Delivering the Good Goods: Poets Go Big

There's a lot to celebrate for National Poetry Month this year. The Poetry Foundation is busy supporting young poets, mature poets and emerging poets with honors and fellowships and a stunning, ever expanding list of awards, poetry slams and competitions have given poetry and spoken word cache. The word on the street is that poetry is cool.

One of the contributing factors to this renaissance is that the ways in which a poet can deliver his/her good goods to the public has grown exponentially. In addition to the standard methods (readings in bookstores, cafes, bars, art galleries and the publication of small press, large press and self-published books and chapbooks) poets are delivering poems on Twitter and on Facebook, on public buses and subways and on their own blogs and websites. PoetryInMotion, an initiative sparked by the Poetry Society of America delivers poems to the public on buses and subways in over 20 cities.

A recent exciting trend is the poetry movie. With the advent of smartphones, cell phone owners have instant access to video cameras. Sharing videos is on the rise and two new apps, Meerkat and Periscope, are delivering streaming video with better-than-ever results.

One organization at the forefront of the trend is Motionpoems. According to founder Todd Boss, "Motionpoems catalyzes the remix of poetry with other forms to create compelling hybrid artworks."

The poetry movie marries a filmmaker's creativity with a poet's imagination. In addition to the poet's words (and often her voice,) a filmmaker adds music and ambient sound, graphics and other visuals to add depth and dimension.

How Motionpoems began:

Six years ago, animator/producer Angella Kassube animated one of Todd Boss's poems. The results were so compelling that Boss and Kassube began introducing poets to video artists. A year later, a public screening in Minneapolis drew a crowd ... and a new hybrid form was born. Since then, Motionpoems have appeared in mainstream media, blogs, YouTube, international film festivals, classrooms, and art galleries. Most recently, Motionpoems premiered annually at the Walker Art Center.

According to Motionpoems on Vimeo:

"In 2014, tiny Motionpoems Inc and public artist Todd Boss challenged Minnesota poets and filmmakers to celebrate the newly-renovated Union Depot in Saint Paul ... in a big way. The result was 'Arrivals and Departures at Saint Paul's Union Depot,' a colossal spectacle that projected short films based on poems written on the theme of 'arrivals and departures.' This making-of video describes the project in detail."

"Arrivals and Departures" was a series of poetry movies aimed at the passerby. Encountering poetry during our normal comings and goings, in the course of running a banal errand or traveling on a short trip across town can be a revelatory experience. From where I sit, reading a poem on the side of a building, on the street, on a subway or bus is a gentle nod to the existence of our inner lives, our souls.

The beauty of public art is the delivery of the good goods outside of the museum, away from the page - and the stage. Public art is for everyone.

"I see the poem as a script for the film," says Todd Boss. His passion for the form has grown Motionpoems from a small group of artists and filmmakers into a self-sustaining non-profit. The organization partners with publishers to procure poems for each season of films. According to Motionpoems, "Partners have included Milkweed Editions, Copper Canyon Press, Graywolf Press, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Wave Books and McSweeney's, plus leading poetry periodicals like Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, The Believer, Tin House, VIDA: Women In the Arts, Cave Canem and others."

Poems are selected from partnering publisher's forthcoming titles and offered to a network of filmmakers. Poets in previous seasons have included Pulitzer winners Mark Strand and Richard Wilbur and Stephen Dunn as well as many other celebrated writers. Season 6 of Motionpoems will be a special collaboration with VIDA: WOMEN IN THE ARTS.

Over the past few years several websites devoted to poetry movies have sprung up., a popular poetry site with over 35,000 subscribers, has a Poetry Movie section.

From Editor Mary Barnet: "Richard E Schiff, our resident artist and film-maker, believes that moving pictures are the consummate art of the 21st century. I think it is film and poetry that will bring the 21st Century alive."

"A student of Filmmaking at New York University years back, I saw a direct relationship between film and poetry. When gave me the opportunity, I began making Poetry Films. My favorites are still The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, using Elliott's actual voice, and the other was Edna St. Vincent Millay's Recuerdo, with her actual read. Since we began running the PoetryFilms our readership doubled. If we started a trend, so be it!"" reports Schiff.