~ YouTube ~

2018 Button Poetry Video Contest open through August 31

I missed the announcement at the beginning of the month, but there are still a few days left to submit to Button Poetry’s 2018 video contest. It’s open to any poet over the age of 18 anywhere in the world (as long as English subtitles are provided for poems in other languages); videos should be 1-4 minutes in length, and “Videos that have been previously published elsewhere are eligible, with the understanding that any selected video may need to be taken down from other locations on the internet.” See the complete guidelines on Submittable.

With 996,213 subscribers and videos that routinely rack up tens of thousands of views, Button Poetry is surely the most popular poetry-related YouTube channel in English. Their preferred style is spoken word/performance poetry, but that’s a very broad tent these days, and past winners of their video contest have included proper poetry films, not simply documentary videos of live performances, which comprise the vast majority of their in-house productions.


A Short History of Spoken Word Poetry

If you’ve ever wondered, as I have, why the U.K. has such an incredibly vital spoken word scene, this charming animated short from Apples and Snakes’ Spoken Word Archive will bring you up to speed. (Yes, YouTube gets a nod.)

Spoken Word Archive is a celebration of the artists and the events that make up the Apples and Snakes story, as well as the wider story of the modern spoken word poetry movement.


Apples and Snakes is the leading organisation for performance poetry in England, with a national reputation for producing exciting and innovative participation and performance work in spoken word.


Animated by Caroline Rudge and Creative Connections
Voiceover by Charlie Dark
Script by Ben Fagan
Produced by Nicky Crabb, Ben Fagan and Giovanna Coppola
Research from the Spoken Word Archive team: Russell Thompson, bleue granada and Chikodi Nwaiwu.

Why can’t I buffer an entire video on YouTube any more? (Yet another reason why videopoets should use Vimeo)

YouTube's message to users with slow internet

YouTube’s message to users with slow internet connections

Among those people fortunate enough to have a connection to the internet, many — like me — who live in the U.S. or other disadvantaged countries are forced to make do with DSL or 3G connections of 1M/sec or slower. What happens when, against the expectations of ISPs and certain large video hosting platforms, we choose to watch a video in higher resolution? If it’s hosted by Vimeo, no problem: select the HD option if provided (and if not, the resolution is still probably pretty high, depending on what the video owner uploaded), click play and then pause, and wait. Most poetry videos are less than five minutes long, so it’s not going to take forever, and in any case, if you’re accustomed to this speed, you know the drill: find something else to work on. Multi-tasking, for better or worse, is how most of us operate now anyway.

But sometime in 2013, YouTube stopped letting me do that. I’d select 360p (because anything less is unwatchable), and it would sometimes resume, sometimes not, but the buffering wouldn’t continue for more than another 30 seconds or so before stopping, no matter how long I waited. To add insult to injury, a little banner often appears below the video: “Experiencing interruptions? Find out why.” I’d click the link, and it would take me to a page telling me this was my ISP’s fault. Which was entirely unhelpful, because like most Americans, I don’t have any alternatives to the semi-monopolistic provider I already use, and they’re not about to invest in faster internet service until the government forces them to.

My preference, at least as far as videopoetry goes, would be to just stick with Vimeo, but unfortunately, many videopoets still only upload to YouTube. Today, I finally decided to do a little research and find out why YouTube sucks so hard these days.

It turns out that they’ve implemented a kind of daddy-knows-best strategy to video streaming, implementing a technique known as DASH, which stands for Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP. It sounds really good on paper.

Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH), also known as MPEG-DASH, is an adaptive bitrate streaming technique that enables high quality streaming of media content over the Internet delivered from conventional HTTP web servers. Similar to Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) solution, MPEG-DASH works by breaking the content into a sequence of small HTTP-based file segments, each segment containing a short interval of playback time of a content that is potentially many hours in duration, such as a movie or the live broadcast of a sports event. The content is made available at a variety of different bit rates, i.e., alternative segments encoded at different bit rates covering aligned short intervals of play back time are made available. As the content is played back by an MPEG-DASH client, the client automatically selects from the alternatives the next segment to download and play back based on current network conditions. The client selects the segment with the highest bit rate possible that can be downloaded in time for play back without causing stalls or rebuffering events in the playback. Thus, an MPEG-DASH client can seamlessly adapt to changing network conditions, and provide high quality play back without stalls or rebuffering events.

