Video Poetry – Poets on Film

Video poetry, what is it? How is it changing the audience for poetry? And why are more and more poets adopting it as a medium of choice? 

Video poetry is poetry broadcast by means of video. Often it will show the  poet performing, but sometime the poet choses to remains in the background, while the poetry becomes the soundtrack to a film or a series of still images (as here with Kate Tempest).

Video poetry has gained various handles that depend on the length and content of the work, or the techniques employed in its creation. It is variously called: videopoetry, video-visual poetry, poetronica, (a blending of poetry and music) poetry video, media poetry, or Cin(E)-Poetry.

Despite a mistaken view among the traditionalist, that video poetry is a new interloper, employed by poets who aren’t really poets at all, video poetry as a medium has been around, more or less in its current form for about 40years.

The term Video Poetry was coined by Canadian poet and lecturer, Tom Konyves in a book of essays The Insecurity of Art in 1982.

In his essay Videopoetry, Konyves writes;

“Whereas I consider a line the unit of poem-making, like bricklaying. In video we substitute visual lines for printed lines and proceed to “layer” a poem: spoken words (the poet-performer); words heard (taped, dubbed); and seen (signs, subtitles, printed, painted). Naturally, a poem written with these three forms of word-smithing is never ‘itself’ until it is meshed with visual imagery… the end-product demonstrates a “judicious” mix of the two.”

(The Insecurity of Art p.83)

So, is this a whole new culture of poetry busting loose, a catharsis of values, an aesthetic revolution. Or is it just an inevitable evolution of an art form?

I spoke to two poets who use video as a way to present their work, and I feature a third who straddles the divide between spoken word and traditional poetry. 

Jemima Hughes.

In her own words:

Jemima Hughes is a multi slam winning performance poet from Birmingham, who will drag you through the “mindfield” of the Unorthodox. Her work emphasises mental health awareness and covers taboo subjects such as sexual violence, mental illness and suicide. She will take you on a journey through her own experiences, providing a relatable outlet and encouraging conversation. Always a gripping performance, she will leave you questioning whether she meant to do that, or whether she needs to go and have a lie down.

This piece on unrequited love will feature in Jemima’s debut poetry collection Unorthodox which will be published by Verve Poetry Press in June 2020.

Jemima Hughes – Unrequited Love

Marc Woodward

Marc Woodward is an Anglo/American poet and musician living in rural South West England. In 2018/19 he was awarded a writing residency at the Wellstone Center in Santa Cruz, CA and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Marc won the Keats’ Footsteps Prize and the Hillstead Trophy for best ‘eco-poem’. 

He has two collections published ‘A Fright of Jays’ (Maquette Press 2015), and ‘Hide Songs’ (Green Bottle Press 2018). 

I asked Marc, a traditional poet about his reasons for using video to support Boar, and what the poem meant to him.

I get to spent a little time in a remote rural area of central Italy (Abruzzo) and the photos and film were all taken there – where the poem was written. Ostensibly it’s about a boar – cinghiale – but it’s as much about my recent diagnosis with early onset Parkinson’s Disease (at age 54).

Why make a video?

I suppose it’s an extension of performing. Although I think of myself as a page poet (I do worry about these distinctions), I very much enjoy reading my poems aloud when the occasion arises – to a certain extent performing them. Making a video to accompany the poem is an extension of that. Also I have a background as a performing musician and that too makes me want to try and bring the poems to life.

One of the problems is how much to show without detracting from the poem. As poets we all want our readers to create their own images and find their own meanings in the work – should we really spell it out with actual visuals?

 It’s a tricky one. What I would say is:

A) I think it works for some poems but not others;

B) I pick the images carefully. Try not to be too busy with them and maybe subtle, nuanced images are better than anything too bold and distracting.  Remember ‘show don’t tell’? Well the images need to show but not tell too! 

Not that I can claim to be an expert. I’ve done a few so far and I’m still experimenting – like all of us one way or another… 

The Boar – Mark Woodward

Natalya O’Flaherty

With special thanks to Annette at Word Up Collective and to Natalya for her kind permission to use this material.

