~ collaboration ~

Dancepoems: a new voice in poetic heteroglossia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Art of Poetry Film with Cheryl Gross: Mike Galsworthy and Corinne Weidmann

Short collaborations can be either a godsend or a total bust. I myself have teamed up with Nicelle Davis on several projects. It is as if we can read each other’s minds. The best part of it all is that we don’t get in each other’s way. She writes and I illustrate. Being a professional illustrator and dealing with clients can be frustrating and mind-numbing at times. So when a collaboration falls into place, it’s well worth all the crazy clients one has to deal with.

Recently I came across another collaboration, between Mike Galsworthy and Corinne Weidmann. Actually, Mike found me through Vimeo and whatever publicity was going around. I read and viewed On a White Horse and found it intriguing. I asked him who the illustrator was, since the works fit so well together. It would be interesting if they could incorporate actual animation into this particular project. I think it would make a stunning video poem. But let’s face it, as it stands now it’s pretty beautiful. Here is what Mike has to say.

Mike Galsworthy: Inspiration for the poem: I had been reading old English ballads – those centuries-old magical poems that had been passed down as oral traditions with no known authors. I was cooking up one of my own about a rider riding through a dark forest grabbing at leaves when I suddenly thought of this as a metaphor for industry relentlessly destroying the environment and creating an apocalyptic world. The rest wrote itself very quickly. The rhythm mirrors the horse rhythm and the repetition is deliberately modeled on the dark poetry of Poe, whose work I love for its fluid lyricism.

I had always wanted to tackle climate change and environmental destruction, but addressing it directly left me bored and cold. This angle gave me a route to explore the morality and drivers of selfish destructive behaviour and delusions of safety within a different world. A modern caution in an old-world format.

The collaboration: I was contacted out of the blue by a Swiss artist living in Canada (Corinne Weidmann). She said she loved the poem and because it was so vivid in her mind, she’d love to do an illustration of it. I said “yes, of course”, of course! She was actually due to come to London to live, so we met up lots of times to discuss how we both visualised it. The overlap in mental imagery was strong, but we also both had little touches in our minds that came together well (she had the idea of the horse passing people/workers through its system and out its rear end, and the rider in stove-pipe hat and industrial revolution attire; I had the mental image of the “burning famine” people with hollowed-out stomachs with fire in their place, etc). Anyway, I took her ’round some poetry gigs over the months that she was working on it and the piece was developing. It was designed to be one poster based on Swiss folk art style, with the story told in overlapping/interlinked images. I suggested to her that when it was ready, I could turn it into a YouTube video. I thought we could scan it in, then take the story section-by-section as I narrated.

When it was done, that’s exactly what I did. Corinne sent me high-res scans and I just got busy digitally editing with the tools I had… Microsoft Paint and Windows Movie Maker. I had to make some visual edits so that I could get the 16:9 pictures clean (free of overlaps from different parts of the image). And there were also some bits missing for the sake of the narrative (rain, lightning and poisoned rivers running overland) so Corinne did some new, separate pics for those.

With the sound recording, I did it all myself, ripping horse hooves and spooky sounds off YouTube then mixing and looping them to suit.

Corinne Weidmann: The first time I came across Mike Galsworthy’s poem On a White Horse was on YouTube. I was not particularly interested in poetry at that time, but I liked how visual this poem was. Mike raised a topic that was not new, but the way he did it was slightly different to what I’d heard before.

I simply wanted to illustrate it – just for fun. There was no intention of publishing it, nor anything else, but I thought that at least I would let the author know. He liked the idea and a collaboration turned out of it. I guess it also helped that I moved to London from Switzerland at the time.

The majority of my artworks and illustrations are done manually. It is the process of trying new techniques and experiments that I love the most. I count myself very lucky that my clients are usually well up for that.

For On a White Horse I chose to work with scraperboard and a knife.

I wanted it to become an old folk tale, or even a myth. A legend that everyone has at the back of their minds – omnipresent, but only frightening in the dark.

The style is based on traditional Swiss paper cut. Folk art is humble and honest. It tells stories about the daily lives, beliefs and worries of mostly farmers – those whose lives directly depend on nature and who are already affected by the impact of climate change.

The whole artwork is cut into a big piece of black scraperboard. The idea to make a video out of it emerged much later on. I didn’t intend to go into moving poetry, but I have a curious mind and hardly ever say no to a new direction.

My creative universe is called Iuna, named after a black Amazonian bird – Tinta simply means ink. Iuna Tinta is a bridge between illustration and art, with a pinch of typography thrown in.

