~ opinions ~

While almost everything posted at Moving Poems Magazine is opinionated in some way, this is the place for more sustained questioning: essays, reviews, manifestos, provocations and shots across the bow. Thoughtful comments on our posts are of course always welcome, but if you have a fairly substantial response to something here, do consider submitting it instead. (Or post it on another site and leave a link in the comments.)

Set texts, poetry film, & William Blake

William Blake – engraving, 1793

Over the span of three children, and 15+ years of connection with schools, I have frequently despaired of the fundamental way in which English Language and Literature is taught here in the UK. The language component is best addressed by Michael Rosen in his poem The ‘Expected Level’ (according to the National Curriculum) (published in Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio, Smokestack Books, 2017). And I do blame the curriculum, rather than individual teachers.

As Michael shares the poem in full on his blog, I’m going to copy it here because it so well worth a read:

Writing at the Expected Level

Michael Rosen

If you can write and make sense
remember,  it’s not enough
If you can write and make people laugh
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people cry
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people desperate to know what happens next,
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people feel good,
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people think and wonder,
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people want to be where you went,
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people want to be some of the people
you’ve written about
remember, it’s not enough
If you can write and make people want to read more and more and more
remember, it’s not enough

if you can write something
that no one is particularly interested in,
no one is desperate to read more and more,
no one laughed or cried or wanted to be where you went
or wanted to know what happened next,
no one wondered about what you had written,
you included commas, semi-colons, colons,
expanded noun phrases, fronted adverbials, and
embedded relative clauses
over and over and over again
that’s enough.

I can say, without a doubt, that the curriculum here in England utterly stifled any interest and enthusiasm any of my three children had in writing. I firmly believe the interest and enjoyment has to come first in order to move forward, and to be fair – we did have a primary school head who did believe in this as a philosophy to get children to read. But she was an outlier, a marvellous maverick in leopard print who wasn’t going to let a National curriculum get in the way of children learning.

On the literature side, none of my children has built a positive relationship with literature either, and my biggest gripe is the restricted selection of texts that are studied, which certainly doesn’t help in finding one’s connection to it. Certainly at GCSE level (age 16) there are too few contemporary texts. In my view, and backed up by those far more informed than me, such as Mary Ann Sieghart and Professor Bernadine Evaristo, there is a sheer lack of diversity in the material studied.There is not much we can do about the restrictions of the curriculum itself, but as poetry filmmakers, I do think we can, at least, add poetry film as a way in to enjoying and interpreting the set texts that are studied across the world. Wouldn’t reaching just one student and enthusing them be brilliant, and more than one be amazing?

My son said to me ‘Mum, why don’t you make one of your films on the poems we do at school?’ – and now that is firmly on my to-do list. But it struck me that we could all have a go. I couldn’t do justice to all the texts anyway, and nor should I.

So with these thoughts in mind, I thought I’d have an explore. Maybe these needs have already been addressed? I chose London by William Blake to investigate as a sample. This is one of the set texts for GCSE English Literature in England within the theme of ‘Power & Conflict’. I searched on YouTube as this is the platform that teachers and students are most likely to search.nnThe top six results give three results by well known actors. We get the voice and still photograph of Ralph Richardson. Yawn…

A headshot film of Toby Jones…

And a moody film by Esquire magazine, featuring Idris Elba…

There’s a ‘dramatic’ reading, with archive still images (in a not very dramatic treatment)…

An extract from a Simon Schama BBC documentary The Romantic Revolution featuring Hip-Hop artist Testament…

And an illustrative approach by English teacher and illustrator, Robert Simpson…

I think the last two are the most appealing and engaging in terms of bringing me closer to Blake’s poem. But I think the poetry film community could create something infinitely more exciting and engaging than any of these.

The last film by Robert Simpson is actually part of a wider attempt to do what I’m suggesting. On his YouTube channel Comics & Lit he has a series of films and says:

“My aim is to deliver captivating and visually stunning revision materials specifically designed for literature students who are preparing for their literature exams. With my unique comic art style illustrations, I strive to breathe new life into a range of texts, making them come alive for a new generation of students. Currently, I’m hard at work crafting beautifully illustrated readings for the AQA Power and Conflict collection. Additionally, I’m producing insightful analysis videos that delve into the intricate themes and elements found within power and conflict poetry and Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.”

It’s an ambitious start, in less than a year from the earliest videos as well, but I feel I’ve seen better films in animation/illustration as well as other modes of filmmaking, and so still think we can do more for students. Maybe a competition/festival would be a way to get people involved in making the best poetry films for schools across the world? Or why not just do one or two anyway?

Thoughts on filmmaker/poem dynamics and collaborations

In the summer, I attended MIX Digital Storytelling Conference 2023 … and reviewed the event for Moving Poems. I briefly mentioned the excellent keynote speaker at the event – Adrian Hon. But I realised that his talk has prompted some wider thoughts about collaboration in poetry film. Adrian Hon is big in the computer gaming world, and a particular plea in his speech was a call for creatives (in the context of MIX he meant largely writers but I think his point applies to visual artists equally) to be involved with technology at all stages of development and production of a project. Creatives need opportunities to prototype ideas so that they can better understand how a project might develop when people with other skills work on it. I wholeheartedly agree, and hope his vision will have influence. A popular question for any creative is to explain how a project came into existence, and what happens behind the scenes in the development of a project. In particular, in the poetry film world where so many films are made by such small teams or partnerships, it is common to talk about or be asked about how the filmmaker has collaborated with the writer. Do they get involved together at an early stage as advocated by Adrian?

