Poetry films have been around for longer than you might think, with the first experiments in combining poetry and moving image being undertaken by assorted French Impressionists way back in the 1920s. This genre – ideally suited to online viewing – is now more popular than ever. Video poems are accessible, nuanced and playful. If you enjoy seeing poetry performed, you’ll likely enjoy poetry on film as well. Here are five of our favourites to get you started.
This blistering piece about the pressures facing the UK’s National Health Service was written and performed by Thomas ‘GhettoGeek’ Owoo and Ölmo Lazarus. The film was animated and directed by designer and motion graphic artist Crissy Bogusz. The resulting piece went on to be named a winner in the #instapoetrylib competition run by the National Poetry Library in London, after which it was exhibited at the Royal Festival Hall.
Hollie McNish is a giant of the spoken word poetry scene, with a number of her pieces having achieved viral fame. She’s also recorded an album of poetry and music at Abbey Road Studios had her poems broadcast across BBC Radio. This poem – an answer to the respone some people have to breastfeeding was put to video by Jake Dypka for the Channel 4 Random Acts short film strand.
“Winter in Fenway”
The cinematic poetry film lays footage of Fenway Park baseball park over the lines of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 97”, as read by Tom O’ Bedlam. It’s an arresting combination of imagery and word that provides new meaning for an age-old poem – and that aside it’s a brilliant example of how poetry can intersect with and celebrate popular interests such as sport.
“The Mole” by Stephen Triplett is a wonderful, hypnotic piece about childhood friendships, and the experience of being different. It was published as part of the Visible Poetry Project, which brings together poets and filmmakers with the goal of making poetry more readily accessible to all. The Project published one film poem every day of the month of April each year; the archives are well worth browsing.
Our final entry is one that somewhat breaks the form of the video poem. “Haiku” by Saebom Kim is a silent poetry film. The few words it has are displayed on screen, in between shots of two actors in a variety of situations and circumstances. “Haiku” plays with our sense of uncertainty about place and relative location, deftly crafting a film that evokes the same sense of surprise as the Japanese poetry form from which it takes its name.