featured on Moving Poems previously, that incorporate many of the elements mentioned above. These episodic narratives subvert the tropes of commercial television whilst illustrating the highly mutable state of autobiographical memory: Profile by RW Perkins and Human Condition by Rich Ferguson and Mark Wilkinson.

The success of these videos relies totally on our ability to:

  • recognise the contexts of what is happening in each episode;
  • hold the episodes in our short-term working memory long enough to understand the relationships between them;
  • synthesise the meaning of the full narrative in terms that make sense to us, thereby embedding the external narrative in our own autobiographical memory, ready to reappear, perhaps in a subsequent narrative of our own. Which is more or less what has happened in this essay…

Interview: Lee Campbell – filmmaker, poet, performer

Press release image – SEE ME: (An almost) autobiography – Performance Poetry Films by Lee Campbell July 26–31, 2022. Pop-Up Exhibit – Fountain Street Gallery, Boston

I first came across Lee Campbell’s work by chance in a Margate (Kent, UK) shop window early in 2022. It was part of a two-person show with Bashar Ali in The Margate School (an art school resident in the long gone Woolworths shop building). I was initially attracted by Lee’s use of lettering in his film. I found him on Instagram and watched more of his film work on his website, and discovered recordings of his incredible Zoom performances. I decided to interview him and this is the result … Rather conveniently, a few days after Lee had responded with his answers we were lucky enough to meet in person at the Absurd Art House Film Festival in another Kent seaside town – and I could thank him in person.

His pop-up solo show will be in Fountain Street Gallery in Boston from 26-31st July 2022.

Congratulations on your solo show “SEE ME: (An almost) autobiography,” coming up in July in Boston (USA). Did you conceive the work in the show as a collection from the outset, or did it evolve into it?

Thank you! I am really excited about it as I am pulling these films together into one collection lasting just over an hour in duration for the first time – and to show these films in North America, in a city which I have been to, and love, is a real honour. No, the collection of works on show has evolved over time. Between 2019-2021, I made a series of short films which recycle my personal archive of artworks as an artist of 25 years into the present. Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019), Let Rip: The Beautiful Game (2020), Let Rip: Teenage Scrapbook (2021) and Let Rip: Bodies Lean and Ripped (2020) use the ‘rip’ as both metaphor, symbol and filmic structure to build upon existing work, create new forms out of ‘old’ practice and indeed show new versions of ‘old’ me. This meant creating surfaces and layers on the screen which I would appear to be ripping or tearing apart to reveal something about myself. Cascading through different time periods but really speaking to the present, these films play with the sensations of an image, aiming to capture how reality is constructed of images, images that are out there in culture but also personal images that I create myself. Creative green screen usage in films has been around forever and could be said to feel retro but in these films, as I do with most of my films, I have employed green screen to create textural surfaces and review history. In 2021, I then integrated poetry into these existing moving image works to become poetry films. These poetry films sat alongside a body of poems that I had written about my personal history of seeing and not seeing as a working-class gay British man, to confront the politics of seeing and underline how validating seeing can be, but also the difficulty of not being seen. Whilst I was gaining really positive responses from audiences of me reading these poems as I regularly performed them around various venues in London and further afield, at the same time I produced poetry films of my poems to sit alongside but to also use the visuals within them to offer new/alternative ways of understanding what is being said in the spoken poetry. I then started to make connections between the different poems/films that I was producing. I noticed that underpinning all the work is a love of the absurd, the humour and the comedy to be found in the banal, the mundane and the everyday, as well as ideas as I mentioned above pertaining to acts of seeing, being seen, not being seen etc. What become very evident as a common thread was the idea of relationships and my relationship to people, places, ideas, objects etc and I used this as a curatorial thrust to put together these films as one entity.  Now as a collection of both poems and poetry films combined, SEE ME presents a journey through different relationships including those as a teenager to my dad (e.g. in Let Rip: The Beautiful Game), grandparents (e.g. in See Shells), teachers, school peers, work colleagues (e.g. in Covert Operations and Head Boy) then adult relationship to gay community (SEE ME: A Walk through London’s Gay Soho …), alter ego (e.g. in Camp-Belle), my partner (e.g. in Nice Cup of Tea, Rufus) and spaces of queer imagination (e.g. in The Tale of Benny Harris, Cottage and The Perfect Crime: A Doggy Whodunnit). The collection also addresses a range of complex and tricky issues including body shaming and bitchiness within the gay community. Self-worth, doing things to ‘fit in’. Unrequited love, unobtainable love, unsatisfying relationships, fear of being left ‘on the shelf’ (e.g. in Spinach and Eggs), as well as internalised homophobia and confidence (e.g. in Reclaiming My Voice).[1]

Still from Let Rip – A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing

The Fountain Street Gallery shows a wide variety of work including straightforwardly saleable paintings and sculptures which isn’t an obvious fit with poetry film. I’m excited that a gallery like this is showing your work. How did the show come about?

The gallery has been really supportive of my work since 2021 when they selected one of my works, On Your Marks (Tension Lines) (2020), a silent short film for their Sidewalk Video Gallery programme and then earlier this year included my poetry film Let Rip: The Beautiful Game in a group show, Beyond Words curated by Gabriel Sosa, an exhibition of works by artists who use language.

My formal training background is actually in Fine Art Painting. Prior to receiving my doctorate in 2016 from Loughborough University, I trained in Fine Art Painting at Winchester School of Art (1996-2000) where I earned my B.A and Slade School of Fine Art (2005-2007) where I received my M.F.A. Whilst I’ve really enjoyed showing my poetry films in cinemas and alternative spaces, it feels great to be showing the work in the context of the white cube too. I actually think my poetry films are like moving paintings, filmic paintings that reveal themselves over time. When I used to make painting back in the 1990s/2000s and in fact any ‘static’ 2D image that I produced then and now, I’ve always been interested in ideas around time and duration within a static image and ideas and thoughts being ‘revealed’ over time, in acts of looking and duration involved in looking at supposedly ‘flat’ static surfaces whose form and content reveal themselves over time. Time, in relation to the (2D, static) works in my career portfolio underline that time can be understood beyond that of a durational work e.g. in film and moving image work, as time can also be considered as being an aggregate of thought.

Looking at the kind of work that Fountain Street supports, including that of its director Marie Craig, what struck me was how many of the artists play with surface tension in their work. Regardless of whether the work is time based or not (in the traditional sense), many of the artists create within their chosen art form, at times, fleshy layers seeping underneath and revealing themselves only to be interrupted by other sets of imagery or text coming through which brings layers of personal and collective memory and personal and collective history. Recalling Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953), in which he erases an artwork by Willem de Kooning, but traces of the lost de Kooning artwork are still evident, just under the surface. The past and the present combust on the same surface, so the viewer is unsure what is past and what is present; works on one level contain a haunting quality and a modernity whilst still being archival/referring to the past/employing retro aesthetics. The compositional elements of my poetry films speak to these ideas, too, and more I feel. Thinking my poetry film work would be a good ‘fit’ for the gallery, I approached Marie about showing the films as a collection at Fountain Street and she kindly agreed to! [2]

What do you think we (as poetry filmmakers) can do to get work accepted into galleries or contemporary art events?

Moving Image work is embraced within the context of the white cube as a relatively new player against the historical canon of painting and drawing. Checking out the opportunities section of videoclub’s newsletter (www.videoclub.org.uk) can be useful. Visions in the Nunnery is an open call that happens every two years at the Nunnery gallery in Bow, London which I have been part of and highly recommend.

Your work shows in both poetry film festivals such as REELpoetry and a very wide variety of film, poetry and art festivals and events… Do you modify how you describe yourself and/or your work for different audiences in order to step into the contemporary art scene, the poetry scene or the poetry film scene?

Someone once told me that I occupy a space that is equivalent to a diamond in terms of my practice, with one arm of the diamond: poetry, and the other arms, comedy, performance and art. They did then make some generalisations, that in poetry, the brain does the theatricals and audiences don’t need anything else (i.e., visuals), that in comedy people just want to laugh and in art, people just want emotional/profound experiences. I did think these were sweeping generalisations, but they did make me think how these different media/artistic forms influence what the audience take away from what I do. I like straddling across all these ‘scenes’.  I don’t like being pigeonholed or me/my practice being taxonomized as that feels very reductive.  You will know by watching several of my poetry films like Spinach and Eggs and Bears with Bananas and Bubbles in Their Boxers, which talk about how the gay male community likes to label me, that I have a real issue with identity labelling more widely. Inhabiting different scenes, poetry one night, comedy the other, indeed, I may change the emphasis a little for each ‘scene’ but without diluting what I do or running the risk of ‘selling out’. Sure there are some events that I have attended that are less open to the experimental, interdisciplinary nature of what I do (they like poetry, comedy etc in the traditional sense of these terms). When I do find spaces/events/nights like these in London that I regularly attend—Incite! run by Forum +, New Poetry Shack run by Jack Shamash and The Word Zoo run by Teige Bigman Maddison—that embrace interdisciplinarity, then I’ve struck gold.

A night that I particularly enjoy is Paper Tiger Poetry that is held monthly at the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall, London hosted by Jason Why. The night has been a brilliant support for me to showcase my poetry and develop my skills as a performance poet since I first performed there back in June 2021. Yes it’s billed as a night for performance poets but there is also a fair share of poets like me including Tom McColl, Frankie Calvert, Redeeming Features, Keith Bray and many others who fuse everything from biting satire, anarchist punk, ventriloquism and visual art with comedy elements into their poetry performances. It’s a creative melting pot where I’ve met poets who perform poetry, in the expanded form! And I also run my own night in South London called POW! Play on Words where I encourage artists to come together who, like me, play promiscuous across varied artistic forms, by me providing a space for poetry performance to occupy the same space as poetry film, experimental comedy. In fact, labels are pointless here, as what underpins everything that I programme is how artists embrace and play with language in subversive, surprising and unexpected ways.[3]

When did you come to poetry filmmaking? Did either the poetry or the filmmaking come first or did they naturally come together from the beginning?

The filmmaking came first. Bear in mind that I also have a long history of creating performance art which often included spoken word/verbal language elements but not what I would necessarily consider as being ‘poetry’ or ‘performance poetry’ for that matter, but that’s open to interpretation! Many of the films that I created within the Let Rip series I referred to above actually begun life having written text placards embedded within them rather than me speaking poetry that I had written as a voiceover (I’ll refer to this point again later in the interview). Artist Clunie Reid, when watching Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019) in November 2020 commented that the written placards within this film needed to be spoken/performed/read aloud by me rather than written as I have a particular voice from a particular point in London’s queer history. She suggested that my voice and my accent evidence my life so clearly – a specific voice that gives me a specific identity to a specific place. She said this at a time when London (where I live) and so many parts of the world were in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I liked what she suggested but could not imagine the conditions at that particular time of me ever performing (physically) in public again.

