~ video hosting ~

How to publish poetry videos in a literary magazine: 20 tips and best practices

“Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise” by Jason Eppink (CC BY 2.0)

Video content is so pervasive on the web, it’s a bit surprising that so few literary magazines include it, though the pandemic has begun to change that, with a growing desire to fill the vacuum created by the nearly universal suspension of live readings. Still, there’s a whole world of poetry in video form that they’re missing out on. I’m actually a bit annoyed that Moving Poems has become such a dominant site for poetry videos; why the hell don’t we have more competition? Perhaps because the culture of video sharing on the web is a challenge to the way literary magazines tend to do business, to say nothing of the technical challenges of submitting, editing, hosting, etc. Many online magazine editors aren’t techies, and may believe that sharing videos is more complicated than it really is. And what to do if your journal is mainly print or PDF?

So I thought I’d be helpful and post some suggestions based on my nearly two decades of online publishing (including the pioneering online literary magazine qarrtsiluni). This is a work in progress, so if you have any additions or push-back, please let me know in the comments.

1. Consider adjusting rules on submission to allow previously published or screened films/videos, because otherwise you will get very few submissions. Any video that’s been uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, etc. and made public has been published.

2. Submission by web link (public or private) is easiest for everyone.

3. At least 75% of the good poetry films out there have been made by someone other than the poet, and that person is likely to be much more motivated to send it out. Especially since the text may have already appeared elsewhere as a page-poem, so the poet has moved on. Therefore journals need to reach out to poetry filmmakers, by for example posting a call-out on FilmFreeway as well as Duotrope or Submittable. There are also Facebook groups that editors could join where poetry film/video makers hang out, such as Poetry Film Live, Agitate:21C, and Pool. And I’m always happy to share calls for work here.

4. Encourage readers to share and embed the work anywhere rather than expecting that everyone will come to your site to watch it. If you include a link to the website or issue archive at the end of the video, this makes every share a free advertisement for the journal.

5. Do not try to host videos yourself unless you have nearly infinite resources and very good tech support. Streaming videos so that they scale down or up depending on the user’s device and internet speed is not easy, and it uses a lot of server CPU. WordPress.com video hosting and Vimeo video hosting are two very affordable alternatives that aren’t all junked-up with ads. But YouTube is fine, too. And there are others.

6. While it’s OK to share videos from the author’s or filmmaker’s account on Vimeo or YouTube, consider uploading all videos to your own accounts(s) instead. This gives you more control over presentation and guarantees long-term archiving. On Vimeo you can create a showcase for each issue, or on YouTube a playlist. Also, it’s all too common for user-uploaded content to eventually disappear — accounts get deleted or videos get taken down for any number of reasons. Moving Poems takes this risk because we’re fundamentally still a blog, and therefore accept a certain degree of ephemerality. But part of the responsibility of publishing a proper journal, I think, is to preserve an archive. The Internet Archive may index every page on your site, but if the video content disappears, there’s nothing they can do about that.

7. Don’t worry about redundancy. The same video might be uploaded to Vimeo multiple times by various people involved in making it. You might decide to upload everything you post to your journal to several major, competing video hosting services, to take advantage of social and search functions unique to each. It’s all good, as long as you don’t get trapped into thinking that there should be one, canonical location. That said, every video hosting location you control, be it YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, or Facebook, should include in the accompanying description a link to the journal location.

8. A Vimeo Plus account ($75/year) gives you the ability to put a working link (e.g. to your website) at the end of the video, as well as to remove Vimeo branding and cross-publish to YouTube and Twitter. Another reliable, non ad-ridden alternative is the aforementioned Internet Archive’s own video hosting service.

9. Consider not hosting video on Facebook and Instagram. Their APIs are more restrictive, they assert more rights over content, and Facebook’s lying about the importance of video content helped bankrupt some great newspapers. In short, Facebook sucks. Its corporate priorities in many ways directly conflict with your own, since it aims to replace the open web on which we all depend with its own, privatized alternative. Ultimately it may not be worth the trouble to upload videos to Facebook, in particular, given the way new content will only be shown to fans of a page if the page owner pays for the privilege — kind of an extortion racket. You’ll get more engagement simply by encouraging poets and filmmakers to share their posts on whatever social media platforms they’re active in, which could well include ones in which a literary journal would have little presence otherwise, such as Reddit or Twitch.

10. Give each video in a magazine its own post or page. You want a link that people can share. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to direct someone to a video on a page with a bunch of other videos on it. To say nothing of how such pages slow down your website. (Starting in May, Google search results will be penalizing pages that load too slowly.) Set up the video or multimedia section of the journal as a category of posts rather than a single page that is continually edited. For one thing, that means that those of us weirdos who still use feed readers will be alerted when you post new video content.

11. EMBED! Don’t make readers click through to somewhere else, for crying out loud. (If your website is built with WordPress, embedding is as simple as including a Vimeo or YouTube link on a line by itself.)

12. While embedded videos can usually be expanded by clicking on the lower right, regardless of the video host, not everyone knows how to do that, so it really helps to display videos at as great a width as possible on the laptop and desktop versions of your site, and make sure it goes full-width on the tablet and mobile versions. Resist the temptation to install a plugin that uses Javascript to pop out the video automatically when a user clicks on it. This would obscure any accompanying text, which if it includes the transcript is vital for accessibility.