Coyote Wedding – drawing and poem by Brittani Sonnenberg, film by Jane Glennie

I began reflecting on the films I have made, and they have come about in numerous different ways. I’ve made films from pre-existing poems. This means having a personal response to a poem and expressing that in film. But even this simple beginning can have different situations. Do I know the poet personally or not? Do I have any contact or discussion with the poet before or during the making of the film? Is the contact in person, or by email/messaging? Have I chosen the poem? Or has the poet chosen me to make a film? I think all of this can change the dynamic in the filmmaker’s relationship with the poem.

Film still – I’ll write about it later – Jessie Jing

Sometimes the poet might be the filmmaker themselves. There are lots of examples to explore on Moving Poems – search ‘author-made videopoems‘ and you will find Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas, Jessie Jing, Marc Neys, Matt Mullins, Janet Lees and many more. Early on, I decided I would try to make a film from my own writing, and though the result is similar to my other work in its technique and imagery, I know that my approach to the visual ideas in this film felt very different because as I wrote the words I had images in my mind.nnI have made work collaboratively with writers. I’ve discussed the ideas for a film with a writer who went away and wrote a poem, recorded the voice and then I made my film. I’ve discussed ideas for a film with Lucy English for her Book of Hours project, then wrote a short second voice response to her poem (Glitter – December evening in the Book of Hours), so the writing became a joint poem, and then I made the film. I collaborated even more deeply with Rosie Garland for Because Goddess is Never Enough.

Having discussion and input into projects has been rewarding in all instances – but it was quite different with Rosie. This time, the idea for the project came from me. I researched the subject and gave a dossier of material, texts and images to Rosie. She came back to me with snippets and first drafts which we were able to discuss and develop, and she was very open to my edits and changes to words and the ordering of the poems of the final piece. I also changed the first and third person voice around in some places. Some of the changes and edits happened as I worked on and developed the films. There have been dynamics that I have enjoyed, and I’ve been stimulated by collaboration. But equally it can be enjoyable to just try making a film in response to only the words of a poem – to be responsible for the reading (whether myself or choosing another voice), and be free of any connection to the writer. Marie Craven has told me that she will sometimes make a film without necessarily asking the poet first – she wants to try things out in an independent way that might not necessarily work. Then if she finishes the film she will ask later, and has only once had a rejection.

If the thought of taking Marie’s approach worries you, then there is no shortage of out-of-copyright poetry to play with. Or, as a final thought – there is also found poetry and erasure poetry to play with, another scenario for a filmmaker to explore. In fact this was my route into poetry film before I knew it existed as a genre. Channel Swimmer was my first film, and it was made with texts extracted from two novels. Often a very successful process for Matt Mullins, for one.

I can’t pinpoint what the differences might be in the end results of any film, but I do think that this idea of changing the dynamics of involvement in a project is a very interesting part of my filmmaking journey. Some approaches have felt more comfortable and successful, and some less so. I encourage you to mix it up and experiment with something different to your norm.

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


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

Thoughts on Poetry & Image Symposium at MERL, Reading, UK

A month ago, in June 2022, I attended ‘Poetry & Image: a symposium’ held at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading, UK. The event is a collaboration between the University of Reading and Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre with talks, poetry readings and discussions. It was jointly hosted by the equally welcoming Professor Steven Matthews (Reading) and Dr Niall Munro (Oxford Brookes). I attended because: a) it’s local for me, b) it’s free and c) who doesn’t still want to take every opportunity to do something in person again?

This event is coming very much from the point of view of poets and writers, so I wasn’t initially going to write anything about the event for Moving Poems. However, looking back over my notes a month later, I realised that there was one very interesting thing that I wanted to share. A common thread that ran through the presentations and discussions throughout the day was the extent to which writers are mystified by, or in awe of, images and artists. In the case of ekphrastic writing a big worry was how can a poet possibly do justice to the image/sculpture/artwork of an artist?

My response, in conversation with Niall Munro, was how all those thoughts happen the other way around as well. As a filmmaker I am thinking about how can I create something in images and am worrying about what the poet might make of what I’ve done and how dare I mess around with their work. I pass this on here because I imagine that it might help many filmmakers to realise that the poets are just as intimidated by us as image-makers as we might be by them as wordsmiths. Once we get past our fears, and in collaboration, we can create some very exciting things.

And lastly – I forget exactly how this poem was introduced on the day, but I encourage you to read ‘Why I am Not a Painter by Frank O’Hara’ As creatives we are different, but also so much the same.

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.


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…

How to find festivals for a poetry film: an interview with Adam E. Stone

A recent post about calls for work in festivals elicited a comment from filmmaker Adam E. Stone. We corresponded and this turned into a interview about the advice, ideas and strategies that Adam employs to get his work out into the world.

an entombing(dis)entombing (2020 – HD) from Adam E. Stone on Vimeo.

Jane: Apart from targeting the festivals known specifically for poetry films, how do you go about choosing which events to enter?

