~ Tom Konyves ~

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

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.

Tom Konyves, Kristian Pedersen and Nicholas Bertini at Poetryfilmkanal

Poetryfilmkanal, the Weimar-based website that also produces an annual print Poetry Film Magazine, has posted three new essays in English over the past month. First, the Italian author and animator Nicholas Bertini described the making of his experimental work in New Alphabets:

Encoding and decoding signs and shapes is the main focus of the research behind my work. It’s legitimate to say that communication is based on an alphabet, or better many alphabets, that lead back to writing. But what happens if, instead of a blank sheet having width and height, we have one including the dimension of time? Paradoxically a blank sheet that erases the hic et nunc of a mark, or that can contain hundreds or thousands.

Here shapes and signs, besides appearing in their two-dimensionality can mutate over time, allowing a level of communication that writing as we know it can not transmit. That’s what interests me in my research: the possibility to communicate through signs that can be decoded as new alphabets, thus including movement as part of the alphabet, like a sign or word.

In this process traditional writing is not left aside, there’s no intention to discredit or surpass it. Instead I find myself mixing this two languages, morphing and fusing them together.

On September 3, the prominent videopoet and theorist Tom Konyves weighed in with some Talking Points, which are divided into three sections: “Terms of service”; “Illustration and the function of the image”; and “Performance and the function of the poet’s body on screen”. Konyves’ points are well illustrated with embedded videos. I thought his consideration of literal interpretation in poetry film vs. the more allusive approach of videopoetry proper was especially interesting:

To convey a clear, unambiguous meaning of a pre-existing poem, the most effective visual approach an artist can take is a literal interpretation. While it presents a coherent relationship between word and image, any content on the image-track that is a direct representation of key words in the poem is bound to alert the viewer to a world view that values order, harmony and singular meanings.

Interviewed for BBC’s Sunday Feature: Crossing the Border – Poetry and Film, Alastair Cook commented on his 2013 filmpoem, Lifted, based on the poet Jo Bell’s experience at Lock 30 of the Trent & Mersey Canal, one of a series of canal-themed poems commissioned by the Canal & River Trust: »There is a literalness in this … I am visually illustrating what she is talking about,« which he then qualifies with »but very quietly, very much in the background.« In the background of the work, we can hear Jo Bell’s voice reciting the poem. It is accompanied by a series of (well-composed) shots at Lock 30: the canal, the water, the lock gates closing, close-up of the water, back to the lock gate, back to the water, extreme close-up of the lock gate, back to water, an extreme close-up tilt on the gate, back to water, back to the canal … This series of »establishing« shots does indeed convey the background to Bell’s poem. The shots say simply, quietly, Here. Here is where the poet gathered her observations and subsequently wrote the poem. Without ambiguity, the images connect the viewer with the spatial references in the poem. Jo Bell’s poem comes through unchanged, loud and clear. You have only to listen.

On the other hand, the world view revealed through a »metaphorical lens« cannot accept a coherent, orderly universe. Its approach takes for its subject the critique of conventional word-image associations, organizing its elements – in this genre by enlisting the image-track as the »dominant« element – to make associations surprising and »strange«, to be open to multiple interpretations of these associations and, most importantly, to use the unstable nature of language (the ambiguities in the text) to help us experience a videopoem in a new, playful, indirect way.

And most recently, the Norwegian animator Kristian Pedersen has a craft essay up, Graphic listening — “Visualizing The Bøyg: About my tribute to Oskar Fischingers concept of visual music in my film Bøygen (2016).” Pedersen has always been one of my favorite poetry animators, so it was great to read — and see, thanks to the copious illustrations — where one particular animation of his came from.