The work is inspired by ancient mysticism, indigenous art and sinister fairytales. Professionally I often work for board sports companies such as Quiksilver and Roxy Snowboarding. Apart from that I exhibit and indulge in many personal projects. One is collaboration with a group of scientists and artists, based in Brisbane, Australia. Our aim is to convert conservation science messages into art, make them more accessible and to raise awareness concerning this combination.

The goals I have as an illustrator/artist is to continue doing what I am doing right now. To be able to let this visual universe expand naturally and in a way that feels right.

Mike and I were thinking of doing more projects together, but so far these are merely loose ideas. We do have very matching minds, which is rare – but at the same time we also have busy lives.

Corinne Weidmann's illustration "On a White Horse"

Swoon’s View: The Real and Pure Worlds of Janet Lees and Terry Rooney

Swoon’s View was a regular feature at Awkword Paper Cut, which has now ceased publication as a magazine (though the archives will remain online indefinitely). So with editor Michael Dickes’ permission, we are moving the column here, where it will appear on a more occasional basis.

Janet Lees

Janet Lees

Short. Sharp. Quirky. Strange. Lovely. That’s how the videopoetry of Janet Lees (with Terry Rooney or on her own) comes across. I saw some of these works at the Filmpoem Festival in Antwerp this year and was immediately taken in by the sober power they effused.

Let’s take a look at four short videopoems she has made over the last few years. Janet gave me extra info on the origin of the works:

In the spring of 2011, I spontaneously began noting down words and phrases from ads on the London Underground. That sentence doesn’t come close to conveying what I was doing. I wasn’t just hungry for those words, I was ravenous. I couldn’t get enough of them: their music, their dark comedy, the strangeness beneath their familiarity – the other things they were saying – the way they compelled me with a startling urgency to rearrange them into skewed, oddly lucid pieces.

I shared them with the photographer & videographer Rooney, who around the same time had started to take his fantastically clear vision for portent in everyday life from still images into short, fixed-viewpoint films. Rooney and I had previously worked together as an advertising creative team and we’d always shared a similar outlook, visually and on many other levels.

I’m a big fan of how they gently force the viewer to keep their eyes on the screen. Not by overpowering jump cuts or clever visuals. They use a single-shot image and text on screen to full effect. Your eyes are drawn to the screen and the poems in an almost hypnotic fashion.

These films are short and sharp as a razor. The creators have cut away any unnecessary layers to leave behind the bare and essential power. The works are like a breath of fresh air in these times of cultural abundance and profusion of advertising.

Pure, yet quirky. Fun, yet disquieting.

Take your time to digest these (over and over) and enjoy the extra info on the who and how that Janet gave me.

high voltage acts of kindness

the big cool true natural picture

For ‘high voltage’ and ‘the big cool true natural picture’ we simply matched up my found-text poems with Rooney’s films. We both had a little stock of each, so it was a case of seeing which words worked best with which films. As time went on, my words would inspire Rooney’s films and vice-versa.

In ‘high voltage’, the overall feel we wanted was a jaunty, slippery precariousness, building into a sense of impending disaster. The gas flame worked perfectly – something so ordinary and yet potentially deadly – and just slightly ‘off’ (why is there no pot sitting on the flame?). ‘The big cool true natural picture’ is a much lighter poem – basically reflecting back some of the OTT promises we’re fed. The crazily short film of the doll baby on the turntable heightened the comedy, while not entirely losing an edge of darkness.

The hours of darkness

‘The hours of darkness’ features footage of flamingos that I took in a wildlife park in the middle of winter. I found the sight of the flamingos in this big gloomy shed electrifying – there was something both prehistoric and post-apocalyptic about it. In my mind, I knew there was only one poem for this film – ‘The hours of darkness’, which I’d written about a year before, inspired by the anodyne yet always to my ear potentially sinister messages contained within in-flight announcements and other forms of mass communication. Here, the repeated phrase ‘May we remind you’ assumes an increasingly dark, Orwellian tone.

everything is poetry

The tone in ‘everything is poetry’ is markedly different. This is an original as opposed to found-text poem, inspired by the beauty that exists in the present moment, where we so rarely live. Here the fixed viewpoint has a more Zen-like quality, with words and footage working together – both doing different things but effectively celebrating the same thing. The film was taken at Portmeirion Village in Wales, where I was mesmerised by the effect of a sunlit fountain in a pool. I scoured the amazingly generous resource that is mobygratis to find the right piece of music, and then worked with the brilliant videographer Glenn Whorrall on editing. Glenn also helped me to edit ‘The hours of darkness’ – his sense of timing is pitch-perfect.