13. Editing videos to add uniform branding at the beginning or end may be more trouble than it’s worth, and also obscures the true copyright situation in almost all cases. I tend to think that video/film branding should be organic and in keeping with over a century of film tradition. Incorporating the journal’s name into the video strongly implies that you helped produce it in some way — which is certainly an option (see below). Otherwise, hosting it from your own account provides all the branding that you realistically need.

14. Should you care if a video has already appeared elsewhere, in online or real-world festivals, or even in other journals? Remember that journals’ most valuable role in an age of content overload is curation, not uniqueness. Readers don’t have any expectation with other sorts of magazines that they will never reprint anything. A new music video may appear in dozens of competing magazines.

15. Accessibility: If you’re uploading videos to your own Vimeo or YouTube channel, think about adding closed captions. Also or instead, include the text of the poem alongside the video, both in the video description on the hosting platform you use, and in the post/page for the video in your journal.

16. If the poem previously appeared as text in another journal, be sure to link to it there — that’s just basic web etiquette.

17. Print or PDF journals can also include videopoetry! Include one or more stills, ideally in color, a short description of the film, a full transcript, a shortened URL, and a QR code linking directly to the video so that anyone with a mobile phone in their pocket can watch it right away. There are a number of free online services that will generate a QR code for any link.

18. Build relationships with existing poetry film producers (Motionpoems, Elephant’s Footprint, poetrycinema, the Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation, etc.), most of whom would probably be thrilled if you posted their videos on a regular basis.

19. If you have the resources, consider working with filmmakers to produce your own videos. This is certainly the best way to assert your primacy as a publisher, while still allowing the content you produce to be shared or embedded anywhere. Even a typically cash-strapped journal might be able to pull off something like this by forging an alliance with one or more teachers at film schools, where students could be supplied with texts from poets willing to let their work be put to transformative use.

20. Make sure a still from the video appears as the featured image for the post when it’s shared on social media or in email. (We use a WordPress plugin that does that automatically, as well as the Open Graph Protocol plugin.)

Ending net neutrality in the U.S. could be the end of Moving Poems

This week, I didn’t share any new videos at Moving Poems because it was a major holiday in the U.S. and not too many people were online. But if the new FCC chair (and former Verizon lawyer) Ajit Pai gets his way and net neutrality rules are overturned, my posts might be this sparse every week. Why? Because without net neutrality, it’s difficult to imagine that no-budget and low-budget filmmakers, video artists and remixers will be able to keep doing what they’re doing. Want to find good indie music for a soundtrack, for example? Good luck with that.

So imagine for a second a musician sells their own digital music — on their website, on Bandcamp, wherever. iTunes is riding in that fast lane. Spotify? Probably. But Bandcamp? The musician’s website? They’re more like a rusty BMX pulling a three-wheeled Radio Flyer wagon over a cracked sidewalk.

When someone buys digital music from an artist directly they’ll see long, slow downloads that hopefully manage to finish. When they stream music from that same musician’s site it’ll hang and pause unless it’s compressed to hell. But when that same person buys from iTunes? Smooth like butter.

Some fans will put up with the frustrating experience of buying direct from an artist because they know it’s better for them, but that’s not everyone. Expect direct-to-fan artist businesses to migrate to iTunes and Google. Without Title II net neutrality the web is just a battle of media titans with musicians caught in the crossfire. Artists who don’t sign everything over to big labels or plan to sell only through the biggest outlets will be hurt. The independent music world will be fundamentally changed. We’ve moved to a digital world. That isn’t going to change. Killing Title II net neutrality makes it even harder for independent musicians to survive in a digital landscape.

It’s hard to know what will happen with the big video hosting sites such as Vimeo and YouTube, but several analyses I’ve seen suggest they’ll become an extra paid option for most users, who might well just decide to stick with Netflix or Hulu. Websites like Moving Poems and Poetry Film Live are way out in the “long tail” of the internet — we’re nobody’s economic priority, and as the African proverb says, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

To put it simply, this is an existential threat to the internet as we know it. Here’s comedian John Oliver’s excellent and entertaining explainer from last May:

Public pressure is really critical over the next three weeks. So please help if you can — especially if you’re a U.S. citizen — and submit comments to the FCC as well as call or write to Congress, and consider joining street protests.

Hopefully this will all be going to court, and if this TechCrunch article is correct, the FCC may have a hard time justifying its definition of how the internet works. For more political analysis, here are Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian from the Young Turks:

As for me, I agree with this guy:


The Washington Post sponsors ten poetry animations for National Poetry Month

Wednesday’s Washington Post online published ten brief but innovative animations of portions of poems by contemporary U.S. poets. The feature, authored by Phoebe Connelly, Suzette Moyer, Julio Negron, Amy King, Emily Chow, and Ron Charles, has a headline complete with line breaks:

To celebrate
the 20th anniversary of
National Poetry Month
We asked
10 poets for
10 designers
put them
in motion.

