~ Voice Alpha ~

Interview with poet-filmmaker Sara Anika Mithra at Voice Alpha

Voice Alpha, a blog focused on reading poetry aloud for an audience, has an interview with American poet Sara Anika Mithra about her use of audio- and videopoetry. I was especially struck by her description of how doing audio recordings helps her work through early drafts of poems, but she made some interesting points about video remix as well:

On Vimeo, with my found footage poem-videos, I’m engaging a distinct medium — video — that acts like a carrier oil for perfume. Poetry can be too rarefied to carry scent alone. Unlike recording my performances, the process for editing video out of archival footage is _not_ closely related to writing. Finding home movies from the 50s and splicing them into a three minute video is a subtractive process, like sculpture — paring away excess scraps of image to create a tone more than a narrative. It’s a decadent and aesthetic practice that gives each poem a visual soundtrack. I love editing video — it eats away hours of time and allows pleasure, plus gives me the chance to collaborate with musicians on the score. These massive projects take months, so I need to commit to a poem that bears scrutiny without boring me.

Read the rest.

Doing videopoetry live, karaoke-style

I have an essay up at Voice Alpha, a group blog about reading poetry alive for an audience, on the unique challenges and rewards of doing a live reading accompanied by “karaoke” versions of videopoems — videopoems from which the poem has been stripped. I began by discussing a terrific example of this kind of performance which I’d been lucky enough to see this summer at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland — the inspiration for my own first venture into videopoem karaoke this past Wednesday. Here’s part of what I concluded:

There was simply no question that I’d have to practice my ass off for a couple of days in advance, reading the poems over and over while the videos played in a VLC playlist on my laptop. With regular poetry readings, practice might seem optional (at least to poets who don’t read this site), but with audiovisual accompaniment, you have to come in on cue or the whole thing flops. I had assumed the screen would be behind me and prepared accordingly, but with it situated to my right, I didn’t have to glance exclusively at my laptop for visual cues.

Complete memorization of the poems would not have been a bad thing, much as I resist internalizing my own words to that degree. I wouldn’t have had to fumble with a book and set list, and possibly could’ve engaged more with the audience. However, with the audience focused on the screen, what really mattered was my vocal delivery, not eye contact. And with the accompanying music being generally melodic and at points down-right funky, it took off the pressure to give an absolutely flawless reading. So in a way, this approach offers a bit of a crutch to those of us (95% of poets?) who are not highly skilled performers.

There’s nothing like a live reading to improve one’s delivery, though. I had been afraid that the necessity to sync up my reading with prerecorded music and images might make for kind of a mechanical delivery, but I don’t think that happened. In fact, for some of the poems in the set, I found myself reading in a more intense, impassioned style than I used when I’d recorded myself alone in a quiet bedroom for the online versions of the videopoems. And since I had to pay close attention to the music for many of my cues, I think this approach actually improved my over-all sense of timing and rhythm.

I’d love to hear impressions from other poets who have given audio-visually enhanced readings. I know of quite a few.

Interview with “How Pedestrian” curator Katherine Leyton

Nic S. at Voice Alpha interviews Katherine Leyton, who stops people on the street and gets them to read poems on camera for her site How Pedestrian.

The visual element of the project, of course, was the main idea. I wanted to bring poetry to people in pubs and streets and taxis around Toronto, capture it on video and post it online. However, the visual aspect of a poem itself is also very important, and I think to fully absorb a poem you need to actually read it; this is why I decided to post the work next to the video. I really wanted the viewer be able to read along.

One of the most surprising results of the project so far has been the overwhelmingly positive public response.

The enthusiasm with which pedestrians agree to read for me is astonishing. I would say that out of every ten people I ask to read a poem, nine say yes. When I started, I never expected a 90% response rate, which speaks of my own misperceptions about the way the Canadian public views poetry. People are willing and curious, they just might not be inspired to seek it out on their own – they need a push. Many of my readers want to discuss the poem or poet with me after they read, and almost all are fascinated by the project.

Read more.