It was a cold and dull Sunday in late November 2020. An advert for an online poetry mic called PoetryLGBT on Zoom popped up on my Facebook feed. I was caught by the graphics of the advert initially but then thought this would be a good chance to read out those written placards above as ‘poetry’, a context and a scene that I had not ventured into before. What’s the worst that can happen I thought. If they all think what I read out aloud is sh*t then I’ll just press ‘exit’ on my laptop. What have I got to lose! Little did I know that this Sunday afternoon online open mic, was going to change the direction of my practice forever.

I remember the experience well. The host Andreena Leeanne was so supportive and welcoming to everyone. I was enthused by her energy and passion for the poets performing. I listened to the poets including Barney Ashton-Bullock, Lantern Carrier, Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Carriere and Paul Frewer-Lepper perform before me and enjoyed their poems. I was so nervous when it was my turn. My legs trembling, my stomach was in gut wrench, I had performer’s butterflies in the stomach feeling for the first time in a long whilst as this was the first moment I was performing live to an audience and sharing very personal details with an audience who I could not see on Zoom, which probably helped with my nerves. Their response to my performance however was incredible. They loved the comedy and humour in what I was saying, and could really relate to and empathise with the experiences that I shared. I had found a new platform for my work and was very excited about the possibilities.

Excavating text from my Let Rip films to create live spoken word poetry pieces, I then began regularly writing poetry about my identity as a gay, working class British man and read these aloud for the first time at regular LGBT-centred open-mics including PoetryLGBT that were all taking place online at the time because of lockdown restrictions. Sometimes doing three or four online open mics a week, with me performing from the spare bedroom in my flat, just to gain the audience’s reaction and for me to try things out in this new context for my work. Growing in confidence, I started to incorporate props into my then performances including cassette tape recorders and hand-drawn pencil drawings of a dog called Rufus to add a visual element to what I was doing. Whilst it was a great experience to get audience feedback on my poetry, the language I was using and how what I was saying evoked certain images/pictures in the imagination of the audience, I began to think much more about the visual aspect of me performing. Me working in poetry film came around late 2021 when I combusted the practice of me generating live Zoom performances (which I refer to below) and my history of working within artist moving image practice together.

I love your use of lettering on screen in films such as ‘The Tale of Benny Harris’ and ‘Cottage (Perusing the flower bed)’. Can you tell me something about your ideas or your process around your lettering? I’m guessing you’re using your own hand lettering?

Thanks, I like the brutal simplicity that I feel I have achieved with the felt tippery effect of the writing that appears graffitied over the screen in these films and also in Head Boy, Covert Operations and Reclaiming my Voice. As I said above, the earlier versions of the Let Rip series of films contained written placards rather than spoken word.

These placards were generated using the Titles option within iMovie (the software that I use to create all my films). The font that I used (Helvetica Neue), although giving a very clean and crisp finish to the lettering, also made these films feel and look very corporate and PowerPoint-y in their appearance. Some viewers of these films liked the tension that this created. On the one hand, the films are a personal exploration for me to discover what I can do to the image in an affective way. Me creating almost fleshy, visceral layers to images appearing on screen, with each film recycling my personal archive as an artist into the present, and by doing so, building up a sophisticated linguistic system of collaging images from my personal archive of artworks, mixed in with found ephemera and moving image footage (for example football matches in 1990s on YouTube). There was a real sensitivity about the [content of] the writing and imagery.

But then on the other hand, as my friend artist Harun Morrison commented upon about this aspect of the work when I spoke to him in December 2020, there was no sense that the typography I was using was grounded in the work at all, and that the PowerPoint feel and look in these films inevitably evokes managerial and administrative culture which, as he reminded me, are some of the most oppressive forces in the world. Harun said he found that when watching these earlier versions of these films, he was constantly distracted by why I was using this PowerPoint style-format, because I am talking personally about escaping certain kinds of restraint and personal acts of emancipation (e.g. emancipating myself from 1990s homophobic Britain). He suggested that as soon as I started to make things look and feel like PowerPoint or display the text in the way that I have done in these films, I am putting my thoughts on a track which is why it’s such an oppressive piece of software. He suggested that I think then at that time more about the typography within what I was doing as another space to put accents on the texts especially since the work is so much about zine culture and other kinds of material that I was seeing. He recommended that I then work with a graphic designer to think through how that text operates, especially in reference to different materials and that maybe I employ a singular font all the way through my films that could be handwritten or speak to different sources that I talk about in the films. For example Playgirl (which I refer to in one of the films) has its own distinct font and so does Television X.  I could use different fonts evoked by the references, even employing the handwritten, which whilst making things feel makes it very diaristic can also depend on one’s handwriting.

All great suggestions from Harun, but then I remembered the font that I had designed myself when I was doing my MFA at the Slade fifteen years prior, which I called See Me. See Me is  a font that looks like old computer writing from the 1980s/1990s. I used this font as part of a new film that I was making at the time, SEE ME: A Walk through London’s Gay Soho in 1994 and 2020, and it really got me thinking about how I could design another font which spoke of the personal within my films and not appear deadening or just sitting on the surface without making much/any connection to the imagery and sounds around it. I was concerned about using my own handwriting as I didn’t want the work to look diaristic in the way that artists can often use their handwriting and then the work looks overly confessional to the point of being self-indulgent.

Photo of performance of The Tale of Benny Harris, BOLD Queer Poetry Soiree, London June 2022

The lettering that appears in these newer films, like, as you mention, The Tale of Benny Harris and Cottage, is generated by me screen-recording myself creating words using the pen/pencil drawing option within Notes on my iPad, and then using the recording as a green-screen layer within the films. I like the way the words reveal themselves sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly across the screen and how they don’t just sit on top of the imagery but often become images within themselves. Especially so I think when you can see the underwater imagery ‘through’ the surface of the letters in Head Boy and the way they bleed into the imagery within Reclaiming my Voice during the ‘dipping my toe in but never my feet’ section. You can see the words ‘dipping my toe in’ on the screen but only just. This corresponds exactly to what I say in the poem, about my straight mate Danny experimenting with his sexuality (dipping his toe in) but not going as far as being a ‘full time full-blown gay boy’. The appearance of the black text on the white background in the following sequence in the films containing the words ‘never my feet’ underlines Danny’s affirmation that he is straight (or so he claims) in black and white, full stop.

Although I really love the effect of the animated lettering throughout my latest film Covert Operations, which at the start recycles the written placards used towards the end of Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019) and from other films, I am also loving using the iPad drawing recordings to compose imagery so as not to overdo it with the lettering. I really enjoyed creating the drawings of the moustache, the well-spoken but very attractive posh boy I worked with in McDonalds aka Grammar School Guy being undressed on screen, Gavin aka Black Eyeliner Boy, and Mike with his chest hair poking out of the top of his Nirvana t-shirt that all feature as hand-drawn animations at the start of Covert Operations.[4]

Your live Zoom performance ‘Clever at seeing, without being seen’ is just incredible. For many people just getting used to speaking to someone on Zoom has given them the heebie-jeebies. How much did you experiment to get your set-up to do what you wanted? 

Thank you! It’s been quite a journey developing forms of live poetry performance practice that, contributing to my ongoing critical digital pedagogy research project Technoparticipation,[5] use Zoom as an immersive autoethnographic storytelling prototype. Emerging as a positive of using Zoom under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, I’ll try and summarise the main points in terms of how I have explored the possibilities of Zoom to really enhance my creativity and combine my performance, poetry and live cinema practice to create new hybrid forms.

 A month before I had my ‘epiphany’ moment during the PoetryLGBT open mic in November 2020 I spoke about above, my first venture into performing live in front of an audience since the outbreak started was at a time when the U.K was under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions — ‘our bodies and minds were restricted but our creativity was not. Everyone was in the same predicament’[6] . I was invited to create an online solo performance to be performed via Zoom as part of activity I was engaged with at the time, as part of Conditions artist studio programme. When thinking about the set design for the performance, when experimenting with the green screen effect on Zoom, rather than using one of the pre-defined video backdrops made available by Zoom, I then made a new piece of moving image work to be used purely for the purposes of Zoom green effect. Having just discovered the green screen video option on Zoom only a couple of hours before the performance and with no rehearsal time available before the performance entitled Polari Puppet,[7] my innovative usage of Zoom’s green screen during the performance had an incredible reception with viewers commenting that they had never experienced anything quite as immersive ever before on Zoom. With Polari Puppet, I really wanted to push Zoom’s visual aesthetics as a means to frame, act as a visual container and play with different levels of order and chaos through the visual confinement achieved.

As a result of the success of me creating the personalised Zoom backdrop with Polari Puppet and the success of my film work being screened internationally (remembering that these films were not poetry films at that point), I then wondered what would happen if I combined the two and (with a bit of tweaking) repurposed the short films that I had made as green screen Zoom backdrops to explore what it may mean to remediate, excavate and bring back to life past artworks through the medium of moving image in the films that I was making, and then remediate and re-plug those films, those remediations, through the medium of live performance via Zoom to generate multi-layered multimedia sociocreative live poetry performances that are colourful, immersive, textured, organic and disorienting montages of young queer experience told through my own personal autobiography.

Over the course of 2021, I created numerous poetry performances online, using the past films as video backdrops for my poetry, complexifying each online performance with each new iteration performed. When interviewed by Matt Skallerud in April 2021, Andreena Leeanne of PoetryLGBT remarked, ‘I love how Lee fuses the poetry with the filmmaking, really creative and everyone appreciates him when he comes to PoetryLGBT, he brings something different, he’s been able to use Zoom to enhance his creativity and that’s been amazing to see’. In his May 2021 review of Spoken Sessions, an online poetry reading event by Write Out Loud, Greg Freeman wrote, ‘I tuned in on Thursday night to watch open mic performers Francis Golm, Pip McDonald, Lee Campbell, and Jaden Morton make full use of their opportunity, often employing the extra potential of online visuals to great effect – especially in Lee Campbell’s case. He was able to show us what we missed when a glitch prevented us from seeing the full range of his experimental and innovative visuals at the Write Out Loud fundraising night in January’. In a more recent review of my headline set for Creative HE Open Mic (June 2022), Dr Aspa Paltoglou wrote, ‘I loved the final performance where auto-ethnography, identity and art came together to create a spectacular spectacle and an opportunity for the performer to bring together different parts of themselves that they kept apart before. As a former Greek musician and a current British (as I somewhat delusionally like to consider myself) academic psychologist, I know how important it is to bring together different identities, and this is helpful both for good mental health and creativity.’