Sadly, there’s no accompanying text to give readers any indication that poetry animation might be a thing that other people have done before — a missed opportunity to, for example, link to Motionpoems, who have been matching up prominent U.S. poets with top animators and directors for years. (Though to be fair, Motionpoems too has sometimes acted as if it’s the only organization doing this.) In another indication of the newspaper’s scarcity mentality, they made the unfortunate choice to host the videos themselves, streaming them from the Amazon cloud, which translates to poor performance at my slow DSL speed, and probably for plenty of others in flyover country as well. And anyone who isn’t a paid subscriber may be blocked if they’ve already used up their monthly quota of articles. Fortunately, the Post has also uploaded the videos to AOL.On and Dailymotion, and a couple of the animators have posted their work to Vimeo, so let me share those versions as a public service, in the order in which they appear in the article. (The one thing that’s missing here is the text of the poems, which is useful to see how the excerpts used in the animations relate to the larger works. For that, you’ll still need to visit the Post‘s website.)

Kevin Young + Art&Graft: ‘Commencement’

Watch on Vimeo.

Edward Hirsch + Ellen Porteus: ‘Cotton Candy’

Watch on Dailymotion.

Mary Karr + Charlie Brand: ‘Face Down’

Watch on Dailymotion.

Dunya Mikhail + Hannah Jacobs: ‘A Second Life’

Watch on Dailymotion.

Nick Flynn + James Price: ‘Harbor’

Watch on Dailymotion.

John Yau + Bran Dougherty-Johnson: ‘Portrait’

Watch on Vimeo.

Patricia Lockwood + Paul Cooper: ‘The Hornet Mascot Falls in Love’

Watch on Dailymotion.

Michael Robbins + Rafael Verona: ‘Not Fade Away’

Watch on Dailymotion.

Tracy K. Smith + Muti: ‘Visitation’

Can’t be embedded — Watch on AOL.

Victoria Chang + Phil Borst: ‘The Boss Calls Us at Home’

Can’t be embedded — Watch on AOL.

News roundup: Text(e) Image Beat exhibition, “Send and Receive” videos, Facebook video embedding and more

Text(e) Image Beat banner

The videopoetry exhibition Text(e) Image Beat, curated by Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel H. Dugas, is now showing at the Galerie Sans Nom in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. It runs through May 1.

With: Heid E. Erdrich + R. Vincent Moniz, Jr + Jonathan Thunder; Hannah Black; Matt Mullins; Martha Cooley; John D. Scott; Tom Konyves; Swoon (AKA Marc Neys) + Howie Good; Michel Félix Lemieux; Kevin Barrington + Bruce Ryder; Maryse Arseneault; Fernando Lazzari; Matthew Hayes + Sasha Patterson + Lee Rosevere.


The call for Text(e) / Image / Beat did not specify particular themes. Through the necessity of paring down the choices and assembling a flow of works that complemented and gave space to each other, we became aware of recurrent elements. In spite of the fact that the videos originate from many distinct locations, ideas of awaiting / finding miracles and mysteries of living, are frequent. Each work exhibits innovation and imagination, calling upon a wide range of skills to layer meaning. Slam poetry, rants, softly spoken words, hand written notes, and remixes are all used to articulate.

Click through to read the rest of the detailed and annotated curators’ commentary.


I discovered this week that videos of presentations from the “Send and Receive – Poetry, Film and Technology in the 21st Century” conference at FACT in Liverpool have been posted to the web at artplayer.tv. The videos are embeddable, but with code that will probably not show up in feeds or email, so I will just link to the presentations here. Check out presentations by: Suzie Hanna; Zata Kitowski; Marco Bertamini; Deryn Rees-Jones; Jason Nelson; George Szirtes; Judith Palmer; and Roger McKinley (the host). They’re all worth your time, but I found Rees-Jones’ talk to be especially thought-provoking. (See also the earlier report at Moving Poems Magazine: “Conference on poetry, film and technology at FACT: three views.”)


News emerged this week from Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8, that Facebook videos will soon be embeddable. Venturebeat reports.

A lot of poetry videos, especially of the more rough-and-ready sort (e.g. self-recorded recitations), are only uploaded to Facebook, so it will be helpful to have the freedom to share them on sites like this one. But Facebook launching a proper video hosting platform isn’t necessarily something I welcome, given the corporation’s poor track record with privacy and its ambition to swallow up the independent web, which Facebook succeeds in reproducing about as well as the Mall of America reproduces an agora.


More details are emerging about Media Poetry Studio, the multimedia poetry summer camp for girls in Silicon Valley. The website now lists the time and location (July 20-31 at Edwin Markham House in San Jose’s History Park at Kelley Park, home of Poetry Center San Jose). And a March 27 article in the San Jose State University newspaper Spartan Daily interviews camp organizers Erica Goss and David Perez:

In terms of tuition, Goss said the program is “pretty reasonable,” costing $799 for two weeks.

The three poet laureates started planning the camp last spring.

“We had to secure funding, we had to write grants, we had to come up with curriculum—which we’re still working on—we had to find a place to do it and a fiscal sponsor since we’re not a nonprofit,” Goss said. “There’s lots of work and we’ll be doing it right up until the day it starts.”

Goss said they want to be able to give each student individualized attention so there is room for about 20 young women.

The Indiegogo campaign is now 62% funded, with $3,075 raised toward a $5,000 goal.


And finally, speaking of Erica Goss, she has an essay in The Pedestal Magazine about her experience at the 7th ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival last October.