About the artists

Janet Lees is a poet and artist with an interest in multidisciplinary digital work. Working in collaboration with Rooney and independently, she has had work selected for international prizes and festivals including Filmpoem, the Aesthetica Art Prize and the British and Irish Poetry Film festivals. Rooney is a photographer and videographer who has won acclaim for his raw, thought-provoking images and short, fixed viewpoint films.

Twin-sister videopoetry collaborators featured at Connotation Press

For her Third Form column at Connotation Press this month, Erica Goss interviewed Cecelia and Justine Post, the artist and poet behind the videopoem/book trailer Beast (which I also shared at Moving Poems a few weeks back).

Poet Justine Post and her identical twin sister, artist Cecelia Post, collaborated on the video book trailer for Justine’s poetry collection Beast, just out from Augury Books. I spoke with Justine and Cecelia separately in February about the video, collaborations, and being twins in two creative, distinct yet overlapping disciplines.

“Many of our memories are the same since we were together all the time growing up. I often use ‘we’ instead of ‘me.’ We even share the same dreams. We live apart now but we are still very connected,” Justine told me. She is currently earning her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, and her sister is a visual artist who runs Fowler arts collective in Brooklyn. According to Cecelia, “Justine’s poems articulate my visual work, and we understand our work better through each other.”

“I think poetry and the visual arts are well-fitted,” Justine said. “I always loved Cecelia’s video, ‘You Made Me (Sewing).’ I pushed my sister to finish it. The poem and the video tell different stories, but they enrich each other.” In the video, a young woman (played by Cecelia) sews herself into a nylon, flesh-colored bodysuit while the narrator (Justine) reads Justine’s poem “Self-Portrait as Beast.”

Read the rest.

Filmmaker seeks poet


I am looking for a writer who is willing to let these three films inspire him/her to write three poems for them…

Look and listen…absorb…look and listen some more…and write…

I’m looking for three new poems (please use the titles of the films) written for these three videos:

Disturbance in the maze
Wailing Wall Crumbs
Ghostless Blues (The story of Vladimir K.)

More info, mail me: swoonbildos@gmail.com

Videopoetry makers Swoon and David Tomaloff featured at CoronationPress.com

Check out this terrific interview with Belgian filmmaker Swoon and American poet David Tomaloff about their recent collaboration on a triptych of videopoems. I loved learning about their collaborative process and how they thought of each other’s work, and as an amateur maker of videopoems I was especially impressed by some of Swoon’s thoughts about his approach, such as:

I love working with found material. Trying to give images, shot for a whole other purpose by someone you don’t know in a place you’ve never been, a new life and, more important so, a new meaning, is very liberating. It gives you a weird sense of power. Even the material I shoot myself is often not shot directly for a specific film. I try to build a library of images, shot by me and found footage, where I can wander around in when making a new film. On the other hand, it’s also very nice if I can shoot images the way I want them to be for a specific idea and poem.

Read the rest (and watch the triptych).

Call for submissions or your poems are dying to be a videopoem triptych

Whale Sound, Cello Dreams and Swoon are looking for poems with which to create a videopoem triptych.

Do you have a group of three poems you’d like to have published as videopoems? They could be three of your own poems, a set of three separate-but-related poems by you and two other poets, or a set of three poems written collaboratively by two or more poets.

We are a trio of artists — Nic S., poet/reader; Kathy McTavish, musician; and Swoon, film-maker — who have come together to pioneer this novel method of poetry publication.

Flight, a videopoem based on a poem by Helen Vitoria, is an example of our collaboration.

To get a sense of how your videopoem triptych would look and sound after publication, visit Night Vision.

Send 3 to 5 poems in the body of an email to Nic at nic_sebastian at hotmail dot com or Swoon at swoonbildos at gmail dot com.

The Filming of Poetry

Published in Anon Seven, July 2010. Anon is the anonymous submissions magazine, edited by Colin Fraser and Peggy Hughes.

The combination of film and poetry is an attractive one. For the poet, perhaps a hope that the filmmaker will bring something to the poem: a new audience, a visual attraction, the laying of way markers; for the filmmaker, a fixed parameter to respond to, the power of a text sparking the imagination with visual connections and metaphor.

Poetry has been seen as a bountiful source for the creative process of the lyrical side of experimental film practice since filmmakers and critics began theorising the concepts of film. Many filmmakers view film as an independent art, often persuading that film can only be an art form if it struggles to work within its own language. The combination of image and text forms what writer William Wees has called Poetry-film. In his essay, “The Poetry Film,” published in 1984, he notes that:

a number of avant-garde film and video makers have created a synthesis of poetry and film that generates associations, connotations and metaphors neither the verbal nor the visual text would produce on its own.

