‘Reading’ video poetry

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.


Video poetry originates in experimental films, but is based on the given text of a poem. OCA creative writing tutor Csilla Toldy’s interest in the art form has grown from her work as a poet and film-maker. In this blog post, she examines the possibilities for the development of video poetry. She will be discussing these in more detail in a paper she is giving at the Mix2 conference at Bath Spa University in July.

The classification ‘video poem’ appeared in the nineteen eighties, alongside the technical improvement that video brought into our homes; hand held cameras with the possibility of editing and projecting the films on a television set. Experimental film makers, video artists were the first creators of video-poems that used the text as a starting point and then mixed sound and text on screen with found or conceptually created moving image.


An interesting example is Tom Konyves’s ‘Sign Language’ (1984), the video version of found poetry, which uses found footage – graffiti on the streets of Vancouver – as the words of the poem.

The digital age offers even greater possibilities, allowing one to film on something as simple as a phone and edit it on home computers. From the same place they can be self-published, too. Even basic editing softwares such as Imovie are capable to slow down and fast forward, juxtapose and inlay moving clips into each other. Apart from self-publishing on Youtube or Vimeo, many online poetry magazines have a section for video poetry, such as Poets and Writers, one of America’s leading online poetry magazines.

When video poetry became established as an art form in its own right, the need arose to clarify its dimensions and to lift it out from the plethora of poetic films that did not use text and moving image that simply illustrated or narrated a poem. Therefore, Tom Konyves published the Manifesto of Video Poetry in 2011, which you can listen to him talk about at the Visible Verse Festival in Vancouver in 2011.  

In this manifesto he implores that text and moving image as well as sound should create a new experience, which we would not get otherwise by simply reading the poem. You might recognise the insistence on the non-illustration element. A source of high quality video poetry is the Moving Poems blog, which is curated by Dave Bonta.

When I created ‘Point’, a video poem, I was mainly concerned with the layers of a poem, which are often beyond words and how you can convey these with moving imagery.

In this context, video poetry is using the transcendental quality of metaphor. A video poem can convey subliminal feelings and messages which are beyond words or not yet formed in language.  If video poetry is a form you have any experience of working in, how was it different to the process of writing poetry on paper or on a screen?


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6 comments for “‘Reading’ video poetry

  1. Maria
    13 June 2013 at 4:42 pm

    A toast to fresh approaches! Some of the audio on a few sites however, is not good quality and slightly weakens the impact. Csilla’s use of a child’s voice was fantastic. Poetry is rhythmic. I like when the visual is in sync and keeping a beat with the audio…but I also appreciate when every interpretation is not spoon-fed visually. This definitely is a medium worth delving into more deeply.

  2. 13 June 2013 at 5:22 pm

    Hi Maria,

    If you have bad audio you might need a Java plug-in, which you can get free from java.com. On the other hand, I am presently making another video poem in which I want to distort the audio of a well-known song, just to get the reader out of his/her comfort zone.
    I appreciate the comment about “spoon feeding” and I suppose this is the illustration aspect that we should try to avoid.
    Thanks for responding. Csilla

    • Maria
      14 June 2013 at 11:02 am

      Csilla–it was not your audio that was bad–it was another artist that I looked at through Poets and Writers on YouTube. My computer has beautiful audio. It also wasn’t your visual which was spoon-fed! I’m so sorry that I didn’t make that clear–I was referring to ‘artists as a whole’ avoiding that. Personally, I loved your use of a child and also some foggy images. WELL DONE!

      • 14 June 2013 at 11:12 am

        Yes, I like foggy, too. There will be a Video Art Festival in Varna, where the theme is exactly that : (out of focus!) I find it very exciting as an antidote to the crisp HD without any depth that we are bombarded with. You can check it out here: http://www.videoholica.org

  3. 16 June 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I love the way you have used images of hands and how they overlap other images, especially the tree. . i enjoyed looking through the moving poems blog and was pleased to find my friend, Alice Lyons, in there. Opening a few poems at random, it seems that many of them were collaborations. This could be a very creative way to work. I have written poems about my paintings and made films about my drawings, but never thought to do a video poem. I had never heard the term, so thanks for making me aware of it.

  4. 19 June 2013 at 9:18 am

    Thanks for pointing out Alice Lyons, “The Polish Language” is just beautiful. I have not considered animation yet, simply because I don’t have the tools myself and don’t know anyone with the tools.
    As you mention poems about paintings, I think, an ekphrastic poem could be a good starting point for an animated video poem.

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