“Östersjöar – A Poem by Tomas Tranströmer” available at Vimeo On Demand


This is the trailer for Östersjöar (The Baltic Sea), a 31-minute film based on a long poem by Tomas Tranströmer (translated as “Baltics” by Robin Fulton). Directed by James Wine with score, performance and sound design by Charlie Wine, it’s a re-make of a 1993 film broadcast on Swedish television in 1994, for which there are a bunch of glowing burbs on the Longwalks Productions website, including one by former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove: “What a marvelous piece! The production is fabulous — it almost manages to bring the smell of the sea into the living room.”

The version in Swedish with English subtitling is now available through Vimeo On Demand at USD $5.00 for 48-hour streaming or $10 for download or streaming any time. The description promises “more languages to follow soon.”

This isn’t the first poetry film to be sold through online streaming or download. James Franco’s Howl, for example, is available through Amazon Instant Video and Hulu, and I’ve heard of publishers experimenting with paid apps for shorter poetry videos. But I’d be willing to bet that this is the first poetry film for sale at Vimeo On Demand. The price strikes me as reasonable, but then I’m a huge Tranströmer fan — I’d probably buy it no matter what they charged. I’ll be interested to see if other poetry-film production companies follow Longwalks’ lead. Vimeo On Demand features include a 90/10 revenue split, availability in HD on all devices including mobile, and the ability to sell work at any price and from any location. It does, however, require the purchase of a Vimeo PRO membership ($200/year). Ordinary Plus members can only collect money through a tip jar, which is only visible on Vimeo, not on embeds.

For the love of poetry film, support the Internet Archive!

Ceramic Archivists by sculptor Nuala Creed at Internet Archive

Ceramic Archivists by sculptor Nuala Creed at the Internet Archive building (photo: Jason Scott)

‘Tis the season for end-of-year charity drives, and I’m sure almost everyone reading this has already done their share of donating to worthy causes. But if you love poetry film, please try to find it in your hearts and wallets to donate to the one and only Internet Archive, home of the invaluable Prelinger Archives and many other collections of free-to-use film materials. By now, I’d say many hundreds of videopoems and poetry films have been made with footage from the Internet Archive; I’ve probably featured at least a hundred here at Moving Poems. In fact, without the easy availability of public-domain films at the Internet Archive, I’m not sure we be in the midst of a videopoetry renaissance right now. And for people just getting into digital video remixing, it’s always the best place to start looking for evocative material.

Which is not to downplay the sheer educational and entertainment value of the massive website’s many offerings, from independent radio shows to vlogs, digitized books and other texts, live music, and the NASA Images Archive. And let’s not forget the Wayback Machine, which, with more than 150 billion web captures, truly is an archive of the internet.

As an idealistic nonprofit, the Internet Archive’s mission to preserve and share knowledge should arouse little of the unease that Google’s similar (and vastly better funded) efforts tend to provoke. Its servers house more than 10 petabytes of data, it employs 200 people, and its annual budget tops $10 million, with a significant portion coming from donations by users. It has hosted the Prelinger Archives since 1999 — the first expansion of its collections beyond the core web archive.

So my advice is to give till it hurts. (Or, if you’re a masochist, give till it feels great!) The payment options include Amazon, Paypal and Bitcoin. Visit any page at the Internet Archive to make a donation. Let me just paste in the current text of their appeal:

Dear Internet Archivists, We are a non-profit with a huge mission: to give everyone free access to all knowledge—the books, web pages, audio, tv and software of our shared human culture. Forever. Together we are building the digital library of the future. A place we can go to learn and explore. The key is to keep improving—and to keep it free. That’s where you can help us. The Internet Archive is a non-profit library. We don’t run ads, but we still need to pay for servers, staff and bandwidth. Right now, a Philadelphia supporter will match your donations for 72 hours—dollar for dollar—so your impact will be doubled. Help us meet this challenge! If you find the Archive useful, we hope you’ll give what you can now. Thank you.

For background, see the relevant Wikipedia article. Among other nuggets of information, I was especially charmed to learn that the Internet Archive also archives itself, in an artistic way (whence the above photo):

The Great Room of the Internet Archive features a collection of over 200 ceramic figures by Nuala Creed representing employees of the Internet Archive. This collection, commissioned by Brewster Kahle and sculpted by Nuala Creed, is ongoing.

Why can’t I buffer an entire video on YouTube any more? (Yet another reason why videopoets should use Vimeo)

YouTube's message to users with slow internet

YouTube’s message to users with slow internet connections

Among those people fortunate enough to have a connection to the internet, many — like me — who live in the U.S. or other disadvantaged countries are forced to make do with DSL or 3G connections of 1M/sec or slower. What happens when, against the expectations of ISPs and certain large video hosting platforms, we choose to watch a video in higher resolution? If it’s hosted by Vimeo, no problem: select the HD option if provided (and if not, the resolution is still probably pretty high, depending on what the video owner uploaded), click play and then pause, and wait. Most poetry videos are less than five minutes long, so it’s not going to take forever, and in any case, if you’re accustomed to this speed, you know the drill: find something else to work on. Multi-tasking, for better or worse, is how most of us operate now anyway.