MPEG-DASH is the first adaptive bit-rate HTTP-based streaming solution that is an international standard. MPEG-DASH should not be confused with a protocol — the protocol that MPEG-DASH uses is HTTP, hence the “H” in the name.

MPEG-DASH uses the previously existing HTTP web server infrastructure that is used for delivery of essentially all World Wide Web content. It allows devices such as Internet connected televisions, TV set-top boxes, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. to consume multimedia content (video, TV, radio…) delivered via the Internet, coping with variable Internet receiving conditions, thanks to its adaptive streaming technology. Standardizing an adaptive streaming solution is meant to provide confidence to the market that the solution can be adopted for universal deployment, compared to similar but more proprietary solutions such as Smooth Streaming by Microsoft, or HDS by Adobe.

What worries me about this, and the reason I’ve quoted the entire introduction to the Wikipedia article, is that it sounds like something Vimeo might eventually adopt, too. Maybe they will implement it better, though, and still provide an alternative for those who want it.

There is apparently a work-around for DASH on YouTube that might work for some — a browser add-on for Firefox, Opera, and (with some installation difficulty) Chrome — but I wasn’t able to get it working with my own Firefox installation, possibly due to a conflict with some other add-on. If you’d like to give it a try, see the instructions in PC World, “Force YouTube to buffer your entire video.”

As for that annoying “Experiencing interruptions?” banner at the bottom of YouTube videos, tech writer Christina Warren at Mashable puts it into context. Apparently, the lack of tech-savvy among many YouTube visitors may be partly to blame.

When quality fails, users are quick to blame the content source — especially if other websites seem to work just fine.

If a user experiences downtime and buffering from a service or site too many times, he or she will be less likely to use it. Content services want to be shielded from some of that blame, and pass it off to what they see as the ultimate gatekeeper: the ISP.

The real question is: Does this naming and shaming really have any impact? It would be one thing if users could pick and choose their ISP, but most of us have one choice and one choice only (the same is true for cable TV).

Indeed. The one thing Warren doesn’t point out, however, is that the message is a bit disingenuous. Yes, my service is slow, but I’m experiencing interruptions because you lot decided you knew what was best for me and stopped letting me choose to buffer an entire video.

There is one easy, low-cost way YouTube could fix things, though. Instead of an unhelpful page about ISPs, the “Experiencing interruptions?” link could go directly to Vimeo.

#BlackPoetsSpeakOut: poetry video as a tool for online activism

News coverage of the nationwide response to the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson, Missouri this week has focused on the protests in the streets, but reaction online has been just as intense. This is nowhere more visible than on Twitter, where hashtags such as #FergusonDecision and #BlackLivesMatter have been trending all week, shared by white and black users alike. One slightly less visible hashtag, #BlackPoetsSpeakOut, is continuing to gather steam, and really shows how people can mobilize on social media and online video hosting sites to share topical poetry and raise consciousness. According to the blog Cultural Front, it began with a group of Cave Canem poets on Facebook.

In solidarity with the movements to address racial injustices related to police brutality, including the killing of Michael Brown, poets have been reading poems online under the hashtag #BlackPoetsSpeakOut.

The project came about from a brainstorming session between Amanda Johnston, Mahogany “Mo” Browne, Jonterri Gadson, Jericho Brown, Sherina Rodriguez, & Maya Washington on a Cave Canem Facebook group. Together, they developed a posting strategy.

The readings open with the statement “I am a black poet who will not remain silent while this nation murders black people. I have a right to be angry.”

Click through for Cultural Front’s selection of links to some of the pieces.

It’s interesting to see Facebook (where some of the videos are also hosted), YouTube, and Twitter all being used in concert. Twitter has long had a high adoption rate among African Americans — so much so that “Black Twitter” has become a unique sociopolitical phenomenon.

Black Twitter is a cultural identity on the Twitter social network focused on issues of interest to the black community, particularly in the United States. Feminista Jones described it in Salon as “a collective of active, primarily African-American Twitter users who have created a virtual community … [and are] proving adept at bringing about a wide range of sociopolitical changes.” […]

According to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center, 26 percent of African Americans who use the Internet use Twitter, compared to 14 percent of online white, non-Hispanic Americans. In addition, 11 percent of African American Twitter users say they use Twitter at least once a day, compared to 3 percent of white users.

