What Makes a Good Poetry Film?

Dave Bonta was asked what he thought defined a “successful” poetry film. (Quail Bell Magazine Jan 2019, online)

Pretty much the same things that define a successful poem on the page: Original insights, a fresh approach, a rich vocabulary (visual in this case) that avoids cliche, etc. Most of all, in the same way that a poem can’t be reduced to prose, a successful videopoem can’t be reduced to the sum of its parts. You shouldn’t be left thinking, that was nice, but actually I could’ve just read the poem and dispensed with the video.

For any more specific rule that one might propose — for example, avoiding literal illustration — I can think of exceptions that still somehow work. Unlike with “proper” film, a more amateurish approach isn’t necessarily disqualifying where videopoetry is concerned, as long as the concept is really strong. And by the same token, quite often I lose interest in a poetry film that may be all slick and polished, but is fundamentally unimaginative in the interplay of images, text, and sound.

William Wees said that:

Through a synergy of expressive words and images, successful cinepoems produce associations, connotations, metaphors and symbols that cannot be found in either their verbal or their visual texts taken alone.

Let’s make a list of these suggestions.

  • Original insights.
  • A fresh approach.
  • A strong concept.
  • A rich visual vocabulary
  • Avoidance of cliché.
  • Something that can’t be reduced to the sum of its parts.
  • An avoidance of being too literal.
  • An imaginative interplay between images, text, and sound.
  • Associations, connotations, metaphors and symbols cannot be found in either the verbal or their visual texts taken alone.

To the above list we’ll add the poets physical voice.

Poetic form and meter have a strong connection. Audible and visual meters need to be strong.

The poet’s voice should enhance the overall meter and emotion of the poetry film. Or there needs to be an imaginative use of text on the screen.

You shouldn’t be left thinking, that was nice, but actually I could’ve just read the poem and dispensed with the video.