An Academic Paper on "Poetry Video" which was selected by the Robert Morris College Teaching Fellows Program and published online in The Robert Morris College Learning Curve Journal in Fall of 2006

Poetry Video: A Collaborative Art

by Mary Russell and Gerard Wozek

"Only image formed keeps the vision. Yet image formed rests in the poem."

---Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art"

"Our extension of poetry into video seems only to ratify a deeper understanding, as poets and performers, that poetry rests in a continuous spectrum of expanded genres, each genre an amalgam, offering aesthetic expressions that conjoin text with some other creation. Poetry music. Poetry performance. Poetry theatre. Poetry film and video. Whole literatures in the cybernetic realm where the computer enacts by proxy the author's will upon the text. The breakdown of psychological barriers from literature on the page to literature on the stage was the public's prelude to realizing broader rewards in media poetry of all forms. Poetry video is the public's first step beyond. Even in its most essential form, it demolishes the old assumption that page and poem are one. We now know poetry is where you find it, in the expressions the world offers. We construct, save, and transmit these experiences for the future. Images and sounds now operate as words where we had no previous literature because the symbols of our poetry were confined to paper in the reader's hands. So we have not the end of a literacy, but the construction of a new one: visible, audible, temporal, conscious, tactile, bonding author and reader by their gaze."

- Kurt Heintz, Director of Chicago's Guild Complex Poetry Film festival and founder of the e-poet's network.

What is poetry video? Also known as videopoems, cine-poetry, or poetry films, poetry video unites spoken text (or sometimes text that is written on the screen or text that is simply interpreted by the visual artist) with imagery and music. Situated somewhere between installation art and music video, poetry video is an evolving genre. It is the perfect marriage of image and word that takes cinema and poetry to this new threshold. When a resonant image couples with the poet's text, alchemy occurs between the two disciplines of poetry and film. The visual images often deepen the meaning, provide contrast, or find new alliances with the inherent metaphors of the poet's text. Stills, animation, computer graphics, and filmed imagery, can all broaden and enhance the experience of the listener/viewer. With the addition of music or other complementary sounds, the result is a striking and welcome alternative to traditional poetry recitals.

Poetry video as a medium or genre can really assist students because media is a language that students are fluent in. Students seem to be well equipped to embrace technology and the world of speeding images, rapid fire-MTV like shutter speed pacing. Coupling technology with poetry seems very natural to the contemporary student. It also allows the writer to think of poetry in the context of filmmaking-so the awareness of audience and all the components of writing for an audience, the pacing of the piece, sound nuances, selection of image and so forth, make for a more rounded approach. Collaborative efforts allow for newer interpretations to spring forth—the writer relinquishes control to an artist and through the process of working together, the result is enlarged. This combined effort is a kind of egoless expression fostering true collaboration towards a common goal of allowing this medium into the world.

When looking at a collaborative endeavor one needs to think about how two separate disciplines can merge into one creating a hybrid expression. We associate language with the left brain and visual expression with the right brain. In merging text and image the unspoken finds word and the word finds image. They intermingle in a precarious place where one dances about the other at times teasing, provoking, and finally settling into a sculpture of sound, word and image. When a nonlinear visual moves with time, sound and language, we as artists are creating an experience that revels in the sensual. Unlike a traditional narrative film which is complete, this art form reflects a contemporary life where media, thoughts, text and motion sculpt experience.

Poets and visual artists seek out that inscrutable image that exists before language, something that goes beyond formalized language to a place that exists before the written and or spoken word. While poetry makes use of language, it is always seeking to somehow go beyond the limitations of the word and various associations. Visual art and the incorporation of sound can greatly assist with this endeavor. Poetry video seeks a place where the visual and spoken word can conspire or “breathe together.”

The visual should not illustrate nor should the text be descriptive to exclude the potential for interpretation. The visual coaxes the language into a new landscape of the unexpected and non rational and purely non linear. One can compare this alchemical mix in this genre with a glaze that penetrates and merges with clay when fired-- or glass, too, when its molten state moves and shapes with the magic of fire and time. With poetry video one needs to be a sorcerer capable of coupling with deep intuition and calling upon the associations of the right brain--engaging with image at times, preempting the word or picking up the word later as an extended image. One is a metaphor for the other. Perhaps the real hybrid is between metaphor and the metaphysical.

In the classroom, students benefit from looking at examples of a variety of videpoems and alternating workshops where students write to images and then interpret text through image. The use of metaphor is emphasized and a distinction is made between illustrative interpretations of text and metaphorical interpretations. Time and rhythm discovered in both poetry and film are then manipulated.

As an art form, spoken word combined with a moving, changing image, creates new worlds, sparks new possibilities, new connections and altered dimensions. In some ways it is a very structured and deliberate way of bending the path of the participant, of leading the reader, listener, and in the case of poetry videos, the viewer, through a series of words and images and sounds that when combined, create their own unique combustion. When word and image are married to each other there is a potent alchemy that takes place that is strictly unique to this genre. The question then becomes, can you teach others how to alchemize, or at the very least become mediums for the process of effectively merging text with visuals? When there is sympathy between artists, between artist and medium, and finally between word and image, the resulting combination can create an experience for both the creator and the audience that is matchless and ultimately transformative.

It is interesting to note that in Japan, poetry and painting have always been considered to be sister arts. Japanese painters and poets skilled in haiku have historically worked together, engaging in each other’s disciplines by creating illustrated books and text-laden murals and so forth. This was a serious endeavor and these literary and visual artists have always worked together to complement each others work often creating a seamless union of painting and text. Also notable is the fact that many gifted painters in the Edo Period in Japan were also trained in verse and literary arts and poets were trained as painters as well as part of a required apprenticeship.

Poetry video, if executed well, can and in many ways should become a kind of mandela. A mandela is a graphic symbol used as a tool for meditation. The poem or sound mantra, if you will, melds with this visual symbol allowing the participant to then enter a vibrant and fertile universe. It is here where the limitations of hearing the word or the limitations of seeing the image are solved. Video poetry is a place then where artist and participant can meet, where image and word can unite, and in this dreamy filmic sanctuary there is a spark that engenders a new kind of engagement that leads the viewer towards a kind of transcendence.

Mary Russell/Gerard Wozek 2006

The paper was published in the Robert Morris College online "Learning Curve" journal in the Fall of 2006.

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