It’s perhaps not surprising that Black Twitter would rally around a campaign to share poetry, given the value placed on the adroit use of language. Quoting again from the Wikipedia article:

Several writers see Black Twitter interaction as a form of signifyin’, wordplay involving tropes such as irony and hyperbole. André Brock states that the Black Tweeter is the signifier, while the hashtag is signifier, sign and signified, “marking … the concept to be signified, the cultural context within which the tweet should be understood, and the ‘call’ awaiting a response.” He writes: “Tweet-as-signifyin’, then, can be understood as a discursive, public performance of Black identity.”

Sarah Florini of UW-Madison also interprets Black Twitter within the context of signifyin’. She writes that race is normally “deeply tied to corporeal signifiers”; in the absence of the body, black users display their racial identities through wordplay and other language that shows knowledge of black culture. Black Twitter has become an important platform for this performance.

(Click through for more, including links and footnotes.)

For maximum viewing convenience, here’s a YouTube playlist. You can also search Facebook and Tumblr. (Decentralized movements are the best kind, but they can be challenging to keep up with!)

YouTube video of slam poet Julia Engelmann surpasses 7 million views

With 7,061,845 views to date, this video has set a new popularity benchmark for online poetry videos. It was first uploaded on July 1, 2013, and I’m not sure how rapidly it gained popularity — probably not quite rapidly enough to qualify as viral in the strict sense of virality according to that quote I shared in my post about “Speke, Parrot” last month: “A video … is ‘viral’ if it gets more than 5 million views in a 3-7 day period.” But I think we can agree that given the relative lack of popularity poets enjoy in Western European societies, 7 million views is extraordinary. “Speke Parrot” attracted the attention of the BBC after just 110,000 views in four days.

I’m indebted to Martina Pfeiler for bringing this video to my attention. I don’t know any German, so I asked her what the poem was about. She replied,

Julia Engelmann takes up Asaf Avidan’s Reckoning Song (One Day), which has 16,000,000 hits on YouTube. In numerous stanzas she talks about procrastinating on things rather than taking one’s life into one’s own hands. The final part of the poem turns into an appeal to do the things one really likes to do, so that by the end of one’s life one may have a chance to tell the stories that one really wants to tell about one’s life.

“Speke, Parrot”: Poetry video in Middle English goes viral (sort of)

I first saw this due to a link from Chaucer Doth Tweet on Wednesday. Apparently I was far from alone. BBC News (or to be specific, #BBCtrending) calls it “The 500-year-old poem that captivated Reddit.”

A complex political satire written almost 500 years ago doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for viral success, but its unusual pronunciation has struck a chord online.

The poem, called Speke, Parrot, was written in the sixteenth century by an Englishman named John Skelton. A group of students at a Dutch university set the poem to pictures and asked their professor to read it aloud, pronouncing the words as closely as possible as to the original Middle English. It’s almost unintelligible to the untrained ear, but that seems to have been the key to its popularity.

The students uploaded the video to YouTube on Tuesday. Their friend posted a link to the history sub-forum on Reddit – a popular online discussion board – where it took on a life of its own. It has quickly become one of the highest rated posts of all time in that category, with more than 2,000 “upvotes”. The video has now been viewed more than 110,000 views on YouTube.

“I was quite surprised myself,” says Sebastian Sobecki, professor of Medieval English at the University of Groningen, who voiced the short film. He tells BBC Trending that in the poem Skelton – tutor to English King Henry VIII – satirises a new breed of courtiers, eager to impress King Henry and his policy makers with their fashionable opinions, and language skills newly acquired overseas. That’s why he refers to them as “parrots”; you could call them the hipsters of their day.

The conversation on Reddit homes in on the way the poem is pronounced, rather than its political meaning. “It sounds like a medley of Scottish, Dutch, German and English to me,” wrote one. “To me it sounds like the Spanish Ambassador from Blackadder,” said another.

“They’re exclusively focused on how we know what Middle English sounded like,” notes Sobecki, who says a huge body of research makes it possible to recreate the sounds with relative accuracy. “It seems that there are a lot of people outside academia who take an interest in that, and that’s big news to me.”

(Yes, I just repeated the entire article, techno-parrot that I am.) The video is now up to nearly 130,000 views — keeping in mind that YouTube counts every time someone started playing the video as a view, regardless of whether they finished watching. Still, for less than a week, that’s extremely impressive, and suggests to me that contemporary poets and poetry-filmmakers shouldn’t worry about a poem being too weird or obscure to capture the public imagination.