Still from live Zoom poetry performance Spinach and Eggs

By summer 2021, with many Zoom performances under my belt, I then fused many of my short online poetry performances together into one longer performance (each one not lasting any more than five minutes as that’s the standard timeslot for an open-mic), to create longer performances including Clever at Seeing without being Seen and Peer.[8] These performances, as a form of expanded live cinema, pull together several poems/several performances that existed as individual scenes to create a bigger narrative. This new duration is important (beyond the initial early iterations at under five minutes). Through a lengthier duration, the viewer is shown the complexity of the layers, what’s in them and how they interact, and they are being shown that again and again and again, and it’s never the same.

These performances have since been included in prestigious festivals and events including Disturbance#2, Ugly Duck, London, Festival ECRÃ Edition 5, Rio de Janeiro, the Immersive Storytelling Symposium, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham, and Rise Up! Reconnect, Rebuild, Recreate 10th International Digital Storytelling Conference, Loughborough University.

Co-curator of Festival ECRÃ Ana Albuquerque remarked:

Lee Campbell’s Clever at Seeing without being Seen and Dina Kelberman’s The Fan May Not Be Changed, You Just Don’t Know The Future turn platforms like Zoom and Teams into stages where the curtain never falls. Artifices once used for the furtherance of neoliberal productivity slavery become spaces of creative potential in the hand of our artists. The possibilities are endless. The performances in this edition prove that the exploration of the body, space and canvas does not cease with physical distance, and prove that the pandemic is more a challenging environment than a scenario of infertility.

Whilst audiences may or may not pick up on all the many references here (related to my personal experience of discovering my identity, internalised homophobia, etc.), I intended that they would, at base level, have a sensory/elusive view of the work, as one viewer described on seeing Clever on Zoom in June 2021, ‘a block of amazing visual and auditory input’. Often in my performances, as is the case throughout the entire duration of Polari Puppet, I perform with my back to the audience where my back operates like a screen/projection surface, exploiting the fragmented-ness and inaccessible feeling of turning your back to the audience. A tape recorder acts as an extension of my body and offers another set of voices to that of mine performing and other voices heard elsewhere. Green screen effect employed with a constant repetitive video being played ‘projected’ onto my back gives the impression of text and imagery superimposed over my body, that I am wearing text/imagery like a garment, that of a body that has been layered with fragments of text/images/ history. Sounds that can be heard throughout the performance are textured, glitchy and uncomfortable deliberately to give a sense of layer.

The audience is never sure what is live, what is pre-recorded and what is playback of what has been recorded during the live performance. Pre-recorded sounds play in the background on iTunes shuffle which I react to there and then in the moment of liveness. Some viewers of the documentation of these performances have mentioned that they are completely unaware that they were watching documentation of a live performance. Some have suggested that the writing on my back is happening live too. One audience member commented that the live performance of Polari Puppet was the first time they had seen left-handed text being written.

The key underlying principles in early video art were the body and the performance object, and that was the thing that signified its liveness and differentiated it from the history of cinema /avant-garde film. Polari Puppet as a back projection performance comes from the history of video art (Vito Acconci, Valie Export, early Nam June Paik, Robert Morris’ film Mirror etc.) where the camera becomes like a mirror or a viewer that can be controlled.

The video being live and able to feedback on itself is similar to my Zoom usage here. On the one hand, the work is like a flashback 45 years but now bought into the present due to the now unprecedented, familiar use of Zoom as a desktop communication tool because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Zoom attempts to put bodies in a room at times when you can’t have bodies in a room. People have become much more familiar with it to a point of fatigue in terms of, amongst other things, how it promotes a disembodied embodiment. In this Zoom explosion, primary importance has been given to the face and the way that we are looking at each other now even to the naming of an app like Facetime (similar model to Zoom just different name) and not as Matthew Noel-Tod, when in conversation about this work, wittily remarked, called ‘Backtime’.

The face is hugely significant in all this technology, so me turning my back is a simple yet powerful reversal of that. All we have now on Zoom is (usually) the face, shoulders, and chest, so turning the back to audience is erotic as I am giving the audience something that they do not usually see. A viewer once suggested that my turned back appears almost demonic. Whilst it could be said to turn one’s back on an audience is a deliberate act to conceal oneself or block the audience, that’s not what is happening here either. A friend commented upon seeing an iteration of the Zoom performance Clever that her favourite part was when I turn around to check if the audience are ‘still there’. I like the fragmented-ness and the inaccessible feeling of turning your back to the audience BUT I also want to gauge their visible reaction so in latter performances using Zoom, I went half and half (half the time with my back turned to the audience and the other half, not). By turning my back to the audience at certain moments in a performance, I really made a statement, i.e. ‘I don’t want to see you and I don’t want you to see me (my face)’.

I have come to enjoy the uncertainty, the danger of performing, not entirely in full control of how the green screen would operate throughout the duration of these live Zoom performances. The effect of the moving imagery appearing on my body and me achieving that sense of immersion for the viewer for the performance to ‘work’ is somewhat dependent upon how much light there is in the space/room that I am performing in, and whilst I had perfected the lighting level in the room I perform (my spare bedroom reconfigured as a space for me to perform in and for my partner to create paintings in during the pandemic lockdowns) to achieve the ‘optimum’ effect, I can never fully control it so it ‘works’ every time.

However, this serendipity, this state of being in a ‘radical not-knowing’ was really important to me at the time. Sometimes, I could only achieve half the screen space/viewing area/my body ‘catching’ the green screen imagery. In reality, this imagery that appeared not ‘projected’ on my body’ was the green screen trying to operate on what was behind me/what I stood in front of: a white emulsion painted wall in the bedroom. With a lot of practice, I carefully manipulated the light in the room (using cardboard to black out the skylight window and placing my laptop which I used for the performance at a very specific position under an artificial ceiling light). Despite all my efforts, sometimes the effect just did not ‘work’, but I learnt to accept that and indeed capitalise upon it, which I shall refer to later. As much as I enjoyed making the short films around the same time, everything within them was neatly ordered into a timeline and I could pretty much control everything (although I could never fully control the green screen layering effect which I loved), so having this aspect of real uncertainty to what I was doing with Zoom was strangely appealing at the time.

The Zoom performances have taught me a lot about some of the complexities surrounding polycontextuality—being in more than one space at the same time. In terms of the somewhat, at times, awkward spatial dynamic I set up to create my Zoom performances where my body and the space that I am performing ‘in’ is liminal; neither entirely physical nor wholly virtual/online. But there is another awkwardness at play here in what I have identified as an interesting relationship between what I am saying in my poetry, the slippages of the sonic, bits where I am typing/turning on technology etc., and resonances that are happening at home. The spare room that I use to make these performances backs onto the lounge area of my flat and directly behind the (thin) wall, which I refer to above, that I stand in front of whilst speaking/performing is a sofa which Alex, my partner, often sits on whilst I am performing my poetry, sometimes speaking very loudly, in the room adjacent. How much can Alex really hear behind the wall I wonder? A lot of the time I share really personal details (and some quite intimate about me and Alex’s relationship) which I have never shared with anyone else before. Alex claims he can’t hear what I am saying but I reckon he must catch certain things. And rather than seeing this as a problem, I’ve come to embrace this and remind myself of my love of the serendipitous nature of working with liveness, of me being the poet-performer-autoethnographer harnessing live Zoom performance as a space of radical not knowing and its disruptive potential, I have learnt that I cannot replicate in any way possible the visual effects I can on anything else but on Zoom. Beyond post Covid-10 lockdown restrictions as we head out of a ‘Zoom world’ and into physical/hybridised spaces, I am well aware that my usage of Zoom is more than a convenient (and for a long time only) form to show/make work, but Zoom entirely underpins the aesthetics within what I do, and for me to accept and embrace that I may not be fully in control of exactly what the audience sees/being able to replicate the visual/audio appearance of the Zoom green screen for the audience when live.

As part of the Immersive Storytelling Symposium, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham in Autumn 2021, I was invited to create a live Zoom performance at the venue in physical space. I must admit I hesitated at first as, at the time, I was nervous about what I thought I needed to make the performance ‘work’ (I had not come to accept at that point that the effect ‘not working’ can also be intrinsically part of the work). Would I be able to achieve the lighting levels required, maintain a certain distance between me and the laptop screen and a white wall behind me ‘catching’ the green screen, would I be able to stand in a certain way for imagery to appear to be projected on me? But then I asked myself, ‘Does this work only exist in my spare room, in the bedroom at the back of 96a Devonshire Road, Southeast London and nowhere else because that’s where I control things to my “desired effect”‘? I recalled a remark that Graham Barton, who I work alongside at University of the Arts London, made as part of the successful Digital Pedagogies Open Studio project I initiated last year with Natasha Sabatini and Richard Parry. In speaking about how the move to teaching and learning online was a form of disruption when Covid-19 lockdown first hit in 2020, Graham suggested that now in respect to moving back into the physical world from the digital/virtual, ‘The disruption is in the return’. But there was also something potentially very liberating about me not being in the bedroom at the back of 96a Devonshire Road, Southeast London – Alex won’t be there, and so I could potentially say what I like throughout my performance without fear of upsetting him (but why would I want to upset him anyway).[9]

With the encouragement of Alex, I took the plunge and headed to Nottingham. It was a wonderful experience in terms of performing the work elsewhere and the audience/performer spatial dynamics that were set up. Whilst I performed live via Zoom in one room of the venue, another audience watched online and another audience watched physically, watching me perform on a livestream projected on a large screen in the theatre space, only a few steps away from the room where I was performing. Upon seeing documentation of my performance, I had only achieved the green screen superimposition on my body and not in the background, but I didn’t care; the content of the performance, Clever at Seeing without being Seen, is all about the difficulties gay people experience in terms of seeing, looking, being seen etc so in this way what I did underlines form is content.[10]

Have there been any unexpected results?

My Zoom performances have opened up unexpected ways of me being able to explore and discover new ways of seeing (both pedagogically and artistically) through the Internet as a very specific and nuanced kind of viewing platform, and how these may in fact correspond with ideas of (in)visibility experienced by the LGBT community.