But sometime in 2013, YouTube stopped letting me do that. I’d select 360p (because anything less is unwatchable), and it would sometimes resume, sometimes not, but the buffering wouldn’t continue for more than another 30 seconds or so before stopping, no matter how long I waited. To add insult to injury, a little banner often appears below the video: “Experiencing interruptions? Find out why.” I’d click the link, and it would take me to a page telling me this was my ISP’s fault. Which was entirely unhelpful, because like most Americans, I don’t have any alternatives to the semi-monopolistic provider I already use, and they’re not about to invest in faster internet service until the government forces them to.

My preference, at least as far as videopoetry goes, would be to just stick with Vimeo, but unfortunately, many videopoets still only upload to YouTube. Today, I finally decided to do a little research and find out why YouTube sucks so hard these days.

It turns out that they’ve implemented a kind of daddy-knows-best strategy to video streaming, implementing a technique known as DASH, which stands for Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP. It sounds really good on paper.

Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH), also known as MPEG-DASH, is an adaptive bitrate streaming technique that enables high quality streaming of media content over the Internet delivered from conventional HTTP web servers. Similar to Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) solution, MPEG-DASH works by breaking the content into a sequence of small HTTP-based file segments, each segment containing a short interval of playback time of a content that is potentially many hours in duration, such as a movie or the live broadcast of a sports event. The content is made available at a variety of different bit rates, i.e., alternative segments encoded at different bit rates covering aligned short intervals of play back time are made available. As the content is played back by an MPEG-DASH client, the client automatically selects from the alternatives the next segment to download and play back based on current network conditions. The client selects the segment with the highest bit rate possible that can be downloaded in time for play back without causing stalls or rebuffering events in the playback. Thus, an MPEG-DASH client can seamlessly adapt to changing network conditions, and provide high quality play back without stalls or rebuffering events.

MPEG-DASH is the first adaptive bit-rate HTTP-based streaming solution that is an international standard. MPEG-DASH should not be confused with a protocol — the protocol that MPEG-DASH uses is HTTP, hence the “H” in the name.

MPEG-DASH uses the previously existing HTTP web server infrastructure that is used for delivery of essentially all World Wide Web content. It allows devices such as Internet connected televisions, TV set-top boxes, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. to consume multimedia content (video, TV, radio…) delivered via the Internet, coping with variable Internet receiving conditions, thanks to its adaptive streaming technology. Standardizing an adaptive streaming solution is meant to provide confidence to the market that the solution can be adopted for universal deployment, compared to similar but more proprietary solutions such as Smooth Streaming by Microsoft, or HDS by Adobe.

What worries me about this, and the reason I’ve quoted the entire introduction to the Wikipedia article, is that it sounds like something Vimeo might eventually adopt, too. Maybe they will implement it better, though, and still provide an alternative for those who want it.

There is apparently a work-around for DASH on YouTube that might work for some — a browser add-on for Firefox, Opera, and (with some installation difficulty) Chrome — but I wasn’t able to get it working with my own Firefox installation, possibly due to a conflict with some other add-on. If you’d like to give it a try, see the instructions in PC World, “Force YouTube to buffer your entire video.”

As for that annoying “Experiencing interruptions?” banner at the bottom of YouTube videos, tech writer Christina Warren at Mashable puts it into context. Apparently, the lack of tech-savvy among many YouTube visitors may be partly to blame.

When quality fails, users are quick to blame the content source — especially if other websites seem to work just fine.

If a user experiences downtime and buffering from a service or site too many times, he or she will be less likely to use it. Content services want to be shielded from some of that blame, and pass it off to what they see as the ultimate gatekeeper: the ISP.

The real question is: Does this naming and shaming really have any impact? It would be one thing if users could pick and choose their ISP, but most of us have one choice and one choice only (the same is true for cable TV).

Indeed. The one thing Warren doesn’t point out, however, is that the message is a bit disingenuous. Yes, my service is slow, but I’m experiencing interruptions because you lot decided you knew what was best for me and stopped letting me choose to buffer an entire video.

There is one easy, low-cost way YouTube could fix things, though. Instead of an unhelpful page about ISPs, the “Experiencing interruptions?” link could go directly to Vimeo.

YouTube video of slam poet Julia Engelmann surpasses 7 million views

With 7,061,845 views to date, this video has set a new popularity benchmark for online poetry videos. It was first uploaded on July 1, 2013, and I’m not sure how rapidly it gained popularity — probably not quite rapidly enough to qualify as viral in the strict sense of virality according to that quote I shared in my post about “Speke, Parrot” last month: “A video … is ‘viral’ if it gets more than 5 million views in a 3-7 day period.” But I think we can agree that given the relative lack of popularity poets enjoy in Western European societies, 7 million views is extraordinary. “Speke Parrot” attracted the attention of the BBC after just 110,000 views in four days.

I’m indebted to Martina Pfeiler for bringing this video to my attention. I don’t know any German, so I asked her what the poem was about. She replied,

Julia Engelmann takes up Asaf Avidan’s Reckoning Song (One Day), which has 16,000,000 hits on YouTube. In numerous stanzas she talks about procrastinating on things rather than taking one’s life into one’s own hands. The final part of the poem turns into an appeal to do the things one really likes to do, so that by the end of one’s life one may have a chance to tell the stories that one really wants to tell about one’s life.

News roundup: 6 poetry film festivals still upcoming in 2014; Poetryfilmkanal; ZEBRA’s new channels

The call for artists to participate in the International Film Poetry Festival in Athens is apparently still open. The exact date for the festival in December has not been set.