When making films tied to poetry or prose, I find abstraction to be a successful vessel. Like music, it can connect directly to emotion, and facilitate individual experience. I always turn to history of visual music – these works of art, some of them close to a century old, still stand as monuments of inspiration. The masters of abstract cinema paved such a vast area of experimentation, and stunningly beautiful works, there is always something new to learn from them. In every case, I always come back to Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967).*

This was especially significant with my visual music short Bøygen of 2016: From deep in the misty Norwegian mountains comes the unnerving sense of numbing apathy. This is The Boyg, in old Norwegian folklore known as a large, invisible serpent that seem to surround you and suggests you avoid challenges. Made famous by playwright Henrik Ibsen, the Boyg is today a term for a formless obstacle; lack of initiative, creeping anxiety or a problem difficult to untangle.

To express an abstract idea with an abstract visual language was a labyrinth of trial and error. But a successful marriage of sound and image can open a doorway directly into the synapses. Research for this project covered both ancient Norwegian folklore and film history. The starting point was a journey to the Center of Visual Music in February 2015.

Fascinating stuff. Do click through and read all three essays.

O by Alejandro Thornton

This videopoema by the Argentine artist and writer Alejandro Thornton is — as Tom Konyves puts it in a new essay in Poetryfilmkanal — a “silent, minimalist, prototypical ‘concrete poem'”. Konyves’ description of what’s going on in this video from a viewer’s perspective is the centerpiece of his essay, “A Rumination on Visual Text in Videopoetry,” which also mentions seven other videopoems, all embedded in the post. I’ve never been able to articulate why certain avant-garde videopoems work for me, but I think Tom nails it here: the video depends for its effect on “multiple, ambiguous meanings (the word O, the letter O, the vowel sound of O, an O shape, an expression of an emotion, a graphic representation of some concept like unity, harmony, return, etc.),” and by the video’s end, we should be able “to experience the ambiguous word-image relationship – a static O and a moving landscape – in a spatial context and therefore interpret O as a shape first, and the effect of rotation as a self-referential meaning ascribed to the entire work.”

Finally, there is the juxtaposition of text to image; O, therefore, is a demonstration of a figure-ground relationship in which the letter/shape O is the figure and the ground is – well, the ground (and the cloud-filled sky, and all in motion) of the image. In addition, the ground not only provides the best context for interpreting the meaning of the figure of the text (whose shape it reflects by its rotation) but also demonstrates the contrasted functions: image is from the world, of the world, predetermined and framed just-so or captured by chance from the environment with the function of bringing attention to and expanding the meaning of visual text in such a way that it completes its inherent incompleteness; it functions also as a device of closure, providing the context that leads to a poetic experience of ›greater or lesser value‹, depending on selection, modification, etc.

Nowhere is the juxtapositive function of the image more striking than in videopoems that feature a ›single-take‹; what appears in the frame, the content, automatically provides the context we will need to interpret the displayed text and, by extension, the entire work. My experience of O was enhanced by the recognition that the image element of the work, a found image, captured by chance from the environment, connects the visual text with the external world as the artist perceived it at that spontaneous moment; it is a recorded passage of a particular time in a particular space and, as such, it appropriates a ›slice‹ of the world against which could be written the internal world of thoughts.

Read the rest (and watch the other videos).

This was I think the first English-language essay in Poetryfilmkanal’s current issue on the theme of text in poetry film, but if you don’t know German I recommend using the Google Translate drop-down menu in the sidebar of the site to get the gist of the other recent contributions, each of which adds something to the growing international conversation. Konyves’ essay builds on insights from his manifesto and other, more recent essays. I may not always agree with him, but I admire his capacity for jargon-free original thought, which always gives the impression of being very hard-won, unlike much of the more facile, academic prose one encounters these days.

In Retrospect: a Manifesto and its Underpinnings

Last summer, I was invited to present a keynote address to the Poetry/Translation/Film conference organized by the University of Montpellier. Like a tour guide, I selected 19 videopoems, introducing each one. The venue was the Utopia, an aging, funky little cinema.

A few months ago, the organizers contacted me that they intend to publish a book of the proceedings and they were going to include my Manifesto, translated into French. Could I add a text “in which you look back on what you wrote then, say if there is anything you would revise if you were to rewrite your manifesto now, tell the reader of any developments between now and then, and what you foresee for the future?”