To explain, as a practical embodiment of what I refer to as techno-empathy, in December 2021 I invited members of the University of the Arts London (UAL) LGBTQ+ student network to attend a presentation of my Zoom performance Clever at Seeing without being Seen which nails a specific talent queer people need to acquire – the title. The performance was as an iteration of the Digital Pedagogies Open Studio mentioned above. Having watched the performance, audience members feedback how they could feel empathetic to so many of the personal experiences that I shared throughout the performance, as they had encountered similar experiences themselves. The performance generated a space of empathy to break down hierarchies between student and tutor in two ways. First, in terms of me and the students as mutual practitioners by me demonstrating how to combine physical and virtual forms in terms of my usage of physical props during the performance that bring to life certain parts of the poetry, including cassette tape recorders from the 1990s and photocopies of a large scrapbook I made as a teenager between 1993-1998, and secondly, in terms of the autobiographic content of the poetry that I shared throughout the performance. During the post-performance feedback discussion, students said they appreciated the level of honesty that I shared with them in terms of revealing, at times, quite difficult personal subject matter but subject that they themselves could relate to.

Still from live Zoom poetry performance Clever at Seeing without being Seen

Attending numerous online events since lockdown in March 2020 designed for the LGBT community to share their experiences using spoken word and poetry, including PoetryLGBT and Incite!  run by Forum + and hosted by Hannah Chutzpah, paired with the move I went through in my teaching practice to online-only modes of teaching delivery, I noticed that a platform like Zoom, or Blackboard, can facilitate a person’s social interaction, and sharing ideas/stories with others which may not have happened offline/IRL. These platforms can be an effective means of encouraging those who do not wish to be identified, are too nervous to ask a question or share an idea to participate in group discussion. Someone can often gain heightened confidence digitally as opposed to when they would sometimes have previously held back during activities in the physical world. In many ways, the confessional booth of chat windows on Zoom resembles a Freudian couch; when you are not necessarily making direct eye contact, you can actually share more in some ways. The virtual environment, to some extent, may hold us hostages but we are liberated – we have a freedom to imagine. By sharing our personal stories online in an anonymised, optically restricted manner, we may be able to begin to heal traumatic experiences.

Returning to the discussion referred to above with the UAL LGBTQ+ student network members, we went further in our evaluation of Zoom, and began to explore how the optics at work for both audience and performer/speaker when engaging in Zoom may be (re)considered in terms of potentially opening up ways of thinking about the content of these performances: queer (in)visibility. We began to think together how certain aesthetics afforded to the online digital environment may offer a way to (re)think about optics and how this investigation may also relate to issues of (in)visibility within the queer community.

The virtual encounter is a sort of crossed gaze in a way – you are looking but you are not being looked back [at]. Online parties cannot look at each other in the eye — this kind of direct visual encounter with another human is interrupted completely, in addition to the delay in reaction time (another resumption lag, albeit a technological one). We found a relation to how queer people see and are seen and identified a relationship between my specific usage of the form and aesthetics of Zoom (optical one-way street, interruptions, disruptions, interferences etc.) and queer storytelling in relation to ideas of (in)visibility. In tandem with Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 provocation: ‘the medium is the message’, the students enjoyed thinking about how I employ the form and aesthetics of Zoom within my performance as a means to underline the content of what I share in my poetry; personal stories of the difficulties of being seen, not being seen etc.

How precise can you be between your live reading and what is happening with the images? Are you controlling the changes in film sequences – for example from football to Brighton – live as you speak, or can you time your performance perfectly to something that runs from beginning to end?

There will always a be a slight second lag between what is seen on screen and what is heard when the work is performed on Zoom. However, that quality is not seen as a negative in the context of these performances where the importance and clarity of hearing and understanding is deliberately obscured/ intentionally difficult to decipher; an intentional confusion to suggest that the audience may not understand what’s going on. As I refer to above, the possibility of lagging and buffering, interferences, interruptions etc. create a texture that has resonances with some of the difficulties queer people can experience in being heard/seen and is a textural quality that I embrace in my poetry storytelling to underline a point. Especially so in terms of when I talk about queer people including myself discovering our sexuality at a young age in spaces/ places where being anything other than heterosexual is frowned upon/not accepted. Obstacles are often deliberately put in someone’s path to coming out or feeling they are unable to express their (queer) sexuality directly/clearly or express it in any way at all. Whilst the green-screen background acts [as] a base, each live iteration containing so many levels of improvisation means that a performance/film screening can never be repeated twice. Containing so many visual and audio clashes and dizzying sound levels for texture and difference, the layering subsides in places and towards the end, and the taunts are heard more clearly. Whilst there are moments throughout the performances where I make everything super clear, then I go back out, one audience member commented that the discomfort weirdly enough made him feel like he was in the room with me and that the ‘interruptions, craziness, and everything being so distorted visually made it better than it being smooth otherwise it would have felt like a slide show. I loved love the fact that it is not perfectly synchronised’. Extending these qualities when I perform the work now more often IRL, with the imagery on a screen / on a projection near me where I read my poems, I deliberately engineer a slight ‘out-of-syncness’.

What do you feel are the differences for yourself as performer and/or for the audience between the live events married with film and the works that have been made as complete films?

I guess for me it has something to do with me performing my poems live and me being present in the moment with an audience, be that online or in the physical space. During the live performance, I often incorporate a sense of improvisation within the work to whatever degree I feel/ how I am triggered by a particular audience. At present this only extends to the poems that I am reading and not to the visual imagery. To explain, as I perform, I go ‘off script’. I don’t mind if the moving imagery is out of ‘sync’ with what I am reading as a result of me going off-script as that adds to the performance. It also shows to the audience that I am present with them and responding to the mood and feel of the room, much like what a stand-up comedian does. [11]

When I go off-script I often give the audience ‘insider’ details about something that I have just said in the poem. For example, when I performed my poem Nice Cup of Tea at Gobjaw the other week in London, I stopped reading towards the end, came out of my ‘poetry-voice’ and told the audience that after all those cups of tea I had been drinking mentioned in the poem, I really wanted to go the toilet (which I knew was what a lot of people in the audience were wondering!). But more provocatively than that, at other times, I self-interrupt my performances and say things that I would never be able to say to anyone at the time (my teenage years in the 1990s) that a lot of my poems are set in. I remember stopping during a reading of Covert Operations recently just after the line where I say ‘Mr Suputo, my sexy Italian teacher for Geography Phwoar. My imagination in your class took me everywhere’ to tell the audience exactly what I found attractive about said teacher; that I thought Mr Suputo had a great bum despite those rather baggy cream coloured chinos popular with men in the 1990s that he wore, and that I am convinced he clocked me having a peak at said behind which I think he quite enjoyed from the cheeky (no pun intended) smile he gave me. And don’t start me off on what I once shared with the audience during a reading of Covert when I talk about secretly fancying Grammar School Guy ‘through the flames of my griddle’!

Sure, there can be times during a film screening that I am present at with an audience that I can share these more intimate details after the screening but there’s nothing like sharing those details live with an audience as the poem unfolds.

At present, as I am speaking out my poems aloud with the moving imagery behind me/to my side, the imagery will be set.[12] However, I am now exploring live ways to remix that imagery in future performances by adding another layer (a ‘live’ layer that could have more than one video feed) by using VJ software and live feeds. I love working within the field of moving image because of the levels of control that I can have and the (creative) restrictions of the confines of the iMovie timeline. Yet, this sharply contrasts with my prior performance work which often had an improvisatory nature and could be characterised as having a high degree of unexpected/chance elements. To explore this axis of working between control and the unexpected/unplanned/improvisatory initially, I’d like to gain knowledge and understanding of working with VJ software and live feeds where I import clips into VJ software so I have no control in terms of the running order those clips will appear during screenings of the films.

The situations above recall a conversation with University of Nottingham’s Susannah Goh, after my aforementioned Immersive Storytelling Symposium performance above, where I was performing in one room and the audience sat watching me in a theatre on a giant screen. Susan expressed that there was almost magical quality about the different spatial dynamics at force during what I did. Paraphrasing her ideas, Susannah suggested that the moment that I walked out of the room where I had conducted the performance and into the theatre only feet away was ‘as if by magic’ I appear from my performance digital reality into another (real-world) reality, almost like a person on television stepping out of the TV set and into the living room (physical space). ‘All of a sudden, you appeared!’, Susannah mentioned with gusto. She then mentioned that one of the audience members watching my performance live in the theatre, the audience had witnessed, for her, what was a deeply personal raw experience through someone else’s eyes. And then, as if by magic, that individual (me) appears as a (physical) person like me on television appearing/stepping out of the screen. Consequently, the audience had to relate to me in a completely different way. I entered the theatre to answer questions from the audience and break things down. Susannah appreciated this as the actor(s)/performer(s) being present to take questions, explain things etc. immediately after the performance in the same space as the audience is not what you (always) get in a theatre and therefore the audience superimpose what they think the performance was about.

I am also currently exploring incorporating a live performance element and generating a live cinematic experience where live performance ‘interacts’ with the films. For example, as the film Let Rip: Personal History of Seeing (2019) is being screened, all of a sudden, performers start coming in, re-enacting what is on screen creating a mirroring what’s on screen so there is a liveness to proceedings. These performance interruptions echo moments in the films. Actual football players enter the space carrying McDonalds’ bags and then pull out their jockstraps; a football player in a jockstrap winking at me, etc.

Artist Jeff Keen used ripping, cutting and burning in his films and also integrated drawing and performance. Like Jeff, I’d like to paint onto the (projection) screen then rip the screen as something is being projected and then rip the screen with another screen behind it. Or maybe that I use Zoom to do the interrupting? In other words, in the same manner as I have segued Zoom recordings into my poetry film, as I have done so with my 2022 poetry film version of Let Rip: Teenage Scrapbook during moments in my physical performances where ripping takes place, there are Zoom interruptions which the audience are not sure are recorded or taking place live.

In terms of developing my poetry film further, I am also planning to make a new film which has both the narrative arc of a football match and the same length: 90 minutes. This is to question: 1) How much of myself would I disclose in terms of the personal given that duration (90 mins)? and 2) How much time do you give yourself as a viewer to work that you know is difficult psychologically or emotionally or physically to engage with?  Whilst still wishing to incorporate archival footage and employ the same green screen effect I currently use to achieve seductive layers seeping through to ‘compel’ the viewer, by creating new mantras/rituals, I want to explore repetition and the ‘musicality’ / the sound design of the film to compel and ‘repel’ the viewer. My film Tackle has a musicality, but its sonic complexity doesn’t go far enough. Let Rip: The Beautiful Game only reveals limited personal details about me because of its short duration. Using sonic visual attacks associated with my love of the YouTube Poop phenomenon, I want to now produce a film so unlistenable but at the same time involves/seduces the listener/viewer.


You’ve said that the “performative filmic backdrop … involves me creating a bridge between video, poetry and performance and, in turn, proposing a new way of thinking about what the somewhat tired term ‘collage’ may be.” I’m very interested in this idea of creating a bridge between communicative formats and your exploration of collaging and layering. For me that is developing between video, poetry and the page and a new way of thinking about graphic design. Does your work appear on the page? Is this an interpretation you’ve thought about?