Other international poetry-film festivals coming up in November and December include:

A huge thanks to the new German-language website Poetryfilmkanal (Poetryfilmchannel) for helping me remember all these festivals. The site doesn’t officially launch until February, but it already includes some very useful features: the calendar, which I drew on for this post; a timeline of landmark films in poetry-film history, with links to YouTube; and a bibliography of selected books and journal articles. The Google translation of their About page makes the project sound very promising indeed.

And speaking of great resources, the ZEBRA folks have been going all-out this week to improve online exposure to films that have been screened at their festivals, creating a new ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival channel on Vimeo, as well as a Vimeo album and a YouTube playlist for just the films from the 2014 festival. These are as yet limited to films uploaded by the creators themselves, but in time I hope that ZEBRA will be able to upload their own copies of films they’ve screened, as well, providing not only a much more complete picture, but also a more stable, long-term archive of international poetry film.

“Speke, Parrot”: Poetry video in Middle English goes viral (sort of)

I first saw this due to a link from Chaucer Doth Tweet on Wednesday. Apparently I was far from alone. BBC News (or to be specific, #BBCtrending) calls it “The 500-year-old poem that captivated Reddit.”

A complex political satire written almost 500 years ago doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for viral success, but its unusual pronunciation has struck a chord online.

The poem, called Speke, Parrot, was written in the sixteenth century by an Englishman named John Skelton. A group of students at a Dutch university set the poem to pictures and asked their professor to read it aloud, pronouncing the words as closely as possible as to the original Middle English. It’s almost unintelligible to the untrained ear, but that seems to have been the key to its popularity.

The students uploaded the video to YouTube on Tuesday. Their friend posted a link to the history sub-forum on Reddit – a popular online discussion board – where it took on a life of its own. It has quickly become one of the highest rated posts of all time in that category, with more than 2,000 “upvotes”. The video has now been viewed more than 110,000 views on YouTube.

“I was quite surprised myself,” says Sebastian Sobecki, professor of Medieval English at the University of Groningen, who voiced the short film. He tells BBC Trending that in the poem Skelton – tutor to English King Henry VIII – satirises a new breed of courtiers, eager to impress King Henry and his policy makers with their fashionable opinions, and language skills newly acquired overseas. That’s why he refers to them as “parrots”; you could call them the hipsters of their day.

The conversation on Reddit homes in on the way the poem is pronounced, rather than its political meaning. “It sounds like a medley of Scottish, Dutch, German and English to me,” wrote one. “To me it sounds like the Spanish Ambassador from Blackadder,” said another.

“They’re exclusively focused on how we know what Middle English sounded like,” notes Sobecki, who says a huge body of research makes it possible to recreate the sounds with relative accuracy. “It seems that there are a lot of people outside academia who take an interest in that, and that’s big news to me.”

(Yes, I just repeated the entire article, techno-parrot that I am.) The video is now up to nearly 130,000 views — keeping in mind that YouTube counts every time someone started playing the video as a view, regardless of whether they finished watching. Still, for less than a week, that’s extremely impressive, and suggests to me that contemporary poets and poetry-filmmakers shouldn’t worry about a poem being too weird or obscure to capture the public imagination.

The article refers to this as a viral video, but it’s worth asking whether any poetry video can truly be said to have gone viral yet. According to a Wikipedia article on viral videos,

There isn’t exactly a set rule for how many “views” constitute a video “going viral”. In a recent blog post, YouTube personality Kevin Nalty, aka Nalts, asks the question “How many views do you need to be viral?” In 2011 he said, “A few years ago, a video could be considered “viral” if it hit a million views.” But Nalts updated that definition. He said, “A video, I submit, is “viral” if it gets more than 5 million views in a 3-7 day period.”

Poetry videos on the web: some preliminary observations

In preparation for a panel discussion at ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival 2014, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on “poetry films in the digital world.”

1. When we talk about poetry videos on the web, we’re generally talking about videos shared on YouTube and Vimeo, and to some extent Dailymotion, Blip.tv and a few other places: huge sites that thrive on user-generated content, often monetized through advertising, and available to share and embed anywhere on the web unless the uploader specifies otherwise. Yes, it’s still possible to embed a Quicktime video, but why would anyone want to do that? I have yet to download Quicktime software on the computer I’m using now, and I’ve had it for more than two years. Flash is also rapidly becoming passé as more and more people access the web through devices that don’t use Flash to display audio and video players, but HTML5 — an open, non-proprietary format.

2. Poetry fans often focus on the potential of the web to bring poetry to larger audiences, which I agree is exciting. But just as exciting to me is the way in which the availability and popularity of free video-hosting sites, combined with the proliferation of digital film-making tools online and off, have made it possible for a vastly larger number of people to engage with poetry in a more creative way — to go from being passive consumers to active translators of poems. Because what is the making of a poetry video if not the translation of a poem into a new medium?

3. Not all poetry videos are highly creative, though, and I think it’s important to situate them within the larger context of online communities, cultures and behaviors. Who made this particular video, and for what purpose? What is their intended audience? It can be anyone from a bible study group to a film class to a potential buyer of a new poetry chapbook. So when I talk about online poetry videos, I mean everything — from expertly produced animated poems to experimental films, from masterpieces of video art to simple documentary videos of poetry readings, without ignoring the vast sea of very basic videos, many focused simply on sharing audio of favorite poems, with or without images thrown in to give the listener something to look at. I estimate that this last type accounts for 80-90 percent of the poetry videos on YouTube.

