The Colorado Poet, #27, Summer 2014

Video Poetry, Poetry Video

(Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and David Feela)

David Feela   Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

 (Several Colorado poets have used video to present or enhance poems as well as experiment with multi-genre work. A while ago, at our request, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and David Feela exchanged thoughts on their experiences with ‘home-made’ video poetry through a series of questions. Ed.)

How did you come to this form?

Rosemerry: Imitation! David Feela was making poetry videos and posting them on his site,, and I loved hearing his voice, loved how the image and audio enhanced his poems. Plus he has such a unique voice, it really pulled me in. I often hear it in my head when I read his work, but it was way better to hear the real thing. And so I thought, why not? That looks like a lot of fun.

David: I started playing with the idea of tacking a video accompaniment to my poems when a good friend from Minnesota, David Trifocole, helped me set up the first webpage of links to my work.  My skills on the internet were more basic than they are now, and he has always been a genius of experimentation.  I had sent him an audio clip of a radio interview I’d completed, one where I’d read several poems on the air.  He surprised me by culling a few of those reading clips from the audio track and uploading them to YouTube with a picture he’d chosen from some public domain images he’d encountered.  It wasn’t a moving picture. but the image was moving in its own way.  In a sense, he’d invented the form in my imagination.  Eventually I got to thinking about how I could animate those pictures and my first video poems emerged.

Are there benefits to presenting poems as videos?

R: A lot more people watch videos than read poems ... It’s a way, I think, to invite people to poetry who otherwise might not pick up a book. And there can be a lot of play. It’s a way to continue to engage with the poem after the writing and rewriting to see what else it can do ... For instance, when I perform, I often sing with the poem as an intro or outro, or even sing the whole poem, and with the video I can add that extra piece. Often the song and the poem are married in my mind, so I like being able to offer that conversation to the audience. And something fun you can do with a video ... You can sing underneath yourself! Haven’t mastered that one in live performance just yet ...
Thinking about this, I am as interested in the soundtrack as in the image.

D: What I appreciate about the video experiment is that it provides another medium for experiencing poetry, one that can often be thought of as less formal.  Traditionally, it has been either the page or the poet -- the book or the reading/video/slam which are also great ways to ponder the poem, but video poetry opens another venue, one where text, spoken word, and image collide -- multiple images, in fact.  Certainly, the reader’s imagination is taken along the line of thought that emerges from the production, and that can be surprising, just as a novel that’s turned into a movie may provide a firmer visualization of a creative work.  The video may even foster a closer exploration of the text, especially if it’s not provided in the video. 

Are there disadvantages to the video format?

R: Well, one would be that by using actual images, you limit the range of images possible in the mind of the audience. You probably know that Gwendolyn Brooks quote from “Song of Winnie” that says “A poem doesn’t do everything for you. You are supposed to go on with your thinking. You are supposed to enrich the other person’s poem with your own extensions, your own uniquely personal understandings, thus making the poem serve you.” In a way, the video interferes with that ex-
tension process.

D: The downside is minimal, though I certainly have hammered together more than a few mediocre productions.  Perhaps one could argue that it limits the reader’s imagination too much, or that it trivializes the reach of a great poem, but to sacrifice those concerns for the sake of the experiment is a worthy investment for one’s time.  Maybe I’ll reassess that notion if I ever start writing great poems.

Is there a type of poem more suited to a video presentation?

R: Um, no. I think that it’s a matter of finding the right presentation ... Meeting the poem with the right image. Now that is probably the type of poem best suited for a video—the one you have the right footage for!

D: I think there is a kind of poem that works better for me, but that said, the entire matter of what type of poem is suited to be a video has to rely entirely on the maker’s vision.  In my production model, the poem always comes first.  I don’t even have an inkling that I want to turn the poem into a video when I’m writing it.  Only after, and rarely at that, do I notice if the poem has potential, and often it’s because some element of the poem tugs at my image cortex.   

What kind of feedback, if any, do you get from the videos you’ve produced?

R: People really seem to enjoy them. One friend says that my video “Off the Wall” is the best thing I have ever created! I keep hoping one of my friends who is video-inclined will volunteer to collaborate with me and take the form the next level. I know really nothing about making videos except what I have taught myself in iMovie, and I think that they videos look that way, too ... Like it’s someone just having fun. Well, I am. But wouldn’t it be cool to make a spectacular short!

D: In the feedback loop, aside from a few comments by friends who have seen them, all I get is statistics.  Number of views of YouTube, to be precise.  It would be a project of its own to figure out why a few of my videos have many more views than others. 

Is there a chance of reaching a different kind of audience?  If so, how so?  If not, why?

R: I think yes ... If you get the video into film festivals, etc. But as it is, I just send it out to people who are already getting my daily poems.

D: I suspect that most viewers of my videos have not read much of my poetry, so one audience might be those who are not avid poetry readers, and another might be those who want to sample the waters before they dive in to a poet’s work.  I also think a population is emerging in our techno-world that is drawn to the video experience.  The existence of YouTube is evidence of that culture.  I’m not saying these people are not readers, but that perhaps they are not the kind of readers who stock their shelves with poetry collections.  And besides, the idea of watching a short video carries with it its own kind of charm.

What technique or technology is required to produce a video poem?

R:  I use a little Elph camera, nothing special, to take the video, and then I incorporate photographs, too ... Or sometimes use exclusively photographs. Then I import them into iMovie, which is relatively simple to negotiate. I taught myself through trial and error ...

DF: My technology skills in video creation and editing are only basic, a rudimentary knowledge of how the iMovie program on my Apple laptop works, and how to record a sound track over a video segment.  As for shooting the actual video images, all I’ve worked with is the movie setting on my point-and-shoot digital camera, then loaded it to my iPhoto.  Now that I have an iPad, I’ll no doubt play with using that as my camera.  Still, there must be a million more ways to do the work.  I would love to be able to make a video poem like the Taylor Mali poem, a live reading track that Ronnie Bruce animated with typography [].  Peek at that one once and get a feeling for creativity in video.  It’s all too likely that I’m more interested in the writing than the technology, so I’ll never master the business. 

Do you have any advice for poets who’d like to experiment with video poetry?

R: Play.

D: Trying to make a video out of a poem can be fun, and one should remain in that frame of mind while doing it.  I think it’s important, though, not to overlook the role the voice track plays in the overall production.  No matter how sophisticated the video gets, a clear and compelling reading of the poem is a must.

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See some of their work: