This past week, an instructor at my university asked me where to find some good poems. She’s a video production teacher and she had assigned her class the task of creating a short video from a poem. The samples they were finding on the web were somewhat problematic for reasons she didn’t explain (the work itself, the degree of difficulty in creating a video from the example chosen—I don’t know). I directed her to the Poetry Foundation website where her students can find examples of great poets and samples of their great poetic works, but she also wanted a physical book to take into class. For that, I recommended various Norton anthologies and I presume she went to our library shelves and selected one or two. She is not particularly familiar with poetry, but she knows what will work and what will not work when it comes to translating the written word into video.
What is interesting is the idea behind the assignment, namely, that a poem can be translated into video. It is a form of ekphrasis (art out of art). As I have thought about this since our brief conversation, I realize that there are two types of poems that lend themselves to visual translation most directly—narrative works and works with strong visual images. These are likely the works that the instructor envisions her students selecting for the assignment, but I wonder how easy or difficult it would be to transform rather than translate a poem into visual result—truly art out of art. To test that, I’d have to take a less narrative and less visual poem and see if I could do that. As I know very little about video production, it’s unlikely I’ll ever test this theory, but it’s worth contemplation.
More immediately, however, her assignment reminded me of the importance of making my poetic images visual, unique, and fresh. Always a useful lesson.
Photo Credit: the cover of Daniel Eatock’s book, Imprint, which is all hand-lettered. http://visual-poetry.tumblr.com/post/2823922135/literarytrashcan-the-fantastic-cover-of-daniel