Elaborating on this interdependence, Wees argues that the filming of poetry:

expands upon the specific denotations of words and the limited iconic references of images to produce a much broader range of connotations, associations, metaphors. At the same time, it puts limits on the potentially limitless possibilities of meaning in words and images, and directs our responses toward some concretely communicable experience.

In the last issue of Anon, Television Insider discussed the possible futility of foisting poetry upon those who would not want it, quoting Auden’s “poetry makes nothing happen.” The emphasis here is on change: poetry is essentially internalised. This point, although discussed originally in a different context, illustrates a key difficulty in the filming of poetry: it is neither poetry nor film, but a blend of both. In order, then, for the filming of poetry to succeed, surely it cannot merely be a juxtaposing of the two but an organised symbiosis, a series of gentle signposts, an undercurrent of narrative embellishing the poet’s intentions.

The initial step taken by the poet is the very essence of collaboration: the underlying trust placed in the filmmaker with one’s work. This handover of the text is a moment of trepidation, a transfer of trust. However, it is also a point of invigoration, described by Morgan Downie:

I love the notion of collaboration and especially the way technology frees us up to do these things. It’s great to see someone else taking something you’ve done and running with it…. there’s a sense of engagement and commitment.

In an interview with the Scottish Poetry Library this spring, poet and presenter Owen Sheers made a similar point, that the genesis of a poem may be with the poet, but there comes a point where the filmmaker takes control. I took the opportunity to discuss with Owen Sheers the methodology imposed when bringing six poems to the screen in the recent BBC4 series, A Poet’s Guide to Britain. It is clear there is a conflict for the filmmaker when drawing the viewer’s attention to the poem; is the text of the poem placed on the screen or is it merely read?

The answer, with unswerving common sense, is that it depends. The possibilities for the introduction of literal visual images, non-literal images, suggestive images or visual signposts are all vying for attention. The filmmaker’s skill is to interpret what the particular poem is asking for. Owen’s measured opinion was that there is an opportunity for “a surprising image, to place two things up against each other which don’t quite fit.” The essence is that if the words must be on screen then perhaps not the entire text but only a carefully chosen extract, alongside the poem being read in full. Sheers noted that he feels that this is essential in attempting to reach a wider audience.

And so, the poem will be read to you. Listening to a poem is not like reading a poem; there’s a sense of enlivening as a poem is launched into the air. Seamus Heaney, talking of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, noted that when he heard the whole thing read aloud the experience taught him, in the words of the poem, to sit still. This idea, the experience of being read to, allows the reader to be captive, open to the experience. This is the essence of Poetry-film.

There is then a need to define Poetry-film, to categorise in order to make sense of the body of work and to differentiate between the filming of poetry and the mass of other media. It must encompass a broad range of typologies and methodologies: almost any definition of a poem, from the most graphic to almost pure poetry to the traditional verse form is accepted. As a result of this broad definition, a number of filmmakers and poets have discussed the merits of defining the genre more specifically. But there is another aspect to this: much of the discussion is about finding a place, helping the genre grow and promoting the filming of poetry. Hence defining (rejecting that which does not fit) is a necessary evil. As filming poetry is about capturing the essence on film, the artistic genre cannot, for example, include a film of the poet reading their work. In my understanding, the filming of poetry falls into the following categories:

  • The simple use of the graphic text of a poem, in part or whole, without any visual movement or film; the literal filming of a text.
  • The simple use of the graphic text of a poem, in part or whole, under-laid with visual movement, either animation of natural filmic elements; a visual film of text and audio; think “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan.
  • Performance, by the poet or other, of the poem in a stage and audience context; a film of a poet at work.
  • The unabridged reading of a poem by the poet, or another, over a film that attempts to combine the poem with visual and audio elements; essentially the embodiment of William Wees’s Poetry-film concept.

I do not wish, within the parameters of this article, to become embroiled in the intensive discussions regarding the sifting of terminology. To my mind, this is an open church: the success of a piece of film is when it becomes the true embodiment of the poet’s sentiment embellished in some way by our filmmaker. It is an interesting area, though: there is much discussion of intellectual intention and aesthetic vision. A philosophical approach to craftsmanship is not new to any of the arts.

Ron Silliman, the prolific American poet and popular blogger, is emphatic about what makes a Poetry-film. His view is that the animation of Billy Collin’s poem, “The Dead,” by Juan Declan is “neither poem nor cartoon threatening to break any new ground whatsoever”. The film is a charming and dedicated homage to a great text, a gracious meditation on death wrought from the events on September 11th, 2001.

