Wednesday Jun 19

EricaGoss When is a video poem more than a video poem? When it’s a book trailer. Authors promote their books with book trailers, short films meant to entice a buyer, just like a movie trailer is meant to advertise a movie. Movie trailers show a condensed version of the film, including cuts of the most exciting parts without giving away the plot, while book trailers tend to focus on the author’s credentials first and the story second, especially if the author is well-known. A video poem meant to promote a book of poems, literary fiction or non-fiction, however, is often a complete work of art, its connection to the book somewhat tangential.

This quality of a video poem/book trailer allows us to evaluate it using two criteria. First, does it accomplish the aim of creating interest in the book from which it is derived, and second, does it qualify as a separate work of art? In this month’s article, I have several examples that work in both categories. Each of them made me curious about the books they promoted, and each of them succeed as unique art works.

Robert Krut’s second collection, This is the Ocean, due out this month from Bona Fide Books, was preceded by videos of two poems from the book. “The Ocean” shows a coastal city all but abandoned in the early morning light. Robert Krut told me that he and filmmaker Nick Paonessa shot scenes at Venice Beach, California. “It’s a completely different world at dawn,” Robert said. “This sounds impossible, but you can drive from Burbank to Venice in about twenty minutes” – a trip that normally takes at least an hour. The video for “The Ocean” shows an alternate Southern California in an Edward Hopper-esque mood: a skateboarder has the whole park to himself, a empty lifeguard tower faces the sea as the sky turns pink, and the smooth wide beach is alone with its secrets as we hear the last lines of the poem: “There may be nothing for miles and miles, / but I have come from the bottom of the ocean, / and I am here to tell you about it.” The Pacific Ocean is the unreliable narrator in this video, elemental, beautiful and dangerous:

Water is also the element in Annie Finch’s “Landing Under Water, I See Roots,” a short video for a small, profound poem. The video is only forty-five seconds long, but it manages to impart a sense of the book Spells, New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press 2013) and the poet. As the animated trees grow above and below shifting dark blue backgrounds, Finch’s voice narrates the poem in a straightforward, almost flat tone, contrasting with the elaborate visuals of the video. Finch writes formal verse, and the video echoes her aesthetic with its restrained color scheme: black, deep blue, earth tones, and white.

I’m a fan of the short poem, so the trailer for Haiku: The Art of the Short Poem from Brooks Books grabbed my attention when I first saw it last year. This trailer, almost a mini-documentary about contemporary haiku written in English, is educational, enlightening, and fun. I instantly ordered the book/DVD set, so I have to say that this was a particularly effective strategy on the part of Brooks Books. Poem after poem appears on the screen accompanied by pithy comments from poets, who tell us that haiku is “a good drug – no hangover,” “the best free medicine,” and that “everybody is capable of writing haiku.” The message is positive, and the trailer is a delight for the eye and the ear.

A decidedly different mood appears in the trailer for poet and novelist Adrian C. Louis’s 2012 collection, Savage Sunsets (West End Press 2012). Composed of three poems, the video is a wrenching, emotional experience, and the deep, gravelly voice of Trevino Brings Plenty is an effective, if melancholy narrator. In the opening scene, three Native American men sit around a kitchen table as one man narrates his life in scenes from his childhood, scenes that range from exhilaration to deep sadness. Using three poems from the book, “Archeology,” “Wheels,” and “Love the Distant Roar,” the video is directly connected to the book, even listing the page number of each poem. As the video ends, Brings Plenty reads the memorable lines, “love the distant roar of the skin you’re in, love the distant roar of the sin you’ve been:”

Last but not least, Sandra Beasley made a charming and quirky video for “Vocation,” a poem from her book I Was the Jukebox (W.W. Norton 2009). Using iMovie, stock images and her own voice, Beasley put together this thoroughly watchable little gem. Her instincts are spot-on, and video works as an extension of the poem as well as a strong link to the book. It’s a little distracting that the words of the poem appear as text on the screen, but the video moves quickly enough that it doesn’t detract from the overall experience.