I’ve had several of my poems published in journals and magazines including The Atticus Review, Ink, Sweat and Tears, Powders Press, Otherwise, You Are Here – The Journal of Creative Geography and Queerlings – A Literary Magazine for Queer Writing and where possible a link to the poetry film accompanying the respective poem is provided and/or artworks that I have made to accompany the poem. I haven’t really thought too much beyond that at the moment but is definitely something I would like to work with in the future.

Particularly so as the ‘static’ printed page, for me, also represents a space which can be thought of in terms of time and duration if we recall comments that I made earlier about static things and objects revealing ideas and thoughts over time in just the same way as durational work e.g., in film and moving image work do in the more traditional sense of them being ‘durational works’. In 2020, I made a 2D collage work using felt tips on paper, Fag in your Face. Its composition sets up a relationship to depth, surface and text where the writing interrupts the image thus setting up a dialogue between interiority, superficiality and surface and depth.[13] Cut lines and ripped lines combine with one text layer on another text layer. The writing is direct whereas the image is less direct. The writing over the image determines its meaning.  There is an oscillation between something that is overwhelmingly simple but actually quite complex. It could be said that the writing interrupts that in many ways. The text seems quite blunt first off but not over time. As a collage drawing, different layers make the viewer explore idea around shininess, smoothness, texture and intimacy. The ripped pages have a grainy texture. On a sensorial level, it feels like there’s’ more depth to something; the shinier something is the more impenetrable it is in many ways, the less that it reveals about itself. The imperfectness of it not being perfectly smoothly stuck down gives it a depth. The repetition of the figure that is turned away from you. Aggregation of time is coming through in the sense that you can still feel the rip even if you can’t see it or hear it. The gentle tears and violent rips of the collaged-together drawings that form Fag directly reference my moving image work, where ripping is used a device to both reveal and conceal.

Developing this work, I thought that maybe the writing and the faces in opposition with each other could be more explicit. I could decentre the text or rethink its placement, so the writing is a layer in itself beyond just being a vehicle for meaning / getting a message across like a protest placard. Maybe the writing could get more diffuse and indeterminate as to create a third meaning with the images rather than underlining the meaning of the work.

The ideas above about Fag could act as a starting point for how I start to work with the page more to present my poetry in a time durational manner in the ways I suggest. I like the ideas of the words to my poems written on the page in ways that make them illegible/hard to make out/indeterminate in places as to underline the content within a lot of my poems. Words that are folded into the texture of images. Certainly an interesting avenue to explore!

Lee Campbell

Bio: Dr Lee Campbell is an artist, poet experimental filmmaker, writer, Senior Lecturer at University of the Arts London, curator of regular performance poetry night POW? Play on Words in South London and founder of Homo Humour, the first of its kind project on contemporary queer male film and moving image practices that explore humour and LGBTQ+ storytelling. His experimental performance poetry films have been selected for many international film festivals since 2019 including Queerbee LGBT Film Festival, The Gilbert Baker Film Festival, Kansas 2020 and 2021, HOMOGRAPHY, Brussels and STATES OF DESIRE: Tom of Finland in the Queer Imagination, Casa de Duende, Philadelphia, USA, 2020 WICKED QUEER 2021, Boston, USA, FilmPride – Brighton & Hove Pride’s official LGBTQ+ film festival, Brighton, UK, Splice Film Festival 2021, Brooklyn, USA and Darkroom Festival, London.

 Notes:

[1] You can read more about my usage of the rip in these films here in this reflective account I wrote this year for Moving Image Artists Journal https://movingimageartists.co.uk/2022/03/25/let-rip/  You can view all of these films mentioned in this paragraph here: https://filmfreeway.com/LeeCampbell

[2] Details of On Your Marks (Tension Lines) (2020) as part of Sidewalk Video Gallery programme can be found here: https://www.fsfaboston.com/the-sidewalk-video-gallery/campbell-milosevic

[3] You can find documentation of past POW! Play on Words events here: https://leecampbellartist.blogspot.com/p/curatorial-lee-campbell-projects.html

[4] Compare the text on screen in Let Rip: A Personal History of Seeing and Not Seeing (2019)  https://filmfreeway.com/LETRIP with the hand drawn text animations at the start of Covert Operations (2022) https://filmfreeway.com/COVERTOPERATIONS

[5] Details of this project can be found here: https://leecampbelltechnoparticipation.blogspot.com

[6] These comments were made by Esther Moreno Morillas during her presentation ‘Porn Festivals During COVID-19, An Online Approach’, at Moving Image, Popular Media and Culture Research Seminar on Wednesday 9th March 2022.

[7] You can view details and watch a recording of this performance online here: https://filmfreeway.com/POLARIPUPPET2020

[8] You can view details and watch a recording of these performances online here: https://filmfreeway.com/CLEVERATSEEINGWITHOUTBEINGSEEN2021 and https://filmfreeway.com/PEERLIVEZOOMPERFORMANCE

A live Zoom performance of Peer is taking place on 17th July as part of Festival ECRA: Details here: https://www.festivalecra.com.br/6fecraperformances-1/par

[9] You can read about The Digital Pedagogies Open Studio I co-set up at University of the Arts London in ‘Technoparticipation’ article I wrote, recently published in Performance Research journal issue ‘On Interruptions’:

[10] To see documentation of the performance and the spatial set up I mention here, visit: https://leecampbelltechnoparticipation.blogspot.com/2021/11/clever-at-seeing-without-being-seen.html

[11] For an example of this, see when I performed my poem Rufus last year at Monkey Business Comedy Club in Camden:  https://youtu.be/EGfvcbTLJTQ

[12] For examples of this, see when I performed at Bold Queer Poetry Soirée, Above the Stag Theatre, London in June 2022 https://youtu.be/UrQlOEZH7do and at Runt of the Litter in London, May 2022 https://youtu.be/n5iXKBQQMeU

[13] This work was made as part of The Daily Winds Map of Brighton https://brightoncca.art/event/the-daily-winds-map-of-brighton/

Hover over the area around George Street on the map and Fag in my Face will appear with accompanying description.

Poetry and film: an essay in two voices

A still from Haunted Memory.

Marie Craven: If you have the time and inclination, Dave, I’m interested to hear your thoughts about the piece on Haunted Memory, by Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin, that we published recently on the main Moving Poems side of the site.

Dave Bonta: It was an interesting essay, but I do feel that if its makers call something an essay film or an audiovisual essay, it’s not entirely fair to re-brand it as a film poem just because that’s what our site is about. I’m wary about a kind of hegemonic impulse that leads critics to expand the bounds of their favorite genre beyond a point that’s helpful for the average reader, listener or viewer. (I feel that TriQuarterly, for example, does this all too often for the pieces in their video section, branding them all as “video essays” even when they’re clearly adaptations of texts termed poems by their authors.)

Yes, Haunted Memory is very lyrical and resembles a lot of poetry films, but proponents of creative nonfiction would argue I think that it is a separate category distinct from journalism on the one hand and poetry on the other. So by the same token I’ve resisted the temptation to showcase especially poetic documentaries over the years, though there’s clearly plenty of overlap and mutual influence, and one can find examples of film-makers who work in both genres, such as Lori H. Ersolmaz and Roxana Vilk.

MC: Thanks for the feedback.

In one way, I see critical and theoretical writing about any art as inherently hegemonic, in that a position is adopted above the field it is mapping. But I take your point about re-branding, especially the part about stretching things to a point beyond what might be helpful to audiences.

About TriQuarterly: they published one of my videos in their current issue as a video essay. I have no problem with it. That piece, Kitsch Postcards, from a poem by Amanda Stewart, fits both categorisations, I think. Perhaps from a film-maker’s point of view, there is an element of pragmatism in how and why we may identify with certain genres or forms. The terminology may be more fluid for a film-maker than a critic or theorist.

DB: It’s not a bad thing to keep continuously challenging the rules, even one’s own rules. It’s entirely possible that I’ve gotten a little hide-bound about Moving Poems over the past ten years. And I can see where you’re coming from as a film-maker. But all categories are ultimately arbitrary and fluid; the question is, do they help or hinder our understanding? Poetry itself is notoriously hard to define, and I tend to side with those who simply say that a poem is whatever a poet says it is. So if a video artist declares themselves a poet and starts making what they call videopoems, I’ll consider their work for the site on that basis.

I’ve also somewhat arbitrarily ruled out films or videos lacking in anything that might be considered text, either in the soundtrack or on screen. I follow Tom Konyves in that regard. If I don’t also attempt to distinguish between poetry films and videopoems in a thoroughly Konyvesian fashion, that’s mainly because I see myself as a curator rather than a critic. It would simply be too confusing, and possibly off-putting, for general visitors to Moving Poems to try and navigate between separate videopoem, film poem, poetry film, and cinepoetry categories, for example, so I’ve treated all these things as roughly synonymous and let it go at that. I guess you could say I’m trying to respect the populist impulse of the avant-garde without succumbing to its more elitist tendencies, because I want the site to appeal to people from all kinds of educational and cultural backgrounds.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying yes, I agree with your pragmatic outlook, but I do feel that some distinctions are still useful.

MC: I like the idea that “a poem is whatever the poet says it is”. Artists are often not given that much power over their own work in the broader culture arising around them. I guess we have to leave something to the critics/theorists, who draw on our work to inspire what they do in their own distinct fields of endeavour. I wonder if what they do is a kind of appropriation? I might be less ambivalent about critical theory if I were to view it as a new creative work arising from one that came before it.

Another thing that may have prompted some of what I wrote about Haunted Memory, is an email I recently received from someone in the German-speaking world who is very dedicated to our area of interest. They mentioned how unhelpful they find the term “videopoetry”. As I understood this email, most of their dislike of the term seemed to be about funding policies in that part of the world, as they relate to staging festivals and events in our genre. But they consider the term old-fashioned too, belonging to the 1990s at the latest.

There was also a recent discussion in the Poetry Film Live group on Facebook, in response to a post about the terminology most acceptable within a PhD. Alongside responses from several others highly engaged in our field, I confessed that I tend to interchangeably use terms like poetry film, film poetry, poetry video, videopoetry, and any others in this vein. Part of that discussion was also about whether videopoetry (or whatever) is a “genre” or a “form”. I find this to be of little real consequence (except in the context of a PhD), and again tend to use the terms interchangeably.

DB: Well, there’s no doubt that the Germans, like the Brits, consider “film” the proper term, and are snobby about “video”. And I can well believe that funding organizations might be more impressed by applications using a term perceived to have more gravitas and prestige. But most of the rest of the world goes with some version of “video”.

