The Film-Poem

Poetry is both visual and auditory, which is why it so easily blends with other media. Songs and illustrated stories issue forth from prehistory. The twentieth-century coinage “concrete poetry” refers to the arrangement of words in print for visual impact, an art as old as printing itself. And spoken word and rap music explore the musical qualities of speech in a modern context.

But it was the advent of film that brought new possibilities to poetic collaborations by opening up both fronts — visual and auditory — at once. One of my favourite examples of the successful intermarriage of film and poetry is a segment of the 1987 German film “Wings of Desire” that incorporates Peter Handke’s poem “Als das Kind Kind war” (“When the Child was a Child”).

The advent of interactive online media made poetic collaborations of a different type accessible worldwide. A favourite in this regard is Marvin Bell’s poem “Why do you Stay up so Late?” arranged as an interactive Flash piece by Ernesto Lavandera circa 2005. Here the observer is in control of the pace of the poem, as looped sound segments accompany written words and abstract images served up click by click.

The recent prevalence of video sharing and social media has birthed a new form of collaborative art, so new that the term has yet to be standardised. A Google search as of this writing for the following terms yielded these number of results: poem-film (32k), poemfilm (8k), film-poem (99k), filmpoem (30k). For now, I am going with the majority in referring to these works as “film-poems”.

Aesthetically, these pieces tend to feel like a music video of the spoken word. Continue reading…

Poetry and the Information Age

Visual Cortex Diagram courtesy Wikipedia

Visual Cortex diagram courtesy Wikipedia

I have been questioning my preference for reading poetry on paper versus digital text for some time now, wondering what might underpin these instincts. It recently occurred to me that the difference in mental state I experience when reading a book versus surfing the web may actually have a basis in science. The advent of digital text has made a staggering amount of information available to us, and thereby altered forever how we learn. The further proliferation of digital text through the internet, and especially now with blogging and social networking, has made our ability to filter through words a survival skill. We must read faster than ever in the information age, skimming for nuggets of meaning or amusement.

Just how have we learned to read faster in the information age? Short of a research grant, an EEG machine, and plenty of literate volunteers, I have only a sample size of one, and my subjective methods of self-observation to guide me. But my theory is that we bias the visual processing centers of our brain, instead of the auditory centers, when surfing the web. This theory is supported by speed-reading courses that attempt to eliminate sub-vocalization and auditory processing to teach people to read faster. And yet, poetry has been an aural medium for centuries.

What are the implications for our poetics when readers stop listening to poetry in their head? Continue reading…