Adam: Well, budget is always a consideration, so I look first at the reasonableness of the submission fees. In addition to that, I look for festivals that are run by people who seem to be passionate about independent film, and who seem to be guided by an artistic, poetry-like aesthetic, even if they do not specifically have a category for poetry films. Onirica Film Festival in La Spezia, Italy is a good example. They have a very “dream-like” vibe, which to me is consistent with many, perhaps most, poetry films. Festival Fotogenia (which translates on FilmFreeway to Photogenic Festival) in Mexico City, Mexico is another one I discovered by searching for festivals with that kind of vibe. It did not have a separate poetry film category at the time I found it and had one of my poetry films accepted for screening there, but now it has added one, which is an exciting development for us all, and I hope to screen there again in the future.

Jane: What is your search strategy to find appropriate non-poetry film festivals?

Adam: I develop a list of non-poetry keywords that I believe characterize the film, then use the search function on FilmFreeway (found at the top of the “Browse Festivals” tab) to see what kind of festivals are out there that may be interested in the film. The results can be surprising. For example, there is a great little festival in Anglesey, Wales, UK called the SeeMor Films Festival that only screens films that have either a dialogue reference, or a visual reference (or both!), to the sea. Both of the poetry films I made in 2020–“an entombing(dis)entombing” and “Elegy for Unfinished Lives”–had such references, so I submitted both, and they both screened at the festival in 2020. Likewise, my 2021 one-minute poetry film “If Any” is partially filmed from a bicycle, and the narrator refers to riding a bicycle, so I did keyword searches for “bicycle,” bike,” and “biking,” and found quite a few festivals. Some are high-adrenaline, adventure-biking kinds of festivals, which I don’t think are good fits for the film, but I found a handful that seem to be more eclectic and have potential, so I will try them out.

I also think that sometimes you have to think outside of the box with your keywords, and really trust your instinct. “Elegy for Unfinished Lives”–which I describe as a ghost poem film–is such a strange and disjointed howl of angst against injustice and against mainstream pop-culture that its text, as well as its visual content, made me wonder if some of the more experimental horror film festivals might be interested. So I did a keyword search for “ghost,” found and submitted to a few horror festivals, and ended up with screenings at Delirium, Dreams, and Nightmares (Southsea, England, UK), as well as at Qosm Film Festival (formerly known as Vidi Space, and located in Reston, Virginia, USA), Canted Angle Film Festival (Harrison, Arkansas, USA), and Haunted Garage’s Horror Fest 2021 (St. Louis, Missouri, USA).

And finally, don’t neglect the more obvious choices: if your poetry film is a one-minute film, search for all of the festivals that specialize in one-minute films (and there are several of them!), because you definitely have a good shot at screening with some of them. Most poetry films are fairly short, so be sure to search for “micro-shorts,” which often includes films up to three minutes, or even up to six minutes, depending on the festival. The Haiku Amateur Little Film Festival (also known as the HALF Festival) is a festival in Palakkad in the Kerala state of India that doesn’t have anything to do with haiku in the poetry sense, but only screens films that are five minutes or less. It is run by a group of distinguished Indian filmmakers who love short film as an art form, so in my opinion it’s a great potential fit for poetry films, and in fact I have had both poetry films and dance films screen there in the past. Some years it is on FilmFreeway and some years it isn’t, but it is on there for submissions for its September 2022 event, so I’d encourage everyone to check it out and submit if you think it’s a good fit for you.

Jane: Do you search any sources other than FilmFreeway?

Adam: Yes, I check the “Calls for Work” section of the Moving Poems website once or twice a month. This year I made a feature-length poetic essay film called “Atmospheric Marginalia” that I wanted to submit to some big fests that are not on FilmFreeway because they use their own internal submission systems (like Cannes, Berlinale, Busan, and Telluride), so I had to research those individually and submit individually. That’s very time-intensive, but sometimes you have to do it. Overall, I’m grateful that so many festivals (including big ones like Sundance, Slamdance, and Raindance, to name but a few) are on FilmFreeway now. When I started using FilmFreeway in 2014, it was still an open question whether they would be able to compete with Withoutabox. Obviously, they out-competed them, and overall I think they have a very good system that is very user-friendly to independent filmmakers. When all else fails, you can always Google “poetry film festivals” or whatever term fits your film best and see what you get from the web at large.

Jane: Given a budget would you rather spread it more widely on cheaper entry fees or on a few more expensive festivals if they are more prestigious?

Adam: I try as much as possible to have the best of both worlds. A lot of festivals have lower entry fees if you submit early in their selection process, so I do that whenever I can. Keeping a running list of potential festivals, and monitoring it year round, is what works best for me. If I finish a film at a time when one of the festivals I want to submit to is near its final deadline, and therefore the submission fee is high, I’ll usually just wait for the next year and submit then, as long as they don’t have a strict completed-by date restriction. Overall, my goal has always been to try to get my films in front of audiences that will appreciate them, and although that sometimes means a bigger, more prestigious festival if it seems like a good fit, often it means a smaller, narrowly-focused festival, like a poetry film festival. Fortunately, most poetry film festivals have very reasonable submission fees, and several are free to enter.

Jane: How do you choose categories to enter (other than poetry film) if it’s open to interpretation? Short film, art film, experimental film, narrative film?

Adam: That can be tough, but I read their descriptions closely and try to find the best fit I can. Most festivals state in their rules that they will move your film to a different category if they think there’s a better fit for it, so I trust them to do that. As with everything else in the selection process, it is very subjective, with a lot of room for individual interpretation. If I really have a hard time deciding, and I’m using FilmFreeway, I might use their cover letter function to put in a brief note telling them I wasn’t sure which category to enter, and that I’m open to them putting it wherever they want to.

