Where Poetry and Animated Video Overlap

From Billy Collins to Todd Boss

By The Editors on 11.24.09

In 1980, the same year that Pac-Man (the best-selling video game of all time) was released, Billy Collins published his second collection of poems. It was called Video Poems and it is now out of print. Skip ahead twenty-six years. It’s 2006 and Billy Collins has served as the Poet Laureate for the United States and is just completing his two-year post as Poet Laureate for the State of New York. From what I can piece together, it’s at this time that JWT, a global ad agency with an office in New York City, begins creating animated videos for some of Billy Collins poems. The earliest one, from January 2006, is Collins’ poem “Forgetfulness”. The so-called “animated poem” looks like it could have been a music video for a Pavement song circa 1993, which is a huge compliment. Eleven of these Billy Collins videos are collected here for your viewing pleasure. Now, skip ahead once more (stay with me) to yesterday morning when I’m sipping my morning coffee and checking email. I find a message from YouTube letting me know that the Todd Boss YouTube channel I subscribe to has two new videos. Here is what I find:

First, an animated video for a poem by Todd Boss called “How Smokes the Smolder” from his debut collection Yellowrocket:

Then, a second video, for a poem called “The God of our Farm Had Blades”:

I asked Todd to give me some background on these videos. Here is what he told me:

Just over a year ago, a woman stopped me after one of my readings in Saint Paul and asked me if I would ever consider collaborating with an animator. She was one herself. Her name was Angella Kassube. Soon she’d cut her teeth on a few poems of mine, and I was hooked. A few months later, we formed an initiative we called Motionpoems, and to date we’ve roped over 30 other media artists into the animation of over a dozen poems by such writers as Marvin Bell, Robert Bly, Jane Hirshfield, Major Jackson, and others.

Over 150 people attended a recent screening of these at Open Book in Minneapolis recently. Queued for animation now are poets such as Robert Wrigley, Thomas Lux, Alicia Ostriker, and Beth Ann Fennlly. Projects are online at MotionPoems.com and YouTube, and are finding their way to web publications, television broadcasts, film festivals…even art galleries and museums!

I agree that poetry is an intimate written medium that depends upon the reader’s imagination in solitude. But I also feel that poetry’s aural and imagistic aspects recommend it to the medium of film in ways that can make poems newly accessible to a media-savvy generation.

What do you think? Does animated video enhance the power of a poem? Or limit it? Is it just a promotional gimmick or a new medium? Let me know in the comments and share a link to a favorite animated video poem while you’re at it.

topics: News


Matthew Nienow said on 11.24.09 at 6:06pm:

Your very own Sandra Beasley has been thinking hard on this very subject here (http://bit.ly/70he1J) and here (http://bit.ly/6cwQn4).

I love some of Todd’s videos in particular, though their punch is rather hit and miss for me, while the poems themselves are less subject to a wavering reaction.

Thanks for the post!

Jessie Carty said on 11.25.09 at 7:35am:

I would love to work with a professional animator smile
By doing animated poems, I had hoped to reach a new audience for poetry, maybe people who didn’t think they could sit down and read a poem but they would listen to it.

We vary on just having the poet read or doing animated poems at Shape of a Box but here is a set of two poems by Eddie Dowe that were quite fun to produce. so glad other people are talking about this!