The questions were apt, as it occurred to me that it was around this time, 5 years ago, that I began writing what turned into the Manifesto. So here it is.

For those who may have trouble accessing Academia.edu, here’s the same PDF, uploaded with Tom’s permission to Moving Poems. —Ed.

Learning about inch worms by Simply Sylvio


I figured it would only be a matter of time before someone created a viral videopoem on Vine. (This has also been uploaded to YouTube.) The author, Simply Sylvio, is “Vine’s first avant-garde gorilla,” according to Mashable.

Sylvio’s Vine feed is a treasure chest of drama, comedy, animation and abstract art, all in the form of six-second looping videos. He’s taken a cinematic approach on the platform, showcasing his travels and everyday routines for his 300,000 followers.

Sylvio doesn’t speak, but he once wrote to us: “Vine became the perfect way to capture all of the small, quiet moments on the road that would otherwise have been lost.”

Sylvio himself may not claim that this is a videopoem, but I think it fits the classic, Konyvesian definition to a T.

Presented as a multimedia object of a fixed duration, the principal function of a videopoem is to demonstrate the process of thought and the simultaneity of experience, expressed in words — visible and/or audible — whose meaning is blended with, but not illustrated by, the images and the soundtrack.

The playful manipulation of a Google search recalls the screenshot poetry of Google Poetics. The search acquires a certain pathos, the frantic flailing of the eponymous inchworm remaining open to interpretation no matter how often we re-watch it on Vine’s infinite loop. Given that inchworms are also commonly referred to as loopers, there may also be a certain self-reflexivity at work.

I do think it’s better with the sound off, though. That’s just cheesy.

Interview with Tom Konyves at Connotation Press

In her latest “Third Form” column at Connotation Press, Erica Goss interviews videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. Goss’s usual pattern of paraphrasing and quoting from a conversation conducted by telephone gave way here to a more standard question-and-answer format, and the interview delves into aspects of Konyves’ background which were new to me. Here’s how Goss herself summarized it:

In this interview, Tom discusses, among other things, making his first videopoem on ½” reel-to-reel videotape, the medium of video being “unrecognized” by Herman Berlandt, Director of the San Francisco Poetry Film Workshop, what text-image relationships have in common with male-female relationships, and falling in love with language as a child.

I particularly liked the story of how Konyves came to make his first videopoem. But I think the most quotable bit is from the end of the interview:

Text-image relationships are no different from male-female relationships. Sometimes they get along, sometimes they don’t. They get along when they are totally aware of the other’s “potential” as well as their own. For each has the potential to be effective in different ways. They don’t try to overpower the other or usurp each other’s roles in the structure of the work. A particular image provides the only possible context in which the words are intended to be experienced. When they “complete” each other, the work is “pure poetry”. And once you’ve realized that, you will always associate the images with the text of the work. They have become soulmates. How many “video poems” have this attribute? Watch one, then close your eyes and listen to the words. Can you picture the scene? Throughout?

Do go read the whole interview.

Robert Peake on “poetry, film, and the dance of memory”

The American-British poet and poetry-filmmaker Robert Peake is the author of this week’s essay at Poetryfilmkanal: “Mnemosyne’s Tango: Poetry, Film, and the Dance of Memory.” I thought it was one of the most original things I’ve read about the the genre.

The relationship between art and memory has long been a family affair, since Mnemosyne is the mother of the Muses. In fact, some of the earliest uses of both poetry and film were for recording cultural history – either by compressing an epic tale into alliteration and rhyme to facilitate memorisation, or by compressing light and sound into physical media. Compression leads to portability and potency, but also imposes unique constraints, which have evolved into our current understanding of the distinct artistic possibilities of each discipline.

In format, the auditory and visual natures of film and poetry are clearly different. Yet a flickering screen can be viewed like a page, and a poem can be read like a script. The cæsura, line break, and stanza break in poetry mirror film’s range of visual transitions. Clearly, they have some fundamental moves in common. How, then, does the poetryfilm best come together to fascinate, transport, and change us?