4. Lawrence Lessig distinguishes between a read-only culture of passive consumers and a read/write culture where the relationship between the producer of culture and its consumer is more reciprocal. Far from a new thing, read/write or remix culture is basically the normal way in which poems, songs and stories were created and passed along in pre-industrial societies, before professional poets, musicians and storytellers came to dominate so-called popular culture as well as elite culture, and before copyright laws were drafted to discourage creative remix.

So the web has enabled a remix revolution. But empowering the reader/viewer/listener really begins as soon as websites make it possible for people to leave comments, to share or even embed videos elsewhere, and — most critically of all, perhaps — to have complete control of when, where, and how often they can watch a film or video. Contrast this to the much more passive experience of visiting a cinema or taking in a video-art display in a museum. (Television is kind of a middle ground, with more and more viewers choosing to record programs for watching later, or to use streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix. If only there were a cable TV channel devoted to poetry! But poetry films do make their way onto television from time to time, especially in the UK.)

Watching poetry videos on the web is in some ways more akin to reading a book than to visiting the cinema, inasmuch as one can dip into the video at any point and return to it over and over. The experience is generally solitary… but can also be highly social, thanks especially to the way videos from YouTube and Vimeo can be watched and commented upon right in Facebook and Twitter, without leaving one’s feed. And just as one can take a felt pen or crayon to a book and create a new text through erasure (to say nothing of more drastic collages with scissors), any video on the web can be downloaded and made into something new. I can’t think of any other viewing environment where the raw material of a film is so vulnerable to immediate expropriation.

This vulnerability is inherent to any artifact published on the open web, and as a poet who has chosen to blog drafts of all my poems for more than a decade, it’s something I’ve learned not to fear but to embrace. We poets are vulnerable whenever we create something, and especially whenever we attempt to share it — which is why submitting work to a journal, contest or publisher can be such a debilitating experience. Self-publishing on the web, by contrast, can feel empowering. Sharing poetry is supposed to be a public act, not a private negotiation with omnipotent gatekeepers. And the read/write culture of the web does something else: by letting anyone become an author, it makes authorship less exalted… and also much easier to share the burden of through collaborative partnerships.

5. The poetry film world cannot ignore this culture; too many breath-taking films are emerging from online collaborations, often between poets, film-makers and composers who have never met in person. But the sheer proliferation of poetry videos on the web does present some interesting artistic challenges. Certain styles of poetry videos might become so dominant as to crowd out competing ones, for example. Influenced by music videos, performance poets tend to produce videos in which they are the star. Creators of animated poems often seem to treat the text as a straight-forward narrative screenplay. And countless poetry video-makers on YouTube seem enamored by the Ken Burns effect, ignoring the fact that it’s his masterful soundscapes that let viewers forget they’re watching still images. Serious videopoets should be conscious of the gravitational force such popular approaches can exert if they want to “make it new.”

6. In the larger world of viral videos pullulating with crazed cats and twerking pop singers, video remixing is often satirical and always subversive. What does it mean to use the same language of remix for videos created in response to poems at The Poetry Storehouse? Do poetry video remixers risk subverting the texts in some sense? I would argue they do, but that that’s actually a helpful way of looking at what happens any time a filmmaker decides to bring a poem to the screen. The worst sins are committed by filmmakers who are too respectful, unwilling to go beyond what the text explicitly describes. It’s no accident that some of the most inventive poetry videos are created by the authors of the poems. If they don’t feel reluctant to take the poem in a new direction when adapting it to film, neither should any other filmmaker.

7. Another thing that makes some poets and many publishers uneasy about online poetry videos is their very share-ability. It’s kind of frightening to realize that if you upload a video to YouTube or Vimeo and don’t change the default settings, anyone can post it anywhere. Poets wonder, what if it shows up on some hateful site where people will only mock it? And publishers of online journals wonder how they can claim to have published something themselves if anyone else can grab the embed code and do the same. If a journal can’t claim to have exclusive content, why would anyone visit their site?

This is a real issue, but I think publishers need to ask themselves whether their primary mission is to promote their own brand or to give good work as wide an audience as possible. If the latter, then they should certainly not restrict who can share it. But they can also insist on uploading copies of all videos they publish to their own (branded) account on Vimeo or YouTube. For one thing, that’s free advertising for their website everywhere the video is shared. But more importantly, it helps guarantee that the video will still be there in five or ten years… and suggests what the real value of online journals is now, when we are so overwhelmed by so much ephemera: not primarily to publish — anyone can do that — but to curate and to preserve.

8. The growing popularity of videopoem-making presents its own challenges. I had an interesting exchange on Twitter this morning with the Belgian poetry film-maker Marc Neys (A.K.A. Swoon). He had shared a recent video whose screenshot I recognized immediately. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I almost used that same Phil Fried Ferris wheel footage in my latest. I thought it looked familiar…

Marc: We’re all fishing in the same pool.

Me: I’m wondering if the popularity of certain stock images poses a risk to online videopoetry, a creeping homogenization, a cliché effect. (I’m thinking not just about stock videos, but also iconic images from newscasts, for example.)