Jane: What do you think makes a film an experimental film?

Adam: That’s a great question, and I think if you asked 10 different festival directors and programmers, you would get 10 different answers. Personally, I love the fact that it’s a wide open concept. It’s a turn-off for me if a festival tries to give a rigid definition of what makes a film experimental – that’s a little too elitist and snobbish for my taste, because I think it can lead to an unhealthy hegemony of self-appointed gatekeepers. Often, the best art is wild art, and I think that attempts to nail it down or control it are unfortunate, especially among those who profess to love art. An art form can move forward–can grow and flourish–only when the most experimental of its artists push the boundaries. Certainly, if a festival wants to focus on traditional, classical types or genres of films, they have every right to do that, but I would hope that if a festival actively seeks experimental films, they would be open to diverse interpretations of what “experimental” means. To me, it can refer to form, content, or both, and is often about asking viewers to reconsider long-held and deeply-ingrained ideas about how the world works, structures of power, the nature of reality, etc.

Elegy for Unfinished Lives (2020 – HD) from Adam E. Stone on Vimeo.

Jane: What do you think festival directors think their categories mean?

Adam: In my experience, when festival directors or programmers have a strict or regimented idea of what each of their categories mean, they usually make that very clear in their descriptions, and if they do, it’s good to pay close attention to that, so you don’t waste your time and money on something that is not a good fit for your film. However, a lot of times they leave their categories pretty wide open, or specifically mention that they are open to all genres of shorts, or features, or whatever, or state that they reserve the right to move your film to a different category if they accept it. That tells me they recognize that many films are hard to categorize, and that they want the flexibility to place your film where it fits best with the other films they are programming. Personally, I prefer festivals that are very open and free with their categories, because in my experience they tend to be more open-minded about film in general, and to see film as a very subjective, exciting, and expansive mode of expression.

Jane: How many festivals did you enter last year?

Adam: I tend to have multiple films on the festival circuit at the same time, so it’s hard to say exactly, but I think that on average, I submit to approximately 100 festivals per year in total.

Jane: What would you estimate is your success rate for entries?

Adam: It is interesting to me how much this varies by film. I think it really shows that even among the most independent film programmers, there are certain films that connect with them more than others. My work tends to go very much against the mainstream, and definitely leans more toward the highly experimental and boundary-pushing, and I have found that the more offbeat the film is, the lower the acceptance rate generally will be. For example, my 2018 short poem film Gods Die Too is admittedly provocative in its rejection of mainstream, Western notions of “heroism.” Its festival acceptance rate was roughly 10%, although it screened at some great festivals, including the final presentation of the Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival, and at the 7th International Video Poetry Festival in Athens, Greece. On the other hand, my 2020 one-minute poem film an entombing(dis)entombing has a festival acceptance rate of 30% and is still going strong on the circuit. I actually consider it to be quite subversive and countercultural too, but maybe it’s just a little less in-your-face about it than Gods Die Too was. Or maybe it’s just a better film, who knows. If one of my films has an acceptance rate of 20% or higher, I consider that quite good, in light of how competitive the well-curated festivals are, and how subjective programming decisions are. But really, to me, if you are happy with your film, and you feel like it expresses what you set out to express, then you shouldn’t worry about the acceptance rate. Some films, by their nature, are going to have smaller audiences, or resonate with fewer people, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important films, especially to the people with whom they do resonate.

Jane: Have you ever tried to modify what you create in order to try to fit into a festival?

Adam: No, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that. If you feel like the modifications are small, and that they don’t negatively impact the overall integrity of your film, I would say go for it, because it may create an opportunity for a screening that otherwise would not exist. Likewise, I’ve never made a film specifically for a certain festival (such as, for example, making a film around a festival’s theme, or using their designated poem for a poetry film), but I think it’s great if a person can do that, and it’s another excellent way to get your work out there in front of an audience, and to get some name recognition among festival directors and programmers.

Jane: What makes a good festival to enter?

Adam: Just as independent musicians often find their most dedicated and appreciative fans in small, intimate performance venues, independent filmmakers sometimes can find the same in those small, labor-of-love film festivals that cater to people with an appetite for original, non-mainstream films that push the boundaries of the art form. Certainly that includes poetry film festivals, but many other types too. The tricky thing, as we’ve discussed, is finding them. It takes a lot of research time, but it’s worth it when you feel like your film has connected with an audience that appreciates it.

Jane: What makes you avoid a festival?

Adam: I avoid festivals that appear to be interested in presenting only mainstream, orthodox points of view, because I know my films won’t be a good fit for them, or vice versa. I also avoid festivals that are vague about when and/or where their screenings are going to be, or have generic descriptions of themselves and what kinds of films they seek, or that seem to exist only to collect submission fees. If I’m not sure about a festival, I go to their website to see if it looks like a real festival, and beyond that, I’ll often Google the festival to see if it has gotten coverage from legitimate media sources, like the local news outlet in that area, because authentic festivals, even if very small and grassroots, are going to be doing everything they can to engage their local communities, as well as wider independent film communities specifically related to their festival, to try to attract attendees, promote the films they have selected, and build a following for themselves for future festivals they plan to hold. Likewise, I search to see if they have used social media to promote their prior events, which is another indicator that it is a real festival that is trying to create excitement for its screenings. That said, I don’t avoid a festival just because it is new, or hasn’t yet attracted a big following. I recognize that takes time, and as long as the festival directors and programmers seem to be genuine lovers of independent film who are doing their best to create a unique and interesting festival, I’ll submit, because to me, in the end, it’s all about trying to get my films out there to people who might appreciate them, wherever in the world they may be, and no matter how large or small the screening may be. You never know when or how your film may make a positive impact on someone’s life, and to me, that’s a big part of what independent filmmaking is all about.


