SpokenWordBerlin defines poetry video
on their own terms
To wit, the poets of SpokenWordBerlin are getting the
last words on the matter by releasing a new DVD collection
of original poetry videos. This writer has seen previews
of selected videos, and feels the anthology is time well-spent
by all parties: by the poets and artists, who brought
fresh and pointed experiences together in words and images;
and by the viewers, who'll be enticed to reconsider the
broader possibilities that language, performance, and
creative imagery can create.
Any viewer of this collection will need a solid understanding
of the German language to glean the most from the disc.
It is an unabashedly European collection, and it does
not apologize to Anglophone viewers by including much
English language material. That said, the disc has a few
transcendant moments that don't need much translation.
A war room conference on "Bonn" is an arch appropriation
of Cold War period movies, in a piece by Sebastian Kraemer.
Bas Boettcher performs outside an office tower, whose
lights have been wired into a dot-matrix display, spilling
3-letter acronyms as a backdrop to his technophilic rap.
Urban themes abound in the collection. Sex, drugs, violence...
it's all there, and so are a few others like travel, love,
The individual productions are simple, but that doesn't
hinder their effectiveness. It is very easy to overburden
the text of a poetry video with images and sounds that
try to explain the poem. Instead, a director should allow
the poem to make its message in tandem with the imagery.
A successful poetry video can use all the elements at
its disposal to amplify a poem, and still show clearly
what influences come from where... the text should stand
on its own, as should the imagery and sound. As both a
performance poet and director of many of these videos,
Wolfgang Hogekamp has learned to give the poetry respect
and focus in the production, and not let the images take
That said, the one possible directoral shortcoming in
this collection would be in how so many of the videos
play directly from poet to camera, from eye to eye. A
broader tactic might allow the camera to scavenge the
environment and form counterpoints to the text through
the imagery; this happens in some pieces, but could happen
more. Among the videos this writer saw, most are of poets
are performing to/with camera throughout. Sets, locations,
and poets change. Visualizations change. And yet the camera
seems locked quite squarely on the given poet at almost
every turn. Pieces such as in den staedten by Jan Off,
with its surveillance camera gaze, do break this eye-lock
on the poet now and then.
Naturally, the spark between a good, charismatic poet
and a live camera is hard to resist. It satisfies the
poet and the filmmaker who feel a bond of attention through
the lens. However, if the camera is to realize its fullest
potential as a complementer to the language, it must have
the freedom to roam away from the performing poet. It
takes a certain confidence and selflessness between the
director and the poet to do this, to have the faith that
the camera will tell its own counter-poem to the spoken
text, and still be faithful to it. When one is a performance
poet and director, such trust is already in one's hands.
Hogekamp may want to exercise that trust more fully in
This criticism is a faint echo of what the Zebra curators
voiced when Hogekamp et al were excluded from Zebra's
program. Zebra's critique seems unreasonably harsh after
viewing these clips. And this critique is certainly not
intended to label SpokenWordBerlin's achievement as second
class. To the contrary, it's one of the best anthologies
of its kind. It is rare for a community of writer/performers
to assemble such a body of work in cinema, and they deserve
much praise for not only rising to the practical but the
aesthetic challenges of the task.
Berlin, with her ambitious poets, is absolutely a place
to reckon today in poetry video, as Chicago and San Francisco
once were, as Vancouver remains. A salute to SpokenWordBerlin,
for creating a marvelous feast for the mind!