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poetry video: on the genesis of the alchemy
part 2

Regardless of whether an artist is straight or gay, whether of homeland origin or born abroad, whether they were classically-trained or their artistry arose in nightclubs and bars, you should be seeing something particular about all the artists in this milieu: Speaking figuratively, they all live in two houses (and, if they think aurally as well, often in more than two). They embrace language as they embrace image. They use image with language. They use image versus language. They conduct exchange between what we see, what we hear, and what we read, all in single, creative, timebased works, converging on a particular goal: to affect what we think.

Now, that might be considered one definition of a poetry video, by describing the artist's function. Later on, we'll have a chance to ask the other contributing artists what they think a poetry video should do, or should be. But first, before embarking on this program, I want to clarify why I call this genre "poetry video," and perhaps explain what a poetry video is and is not.

In the 1980s, television was awash with music video. But it seemed to a few of us media-literate poets that a poem could just as easily be the subject, instead of a commercial song.
... the image, language, and sound in a poetry video all bear aesthetic duties. A video that merely records a poetry reading or performance is [merely] a documentation video...
For example, Quraysh Ali Lansana and I spent many afternoons in Wicker Park cafés figuring out just how we'd like to make this work, not only from the technical angles but from the aesthetic angles as well. When it came to naming this form, we simply swapped out "music" for "poetry", and the "poetry video" idea took hold between us and other members of our artistic circle.

You often see and hear the term "videopoem" or "poetry film" in other places, meaning just about the same thing, and that's fine. There are other conclaves of artists that use somewhat trademarked names, such as "cin(e)poetry" or "poetry clip." And this is just the diversity of the term in English. Parallel situations around nomenclature exist in other languages, such as German, Italian, and Russian. Sometimes critique in those languages defers to the most popular perceived term in English, but more often it stands in the native tongue.

But this Babel aside, it's important to remember that at all these terms should refer to creative expressions where there is a poem. This is sort of like Clara Peller saying, "Where's the beef?" If you can't find the poem, it's probably not a poetry video. Some kind of language art has to be in the video, whether it is printed, spoken, or even performed in sign language. And indeed, poetry in a video has been performed in sign language, even by Chicagoans.

Also, while there's no necessary hierarchy between them, the image, language, and sound in a poetry video all bear aesthetic duties. A video that merely records a poetry reading or performance is a documentation video. Now, that performance may be fantastic to watch, but in the end a documentation video simply serves as a conduit of the performance's aesthetic, and does not express so much of an aesthetic by itself.

Finally, we recognize that cross-informance -- a kind of power contextualization -- happens in poetry video. The image means more than it would on its own because of the language. The language means more because of the image. Both the language and image mean something else again because of the sound treatment and music, if they exist. And the sound becomes else in the presence the language and image. Poetry video artists exploit this to constructive ends, recognizing that the intersection of these experiences locates meaning for the viewer.

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