The video is screening tonight. I am not in attendance.
Also featuring at this year's annual Visible Verse Festival of videopoetry is Tom Konyves -- iconic Vehicule poet and the man credited with coining the term videopoetry. He has spent years researching, documenting, and cataloguing videopoems around the world. I consider him my mentor, my wise hand of guidance as I learn and grow through this art form.
Recently, Tom published his Manifesto, a comprehensive description of the elusive art of videopoetry and how its specifics differ from other video-based art forms. Tom's talk about his Manifesto is the feature presentation of this year's VV Festival.
Below is an edited version of a letter I wrote to him explaining my absence, posted here by his suggestion.
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I was really looking forward to your presentation this weekend, to this year's Visible Verse Festival, to the intriguing and brainbending (and often pun-filled!) conversation that fills the evening's conversation after. I was especially interested in hearing how your talk would affect the post-screening discussion of the videos!
For different reasons, I will not be at any of the above. I'm unable to attend Saturday afternoon events right now due to work obligations, and I will not be attending the video screenings due to a personal conflict between the video screened that I directed and my belief in maintaining the integrity of the artform of videopoetry.
I do not view the video being screened with me listed as Director as a videopoem, video poetry, a cinepoem, or even including a poem at all -- thus I do not feel comfortable supporting its screening at a specifically videopoetry event. (....) I do not believe it to be poetry in any way.
As a poet and video artist who has my name on this project, I am presenting this as representative of a videopoem. Regardless of what drama occurred behind the scenes, as Director it is my name that is being perceived as the one who 'made' this video. With this in mind, please know that my absence is not for lack of wanting to see the festival and the videos in it, nor for lack of wanting to support your and other videopoets' endeavors and videopoetry in general. As a poet and video artist, I cannot show up in support of the editor's cut and stand behind that piece amongst my peers and mentors, cannot hold it up as an example of a poem. (And if I did show up to see the final cut, in all honesty I'd end up 'explaining' that that wasn't the video I intended to present as a videopoem (...) which would be very unprofessional of me.)
This VVF is especially important because of your presentation -- it's you, the man credited with coining the word 'videopoetry', who has spent years defining and explaining and documenting and writing about what videopoetry is, and who recently published THE videopoetry manifesto. This publication and presentation is very important for the videopoetry community. We as video artists and poets (and the two combined) need to look closely at our work, to define it, not so we can cram it into standardized niches, but so we can examine what it is we are creating and what our goals are -- what are we doing? what are we saying? where are we going? Unless we can describe what it is we are doing and what we would like to achieve / where we want to go with our art, how can we move forward? How can we go anywhere or move upward/beyond unless we have a base that we have built ourselves upon which we can stand, grow, and build upon? We cannot -- and the first step is the naming of things.
The base unit of language is words: arbitrary sounds/symbols that we as a society/community/culture collectively affix subjective meanings to. I think many artists resist the idea of labels and definitions because they perceive them as limiting their potential for individual personal expression -- but it is these labels that enable us as a community to communicate -- to share ideas and grow. If we as a community collectively come to a loose agreement of what an an apple is, then we enable ourselves to share recipes for applesauce and apple pies, to discover the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, to grow an orchard and crossbreed apple varieties. But if we include any roundish starchy thing under the label of apple (potatoes, pears, Styrofoam balls), we might have some rather interesting jams and jellies, but we probably won't be able to effectively treat folks who are allergic to apples, and we'll probably never develop a universal recipe for the world's best dessert (homemade apple pie, mmm).
Regardless of whether people dis/agree with your categorizations of the various forms of poetry in video et cetera, the manifesto and all your work behind it provides a base for communication -- it gives us words to speak with, to debate and re/define, to argue and work with. Prior to the development of this base, we as a community of poets working in video have been baking brilliant bizarre "undefined apple" pies, flying lovely tissuepaper kites without strings, riding our horses madly off in all directions. Now we have focus, direction -- we have the beginnings of a language we as a community can use to create discourse amongst ourselves, to work together towards the further development of our various art forms.
This is not to say that your definitions and explanations will ultimately stand as-is -- rather, I think they'll be debated, argued, and in some cases perhaps re/defined. Your work is the strong statement we need to argue against, agree with, or be inspired by. The presentation of a strong statement inspires passion ergo motivation ergo motion.
With all the above in mind, it is both fitting and ironic that the presentation of your Manifesto coincides with the screening of the video I made which I do not stand behind as a poem. (....) (W)hen I saw the finished product, my first thought was, "How can I show up at Visible Verse and look Tom in the eye?" It is not so much your personal dis/approval -- it is my unwillingness to knowingly support one of my own works subverting the art form's integrity.
If this were a non-genre-specific festival of new works by video artists, or a festival of book trailers, I'd be there with bells on. But since I'm trying to establish myself as a videopoet, and this is a videopoetry festival, I cannot hold the final cut up as an example of what I as a poet consider to be my video+poetry work. I could also simply not show up and not provide explanation -- but that would be akin to staging a political protest sans signs, slogans, or statement (i.e. just a bunch of people standing around), and my absence would be chalked up to work obligations, illness, or being a flaky forgetful artist.
The decision to not attend this event has been difficult. I fear that it may be interpreted as an emotional reaction to ... conflict between Dennis and I (...) or as a negative commentary on Heather, her choices of what videos to screen, or the festival. That's a risk I'm taking....
As for the video I intended to make, the one I wrote and designed and directed, I also do not strongly believe it is a videopoem -- it's a video with a poem in it (the narrative voiceover), but I'd have to re-read your manifesto and analyze my video to determine whether it stands under your definition. It is, at least, a poem and video combined, which is enough for me.
Break a leg at your presentation! I hope it incites plenty of debate and discussion. And I will be there in spirit -- though deliberately not in body.