A Brief Introduction to Film Poetry

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Firstly, what are poetry films? One thing they are not (although they can be) is films of people reading or reciting poetry. Confused? Even the name of the genre is disputed. Poetry films appear under different guises as ‘poetryfilms’, ‘filmpoems, ‘video poems’, ‘multimedia poetry’, ‘e-poetry’ and ‘screen poetry’. Broadly speaking they are a combining of poetry/words, displayed as text or spoken, with accompanying images and viewed on a screen.  They can be created by the poet but they are usually a collaboration between poet and film maker. This is not a new subject. Some of the earliest films, created by the Dadaists, were what we would now call ‘poetry films’. In more recent years, with easier access to new media technology, more poetry films are being created and shown to audiences in festivals dedicated to this art form. Alastair Cook, who hosted the recent Filmpoem event in Dunbar, describes his interest as ‘a bit like gardening’. This is a good analogy. The fervour and intensity of the audience and practitioners was indeed like those gardeners who devote their time to growing auriculars. Film poems are tiny, exquisite and mesmerising.

The largest gathering of this dedicated crew is the Zebra poetry film festival held bi-annually in Berlin. The next one will be in 2014.

More than a thousand poets/film makers send material to this festival which has three days of film screenings. It has an international cohort and accepts films in all languages and in all styles. Recently the winning selections have been high production.

Canada hosts a film poetry festival, Visible Verse, created by Heather Hayley and there is a long standing one in Argentina, Video Bardo.

In the UK there are new festivals emerging.

In Bristol, myself and Sarah Tremlett have created ‘Liberated Words’, which ran the first UK screening of film poetry at the MIX Conference in 2012 and this year will host a full day at the Bristol poetry festival with screenings and discussions and Alastair Cook’s Filmpoem event will surely run again .

So what do you want to do if you want to create a poetry film? I would suggest that you investigate what is already out there. Theorists and practitioners have created manifestos and styles. As in any art form there is plenty of debate. Tom Konyves defined poetry films as having five ‘categories’; kinetic text, sound text, visual text, performance and cin (e) poetry. He coined the term ‘video poetry’ in 1982. More about him here.

The Moving Poems site, created by Dave Bonta, hosts a huge collection of poetry films  and information about world wide poetry film events.

Marc Neys displays his film poems on his site Swoon and these are shown frequently at poetry film festivals. There is a strong connection between Dave Bonta, Alastair Cook and Marc Neys and they encourage and influence each other. They use archive or found footage and create visually arresting films.

The South American film poets, such as Javier Robledo, are more experimental  while practitioners such as Martha McCollough use animation.

When you have decided on a style and approach do you find a fellow film maker or do you go it alone? For me the most interesting aspect of poetry film is the collaborative process. As a poet it can be challenge to ‘let go’ of control of the final outcome. A good poetry film is not just an ‘illustration’ of a poem, it is the melding of word and image which creates a separate experience. Or you can attend workshops in filmmaking skills such as those run by Adle Myers in Manchester.

Poetry films need not be difficult to make. All you need is access to an i-phone and i-movie or movie-maker software. This year I asked my performance poetry class to create a poetry film in week. Here is what Anna Twizell came up with.

Poetry film makers share their work on Facebook, Youtube and Vimeo. It is a supportive and encouraging community. Liberated Words welcome members of their Facebook group to share and discuss each other’s work.

Lucy English is a Reader in Creative writing with a specialism in performance poetry and digital media.

In 2003 she organised the Conference in Performance Poetry at Bath Spa University and the 'MIX' conference in transmedia and digital creativity at Corsham Court, Bath Spa University in 2012.

Liberated Words will be at the Bristol Poetry Festival on Oct 3rd. See the Poetry Festival Brochure for more details


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