Click through and find out.

Peake’s essay is the latest addition to the Magazin section of Poetryfilmkanal. Previous installments in this series of short essays have included “Poetryfilms: when poetry and film have a flirt,” by Eleni Cay; “CINEPOEM – or – Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” by Cathy de Haan (in German); my own essay, “The Discovery of Fire: One Poet’s Journey into Poetry-Film“; and “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen,” by Tom Konyves.

Recent talks on filmpoetry and videopoetry: Alan Fentiman, Tony Williams, Ross Sutherland, Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas

Terra Incognita: Mapping the Filmpoem is a beautifully shot conversation between filmmaker Alan Fentiman and poet Tony Williams. Two years ago, they collaborated on a documentary about the link between walking and poetic inspiration called Roam to Write, which is also very worth watching. As for Terra Incognita,

This film paper was shown at the “Topographies: places to find something” conference at Bristol University on 15th May 2015.

This is the beginning of an ongoing discussion. We would welcome any comments or suggestions for other film poems to look at. [link added]


And here’s a very different talk: Ross Sutherland‘s Thirty Poems / Thirty Videos: End of Residency wrap-up for The Poetry School. I’ve been sharing some of those videos at the main site, but you can watch them all in chronological order at the Poetry School blog or in reverse chronological order at Sutherland’s Tumblr.

It’s instructive to compare these two videos. Right away, the difference in production values should clue us in to the gulf that separates these two aesthetic philosophies. Fentiman is a trained filmmaker, as shown by the care taken even to coordinate their wardrobe with the background, while Sutherland’s vlog-style video seems relatively unpremeditated and completely unedited, with the annoying result that the sound and picture get badly out of sync by the end of it. But Sutherland’s background as a maker of poetry videos is in literal videotape:

So in some respects, the aesthetic differences between these two talks, both in their style and in their substance, can be ascribed to the distinction between poetry film and videopoetry often drawn by Tom Konyves, for example in his recent essay, “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen“:

The way I see it, the writer who uses “poetry film” automatically designates the work as more film than poetry. I myself began to create what I called “videopoems” when I was more a poet than a video artist, so I naturally considered these works as “poetry”.

However, it’s not quite that simple, because none of these gentlemen seems quite ready to think of a film or a video as a poem per se; some of Sutherland’s videos are mere illustrations of pre-existing texts, while Fentiman and Williams speak favorably of Alastair Cook’s Filmpoem model, which goes part-way toward Konyves in its embrace of the centrality of poetic juxtaposition of images and text. But most interesting of all, I think, is the fact that the talks converge in emphasizing the positive results that can come from working ekphrastically: starting with film footage or found video and writing a text in response. So more than anything, I think, the differences here reflect a difference in venue and audience. Sutherland is making web videos for a younger audience weaned on YouTube remixes, vlogging, and live performance poetry, while Fentiman and Williams are oriented toward the film world with its focus on art houses and festivals, and perhaps share a preference for more mainstream, page-poetry.

Incidentally, for those who’d like to see Sutherland in person, there are still tickets available for the second run of his Standby For Tape Back-Up performance at London’s Soho Theatre, July 6-11.

Bridging the gap between these two talks is a third pair of talks given by Valerie LeBlanc and Daniel Dugas in late April at the Galerie Sans Nom in Moncton, New Brunswick, as part of the Text(e) Image Beat videopoetry exhibition. These however are available not in video form but as a PDF. LeBlanc alludes to the influence of yet another audience and medium: television.

Creators are now presenting their texts visually and / or performing their poems. Many have realized that messages can be effectively conveyed using the multimodal character of video poetry. Similarly to advertisements created for marketing campaigns, these works are characteristically short, less than 5 minutes in duration. You have probably all seen the new ads that read like poetry, drawing you into new lifestyles through product placement. Picture the mood and a message without the bottom line and you might be closer to the concept of video poetry.