Bio: Adam E. Stone’s poetry films and other films have screened at many prominent festivals worldwide, and have won numerous awards. His latest film is the feature-length poetic essay film Atmospheric Marginalia (2022). He also is the writer, producer, and co-director of the feature-length fictional essay film Abstractly You Loved Me (2013), and is one of the co-producers of, and conducted many of the interviews for, the feature-length documentary Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story (DVD 2019). In 2012, he wrote and produced the spoken-word ballet A Life Unhappening, about the impact of one woman’s Alzheimer’s disease on three generations of her family. In 2010, he wrote, directed, and produced the DVD novel Cache Girl Saves the World: A Novel in Visions. He is also the author of three conventional print novels. He currently lives and works in the United States in Carbondale, Illinois.

Video, Poetry and Translation

From Greek to English… We also have a version in Greek and Spanish.

I’ve always loved language and languages. I did Latin, French and German at school and I could easily have ended up studying linguistics in a slightly different universe. For me, poetry and experimental writing are fundamental ways to explore the limits of language: to try to describe what cannot be put into words, to find out what happens when language is stripped down to its essentials (whatever they are…), to discover how the visual, oral and aural aspects of language interact.

Combining video with poetry and experimental writing has been a revelation in this context. In a video, text can be dynamic, as it changes and morphs in multiple dimensions. Voices can be added, distorted, re-timed, presented in counter-point to each other and to on-screen text; they can even be made to articulate the literally unspeakable via increasingly sophisticated text-to-speech algorithms. And then there are all the possible interactions between the text of the video and its audio-visual content.

Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in how we deal with translation in poetry videos. I have had many videos screened in non-English speaking festivals and installations where there is usually a requirement for subtitles in either English or the native language. But sometimes, there is an absolute requirement for subtitles in the native language. I also have collaborated with non-English speaking poets which has required me become familiar with at least some aspects their native tongue. And I have even created a genuine bi-lingual video poem.

English and French as equal partners…

So how do we deal with multi-lingualism? How should the translations work? There is a large literature on the nature of translation, as well as the underlying neuroscience of bi- and multi-lingualism. But I have been strongly influenced by a couple of books in particular, both of which have been written by authors who have translated some of the most influential experimental poetry and writing :

Poetry videos offer a unique slant on translation that is not available for written text: videos give us the option to hear the original language, and, indeed, read the original written text itself as well as a translation. And we still have access to all the same audio-visual material and its interactions with the text. One corollary of this is that the translated text does not necessarily have to be as “poetic” as the original. It may not even need to be a complete translation, if the sound of the original and its accompanying imagery allow.

It is very common for translated poetry videos to have subtitles added in a similar way to any other video or film. However, conventional subtitles can clash with the visual aesthetic of the video. Nearly all my poetry videos have at least some of the text embedded in them, as part of the overall visual design. When adding translated text, I try to use the same fonts, layouts and designs as the original, so that the look of the video is not changed and the translation is seen as a natural component of the work. Another option is to use closed captions for a translated version. It does not look very elegant, but it allows the user to turn the translation on or off. A further advantage is that the text exists as a separate underlying time-stamped file (eg .srt format) that can be translated by a third party as required.

English and Spanish translation share a common design…

So now to the big question: how do we actually get the translation? Ideally, you are sufficiently knowledgeable in the appropriate languages to do it yourself. I can do that well enough for German or French, and I have made a genuine bilingual English-French video based on a poem of mine, Signature, originally published in the French journal Recours Au Poème. But although I have become familiar with some aspects of other languages, most notably Spanish, Italian, Greek and Swedish, I cannot translate from English into them. Instead, I rely on machine translation, good dictionaries and, when necessary, advice from a native speaker.

Machine translation…

My preferred machine translation system is DeepL which, when tested on languages I do know, performs better than Google Translate across the board, especially when the language becomes more idiomatic or figurative. The suggested translations can be checked and fine tuned in several ways. One is to simply back-translate the phrase to see if you get the same thing. Using a different system for the back-translation (such as Google Translate) can also be useful. Another good strategy is to replace some of the words in the original with synonyms or near-equivalents and compare how they get translated. If the translation offers options, I often look them up in the native language dictionary or thesaurus (eg Wiktionary) that shows how they understand the meaning of the word and how it should be used. And I always keep a grammar book at hand for the language in question to find out how it is structured and how things like tenses, cases, pronouns, adjectives, etc, actually function. These resources have been critical for most of my translations.

Sometimes, the translation simply will not work. An implied meaning in one language perhaps cannot be made in another, often because of the way the grammar rules operate. As is well known to translators, there are idioms and turns of phrase that do not cross languages or cultures. Experimental writing or visual poetry that relies on the intrinsic structure of words and their grammatical variations may be impossible to translate in any literal manner. What do we do then? We simply watch the video, listen to the ebbs and flows of words that even a native speaker may not understand, and revel in the uncertainty of it all.