Now established as one of the most exciting names on the Irish spoken word scene, in her short career Natalya O’Flaherty has emerged from the dankest of dive bars of the Dublin scene, to perform at some of the country’s most prestigious cultural centres, exciting events and high profile media slots. Her words carry hard hitting notions and criticisms of modern Ireland tackling everything from, so called, daddy issues to drug abuse. 

Having found her voice through the cheap rhymes and hard hitting nature of spoken word, an appearance as part of the St Patrick’s Day Festival Young Blood concert at the National Concert Hall brought her to the attention of many, especially the Word Up Collective – whom she joined in 2018. Performances followed at the GPO, RTE Culture Night (at the request of Laureate na nÓg Sarah Crossan) Electric Picnic, Red Bull’s Free Gaff, First Fortnight Festival and Glasdrum. 

Commissioned to write a new piece for RTE’s A Woman’s World programme marking the centenary of the female vote in Ireland, she performed ‘Not Like The Other Girls’ on Irish flagship TV programme The Late Late Show to huge acclaim, invited onto Ryan Turbridy’s radio show the following week. She returned to the Late Late a month later for a second performance and in January will read the Democratic Programme at the Mansion House in Dublin as part of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Dáil’s first sitting. Natalya made her UK debut at the London Irish Centre in February, followed by a multi-media headline show More Than Words at the Sugar Club in Dublin as part of Music Town 2019. Summer festival appearances include All Together Now, Knockanstockan, Body & Soul and Electric Picnic, where she reprised More Than Words for Dublin Theatre Festival.