She goes on to say:

While many of the historical examples of text(e) / image / beat used in combination do come from advertising / product placement / war propaganda, the tools and techniques out there for relaying messages have become highly accessible for artist use in this new century. In the late 1990’s when access to digital tools opened up, artists stepped in to embrace the possibilities for expanding their use. While New Media currently tends to imply experimental computer programming, video use in storytelling continues to hold interest.

Whether working with images, text and sound or all three, these media tools offer the possibility of bringing something that has escaped from the marketing machine we are all rolling with, and sometimes under. It is the possibility for impacting an internal change through a product that is not defined by its bottom line. It might be through ideas embedded in a world apart from imagined clichés. It might be an opportunity to change the pace, which at times might be useful for resetting the clock.

Do read the whole thing. Brief as it is, her talk opens up new avenues for thinking about videopoetry, at least for me.

As for Dugas’ talk, “DONNER UN SENS AU MONDE ENTIER,” I don’t know French, so I’m not entirely sure what he said, but I gather from Google Translate that there’s some emphasis on the influence of video art, the relationship with political and environmental activism, and the central role of the digital revolution. His conclusion:

Lorsque j’ai commencé à écrire de la poésie, j’ai aussi commencé à expérimenter avec le super-8, créant des bandes sonores en direct pour mes films. Le mélange du texte, de l’image et de la musique semblait une opération naturelle, mais aussi magique. Il ne s’agissait pas seulement d’un va-et-vient entre le texte, l’image et le son : la nouvelle entité devenait une traverse pour découvrir quelque chose de nouveau. Nous savons maintenant que l’espace entre les disciplines est fragile, que les murs sont maintenant pénétrables et nous sommes reconnaissants pour cette évolution des choses. Nous pouvons enfin voyager d’un genre à un autre pour essayer de donner un sens au monde entier.

[When I began to write poetry, I also started to experiment with super-8, creating soundtracks live for my films. The mixture of text, image and music seemed a natural process, but also magical. It was not just a back-and-forth between text, image and sound: the new entity became a crossbar for discovering something new. We know now that the space between disciplines is fragile, the walls are now penetrable, and we are thankful for this evolution of things. We can finally travel from one genre to another to try to make sense of the world as a whole.]

Tom Konyves at Poetryfilmkanal on “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen”

Poetryfilmkanal have just launched a new series of short, guest-contributed commentaries on “the fascination of poetry-film,” beginning with the Canadian videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves. I found his essay, “Redefining poetry in the age of the screen,” admirably clear and precise. He begins by discussing semantics, anticipating, I think the usual objection from British and German commentators that film is a better word than video.

Man Ray’s »cinépoème« and Maya Deren’s »filmpoem« sang the praises of film at a time when commercial/entertainment ventures first threatened the aesthetic potential of the new art form of film; it was not about exploring a new form for poetry. In the early ’80s, William C. Wees recognized that the use of poems had become prevalent in short films; he differentiated these »poetry-films« from »film poems«, i.e. poetic films, including films without words. Substituting »video« for »film« effectively deflected the »mystique« of celluloid from the conversation.

Konyves also suggests that terms in which poetry follow rather than precede film- or video- are preferable if you want to give primacy to the poetry rather than to the film. This is certainly true for English, where word-order plays a key role in semantics. Given how international and multilingual poetry-film and videopoetry have become, however, I think it’s incumbent on all of us who think critically about the genre(s) to try to understand how a poetry-first or film-first emphasis might best be expressed in each language.

In the second part of the essay, Konyves strikes a distinctly conciliatory, even ecumenical tone for someone best known in recent years for a manifesto:

Similarly, not all texts, including written-poems, can be expected to produce a desired new meaning when juxtaposed with images. If the written-poem was originally perfect, it would not need to be completed with images. Yet videos are made to promote these written-poems and are most worthwhile; otherwise these poems would not reach a wide public. Their »meaning« is not intended to change nor will it change in a visual context.