This animation is from Billy Collins’ own Action Poetry series, a project worth seeking out. There are eleven films, realised by animators with talent and tricks up their sleeves. Each one includes literal and reverential references to the text, showing the graphic representation of the words. This is either done by placing text on screen or by hammering home the point by the visual representation of an object as it is mentioned in the poem. Silliman’s point is this: these are talented filmmakers in a project showcasing an exceptional poet reading his poems, but it simply doesn’t take the work somewhere new: “Collins’ piece is nothing more than a reading of the piece over which a cartoon has been superimposed.” A little harsh perhaps; it is of course arguable that in the case of a poet of the stature of Collins, there is little need to take it anywhere.

There are discussions in the world of Poetry-film, deliberating the chicken and egg of the possibilities of visual metaphor and connection with the poet’s text. As Fil Ieropoulos, a researcher at the University College For The Creative Arts, states [PDF],

The poetry-film is interested in the fine line between text as word or image, spoken voice as words or sounds and the question of whether image or concept come first in a human mind, discussions that were prevalent in 20th century modernist literature and science.

It is this artist’s understanding that the Poetry-film should successfully bring the work to the audience through visual and audio layering, attractive to those who would not necessarily read the poetry. The film needs to provide a subtext, a series of suggestions and visual notes that embellish the poem, using the filmmaker’s subtle skills to allow the poet’s voice to be seen as well as heard. The collaboration remains with the words. If this subtext is missing, the film resorts to being a piece of media, the reading of a text over discombobulated imagery, a superimposition.

In considering the potential importance of seeing their work as film, it is perhaps best left to the poets to describe their aspirations. Juliet Wilson has worked in collaboration with other artists and believes the visual is an intrinsic part of the process of writing poetry:

I think very visually when I write poetry… I also have a strong visual sense of many of my longer poems as I write them, which may take the shape of a narrative or may be more in the form of atmospheric snapshots. I’m interested in the collaborative film making process, how a filmmaker might see my poem differently…and how the two visions can fit together… I think films of my poetry would have the same effect only more so.

Poet Jane McKie describes how she felt when first watching the film interpretation of her poem “La Plage”:

“La Plage” is partly a homage to the beach at Portobello, Edinburgh.  When I wrote it I had Portobello’s status as a past resort in mind… and by extension, the faded grandeur of so many of Britain’s seaside towns.  But in the writing it became both something more specifically Scottish, and something more metaphysical.  When I saw the beautiful, evocative film, I was very affected by the way in which [the filmmaker] has captured the suggestions of absence and loss, the bitter-sweetness, that I had in mind.  The sunshine and the wind — cold, biting even — and the muted soundtrack of children’s laughter evoke precisely the spirit of the piece, for me at least.  The blurred images of sand, waves, bodies, summon up an atomisation of remembered experience that is at the heart of what I was trying to achieve: a dispersal of nostalgia by the elements.

So, a Poetry-film is just that, a single entwined entity, a melting, a cleaving together of words, sound and vision. It is an attempt to take a poem and present it through a medium that will create a new artwork, separate from the original poem. The film is a separate work from the text itself and this in turn may be able to open up poetry to people who are not necessarily receptive to the written word. Poetry often tries to deal with the abstract world of thought and feeling, rather than the literal world of things. The Poetry-film is the perfect marriage of the two.

©Alastair Cook 2010

Morgan Downie on videopoetry and surrendering to time vampires

Scottish poet Morgan Downie shared some of his thoughts about videopoetry and his collaboration with Alastair Cook (see their two videos) in “time vampires,” a blog post from April 28 which I only just discovered. He includes some kind words about Moving Poems, which I appreciated, but I particularly liked his conclusion:

in computerland you can pretty much do what you want, pick a sound, an image, a stream of words and run with it. when alastair did the scene video he just picked it up and ran with it. what a surprise, what a treasure! not only that by indulging yourself in these collaborative efforts you get to meet new people who do things differently to you, who come from different and interesting backgrounds, countries, cultures and, more or less, there’s no publisher, deadline, competition, brief etc etc other than what you want there to be. so all of that is rendered superfluous. and that can only be a good thing.

so, time vampires. yes, staring at a screen can be a bad thing, but as a means to some form of creative expression, some interaction, something new you hadn’t even thought of? that’s a monkey on my back i’ll welcome. i could write more but i’m off to practise some guitar noise i want to use. i have no idea how to record it, what to do with it when i have done, but that’s all part of the joy.

i recommend it.