Thursday, September 17, 2009

Split This Rock

I've recently become very interested in the interaction of poetry and film. This grew from a translation project of a long, semi-narrative prose-poem which turned out to be using a lot of cinematic language and techniques. As I dug deeper and deeper into the poem, and fell more and more in love with the work, I began to wonder what the fruitful relationship between film and poetry could be. What was the author's inspiration, in 1981 when he was writing this, to turn the language of the poem toward a kind of experimental screenplay.

There's a clear relationship in the primacy of the image. The poem, as Williams and his cohorts would tell you, is all about the image. Film, too, relies on visual perception - a visual literacy if you will that cues us without statement. Sound, also. Someone told me, and I don't have a citation, that the majority of what viewers of media respond to is the sound, not the picture. Likewise, poetry even sitting silent on the page consists of music - the internal music of the word, and of the line, and the fuller music of the poem.

I also want to find a relationship in the non-narrative ability of poetry and film. While they both can, and often quite successfully are, narrative projects, poetry by virtue of its concentration of language and form on the page (not just verse, but short blocks of prose because of the plunge into whiteness that follows each one, use the void, the break of the line to create this possibility) can exist in a momentary eternity. That is, one moment that is comprehensibly infinite and universal. Of course, there is a temporality locked into the reading of the poem - you must read one word, one line at a time, there is no way to instantaneously take in the entirety of the poem in an atemporal experience. Rather its the subject matter that, by breaking the bonds of the temporality of the medium, the printed page, can free itself to express something beyond history, beyond time. In the same way, film, while constrained by the linear succession of images on a screen, can yet break these narrative bonds and express something beyond.

All this to say that today I received a call for submissions for Split This Rock poetry festival, for film and video submissions. They are "looking for artistic, experimental, and challenging film/video interpretations of poetry that explore critical social issues." Which brings me directly to my other serious poetic interest: poetry as an agent of social change and conscience. On their mission statement page they write:
Poets have long played a central role in movements for social change. Today, at a critical juncture in our country’s history, poetry that gives voice to the voiceless, names the unnamable, and speaks directly from the individual and collective conscience is more important than ever. The festival will explore and celebrate the many ways that poetry can act as an agent for change: reaching across differences, considering personal and social responsibility, asserting the centrality of the right to free speech, bearing witness to the diversity and complexity of human experience through language, imagining a better world.
It is a reality, and not necessarily to be lamented, that many more people are responsive to visual media than written. Poetry is excellent at appropriating, so why not explore fully the relationship between the two and perhaps infuse again the ability for poetry to be active in the social conscience of the world.


  1. Thanks for the thoughts and the link! I've excerpted this and linked to this post from our blog at

    Hope to see your submission!

  2. Hey. Came over from Silliman's. You might be interested in my friend Daniel Kane's book 'We Saw The Light' which is about the relationship between NYC poets and film-makers. Daniel's a poet and academic.