I’m not sure I agree that there’s such a thing as a perfect, finished poem, and therefore I like to imagine that it might be possible for a true videopoem to be made with any poetic text. But that’s kind of an absolutist position, I guess, and could easily be used to devalue films/videos that are simply made to promote poems, rather than recognizing them as equally worthwhile as Konyves does.

Brief as it is, I found the essay thought-provoking. Regular visitors to Moving Poems won’t be surprised to hear that I very much agree with Konyves’ over-all emphasis on videopoetry as poetry. My own, upcoming essay in this series will be much sloppier in its terminology, I’m afraid. In part, that’s because of my role as a blogger/curator rather than a theorist or critic: I tend to accept whatever terms poets and filmmakers themselves use for their creations. But I do fear that my use of “videopoetry” as the catch-all category at Moving Poems has muddied things a bit.

Fortunately, we have Tom Konyves to step forward periodically and clarify things as only he can. Go read.

Further experiments with videohaiku

The footage I linked to for a videohaiku challenge last week elicited very few responses, though each of them was very interesting. Perhaps composing a credible haiku is challenging enough without the additional burden of such WTF imagery to work with. However, in a classic example of beginner’s mind out-pacing the professionals, my friend Rachel Rawlins, who doesn’t consider herself a poet at all, suggested some lines which I thought worked very well. After some rather intense back-and-forth via email and Skype, here’s what we came up with:

To recap, the challenge was to treat the footage as if it were one part of a typically two-part haiku, either preceding or following the cut-point (usually represented in English by an em dash or colon). I find that composing this kind of videohaiku is much easier if you mentally substitute words for footage. So for this one, one could start with something like “[nudist handball—]”, e.g.

[nudist handball—]
not even netting
comes between us

which was an earlier joint effort of mine and Rachel’s.

Haiku are untitled, but Tom Konyves argued in an email that a videohaiku should have a title nonetheless. This was in the context of a critique of my first effort in this vein. I talked about it with James Brush, the author of the text, and he agreed. So we decided to call that piece flower (videohaiku) — though we didn’t remake the video itself, just changed the title on Vimeo, which was perhaps a bit of a cop-out. But for the second one with Rachel, you’ll notice we did put the title right on the video, using a freeze-frame as background.

There’s a long tradition of occasionally using bizarre imagery in written haiku and senryu. I found some truly WTF footage in the IICADOM collection (the Belgian equivalent of the Prelinger Archives), in an undated home movie identified simply as “Rural Life.” My mental substitution for the footage was “Hitler in the garden.” (This was in part a response to Othniel Smith’s video in this week’s Cheryl Gross column.) Anyway, here’s what I came up with:

I decided both videos worked fine as silent films, but I don’t think that’s necessarily part of the videohaiku prescription. I thought the ambient insect noise in flower was a good addition, and could work just as well with visitor here.

I’m now beginning to consider the best way to string videohaiku into videorenga. In classic Japanese linked verse (renga or renku), each stanza apart from the opening and closing verses is part of two different two-stanza poems in succession, which creates a dilemma for filmmakers: repeat each verse or not? And how to represent the shorter stanzas (two lines in English-language renga; 14 “syllables” in Japanese)?

I’m not going to issue another formal videopoetry challenge for now, but I am interested in continuing to work with other writers, and possibly other video remixers as well, so if you’d like to be part of that, let me know (bontasaurus@yahoo.com). Renga is a quintessentially collaborative approach to composition, and it seems to me it might be a natural fit for the remix/mashup culture of the web. But first we need to generate a prototype, I think.

Videopoesía: Un Manifiesto por Tom Konyves

La videopoesía es un género de poesía ilustrado en una pantalla, que se distingue por su yuxtaposición de imágenes, texto y sonido basada en un tiempo específico. La mezcla medida de los tres elementos, producen en el espectador la realización de la experiencia poética.

El famoso manifiesto por el pionero de videopoesía Tom Konyves acaba de ser traducido al español por Jorge A. Lucarini Sanz. Léalo en Issuu o descargue el PDF.