~ Poet: Tom Konyves ~

Address to the Amsterdam ReVersed Poetry Film Festival Symposium by Tom Konyves

As the founding father of videopoetry, Tom Konyves is often asked to present at conferences and symposiums, but the ReVersed Poetry Film Festival in Amsterdam last month was the first to ask him to do so with reference to his own life and works. The film that he and Alex Konyves put together in response blends theory with reminiscences of some fascinating moments in avant-garde history, and includes a number of excerpts from Tom’s videopoems, some not otherwise available on the web — which is why I decided to share this here on the main site. Tom also provided the text of his talk at my request, which we’ve posted over at the forum (with added links to the full-length versions of a few of the referenced videopoems).

My favorite part is the bit about the role of chance, illustrated by a videopoem composed using the I Ching. Echoing Louis Pasteur (“Chance favors only the prepared mind”), Konyves says:

One has to be open and prepared for chance events to occur. On a perfect summer day, I decided to bring my equipment to nearby St. Helen’s Island. I found a spot to set up and began searching for an image that in retrospect I would call having a collaborative property, or at least collaborative potential. After about an hour of shooting windsurfers, I found three sailboats floating on the water. It was like a picture postcard. Suddenly I realized that behind the sailboats and a land mass there was a large ship moving across the screen.

“Collaborative potential”: yes. The world can be like that sometimes.

Anyway, the talk is full of such stories and insights. Enjoy.

Channeling Gertrude by Tom Konyves

Swoon turned the tables on the renowned videopoet Tom Konyves here, making a video with a text and reading by Konyves. “Channeling Gertrude” was published in qarrtsiluni at the end of February, as part of our Imitation issue (which is still being serialized). Konyves’ description of how the text came about is worth quoting in full, I think:

An unusual experience prompted the writing of this poem — hearing the voice of someone we have never met. For me, it was the voice of Gertrude Stein. I managed to capture only one brief statement: ‘make a name for yourself.’ What followed was a torrent of words that astonished me; it was like being caught up in a whirlwind. Almost faster than I could record them, repeated phrases — with minute modifications — swirled through my mind and onto the page. When it was done, it was as if the words had been written by another. I then truly understood Rimbaud’s famous phrase, ‘Je est un autre.’

Swoon said a little bit about his process in a blog post:

I used recordings of reflections on the window of a train in a tunnel, mixed with an excerpt of recycled images from a video I had made a half years ago.

Tom Konyves on the making of a videopoetry manifesto



Tom’s presentation at Visible Verse Festival 2011, held at the Cinémathèque Pacifique in Vancouver, November 4-5, 2011. Do set aside half an hour to watch this.

We’re living at an amazing point in time as far as this particular genre [videopoetry] is concerned. It is so new. It can make you feel like you’re living in the 1920s, when the great art revolutions were taking place.

As many regular visitors to this site are probably aware, Tom Konyves coined the term “videopoetry” back in the 1970s and has played a strong role in shaping its conception, at least among avant-garde poets. It’s not necessary to have first read his new videopoetry manifesto, but this certainly helps to introduce and contextualize it.

You don’t have to be an avant-garde poet to appreciate Tom’s points about, for example, the subversion of narrative expectations or the importance of poetic juxtaposition in a videopoem. But what’s especially appealing about this talk to me is what it reveals about Tom’s careful and methodical thought process, his essential generosity and his openness to opinions contrary to his own — qualities not normally associated with authors of manifestos, as he acknowledges:

In writing a manifesto, you tend to be very polemic, you tend to say that this is the only way to look at works, but I came across this quote from genre theorist Richard Cole, who wrote: “The phrase ‘tyranny of genre’ is normally taken to signify how generic structures constrain individual creativity. If genre functions as a taxonomic classification system, it could constrain individual creativity.” So I was concerned about that, that what I had to say about videopoetry may have that kind of effect.

Watch the talk, and then check out the manifesto on Issuu. Also, the earlier Poem Film Manifesto by Ian Cottage, which Tom mentions around 12:50 in Part 1 above, may be read at Cottage’s blog.

All This Day Is Good For by Tom Konyves

A spam lit videopoem! Tom writes,

In this ode to the simultaneous, true and false perceptions collide in a 360-degree panoramic sweep of a moment in time, rendering life and art in equal measure.

The text in this videopoem was assembled from hundreds of spam/scam e-mails I have been collecting over the years, representing the lies we are confronted with every day; yet the random phrases extracted from these passion-laden letters cannot help but also contain unintentional glimpses of truth. In between mundane and altered reality lies that precious essence of life I see as poetry.

Alex Konyves assisted with — well, almost everything, it seems. And Robin Pittman helped with the motion graphics.

Sign Language by Tom Konyves

If one can use the term “classic” to describe something that’s only 26 years old, this videopoem certainly qualifies. I was surprised to discover I’ve never shared it here before. (I did post Eric Gamalinda’s similar “Front Toward Enemy,” which I assume was inspired by Konyves’ piece.)

Tom Konyves of course is the guy who coined the term “videopoetry,” and he’s done a lot to help definine and promote the genre. Be sure to check out the Moving Poems forum for his most recent summary of videopoetry, cross-posted from his Vimeo profile. Here’s what he says about “Sign Language” in the notes at Vimeo:

“Sign Language” (1984) is a videopoem constructed entirely from images of graffiti around the city of Vancouver. The rhythm of the work is created by the synchronized editing of the images with the soundtrack. The music I selected for the work, entitled “You Haunt Me”, is performed by the saxophonist John Lurie with the group Lounge Lizards. Unlike most of my work, the soundtrack complements the visual presentation. The title of the work contains the double meaning of hand-sign language, used to communicate with the deaf.

A pure example of “found poetry”, this videopoem gives voice to the faceless underground of Vancouver’s east side, bearing witness to their outrage and pain, their uncompromising and sometimes anarchic vision of the absurdity in our lives, all with a measured touch of humour to remind us that the family of man – no matter how far outcast we may be – includes each and every one of us.

Beware of Dog by Tom Konyves

Video by Tom and Alex Konyves with editing by Scott Douglas and voice by Piper McKinnon. Tom interprets his videopoem for us in the YouTube notes:

This videopoem imagines a conversation, an internal dialogue between the poet and his “spirit-guide”, revealed as words typed on the horizontal rails of a fence, accompanied by a Latin club beat (Los Chicarones), and punctuated with a well-situated growl or bark.

The image of the fence suggests “the other side”; on the other side of the fence there is no dialogue, no visual text, no colour, no music — only the singular voice (Piper McKinnon) of the instinctive impulse, in black and white, in slow motion.

Poem for the Rivers Project by Tom Konyves

Poem by Tom Konyves

Video by Alex Konyves

In a comment at the YouTube posting, Tom gives the background for the poem.

In the summer of 2003, my 18-year-old son Alexander was working for a “Rivers” project at the Surrey Art Gallery — he kept pestering me to submit a poem. I wrote a 13-line poem which we posited over Alex’s abstract water-related images, all sustained by the drone of an unrelenting Didjeridu. The poetic narrative is resolved by a verbo-visual pun on the underside of the Alex Fraser Bridge.