The form vs. genre discussion is interesting I suppose, but to me a poetic form implies fairly strict rules, so for example a sonnet ought to fit or at least strongly suggest the received opinion of what constitutes a sonnet. What sorts of rules define a videopoem? Precious few. So videopoetry as I understand it is a genre of poetry, yes — as well as a genre of film/video. But not a form.

One could make the distinction that videopoetry or film poetry is a genre of poetry, whereas poetry film, including most animations, is a genre of film. And I think that can be a useful way of thinking about different tendencies or orientations in the work we see. But in reality, I think, many poetry videos emerge from collaborative partnerships between a writer and a film-maker, in which sometimes the text does not precede the project but arises in response to images or music. Or sometimes it might have had a separate life in print or as live performance, but becomes a new thing when adapted to film/video. So the question of whether to consider the final product a film adaptation or an original videpoem becomes fairly academic. They’re poles on a continuum, basically.

MC: Poles on a continuum, yes. I think that videopoetry is both a genre of poetry, and a genre of film. It is a hybrid embodying the histories of both art forms.

In terms of “the Germans” and “the Brits”, it could be argued that “video” is the term that should always be adopted, as it is the most accurate description of the technology we are using, i.e. digital video. The term “film” fundamentally describes moving images on celluloid. There are global subcultures that can be snobby about anything other than celluloid film, especially in the experimental film world. I was once one of them, back when video and film were more clearly different things, and video was recorded on magnetic tape.

DB: Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s worth remembering that the term “video” was invented decades before the advent of video cassettes, and deployed as early as 1937 to describe what was broadcast on television. Nobody talks about “film games” or “online film hosting”. So I do feel it’s a better, more neutral catch-all term for moving images in the era of mass communications.

Marc Neys

I guess one thing I’ve learned over the years is that one can become a great videopoet or film poet without necessarily being a brilliant poet on the page or the stage. Just as Arthur Waley was a great poet with a distinctive voice only when he translated other people’s poems into English, so, for example, is someone like Marc Neys able to develop a distinctive and powerful poetic voice in videopoetry despite not being a page poet himself. Over the years, I’ve really grown to appreciate how rare a truly original eye is, and how a genuinely great poetry film-maker’s work might as well constitute a unique new genre.

And then there are all the poets I’ve come to know who learn how to make videos themselves and find that it revitalizes their writing, and sometimes also changes their whole perspective on publishing, simply because the way videos are hosted and shared online tends to make a hash of traditional, scarcity-based publication models.

Which brings me in a somewhat circuitous fashion back once more to the film vs. video distinction. To the extent that screening work in festivals (or in rare occasions in limited theater runs) may prevent it from being freely shared online, it might still make sense to distinguish between something shared as if it were a scarce artifact analogous to a celluloid film, versus something that can be shared as if it were an endlessly replicable composition analogous to a poem.

MC: You mentioned Marc Neys. I almost see videopoetry as revolving around his work. It embodies something unique in the contemporary genre. To me, what he has done represents a true expression of the avant-garde in our midst, opening ways forward that many of us haven’t yet seen. Much art is labelled avant-garde, but not so much fits the description. It’s not that I feel we all should emulate what he has done (on the contrary), but there is much to learn from the spirit of his approach.

Jumping on to another of your thoughts: it’s wonderful for me to think of video revitalising the work of poets. Poetry certainly has reinvigorated film-making to a huge degree for me. This give and take between the parts of the hybrid form is inspiring.

I like what you say about distribution as well. Online publishing is liberating in relation to the older models. Scarcity-based distribution seems so tied up with capitalism. I like things free.

DB: Amen to that. Thanks for the discussion.

Dancepoems: a new voice in poetic heteroglossia

The term ‘heteroglossia’ originates in the intertwined roots of the personal and social and captures the dynamic evolution of individual and collective forms of meaning inherent in human experience. ‘Heteroglossia’ was coined by the late Russian philosopher and literary critic, Mikhail Bakhtin, who conceptualized it in linguistic terms, as a convergence of multiple dialects and varieties within one language.

Just like all acts of expression, poetry is historically and geographically situated. Exploring poetry through this perspective of multiplicity allows expansion of these boundaries, opening them up to new territories. I have been engaged in what I call heteroglossic poetry for a number of years, with the intention of intertwining various art forms with poetry. Approaching poetry through heteroglossia has infused my practice with freedom and a sense of purpose.

I like to create my own ‘poetic cocktails’, in which I combine my playing of piano or harp with poems written by myself or others. I have also created short films, in which I edited together photographs or film sequences with music and poetic voiceovers. (And I have also experienced heteroglossia on a linguistic level as a poet writing in Slovakian, which is my mother tongue and in English, which is my dominant language).

However, I have felt most satisfied with poetic heteroglossia that blends the ingredients of several artists. In 2015, I held an honorary position as a poet in residence at the Westbury Arts Centre, Buckinghamshire, England. As part of this role I collaborated with many artists represented by the centre: photographers, ceramicists, designers, performers and other creative practitioners. A particularly fruitful collaboration was with a visual artist Kate Wyatt, which resulted in a pamphlet of ekphrastic poems and a joint exhibition at an art gallery in London in 2015.

This experience taught me the importance of placing meaning above any hierarchy of artistic forms. Genuine heteroglossia is not confined by arbitrary boundaries of ephemeral needs or situational priorities. Poetry is placed alongside other art-forms, such as paintings for example, that together constitute one artistic piece. When composing heteroglossically, I felt free to draw upon a vast, shared mosaic that captures the visceral, the complex and the ineffable. Yet, the more my poetic practice had become heteroglossic and artistic collaborations grew, the more I was moving towards a territory of untouchable and transcendent aspects of life. I came to realize that I needed another outlet for my heteroglossic expression: dance.

Dance and poetry often emulate each other. Dance is said to be poetry in motion and poetry the dance of words, so how can their dominant voices be married without conflict? When toying with the multiple voices of dance and poetry, I didn’t want to envelop movement in language. Rather, I aimed to explore how poetry and dance could address the invisible forces within each of us. I wanted to respond to the “visceral ways of connecting to the inner landscape of self and the outer landscape of the natural world” (p.67, Snowber & Bickel, 20151).

I had never danced before but felt that I needed to develop my understanding through experiencing what I was trying to express. Encouraged by Chris Bradley, a dancer, choreographer and teacher living in Milton Keynes, UK, I gained the confidence required to rise to the challenge of composing a ‘dancepoem’. Later, I collaborated with an aerial dancer, Ed Swift, in Manchester and most recently with Dickson Mbi in London. We ‘danced’ poems and ‘wrote’ dance movements – creating ‘dancepoems’.2

Poetry combined with dance has been described as moving poetry or choreopoetry. But if the two originate in unison and yet keep their discrete voices as they progress, then I feel the term ‘dancepoem’ better captures their interconnectivity and shared past. In the concept of ‘dancepoems’, words do not mimic moves and moves do not mirror words. Poetry and dance do not blend; they are in the same rhythm. In this respect, they resemble a musical argument. As Phil Lesh (1982) explained: “A musical argument is not the same as a verbal argument. A verbal argument implies that there’s two sides; a musical argument makes the two sides one thing, like counterpoint”.3 Therefore, when composing ‘dancepoems’, it is important to ensure that both arts play their own ‘instruments’. Poetry and dance should not eclipse each other’s voices, but swell into bigger proportions as one shared voice. In doing so, they enrich individual artistic practices and enable mutual learning and personal growth.

Last year a woman from an unnamed youth organization approached me, with great enthusiasm, about running a workshop for them. I had to turn down her kind offer as I didn’t want to translate this new artistic form into a business opportunity. I didn’t have a recipe that could be followed step by step and developed into a suite of courses. All my ‘dancepoems’ were created organically as a result of gradual and delicate negotiation with the individual dancers. Sometimes a poetic phrase came first, sometimes it was a move. Occasionally there was more dance than poetry, or vice-versa. At times we followed musical phrases and at others, stanzas and poetic rhythm. So far, I have danced with male dancers because it fitted the theme of universal forces that my ‘dancepoems’ responded to, but ‘dancepoems’ can relate to any theme: be it mixed, single, duo or larger dance groups. I told the well-meaning woman that they were free to monetize and popularize the concept in any way that worked for their organization. I felt fixing ‘dancepoems’ to a model would go against the very nature of heteroglossia.

Nevertheless, the more attention my ‘dancepoems’ received, the more I realized that I was producing something new which might be of interest to others. Sadly, as I am not a full-time artist I could not dedicate my time to live performances. I thought of sharing my ‘dancepoems’ online but I was apprehensive of the digital medium and how it would affect poems and dance. I was concerned that the screen might flatten a spatial experience and remove the visceral feeling spectators have when they breathe the same air as the dancers on stage. Moreover, I worried that combining words, dance and music for a small screen might fragment the meaning and overall impression. Taking into account the forces shaping our contemporary lives, including increased digitalization of privacy and communication, I found myself caught between the traditional forms (dance seen live and poetry read on paper) and our modern social media sharing culture.

I returned to Bakhtin for an answer and reread his works. I learnt that denying tension between multiple forms and rich content is at the very heart of heteroglossia. As Benjamin Bailey, University of Massachusetts-Amherst writes, “heteroglossia addresses (a) the simultaneous use of different kinds of forms or signs, and (b) the tensions and conflicts among those signs, based on the sociohistorical associations they carry with them” (Bailey, 2007, p.2574). While diglossia (i.e. the use of two clearly different varieties of language) is about the “development and characteristics of standardization” in language (Ferguson, 1959, p.4295), heteroglossia is about validating and valorizing the tensions among voices.

When I released my first ‘dancepoem’ on YouTube in 2015, it was picked up by several outlets (including Moving Poems and The Woven Tale Press) and resulted in many messages and comments from other artists. I began to realize the power of the collective digital voice and how it can lead to a re-examination of the creative process and its presentation. I came to see how much of contemporary poetry practice depends on the medium (such as so-called Twitter or Instagram poetry) and was encouraged by the prospect of ‘dancepoems’ offering a medium-free art form. I have begun a living book of dancepoems, where I capture my thoughts on producing and consuming dancepoems and where others can add their own works. (Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to join our community.)

To conclude, heteroglossia is an empowering concept that encourages fusion of established canons and innovative forms, and in doing so, is shaping a new landscape for the poetic voice. As our lived realities are becoming increasingly multicultural, multi-platform and multi-vocal, poetic heteroglossia offers a means for realising the polyphonic forces between self and others. For me, ‘dancepoems’ carry the deeper message of heteroglossia, perhaps the most important message of all poetry, which aspires to listen to the world and echo its multiple voices.


