~ found poetry ~

Some thoughts on collage videopoetry

Over at Via Negativa, I shared a new videopoem I made on a whim last night. This morning I added some process notes, which led to a few further reflections of possible interest to writers and poetry teachers looking for an easy way to get into videopoeming. First, the video:

Watch on Vimeo.

I made this videopoem entirely out of found text and footage from American television commercials of the late 1940s and early 50s. I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities of collage in videopoetry ever since I saw what Matt Mullins did with a sermon by Oral Roberts in Our Bodies (A Sinner’s Prayer). This doesn’t rise quite to that level, either technically or conceptually, but it was a fun experiment. Thanks to the Prelinger Archives for the material, all in the public domain.

Process notes: I’ve been downloading compilations of old television commercials for possible use in videos for poems from the new chapbook. While making poetry videos for pre-existing texts is fun, it’s easy to get sidetracked by a wealth of good material, and yesterday I decided to give in to the temptation. I went through one of the compilations, writing down all the good lines in a text document, in order as they appeared so I could re-find them easily. Then I wrote a rough draft with some of the most interesting lines, loaded the source material into Windows Movie Maker and began to cut and paste the snippets containing the lines I’d liked into the order I’d put them in the written draft. Once I had fully assembled the first rough draft of a videopoem, however, I found the words went by rather too quickly. I had the idea of using wordless or nearly wordless segments from a single ad both to give space to the lines of found poetry and to act as a sort of refrain.

At this stage, the working title was “Industry at Work” (taken from a clip that I subsequently removed). However, after a couple of hours of trimming and moving things around, it became clear that the refrain segments just weren’t gelling, and the video overall seemed too scattered and miscellaneous. I began looking at another compilation, and the very first ad in it — a commercial for Budweiser — had lots of wordless footage that I liked. It was only after pasting some of those segments into the draft project that I got the idea of using the first half of Budweiser’s then-slogan, “Where there’s life, there’s Bud,” as title and refrain.

I go into all this (hopefully not too boring) detail simply to show that the process of composition doesn’t differ all that wildly from the way regular poems are made. If I were teaching poetry, this is the sort of thing I’d make beginning students do. Of all the possible approaches to videopoetry, found-poem collage with public-domain (or otherwise free-to-use) footage has the lowest barrier to entry. All you really need is a computer with a DSL or faster connection and whatever video editing software the operating system came with. Moreover, this way of making videopoems comes much closer than the typical poetry video to Tom Konyves’ conception of videopoety as

the Duchampian “assisted readymade”. Consider the recorded image as the readymade; the function of the videopoet is to discover whether there exists something significant, yet still incomplete, a collaborative property beneath the surface of the present moment.

Found videopoem?

A reporter tries to get out a simple report in what I presume is Urdu. The result struck me as an inadvertent videopoem. (Many thanks to Arvind for locating this for me on YouTube, based on a version that had been uploaded to Facebook.)