Click here to see all Ian’s videos with translations.

This essay first appeared on Ian’s blog, which anyone with a serious interest in videopoetry ought to follow. —Dave B.

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.)

Unseen Forces and the Protagonist’s Point of View

presentation at ZEBRA 2019

Whilst subjectivity often lies in the hands of the poet, the film-maker can double the affect. This can be through their narrative use of the lens in relation to the position of the protagonist, or narrator, particularly in response to unseen forces; placing the viewer or camera in interesting and even culpable positions. I have selected three pairs of films that utilize contrasting approaches to this technique. The first two generate comic pathos; the second two focus on man’s inhumanity to man; and the final pair on the difficult dramatic technique of intimating freedom from negative forces beyond the screen (this world which is not that world).

The Desktop Metaphor (2017), by British poet Caleb Parkin, with filmic interpretation by Dutch film-maker Helmie Stil, centres in content and form on the subtly humorous juxtaposition of the prosaic with the profound and mythical in relation to man’s position in a desktop universe. The light from a steadily repetitive photocopier plays central stage in this film, accenting the repetitions in the poem, where office products alongside Stil’s photocopied face are interwoven with concepts of the infinite – ‘The Great Stapler which attaches the night to us’.

On Loop (2013), one of the funniest films in recent years by British film-maker and animator Christine Hooper, also focuses on the impotence of man’s condition in order to create humour. However, in this case the viewer is given the point of view of the invisible protagonist, who is in bed and tossing and turning with insomnia. In a short space of time we get to know exactly who the protagonist is, without ever seeing her, since an imagination in overdrive lets slip the jumbled contents of her thoughts. These are married with a visually fractured room, and a hyper-alert voice-over (Susan Calman) that is so well chosen to dramatically accentuate, through the sharply rising and falling tones of the melodic accent, a disjointed, racing imagination. Placing the viewer in the physical and mental position of the protagonist is a clever device, the comic pathos doubled in affect.

Two contrasting filmic approaches to man’s inhumanity to man are found in Numbers (English and Piatek, 2016) and Hopscotch (Vilk and Aisha 2017). Numbers begins with the film-maker and the footage itself. Maciej Piatek asked Lucy English to write a poem to the footage centering broadly on someone trying to find their way in society. Lucy arrived at the refugee survivor’s narrative, which Maciej paired with a voice-over by a survivor herself.

The black-and-white footage is from a laboratory, and I quote Maciej: ‘showing each stage of death of a human white blood cell, revealing the dying cells apparently trying to alert their immune system allies that they are dying’. He says he ‘looped and delayed in time the same piece of found footage to make it look like a disease outbreak. At the end of the film one can see in the left top corner the cell is actually disappearing’.

This film rests on the visual absence of the survivors themselves. The screen and the cells as human experiment are a surface to reflect upon, in the way that a tombstone in a graveyard focuses our thoughts. We are entirely tuned to the voice and its wholly credible narrative. However, the voice slowly disappears and the liquid vibrating aspect of the cells delicately suggests the negative role of water and the ocean in the stories. Although the survivor’s voice lets us know she survived, the screen tells us a different story. The film intimates what is not shown.

The next film, Hopscotch (2017), also intimates an insidious negative force, highlighting targeted, everyday abuse, particularly against Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) women in Scotland. It is based on a poem by Nadine Aisha, and is directed by leading film-maker Roxana Vilk, with executive production by AMINA – Muslim Women’s Resource Centre with support from Rape Crisis Edinburgh.

We are immediately drawn into the centre of the conflict. An invisible stalker hisses suggestive remarks to a girl who then retorts ‘he says to me’ placing us, the viewer, as her third-party confidante. At the same time the camera focuses on a girl strolling across the screen on a cold evening. Through this clever filmic device, we see from dual points of view – as both her friend and her assailant – creating dramatic tension.

We cut to daytime, on a bus, and she continues: ‘Sat on the bus with a stranger’s hot breath’ and we are there again, but from the point of view of the abuser sitting right behind her, just as Christine Hooper placed us in the mind and physical position of the insomniac. ‘I want you’ he hisses. We follow our prey through the streets, and the abuse continues ‘stuck up bitch’ ‘what’s wrong, can’t you take this’, ‘Slut, slag’.

Standing alone in a railway station as everyone else speeds past, we recognize the victim’s frozen isolation, and how such abuse robs us of an authentic, relaxed interaction in public places. She is left with the fallout of the words and an ensuing alienation: ‘clenched them tight in fists that now mark the imprint of nameless men trying to name me’. The film continues for nearly five minutes, exposing us, the viewer, to a sense of an unending and unpredictable persecution. Ultimately the stalking camera reaches a climax where the victim turns, takes the camera, and starts filming herself. For a moment she, as in everywoman, triumphs; but through the majority of the narrative Vilk has expertly drawn us in, to inhabit the obsessive mind of the perpetrator.

Roxana told me (email 11 December 2019):

One of the reasons I was drawn to the style I used was also about reflecting on the “male gaze” in cinema in the sense that it is often male directors behind the lens; and I wanted to parallel that to this harassment of women in public spaces. Then to give the poet/ protagonist the chance at the end to grab the camera and turn the lens on herself… so she could speak to the audience without the male gaze and take back ownership of the story.