1Snowber, C., & Bickel, B. (2015). “Companions with mystery: Art, spirit and the ecstatic.” In Walsh, S., Bickel, B., & Leggo, C. (eds), Arts Based and Contemplative Practices in Research and Pedagogy, New York: Routledge (pp. 67-87).

2https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLgHBEuAWdVyVgG4Z7MKxtMfXrXU79R2Nk

3Cited in Gans, David (2002). Conversations With The Dead, Cambridge: Da Capo Press.

4Bailey, B. (2007). Heteroglossia and boundaries. University of Massachusetts – Amherst. From the Selected Works of Benjamin Bailey.

5Ferguson, C. A. (1959). “Diglossia”. Word, 15, 429-439.

Lucy English shares lessons from The Book of Hours poetry film project

The latest issue of Poetry Film Live includes an extremely interesting new paper by Lucy English, “WRITING POETRY FOR POETRY FILMS: an exploration of the use of spoken word poetry in poetry films“. It joins a growing section at the magazine of essential papers on poetry film and videopoetry by the likes of Sarah Tremlett, Tom Konyves, Fil Ieropoulos, and Susannah Ramsey. The paper is much too long to quote in its entirety, but here’s how it begins:

The Book of Hours is an online collaborative poetry film project, which forms the creative component of my PhD in digital writing. I am making forty eight poetry films to correspond to four different times of day for all the months of the year. This structure has been based on the Medieval Books of Hours, highly decorated and beautiful collections of prayers and readings which followed the Christian calendar. My book of hours is secular but is meditative in nature and intends to create a reflective mood. All the poetry films have been made in collaboration with international film makers. (English, 2016)

For the critical component of my Phd I chart the development of the project and the collaborative process. I also examine what has informed the writing of the poetry for The Book of Hours. Although the poetry exists in a poetry film form it also exists as printed text, a collection of poetry, which will be published by Burning Eye in 2018. In this article I have tried to unpick my understanding of the writing of the poetry, from initial inspirations, to its development as a cohesive collection, and what sources I have looked to for guidance.

English goes on to talk about her background in the spoken word poetry scene, how she’s had to adjust her writing style “to find a contemplative form of spoken word that can be translated to poetry film”, why she chose to pattern her work after Medieval books of hours, and the challenges of writing ecopoetry in modern Britain, among other topics. I found her mix of academic and personal discourse engaging and her arguments persuasive. Do go read… and then visit The Book of Hours to catch up on new additions.

Conversation with Poetry Film Live editors

Last summer, I met with Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron, the editors of Poetry Film Live and co-producers of many poetry films themselves, for a wide-ranging discussion that lasted several hours. Helen has just edited and released an 11-minute video from that conversation:

I’m told that at least one more selection from our conversation might be in the works. In the meantime, I believe there are still some openings for the two-day workshop Helen and Chaucer are leading in Poole on 13-14 January.

A month of women’s poetry film: some observations and questions

Film critic Laura Mulvey in 2010 (photo: Mariusz Kubik, CC BY 3.0)

Did you notice? I didn’t notice myself until about two weeks in that I’d only been posting videos or films directed by women and featuring the work of women poets. At that point, I wondered how long I could keep it up (pretty much indefinitely, it turns out) and whether anyone would ever notice and ask about it (no one has). The last video featuring a male poet was on 27 October (“The Laundry Can Wait” by Cyril Wong, directed by Sarah Howell), and the last film directed by a man was on 24 October (“Dancing Lesson” by Rachel Kann, directed by Bradford L. Cooper). Which is not to say that men haven’t played key roles in making some of the things I’ve featured since, as editors, videographers, composers, etc., just that women occupied the lead roles.

The point of this post is not what a great, enlightened guy I am (ask my partner how often I interrupt her in the course of an average conversation). But it seemed like a fitting response to the on-going revelations of rampant sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood and beyond. And the exercise does raise some interesting questions, I think:

1. There are a LOT of good women directors of poetry films at all levels of professionalism and ability. So many of them are now “regulars” at Moving Poems that I can go quite a few days without posting anything made by a man, purely by chance, just as sometimes I may go for a week or two without posting any women. Does this mean that the number of men and women active in poetry film and videopoetry is roughly equal? Or might it be partly because male directors gravitate toward certain types of poetry (Charles Bukowski, for example) or filmmaking (superficially pretty shots) that don’t interest me as much? I’m really not sure.

2. Contrary to stereotype, female poets might be, if anything, less likely than their male counterparts to shy away from the technical challenges of making their own videopoems. Or perhaps women are just more adventuresome, or less likely than men to be narrowly focused on following traditional routes of advancement as poets?

3. Thinking about the major, long-term collaborative partnerships in the world of English-language poetry film, I actually can’t think of any that are exclusively male. If both partners aren’t female, than either the poet or the filmmaker is going to be a woman. I’m sure there must be exceptions to this, but the fact that I can’t think of any off-hand dovetails with another thought I’ve often had over the years: Could it be that women are more open to creative collaboration in general?

4. As hybrid forms, videopoetry and poetry film benefit from hybrid visions. An openness to collaboration would therefore be a huge advantage. But mightn’t it also be a disadvantage from a careerist perspective, luring people away from a single-minded focus on their own work necessary to, for example, qualify for tenure at an American university?

5. The male gaze has long been a tool of oppression, reducing women to objects. It’s worth remembering that this very insight came originally from a feminist film critic (Laura Mulvey). So wanting to have more women behind the camera is potentially more than just a matter of wanting to be fair and give equal opportunity. Might it not open up the possibility of depicting the world in new, potentially revolutionary ways, as feminist film critics suggest? What might the female gaze and hypermediacy mean for poetry film in particular?

6. Do videopoems or poetry films made by women have any unique characteristics that we might identify? For example, are there certain kinds of shots that female filmmakers use more often than men? Do women gravitate more than men to certain strategies of juxtaposition or disjunction in videopoetry?

7. What about poems and films of feminist advocacy? Is it possible to be prescriptive and suggest the best poetry film-making strategies to move viewers toward a greater sympathy with and understanding of diverse perspectives?

8. I’m obviously no scholar, but I can think of one cynical explanation for why women directors and poets might be so well represented in poetry film and videopoetry right now: it’s not prestigious yet. Historically speaking, as soon as a woman-dominated art, craft or industry begins to make money, men elbow in and quickly take over, whether it’s brewing beer, making textiles, or even writing computer code — a woman-dominated field until the mid 1970s. Could the same thing happen with poetry film? If it does, one day editors like me might have to work quite a bit harder to avoid posting any male-directed films for a month.

I invite comments below on any of these points. Email me if you’d like to submit a post. (And personal stories are just as welcome as critical analysis.)

Exploring Contemplative Effects in Text-Based Video Poems

In 2005 I first began experimenting with rhythmic effects in relation to text-based, minimalist video poems as an extension of my work as a painter, filmmaker and writer. Influenced by a fusion of concrete poetry, feminist inquiry and structuralist and surrealist experimental film, I wanted to approach the essence of poetic structure in a reductive way, reconsidering the route to meaning through the traditional double pattern of verse – metre and rhythm – in moving, audiovisual terms.

Whilst contemplative effects exist across all forms of conventionally character and narrative-based poetry film, I wanted to strip down and magnify the prosody (rhythm) itself, and the letter became an ideal form, bringing less-suggested context to the inquiry. My aim was to focus on a series of minimal, visual text-based video poems as a way of exploring the remediation (Bolter and Grusin, 2000) of aural or verbal prosody in page-based verse. I am terming these video poems rather than poetry films as they weren’t created from pre-existing poems, but more as artworks with the screen as canvas. Within this formal definition I was interested in creating a particular type of contemplative effect, where a letter or word slowly disappears and reappears, that I termed de/rematerialising prosody. (Apologies for the weighty terminology!) The combined sequential, linear word with the cyclical form for me represented the two essential formal components of the verse form, but revised in a dynamical way through motion.

My initial experimentation with moving visual verse became a research project entitled Re: Turning – From Graphic Verse to Digital Poetics: historical rhythms and digital transitional effects in Graphic Poetry Films. I went on to deliver papers or organise exhibitions/talks around the subject at: Chelsea College of Art and Design, including the work of artist Liliane Lijn; VideoBardo ‘For The Earth’ conference in Buenos Aires 2012; MIX conference in Bath (2012 and 2013); the e-poetry conference, Kingston, 2013; The Southbank Centre Poetry International Festival of Love in 2014; and TARP audiovisual festival, Vilnius National Gallery of Art, 2015. A more in-depth account of contemplative effects and prosody will be included in the forthcoming publication The Poetics of Poetry Film, co-authored with Zata Banks, including essays from many of the top practitioners in the field.

My work has always looked over its shoulder to historical forms that expanded on the dual verbal/visual letter (or verbicovisual as the Brazilian concrete poetry Noigandres group have stated, following James Joyce’s neologism in Finnegan’s Wake). As is commonly known, in the mediaeval period illuminated manuscripts such as ‘Books of Hours’ (commissioned books of religious/spiritual contemplation) featured large initial letters of opening paragraphs that were also pictures depicting the scene being verbally described. In a similar way, several hundred years B.C. prayer wheels containing short, linear texts were turned or spun by Buddhist monks as a means of attaining enlightenment, effectively turning texts according to the natural rhythm of the wheel of life, dissolving the linear word in the cyclical elements beyond human control.

As such the dual word as image and the deconstructed linear word, subject to turning, has historic precedents, and these deconstructions of the word align with the need to access spiritual concerns. It is hard to ignore that the very foundations of verse, metre and rhythm are also said to have a spiritual base. As the English critic and poet T.E. Hulme (1883–1917) has noted in his Lecture on Modern Poetry (1908):

The older art (double pattern of traditional form) was originally a religious incantation … The effect of rhythm, like that of music, is to produce a kind of hypnotic state, during which suggestions of grief and ecstasy are easily and powerfully effective …

The binary, dual aspect of a letter as both visual and verbal, and also linear but also turned in poetic verse form, sat at the centre of my research. However, I was deterred by my supervisors from mentioning anything to do with spiritually related matters. And I should point out that I am not inferring in an absolutist way that a moving poetry film can create spiritually uplifting effects. What I have aimed to do is to appropriate and translate, in a form of broad metanarrative, historical structures and conventions as approaches to weaving a thoughtful and contemplative surface in its own right, as opposed to creating a poetic dramatic narrative containing effects. As can be imagined, many types of poetry film can be argued to utilise contemplative effects (knowingly or not) and I will discuss this further in the upcoming publication.

In 2005 I made a work that referenced the ‘carmina figurate’ in Renaissance texts, where typically a sacred image was picked out in red letters against a field of black type so that a holy figure could be seen and meditated on during the process of reading. The resulting film, Blanks in Discourse 3 — which became known as Mistaken Identity — was a commentary on consumer depictions of female identity. Found black text copy from women’s magazines became a foil against which the words I and Home were added in red, but juxtaposed with a computer error beep.