Unrequited Love 
Jemima Hughes

Writing through the pain,
as my tears touch the page.
They blur the ink
like the line between friendship and fate. But it’s worth it,
because you’ve probably felt the same. 
Have you? 
Have you ever loved someone
who makes you enjoy dwelling in the rain? Someone who, every time your phone screen lights up, you want to see their name?
Someone who leaves you lost for words
when usually words are your forte?
Someone who you trust so disorientedly
you want to get lost with them over and over again? Someone who, to see that smile that makes you brace yourself, you would gently brush away all of their pain? Someone who, you know deep down,
will never love you the same. 
He makes me feel like I’m his when he speaks my name. It could be the way I’m hearing it, he isn’t to blame, let’s face it, he probably does say every other person’s name with the same voice. 
I forgive any of his actions
to keep on the receiving end of his reactions,
I replace other people’s time for his interaction because he’s a profound distraction,
I try focusing on a positive outcome
to encourage The Law of Attraction,
but it’s infiltrated with negativity as I convince myself I am not to his satisfaction,
I’m painfully conscious of my every move
and every stereotypical over-reaction. 
Being good enough for yourself, 
I like to think that can be taught.
Being good enough for someone else,
is not a battle that should ever be fought.
But if he asked me to be his bag for life
I would.
I’d hold his baggage and he’d use me over and over again because love hurts this good. 
I cheat myself out of my own time and energy. 
I remember when it was 6pm
and sleeping was a future gift,
now it’s 3am and I’m wondering who unwrapped it and threw it into the pile of unwanted shit.
I’ve spent hours replaying our last encounter, analysing every bit,
questioning whether life’s getting me back
for the people I’ve hurt because I wasn’t ready to commit. 
Fast forward to the weekend,
I’m hanging out with my “friend.”
The soundtrack to our evening is Arctic Monkey’s ‘Mardy Bum’
because he says I’ve got a face on,
I’m wishing it was ‘I Wanna Be Yours’
and he was serenading me with some kind of light-hearted allure,
but I know the most appropriate tune would be ‘Snap Out Of It’
because if someone doesn’t grab my shoulders and shake, I am never going to quit. 
I might be putting one and one together and coming up with eleven, I’ll take it if the answer means we’re side by side.
I’m not shy
but he’s making me question whether these are emotions I should hide. 
He makes me feel like
without him, I would die,
and when I’m with him
like I’ve never felt so alive.
How were we once strangers
when, before him, I can’t remember my life, and thoughts of a future without him make my depression do a nosedive? 
I watch films I would never watch
and don’t pay any attention,
then pray he doesn’t lose the storyline and ask me a question.
He’ll clock the lead and exclaim, “She’s fit!” Although I probably agree,
I’m just wishing he’d said it
about me. 
I try to persuade myself when he makes fun
it’s the equivalent of pulling my hair in the playground, when really it’s because we’re mates, I’m one of the lads 
and he thinks I’m “well sound.” 
I mean, he’s open
and he feels his feelings with me,
but I guess that’s because I share with anyone given a mic, a stage and some company. 
How can he complete me
and I not complete him?
When I thought of love I’d see pink or red, now the colour of his eyes seeps in. 
He is the flame
and I am the wax,
the brighter he burns,
the more I melt against the glass. 
If we can sing like losers
at the top of our lungs on the first car ride, how is this not already a work of art and a one-off find? 
I’ve never been into astrology
but I’m reading both our star signs,
only believing them when they sound like our stars are perfectly aligned. 
When the pain hits,
it’s like The Borrowers have snuck in to my chest, they’re pulling at different sides of my heart
causing distress,
screaming different instructions from within of what I should do, “He’s not worth it!”
“You’re gonna get hurt!”
“He probably feels the same as you!” 
Am I in love?
Or am I in love with the idea of being in love with him? When really I want to rip off his clothes with lust but I don’t want to be labelled as a slut
so I’m using love as a pseudonym. 
I look at him,
he’s already looking at me, he looks away.
I try, but my eyes fixate. 
The background noise whittles down to only the beating of my heart, I can feel it beating in time to his even if he can’t. 
The Borrowers are shrieking that giving it back to the rightful tenant and evicting him is smart
but how can a connection between two only be felt on one part? 
The only thing in focus is him.
And questions of, “Was it a coincidence? Or did he mean to look too?” “Can he sense that my eyes haven’t yet moved?” 
Everything is still. 
Everything except my butterflies
giggling over the prospect of romance,
over the prospect of that look being more than just a well-timed glance. I’ve never felt peace like I have in his eyes and now I’m in a trance. 
His eyes drew in my heart
in pencil.
Rather than seeing it as temporary I thought I saw potential. 
My girlfriends will say, “It’s his loss.”
But I know it’s mine
because if he could see what he’s doing
to my heart and my mind,
he wouldn’t think it was fine,
he would think he’d crossed a line,
he’d say, “I’m sorry, I should have read the signs.” 
The emotion comes in waves
and like a wave to the shore,
he washed over me, unconsciously,
shifting pieces of me to suit him until I didn’t recognise me anymore. 
My heart is sweating
from all its hard work,
The Borrowers are singing under the shower to R.E.M “Everybody Hurts.” 
I want to cry,
then he’ll ask why,
I’ll have to lie
and say, “I’m hormonal, it’s just that time.” Then he’ll comfort me
with his skin on mine
and I’ll lose more control
than when I caught his eye. 
How do I feel safe with him 
when I’ve given him the ability to hurt me more than anything? 
Discovering him was like discovering a whole new language, an unspoken one,
not one I could teach to anyone else,
not even him, not even after this long. 
He is the sun
and I am a shadow, which is to say,
to him, I unintentionally belong. 
I sing those car ride songs in the shower
like a fool,
I rehearse our conversations to the door frame because it has a bit more substance than a flat wall. 
How can an elbow or finger nail be perfect?
Or a person be the perfect amount of tall? Although the way he dresses isn’t to everybody’s taste, I think his fashion no-sense is pretty cool. 
Me pretending to act naturally
has got me looking like a real oxymoron,
so has trying to articulate something that can only be felt but I can’t stop going on. 
I worry when we’re not talking
in case he’s talking to someone else, for one. And two, I need to know he’s safe,
I can’t bear the thought of him suddenly being gone. 
I’m getting ahead of myself. 
I’m putting all my eggs in his basket
so when he takes it to the checkout my heart can be spent.
I’m asking for a refund, even though I’m not the one with the receipt and the purchase was made with my consent. 
He’s going to break me
into tiny pieces of a puzzle.
I’ll rebuild with the outer edges,
working my way to the centre, hoping it becomes clearer despite the struggle. 
Why would he want me if when he looks at me
he sees himself?
He is all I believe I am now
and he already loves him, he doesn’t need me to show him how. 
I want to learn about him every day and be allowed to explore,
but I gave so much of me straight away he doesn’t need to know more. 
I don’t know my heart anymore,
I only know ours.
Although we’ve only been in the same room for the last 20 minutes, all these thoughts racing around have made it seem like hours. My butterflies begin to morph
back into caterpillars.
The Borrowers are digging a grave in my heart,
to bury the ideal of us, before I have the chance to become bitter. 
It takes a while to heal
when you put your heart on the line and someone crosses it. 
I’m grateful he’s pushed me
to be much more than I already was,
on many occasions been the reason I didn’t quit. 
Now, I want to be what he is to me to someone else,
but that is a lot to ask. 
He was never mine,
it’s time for me to reluctantly take a step back. 
And still,
I’m looking at him. 
He looks at me. I look away. 