Freedom from unseen forces beyond the screen provides the central tenet in the final two films. In Quarry (2019) with poem by American poet Melissa Stein and animated line drawing by British artist animator Josh Saunders, a dramatic narrative is placed squarely in front of us. With a delicate and charming line illustration, a girl and boy swim naked in a quarry. However, through the concise and well-placed choice of words which indicate brooding danger – for example ‘a girl is swimming naked in dark water’ – an undercurrent of impending loss of innocence emerges.

The narrative is told as if in the third person, but as it reaches the denouement the narrator enters the first person. It is at this point that we sense that the earlier controlled use of language might indicate a personal psychological burial, now being exhumed. Within the developing drama, Saunders’ figures swim with innocence and a fragile, vibratory naivety; dipping into and below the surface – at one with the water, the rocks and each other. As we realize this event actually happened to the author, so we adjust, and mentally include the invasive eye of an intruder. Achieving delicacy and innocence in a film is a difficult feat; however, with such restraint, both visual and verbal, the result is powerful and memorable, and shows how animation can add to narrative in dramatic ways beyond live footage.

Storm Song (2019) by young British artist (and Central St Martins graduate) Rebecca Hilton is also set in water, but underwater, accompanied by two poems. On the surface, it appears to be a lyric, moving abstract painting where mermaid-like figures (some fully clothed and with long trailing fabric) unwind and intertwine, being both the ink and the brush. However, this film contains an underlying tension, and, rather than making a loud political statement, uses space, language and embodied gesture to subtly deny the constricts on the surface of enforced identities and ideologies from the powers that be – ‘for all we understand is power’.

Alongside an enigmatic voice-over, the viewer’s gaze finds itself broken by frequent black ‘rests’ – a technique I haven’t seen except with intertitles. These black spaces, in a ‘ma’-like way, inspire reflection on what has just been said. And just over halfway through the two poems interweave with each other. The themes in ‘Ghost Ribbon’ (2019) explore return from failure, whilst ‘Cataclysmic Storm’ (2019) investigates the weight of authoritarian power and control ‘Suspended up up up until you breathe’.

Whilst in Quarry we are taken on a developing narrative that intimates in its dramatic unselfconscious innocence a dark denouement, in Storm Song, the darkness gradually filters through, as a continuous invisible, quiescent force.

An earlier version of this essay appeared on Liberated Words.

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.

Wings of Desire is a Poetry Film

Every Angel is terror. And yet,
ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly
birds of the soul.
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Duino Elegies

When I read that Swiss actor Bruno Ganz died on February 15 of this year, I immediately recalled the iconic photograph of him as the angel Damiel, the character Ganz played in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film, Wings of Desire. Dressed in a black trench coat that hangs past his knees, Damiel stands on the edge of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, looking down on the city of Berlin. Huge white wings erupt from his back.

Wings of Desire is an extraordinary film on many levels – the cinematography, acting, and directing are all of the highest quality. The film’s success, however, is not the result of any of these. The film succeeds because it’s based on poetry.

Poetry determined the film from the beginning. In an article published in the Criterion Collection, Wenders states

I really don’t know what gave me the idea of angels. One day I wrote ‘angels’ in my notebook…Maybe it was because I was reading Rilke at the time—nothing to do with films—and realizing as I read how much of his writing is inhabited by angels. Reading Rilke every night, perhaps I got used to the idea of angels being around.

Needing a screenplay, Wenders approached his old friend and frequent collaborator, Austrian writer and poet Peter Handke. Handke, worn out from having just completing a novel, told Wenders, “I’m completely drained. I don’t have any words left in me. Maybe if you come down here and tell me your story, then I can help you out with a few scenes. But no more; nothing structural, no screenplay.” Wenders and Handke “spent a week thinking up a dozen key situations in a possible plot, and Peter started writing on the basis of that.”

From that initial meeting, the screenplay evolved from weekly dispatches Handke sent to Wenders: “I would get an envelope full of dialogue, without any direction or description, like in a stage play. There was no contact between us; he wrote, and I prepared the film.” Their process sounds remarkably similar to the way in which many video poems arise: one person, usually the filmmaker, creates a film using an existing poem. There is generally little or no contact between the poet and the filmmaker until the film is completed.

Wings of Desire starts with Damiel writing and reciting the opening lines from Handke’s poem, “Song of Childhood:”

When the child was a child
it walked with its arms swinging,
wanted the brook to be a river,
the river to be a torrent,
and this puddle to be the sea.

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one.

Gradually, the plot emerges: Damiel (Ganz), weary of his existence as a supernatural being, longs for the messy, sweaty world of humanity. Sitting in a car with his friend, the angel Cassiel (Otto Sander) Damiel imagines what life would be like as a human: “To come home after a long day and feed the cat like Philip Marlowe,” – “to have a fever” – “to get your fingers black from the newspaper” – “to lie – through the teeth!” None of these is enough to convince Damiel to make the plunge; that decision comes when he falls in love with the beautiful Marion, an angel-winged trapeze artist performing in a cheesy, one-ring circus.

As Damiel becomes infatuated with Marion, he begins to hover, unseen, around her, influencing her thoughts and moods (the angels in Wings of Desire possess the ability to read people’s minds). In a couple of unsettling scenes, he enters her circus trailer and watches her undress, once reaching to touch her bare shoulder. Since he’s an angel, we assume that he is completely harmless, but once he’s developed feelings for Marion, his presence in her private sphere seems at least somewhat improper. In abandoning his immortality for the love of Marion, Damiel demonstrates that he shares that view: he can’t keep hovering around, spying on her. He must take his chances in the real world.