Marc: Let’s hope the really good combinations will survive…

Me: Yes, though survival may have a different meaning in the internet age. Repetition itself is key to keeping something in public consciousness. Whatever doesn’t go viral sinks out of site in the feed.

Marc: Yes indeed.

9. On balance, I think that the rewards of participating in online poetry video communities far out-weigh any potential pitfalls. For one thing, poets and artists get to learn from one another in an often quite intense manner, one that tends to stoke the creative fires of each. Poets in the U.S., accustomed to being ignored by society at large, are usually grateful for any attentive readers, and who reads (or hears) a poem more attentively than someone making a film or audio track out of it? We’re often told that the internet is a great distraction machine destroying our attention spans, but I think that’s true only if one takes a “read-only” approach to it. Read/write culture, remix culture, encourages just the opposite.

10. Another great thing that can happen with any poetry film, but is especially easy to do online, is to make a poem more accessible to audiences unfamiliar with its original language. Poetry film offers the unique possibility of hearing all the music of a poem in its original language while reading a translation in subtitles or closed captioning (easy to add on YouTube or Vimeo) — and with the film-maker’s images and soundtrack as additional bridges or vantage-points.

This might relate to another thing that I think can happen as a consequence of online sharing: reducing or eliminating what I call the socio-cultural intimidation factor. I’m talking about the tendency of many people to feel intimidated in social contexts that may be unfamiliar to them, such as poetry readings, art museums or art-house cinemas, preventing them from seeing or hearing with an open mind. I’m relying on anecdotal evidence based mainly on my own experiences with sharing poetry videos on Facebook, where I have a wide variety of contacts including many who wouldn’t be caught dead at any of the aforementioned types of venues. But it’s not uncommon to elicit positive reactions from such people to a supposedly high-brow videopoem. And I suspect that bilingual poetry videos, especially when artfully made with suggestive, allusive imagery, help us overcome a similar sort of intimidation that hearing an unknown language can otherwise provoke.

11. Poetry videos differ from other videos in the same way that poetry differs from other kinds of writing. It requires a different kind of attention and elicits a different, perhaps more thoughtful, kind of response. YouTube comments, generally speaking, are a cesspool, but for some reason poetry videos tend to be spared. I’ve been publishing poetry, my own and others’, online for a while now, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t attract the kind of bloviators who otherwise infest online comment sections and message boards. I helped publish the literary magazine qarrtsiluni for eight years, and despite a fairly large readership, we never had a problem with rude or inappropriate commenters. The same has been true at Moving Poems and my literary blog Via Negativa, which is mostly original writing with very little commentary. Somehow, online poetry seems virtually troll-proof.

12. Returning to the earlier question of how poets and publishers might come to terms with the reality that online videos have no single, canonical location, and can be easily subverted by remix artists, it’s worth remembering that poems in general have always been rather slippery as artifacts. They’re difficult to monetize because they are so easily reproduced, and reproduction in the imagination is what poems are uniquely engineered for. In an oral society, poems are the original ear-worms, the original viral content. Despite what copyright laws may say, once a poem is released into the wild it never comes back to its master. Its only owner is the one who can call it up at will. In the past, this could only mean committing it to memory, but now, with the web and good search engines at our fingertips, we can recall a poem almost as reliably in electronic form. I’m not saying it’s an equivalent experience; there’s no substitute for memorization, just as there’s no substitute for silent reading from a paper book. But I think audio and video allow us to hear, see, “read” and internalize poems in new ways — ways that can elicit a profoundly creative response.

Video artist Elisa Kreisinger warns about the “death of the YouTube mashup”

Anyone who cares about video remix culture — which should include every regular visitor to this site — may want to re-think their use of YouTube in the wake of its decision to formalize its relationship with big media companies. The threat to indie artists whose companies fail to reach an agreement with YouTube has been widely publicized. But an article in The Daily Dot suggests that an entire creative subculture based around YouTube may be in danger as well. If a big media company objects to a mashup, Brooklyn-based video artist Elisa Kreisinger discovered that YouTube now seems quite willing to completely ignore the Fair Use provision of U.S. copyright law and similar, international legal allowances for parody and remixing.

It took 24 hours to create my mashup, but 10 months to get to the bottom of why it was blocked. And even after I discovered why it was blocked, I still could not get it back up. If large content companies have the power to usurp the rule of law for their own purposes and make anything disappear, why bother making mashups?

YouTube was the birthplace of the mashup. And because it is the largest video site on the Internet, it’s important that cultural critiques like remixes and mashups be here for public consumption. But now mine, and so any others that drew from Universal’s library, remain disabled.

YouTube describes itself as “a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe.” But a forum that gives big members extra powers to silence everyone else will never be as vibrant as it should be. To be the forum it aspires to be—that it should be—YouTube needs to stop cutting special deals with big rightsholders like Universal Music Group and start encouraging creativity again. That’s true even if creativity makes Universal Music Group uncomfortable. If YouTube doesn’t get rid of special deals, they threaten to kill the very originality that made the site great in the first place.

Read the full article at The Daily Dot. And remember: videos posted at Vimeo or Dailymotion, for example, can go viral just as easily. Technologically speaking, there’s nothing special about YouTube, and I don’t think it needs to be nearly as dominant as it has become. There are other video-hosting sites that are much more committed to freedom of expression.