The Boar 
Mark Woodward
(First published October 2019 in Riptide Journal)

Beyond the garden boundary,
past the halo of the terrace lights,
the undergrowth is shaking
to the soft grunts of a cinghiale.
I can’t see him but I know he’s there.
Along the night-sweat lane 
near the house with the rusted vines
big white dogs are sounding off, 
barking their ignorance
into the night, over and over.
I could walk out in the grass 
to the edge of the rustling dark,
sure the boar would batter away
wary of my man-stink
and the shotgun I might carry.
But we play this stand off,
me here, the boar in the bushes,
for we each know our place
and no good thing can come 
from forcing a meeting.
And what if it isn’t a boar,
rattling unseen in the canes?
Perhaps its something else
pulling down the green leaves,
tearing up the teeming soil?
So I stay by the moth-speckled lights
for fear of unknowable things –
not the bristly pig in the bush
with his pinhole eyes, rooty tusks,
stupidly dainty on cloven heels.
That shape though:  the bulk of a boar,
of a high and hump-backed hill,
of a stoop-shouldered sky –
awful in its absence and presence –
that shape is waiting for me,
aware one day I’ll have no choice
but to push into the shadows 
and find the beast shaking
at a persimmon tree,
knowing the fruit must surely fall.

Brass Tax 
Natalya O’Flaherty.

Working twice your age in hours 
For less than minimum wage
But legally it’s all G 
So we’ll just turn the page 
To a different story 
Sure it’s only for the minute 
Ah there’s nothing in it 
And there’s nothing else out there 

Or at least that’s the fear
Seeded in the minds of the youth
since the big boy bankers burst the bubble 
And left us in the rubble 
The best of us still babies but still
We’re the ones in trouble 
We get the burden of blame
“Ah they’re all the same,
Won’t get up off their backside 
Won’t get up off that phone”
Why don’t you battle the landslide 
Of trying to buy your own home 

In 2018 
It’s clear the working class is still a working machine
And the electronic age is closing the gap between 
Man and manual labor 
Do us a favor 
And digitize the criticized aspects of human error 
Why you try code the compassion held by a carer 

Or a shopkeeper 
Who lets you off with a few quid 
At least once a week 
Cause he knows you’re struggling too
And he knows there’s nothing else he can do 
But to ease your burden by a few 
Brass tacks 
To which you say thanks 
And he nods 
And yous know 
If it weren’t for to each other 
There’d be nowhere else to go 

The brain drain might’ve left us in drought
But there’s no doubt 
That the stout and cider rain’s still a-falling 
Like the good times never left 
Cause the locals still a-calling 
Your name 
Every weekend the same 
Ease the pain 
Of a back breaking shift 
Or soothe your carpal tunnel itch 
Gather the boys make some noise
Let out your cathartic cries 
Of times gone by 
And time to be 
And all the time you miss cause you see

There’s no thinking when you’re drinking 
Sinking pints and drinking points
Of contention flinch at the mention
Of a well rounded discussion 
Boost percussion drum and bass 
Wreck the place 
Off your face 
Blissful disgrace 

It’s the power of the youth 
The slam cans and burn zoots
Cause hands up don’t shoot 
Doesn’t come into it here 
We’re not living in fear 
Of the systematic semi-automatic 
Or the boys in blue
But what’s true for me 
Isn’t true for you 

We have the privilege to accept our fate 
And blame the state with our commie dogma driving mates 
We have privilege to spray FTG and AGAP
And still make it home to see mammy 
We have the privilege to be cogs in the wheel bricks in the wall
With the net of means tested welfare to catch us if we fall 

And so 
We settle into passive aggression 
We settle into accepting recession 
We settle into blissful disgrace 
But never ignorance 
Because the only thing we know is our place

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