Poetry, especially performance poetry or ‘spoken word’ is admittedly not the most popular medium, even amongst the limited crowd interested in the arts. And Melbourne, despite its creative reputation probably doesn’t have the biggest poetry scene in the world, though probably the biggest in Australia.
That said, us poets are usually pretty happy reading to small crowds, even to a few drunk people at a bar on the tail end of an open mic, and it kind of makes each person who listens, reads or comments on a poem all the more gratifying in a really non-corny way. We do like the occasional big crowd, big slam, or something never before seen like the International Slam last Friday, but we’re not expecting arenas. We reach out with our poetry any way we can.
Which brings me to poetry videos. Sometimes it can be hard to convince even friends to come out on a cold Monday night to see some poetry, or when slams conflict with bigger more flashy forms of entertainment. I’m working on the pyro for my next show, but for now, we kind of need an ‘in’ to get people interested, to help them see that it’s not quite they might have expected.
Often after seeing spoken word, slam poetry, even ‘normal’ performance poetry, friends comment that they didn’t expect that, that it’s not all old style rhyming poems about gum trees, and good performance poets bring words to life and don’t just read off the page (some of us read off iPhones.)
So what if we could bring performance poetry, spoken word or whatever you want to call it to people instead of needing to convince them to come to a gig? People spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter and the Internet in general, and people are more likely to watch a video than read a longer piece of writing. If you can make it snappy, perhaps add some images etc. than we might convince some people that it’s worth seeing a whole gig of us.
After all, many people came to see Shane Koyczan on Friday night after seeing all of his heart-wrenching poems on YouTube. And those videos prove, so long as the poetry is good and clear, the videos don’t have to be that fancy anyway.
Cameras aren’t massively expensive nowadays, nor is editing software, especially when you get iMovie free with your Mac. And most smartphones have decent cameras. My first video of a poetry reading I did was done off my iPhone. Most videos I’ve seen are simple videos from actual gigs. Randall Stephens has been posting a heap of videos from his tour of South-East Asia.
You can even use a webcam. Steve Smart’s ‘vlogged’ some poems via a webcam. It works, mostly because Steve is an awesome poet. The poems are already special and double so because people can hear you read them. Steve’s ‘vlogged’ poems inspired me to do a simple video myself, put together in perhaps an hour, reading a brand spanking new poem out and whacking it straight on YouTube. The piece, Teşekkür, is included at the bottom of this post.
But videos can do more. Before I had come across others doing their own poetry videos, my first thought was that it would be emulating music videos. You could do some kind of story with the poem being read over the top, perhaps mixed in with shots of you reading it. I’ve got some ideas to do it like that, but by myself, this requires a lot of work, probably needing other actors, and multiple shots, perhaps in multiple locations.
The cheaper way around this perhaps is animation. You would of course need to know how to animate, but things like stop-motion Lego animation, flash animation and simple stuff like that might be within reach to the more technically minded people. Or, like the music video, storyesque video, teaming up with others, perhaps an animator, might be a good option. I’m looking at this now or simple ‘South Park’ style animation.
Mentioning Randall Stephens again, his video in conjunction with Alex Scott, I Statements is an excellent use of animation to bring a poem to life.
I have done a bit of video, They Kill Them, being the one I’m proud of the most, but for now, it’s been by myself. Those that have worked with others seem to pull out some really special stuff. Both Alia Gabres and Joel McKerrow have produced extremely professional videos that are an attractive introduction to spoken word via video.
These videos and others are worth checking out and sharing around, helping out the poets that made them, by making us perhaps a little less obscure. I’m curious to see how this evolves and am always excited when new poets try it out. If only there was a ‘Video Hits’ of the Melbourne poetry scene. I’ve begun collating them on a YouTube playlist, but it’d be cool to have a poetry night of poetry videos perhaps. I just came up with that idea mid-paragraph. What say you video poets?
And now for my brand spanking new poem, Teşekkür…