The resulting beep made a sonic pattern that, when shown in a gallery in Lithuania, created a delicate, random, plaintive ‘tune’ or irregular sequence. In some ways the pattern of notes, without direction or timing, evoked a sense of disconnection, but also pathos; of subjectivity and soul trying to play out within an out-of-control social environment.

Mistaken Identity, colour, sound, Sarah Tremlett, 2005.

As poetry is a temporal art, I sought to integrate metronomic time or interval measure with the durational or flowing rhythmic elements. This applied to both the aural and also the visual patterns before our eyes. In the early films I did not include voice, as I considered that an extra decipherable element in meaning creation, so that text, sound and image became the sole fusion of forms. I also examined ways of thinking about audiovisual structure as pure structure: repetition, blank space, cut-ups alongside minimal soundscapes. It is also important to note that my films and all the films in this essay have no definite beginning or end, which is why they cannot be defined by length; there is no narrative trajectory, simply a continuous play of audiovisual pattern that can be endlessly looped, and gradually interpreted.

There is some correlation between non-dramatic poetry films (more or less without a plotted narrative) and a more consciously affective reliance upon metronomic and rhythmic patterning. A still, framed space that changes and alters durationally, but not in tune with a sequential narrative, can have an effect on us that may be hard to put into words. One aspect of such a space can be its non-referential function. It does not talk of another space or time, but only its own being; which is why this sort of film is more accurately described as a video poem and most purely when the audio as well as the visual is newly composed, and relates back to the space, rather than associated with any other situation.

AMAM/AMMA, contemplative, minimal, graphic video poem; colour, sound, Sarah Tremlett, 2010.

As a minimal, contemplative form of graphic video poem, my work AMAM/AMMA in its letter formation comprises two paradoxical parts concerning the binary nature of the relationship between self and mother or mother and daughter. This work takes the words AM and MA, which not only palindromically, phonetically and visually but semantically create a parallelism of prosodic form with content. It asks the viewer to consider how the paratactical relationship between the two groups of letters which seem interchangeable function alongside the sound of a heartbeat. In minimal video poems we are not only examining a gestalt dialectical play between the parts and the whole or the text and the rest of the image, but also the dynamic motional play within the text itself. This work uses an irregular, fluttering, pulsing motion to explore a different understanding of beat or metre, and how blurring can have a conceptual relation to content, the tremulous nature of new life, as well as blurring boundaries of identity. Meaning is saturated throughout audiovisual form and content, supporting but testing Roman Jakobson’s theories of equivalence (1960) based on purely verbal poetic forms. On a wider scale, the dual pattern of constant beat (the heart) that underpins the rhythms of life in the womb and ‘outside’ also happens to be the core double essence of traditional verse-based poetry. The parallel between the way of human ‘being’ and the prosody of poetry might have a correlation that could explain the effects of poetry far deeper than we can imagine.

Thought Acts, B&W, Steve Fossey, Liberated Words II, 2013.

Another film concerned with de/rematerialisation of text and included in Liberated Words II at The Arnolfini, Bristol, in 2013, is British artist Steve Fossey’s Thought Acts. Here the sway of text and light with a moody soundtrack shifts between legibility and pattern: a fluctuating de/rematerialisation of text operates, as in AMAM/AMMA. The filmmaker is concerned with the visual effects of light and pattern and their inclusive relation to meaning. The disappearance and reappearance of visual text in itself encapsulates a form of gradual change through motion, a transitional effect that could be utilised to produce either slow cyclical repetitive rhythms, sometimes in relation to metronomic aural beats, or metronomic visual effects.

Les Lieux de Memoire by British artist Tamsin Taylor, which I included in Liberated Words poetry film screening at MIX 2012, is a slowed-down filming of a verse poem that has been scattered with water (seemingly tears), reconstituting itself through film reversal. Slowly we see the poem reappear, transcending conventional temporality, accompanied by the occasional blip, blip sound of what must have been the flicking of water onto the page. This echoes my film Mistaken Identity, in the heightened attunement to the smallness of random, repeated, identical sounds. This sublime video poem, which also engages with the liminal aspect between materiality and language and what I would term ‘elemental sound’ is an example of a de/rematerialisation process in a very profound and direct way. Les Lieux de Memoire asks us to engage with its very process of creation, its fundamental becoming or dynamic of change.

Les Lieux de Memoire, B&W, sound, Tamsin Taylor, Liberated Words I, 2012.

In Unrest by Italian artist Marco de Mutiis (included in Liberated Words I, 2012), the beginnings of a de/rematerialisation process have come into play, bringing forward the blank into a type of temporal form. Here words are diffused before blurring or disappearing alongside an eerie, repetitive, muffled ‘bleep’ sound, creating a metronomic sense of isolation — a non-narrative within a semi-narrative of scenes that seem played out rather than lived.

Unrest, colour, sound, Marco de Mutiis, Liberated Words I, 2011.

The metronomic interplays with the abstracted rhythms, and it is as if we are the systems that control us; we are discourse, but a discourse that is pre-written and out of our control; we don’t make it, we align with it. In fact, at a far bleaker and catastrophic level we are written or we are erased. To me this film contains signs of traditional prosody but in a new, conceptual way; and these rhythms appear to be embedded in the very fabric of our accelerated, overly-constructed human condition.

In my video poem She/Seasons/Contemplating Nature I aimed to blur the conceptual divisions between culture and nature, combining de/rematerialising prosodic texts from women’s magazines accompanied by metronomic star sounds and a pulsing coloured sphere that changes from cool to hot colours. She/Seasons/Contemplating Nature generates a cyclical return in four chromatic movements or phases which begin with ‘winter’ (in terms of colour) and return to it again and again on an endless loop. As the blurred effect increases, so the figure/ground (Arnheim, 1974) distinction lessens. Letters lose symbolic meaning as they become diffused into pattern. This cycle of chromatic prosodic change occurs as the text and the image slowly emerges and disappears. In some senses then, we can view the text and image as we might view the simple shapes of nature around us: trees and flowers which are subject to alteration due to the passage of seasons and time. American poet Stephanie Strickland’s notion of text decay (Kac, 2007) springs to mind but in this film the whole screen changes at once.

She/Seasons/Contemplating Nature, Sarah Tremlett, 2010/11.

In all the films mentioned, text has remained in its traditional, linear form yet also operates as visual, turned text. Meaning shifts between and as a fusion of text-based verbal language and audiovisual rhythms and effects, with almost non-existent narrative and a screen behaving as a contemplative canvas. Examining prosodic elemental forms is an attempt to naturalise how poetry works: how it weaves sounds and felt moments to create what we call ‘poetry’, or measured words through time. But whether an absolute comparison can be made between the verbal notational structures of verse prosody and those created via the moving audiovisual image is another question completely — one we will continue to debate for years to come.

REFERENCES

Arnheim, R., Art and Visual Perception – A Psychology of the Creative Eye. London, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

Bolter, D.J, & Grusin, R., Remediation – Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: The MIT Press, 2000.

Hulme, T, E., Lecture on Modern Poetry, 1908.

Jakobson, R., ‘Closing Statements: Linguistics and Poetics’. In: Thomas A. Sebeok, ed. Style In Language. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1960, 357.

Kac, E., Media Poetry – An International Anthology. Bristol: Intellect Books Ltd, 2007.

In Retrospect: a Manifesto and its Underpinnings

Last summer, I was invited to present a keynote address to the Poetry/Translation/Film conference organized by the University of Montpellier. Like a tour guide, I selected 19 videopoems, introducing each one. The venue was the Utopia, an aging, funky little cinema.

A few months ago, the organizers contacted me that they intend to publish a book of the proceedings and they were going to include my Manifesto, translated into French. Could I add a text “in which you look back on what you wrote then, say if there is anything you would revise if you were to rewrite your manifesto now, tell the reader of any developments between now and then, and what you foresee for the future?”

The questions were apt, as it occurred to me that it was around this time, 5 years ago, that I began writing what turned into the Manifesto. So here it is.

For those who may have trouble accessing Academia.edu, here’s the same PDF, uploaded with Tom’s permission to Moving Poems. —Ed.

Great introduction to film poetry… on the radio

I just listened to an excellent, 45-minute program on BBC Radio 3 called “Crossing the Border – Poetry and Film.” Though understandably UK-centric, its survey of the history of poetry films and film poetry gave due credit to early Soviet filmmakers and other international influences, and talked in some detail about the earlier conception of a film poem as simply a non-linear, lyric film. The highlight of the program for me was hearing Tony Harrison and Peter Symes explain the collaborative working process for their ground-breaking poetry films of the 1980s, articulating ideals strongly reminiscent of those of videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves from the other side of the Atlantic. I liked the attention paid to the link between poetry film and propaganda or advertising, which is a connection I don’t see spelled out very often. And I appreciated Alastair Cook’s positive assessment of what the democratization of access to filmmaking tools in the digital age has meant to the genre and those who practice it.

The program is now available on the website (and at iPlayer), though if I’m not mistaken BBC will block access to any IPs not originating in the UK, so international listeners may have to connect through a proxy. It’s well worth the hassle. Here’s the show description:

Right from the birth of cinema, film-makers have experimented with poetry in film. Matthew Sweet explores this overlooked history.

The Russian pioneer film-maker Dziga Vertov developed his celebrated montage technique out of Mayakovsky’s poetry and the GPO Film Unit’s ‘Night Mail’ with W H Auden’s closing poem owes a good deal to these Russian experimentalists. Starting at the unlikely site of the studio where scenes from ‘Night Mail’ were shot and recorded eighty years ago, Matthew establishes this iconic film as an important blueprint for poets and film-makers since.

In recent times, the poets Tony Harrison and Simon Armitage have both made documentary films where their poems replaced conventional commentaries. Matthew hosts a reunion between Tony Harrison and his collaborator, the film director Peter Symes, as they relive the powerful moment of filming of the exhumation of a body in a Neapolitan necropolis. This moment poses core questions about film poems: what does the viewer hear and see, how do word and image relate to each other? With Simon Armitage, Matthew learns how his poetry on film gives a voice to the marginalized. Now, a burgeoning movement of experimental film-makers are creating a new space for the production, curation and distribution of film poems in festivals and in digital media, so as the mainstream media fragment, film poetry is returning to its avant garde roots as was exemplified by early film poem makers such as Germaine Dulac and Maya Deren.

Producer: Emma-Louise Williams
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 3.

For those who haven’t seen Night Mail, here’s a YouTube upload.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkLoDg7e_ns