The article refers to this as a viral video, but it’s worth asking whether any poetry video can truly be said to have gone viral yet. According to a Wikipedia article on viral videos,

There isn’t exactly a set rule for how many “views” constitute a video “going viral”. In a recent blog post, YouTube personality Kevin Nalty, aka Nalts, asks the question “How many views do you need to be viral?” In 2011 he said, “A few years ago, a video could be considered “viral” if it hit a million views.” But Nalts updated that definition. He said, “A video, I submit, is “viral” if it gets more than 5 million views in a 3-7 day period.”

Video artist Elisa Kreisinger warns about the “death of the YouTube mashup”

Anyone who cares about video remix culture — which should include every regular visitor to this site — may want to re-think their use of YouTube in the wake of its decision to formalize its relationship with big media companies. The threat to indie artists whose companies fail to reach an agreement with YouTube has been widely publicized. But an article in The Daily Dot suggests that an entire creative subculture based around YouTube may be in danger as well. If a big media company objects to a mashup, Brooklyn-based video artist Elisa Kreisinger discovered that YouTube now seems quite willing to completely ignore the Fair Use provision of U.S. copyright law and similar, international legal allowances for parody and remixing.

It took 24 hours to create my mashup, but 10 months to get to the bottom of why it was blocked. And even after I discovered why it was blocked, I still could not get it back up. If large content companies have the power to usurp the rule of law for their own purposes and make anything disappear, why bother making mashups?

YouTube was the birthplace of the mashup. And because it is the largest video site on the Internet, it’s important that cultural critiques like remixes and mashups be here for public consumption. But now mine, and so any others that drew from Universal’s library, remain disabled.

YouTube describes itself as “a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe.” But a forum that gives big members extra powers to silence everyone else will never be as vibrant as it should be. To be the forum it aspires to be—that it should be—YouTube needs to stop cutting special deals with big rightsholders like Universal Music Group and start encouraging creativity again. That’s true even if creativity makes Universal Music Group uncomfortable. If YouTube doesn’t get rid of special deals, they threaten to kill the very originality that made the site great in the first place.

Read the full article at The Daily Dot. And remember: videos posted at Vimeo or Dailymotion, for example, can go viral just as easily. Technologically speaking, there’s nothing special about YouTube, and I don’t think it needs to be nearly as dominant as it has become. There are other video-hosting sites that are much more committed to freedom of expression.

Live poetry readings on the web: the Transatlantic Poetry Community

The Transatlantic Poetry Community on Google+ is doing something which, as far as I know, has never been done before on such a large scale (and with such major poets): delivering regular, live readings of poetry over the web. It uses “Hangouts on Air,” which are basically souped-up Google Hangouts saved instantly to YouTube, where past readings are archived. Each show so far has paired a poet from the U.S. with a poet from the U.K., each reading for 20 minutes to half an hour, followed by a joint Q&A in response to questions submitted on the Google page or on Facebook. Here are Michelle Bitting and Andrew Phillip; Jane Hirshfield and George Szirtes; and Marvin Bell and Esther Morgan.

The next reading is on Sunday, October 13, and features a half-dozen British poets: Katy Evans-Bush, Isabel Galleymore, Chris McCabe, Andrew Philip again, Paul Stephenson, and Claire Trévien. It’s part one of a two-part series in cooperation with Silk Road Review, which will conclude on Saturday, October 19.

I commend the organizer, Robert Peake, for what must be a tremendous amount of work, drawing on his expertise as a tech consultant as well as an American expatriate poet living outside of London. A page on his website is actually the best, most uncluttered place to bookmark for news and videos of the readings. It includes a stats counter for total views on the videos: 887 views in 43 countries as of October 4. His latest post on that page is a manifesto which outlines an ambitious program for expansion and partnering.

