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Wednesday, April 14, 2010 11:35 am
National Poetry Month Videos? No Thanks
Posted by: Keir Graff

All month long, I’ve been meaning to check out WGBH’s videos for National Poetry Month, made for the “Poetry Everywhere” series airing on public television. I thought it might be nice to embed a few of them throughout April. Then I watched the videos and changed my mind — and not only because they’ve disabled embedding.

It’s not that I don’t like poetry. I do. But when I hear poets read their own poetry, I’m often disappointed. Too many poets suffer from cliched delivery, that rising and falling, stately poetic diction that (pause) pauses (pause) with such an elegaic (pause) air.

Watching these poets is even worse. Many would make the case for poetry being an oral tradition, and so would disagree with me about hearing poets read their work. Fine. But by filming them, we’re putting them in the wrong medium entirely, making them compete on YouTube against OK GO and Super Bowl commercials. Maybe that’s why Toi Derricotte’s reading of “Blackbottom” has amassed a mere 22 views in one month.

If we must film poets speaking their poesy — and this is still very much up for debate — can we do better than some big tent with artificial lights and an audience in folding chairs? Especially for a series called “Poetry Everywhere.” Apparently, to these creative minds, “Everywhere” consists of a variety of different lecterns on stages. And Charles Simic’s office. Tony Kushner does read Walt Whitman by the Brooklyn Bridge and Emily Dickinson’s “I Started Early” is set to animation, but lecterns outnumber them by a 10 to 1 ratio.

There’s an old jibe about someone having a “face for radio” — too unkind to apply to poets, most of whom have never aspired to video stardom. However, it’s a reminder that not all arts are suited to all media. And, for next year’s poetry month, I think podcasts will work just fine for most people. Me? I’ll be reading poetry on pixels and paper, thank you very much.

2 Responses to “National Poetry Month Videos? No Thanks”
  1. Caroline Casey Says:

    Keir, Check out the videos Ander Monson has made for his poetry. They’re as much mixed media as reading. http://www.youtube.com/user/angermonsoon

  2. Keir Graff Says:

    That’s a much more interesting approach, I think. I particularly like the deflating Santas in “Elegy for Beotch.” I suppose there’s a danger that, if the images are too interesting, they will distract readers from the poems, but if well chosen there are nice opportunities for resonance. And, generally, they’re more interesting than looking at someone reading at a lectern!


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