Wings of Desire is not only a love story between angel and human, but also a film-poem of place: Berlin in the late 1980s. Angels move freely on either side of the Berlin Wall, a privilege not allowed the city’s human population until two years later. Considering its affect on both the film and the city, the Wall imposes limitations as if it were a poetic form, forcing the filmmakers to create within its boundaries. As Nick Bugeja writes in “Discord and new beginnings in Wings of Desire,” “the Wall towers over the lives of those living in Berlin and Germany, physically and metaphorically constraining them.”

Handke’s “envelope(s) full of dialogue, without any direction or description,” form the overheard thoughts of Berlin’s citizens, edited into poetic snippets. I.e., in one scene, a man with a baby in a backpack thinks, “The delight of lifting one’s head out here in the open” while in another, we hear the thoughts of a woman riding a bicycle: “At last mad, at last redeemed.” When Damiel and Cassiel communicate vocally, it’s in elevated, cryptic speech. To quote Bugeja again, “The effect of Wings of Desire is startling. Its poetry seeps from every frame, as feelings of loss, impotency, and later renewal and warmth spill out.”

Poetry gives Wings of Desire its intuitive leaps and eccentric charm. Poetry elevates Damiel’s decision to leave immortality for love beyond cliché and into the sublime.

When he says, “Now I know what no angel knows,” he means he has found his humanity. This is the value of poetry, and all the arts: they awaken the shared sense of what it means to be human. That seems a fitting way to end a film that began with the word angel scribbled in a notebook.

Poetry film in the wild: Ford ads cancelled for frightening public with poetry, and a Hollywood movie that commissioned work from top-notch poets

Ah, consumerism! Nothing makes you want to buy a new sports car like a famous villanelle about death.

Or maybe not.

Adverts for three major car makers have been banned as advertising regulators have ruled that a Dyland [sic] Thomas poem encourages angry driving.

Adverts for Ford, Nissan and Fiat Chrysler will not be shown again after rulings by the [UK] Advertising Standards Authority.

Two adverts for Ford, seen on the carmaker’s YouTube channel and in cinemas, featured a voice-over that stated: “Do not go gentle into that goodnight… Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage. Rage against the dying of the light.”

After seeing the commercial twelve viewers complained that they depicted driving as a way of relieving anger.

Ford argued that the aim of the advert was to contrast the “everyday frustrations of work life with the freedom of driving a new Ford Mustang”, with viewers left to imagine how they would feel driving the car instead of experiencing in the daily grind of office life.

It said the voice-over quoted the Dylan Thomas poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and its reference in the adverts suggested that a Ford Mustang could be the antidote to a dull life.

The ASA said the advert showed the Mustang being driven in an “abrupt manner” as on-screen text read “Don’t go quietly” and characters were depicted releasing their anger while driving the car.

The ASA said: “We therefore considered that the ads suggested that driving was a way of releasing anger, which put the driver, other motorists and pedestrians at risk.”

Ford said: “Our intent is never to encourage unsafe driving and, while care was taken during filming of the ad to show the car driving safely and at no point exceeding 15mph, we will no longer include the ad in our future marketing communications.”

Now I know how John Lennon fans must’ve felt when “Revolution” was licensed to sell sneakers. It’s a cold comfort that the ads were only nixed because UK bureaucrats thought consumers would be too dumb to understand the poetry.

In a less depressing sign of the rising currency of poets and poetry film, The New York Times‘ Alexandra Alter has a very interesting article about The Kindergarten Teacher, a 2018 movie by Maggie Gyllenhaal, just released on Netflix in the US and Canada, in which poetry features prominently. Three contemporary American poets—Dominique Townsend, Ocean Vuong and Kaveh Akbar—were tasked with writing new work (or adapting pre-exisiting work) to fit the script. I hope the movie’s good, but even if not, it’s great to see poets getting a pay-out that doesn’t involve selling their souls to planet-destroying auto companies.

Akbar said writing poems for a character in a movie was weird, but not so different from using a writing prompt or a formal constraint.

“It was almost like working within a received form, like a sonnet or a villanelle, to write into the context of the script,” he said.

The bizarre nature of the exercise didn’t sink in until he went to the film’s New York premiere last month, which “was wild,” Akbar said.

“It’s not often that a poet gets to see their words on a movie theater screen,” he said. “So much of being a poet is very isolating, sitting in your pajamas over a notebook for 14 hours on end, so it’s cool to get to do something with poetry that’s very collaborative.”

The collaboration between the poets and filmmakers also shaped the movie, especially Gyllenhaal’s performance.

The poems that Townsend wrote for Lisa gave Gyllenhaal new insights into the character, she said, and helped her refine one of the film’s core themes — the question of why some budding artists are nurtured and celebrated, and others are ignored. She began to see Lisa not as a mediocre poet, but as a woman whose creativity is stifled because no one expects her to produce anything worthwhile.

“The movie is so much more tragic and more interesting if Lisa’s poetry is compelling,” Gyllenhaal said. “If it’s worth paying attention to and it isn’t paid attention to, that’s a tragedy.”

Read the rest.