One does of course need a fairly good broadband connection to watch the readings live; I haven’t been able to watch it here in rural Pennsylvania, though I did enjoy the first two shows this summer when I was in London. Peake is a very good live host, and I’ve also been impressed by how politely but firmly he’s dealt with the narcissists on the Google community page who only want to post their own (inevitably terrible) poems. The show has had a few technical difficulties: an abrupt cut-off a few minutes from the end of the first show, and a muffled reading from Marvin Bell which required a make-up (non-live) reading video. Obviously for Hangouts on Air to work, care needs to be taken that participants have good cameras and microphones. But beyond the technical limitations are the inherent problems of reading poetry to an unseen, unheard audience. When I met Andrew Philip at the Filmpoem Festival in early August, I asked him how he’d handled that. He said something like, “It was strange at first, but I got used to it after a while.” I find I don’t enjoy the readings as much as I enjoy videos of readings before live audiences because I miss that feedback from the audience. Perhaps as the audience for Transatlantic Poetry builds, live reactions via Google, Facebook and Twitter can be given more prominence — integrated into a combined stream, perhaps, right beside or beneath the embedded video on Peake’s website? Barring that, I guess I’d prefer shorter readings and more time devoted to conversation between the poets and with the host. Another thing that seems slightly odd to me is the lack of any mention of Canada so far.

But enough of my obnoxious criticisms! Join the community and spread the word. I’ll conclude with a quote from the end of Peake’s manifesto:

What Transatlantic Poetry on Air ultimately represents is something greater than the sum of its parts. It is a manifestation of the growing trend of communication technology breaking down geographic barriers for poets and poetry-lovers to connect. Furthermore, the approach is economical, environmentally friendly, and accessible for those with restricted mobility.

In addition to the technological paradigm shift, enabling us to engage poets and their audiences in new ways, there is great interest overall for poets and poetry-lovers to connect globally. Poets on one side of the Atlantic recognise that they have much to gain from exposure to their counterparts across the sea. Transatlantic Poetry on Air therefore lies at the intersection between what poets and poetry-lovers increasingly want, and what is increasingly possible.

Transatlantic Poetry on Air aims to produce enjoyable, high-quality experiences throughout the lifecycle of each event for everyone involved. It aims also to be guided by its stated purpose and principles to evolve and expand over time, making it a fulcrum for the upliftment of global poetry in the twenty-first century.

How to make subtitles for videos with YouTube captioning — new tutorial

Brenda Clews — sometime contributor to this forum and author of several videopoems on the main site — has knuckled down and figured out how to add subtitles to her YouTube videos using CaptionTube. Needless to say, captioning is an extremely valuable addition to videos not only for accessibility, but also to offer English translations of videopoems in other languages that can be turned off by those who know the languages. And YouTube captions in any of Google Translate’s languages can be machine-translated with a click of a button into any other. Brenda shares what she’s learned so far in a post at her blog.

Poetry animator Jim Clark’s YouTube account suspended

UPDATE (2/15/11): As Jim informs us in a comment (see below), he’s back with a new YouTube account.

Sometime in the past two or three weeks, Jim Clark’s poetryanimations channel at YouTube was terminated. Alex Cigale just discovered this today when going back to look at Clark’s video for the Russian Symbolist poet Zinaida Gippius. The notice on what used to be his account page reads,

YouTube account poetryanimations has been terminated because we received multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including:

* Walt Whitman House/Walt Whitman Association
* Walt Whitman House/Walt Whitman Association
* Walt Whitman House/Walt Whitman Association

So multiple complaints from a single source? Perhaps they objected to the use of some still image they held copyright on, since Clark’s technique was to “reanimate” dead poets through computer manipulations of photos or paintings, often with fairly realist results. I’ve only posted a couple, but Clark produced well over a hundred. Many of them can still be viewed at (and embedded from) DailyMotion, if you can put up with the ads. Here’s a Walt Whitman one to illustrate his technique (maybe one of the ones that sparked the complaint?):

It seems odd that Clark would put such a prominent copyright notice of his own on the video, since there’s no indication that he had permission to use Garrison Keilor’s audio. But what do I know?

YouTube Play contest — an opportunity for videopoem makers?

The deadline is July 31. Here’s a New York Times article on the contest. For more, go to YouTube.com/play.

Video-hosting news

YouTube has added a vuvuzela button to all its videos. As a fan of noise rock and dissonant avant-garde classical, I’m cheered by this decision to embrace the sonic chaos of the 2010 World Cup. Sadly, however, this option is not included on embeds, so Moving Poems visitors will have to click through to YouTube itself to hear Sylvia Plath or Linh Dinh accompanied by the drone of a cheap plastic horn.

In other video-blogging news from the Blog Herald, the folks at Blogger have dramatically improved their free video-hosting system, but they still don’t allow embedding. Given that Blogger also doesn’t have an export tool that allows people to take their files with them, people who upload videos to Blogger at this point are basically consigning their uploads to a Blogger lockbox.