Watching The Adjectives

Human beings are very visual beings; almost all of us devote the majority of our attention to what we see. Sound usually comes second, with touch and taste being things we seek or not. But although sound is in second place, it is a distant second. We listen to music, but more often while doing something else than as a primary activity. So where does this leave works that are primarily sound based?

I purchased a new old webcam* a few weeks ago, to free me from the inconvenience of using the fixed position microphone, camera, and speakers combination on my netbook. Apart from continuing my eternal quest for perfect light in a basement, I am already seeing some advantages. Video calling is much easier, and I would probably not have considered a Legendary Author Battle without it.

Now I have reasonable sound and video, I have considered recording some of my poems. But I am not certain how to handle the visuals. My thoughts based on music and poetry videos on YouTube are:

  • Record myself reciting

  • Splice together a series of flash-cards of the words

  • Create a separate visual of either stills or action relevant to the poem

There is no appreciable difference in popularity between the different formats (based on my very basic ad hoc modelling from a patchwork survey), so I have mulled on the possible hidden impact.

Most poets I know close their eyes when listening to recitations, so the visuals might well be irrelevant to the core of viewers.

Dave peering out from behind a poetry book
(©Dave Higgins – CC BY NC SA)

If I am not completely engaged by music or poetry, I tend to find watching the performer is not enthralling either. So the opposite end, a supporting set of images, immediately feels as if it will make the recitation accessible to as many people as possible. However, poetry is among the most figurative of disciplines: where a novel might have some nuances that speak to a reader’s unique perspective intertwined with a large commonly-understood narrative, one of the most common aims of a poem is to give a unique perspective without the framework of common understanding. Adding a visual track both draws the listener into watching the visuals and risks being a director’s commentary; many DVD releases now include the option of a director’s commentary, but none mandate that you watch the DVD with the commentary on.

So, is the best option that of lyrical flash cards? It offers the listener the option to follow the poet, so could even remove issues with accents or external noise, increasing accessibility; a benefit akin to subtitles. As some of you will know, my kitchen has no door, so using either the kettle or the washing machine renders listening to the television hard; I therefore sometimes watch programs with the subtitles on. My experience has been that where the subtitles are given in large chunks I read ahead becoming desynchronised from the actual speech, and that where the chunks are small I experience jerkiness as my eyes wait for the words to catch up. Were this not enough of a possible issue, many subtitles are trimmed versions of the dialogue to account for people who read more slowly than normal speech pace. Adding the text to the audio would risk a sense of disjunction in both ends of a potential audience.

Ultimately perhaps the issue is with my comfort. I am a writer not an actor. I am, as my battle with Simon shows, happy enough appearing on camera dialled up to 11; but the idea of speaking my words to camera without succumbing to a protective layer of ironic performance is mildly unnerving. I suspect I will settle upon straight videos of me reciting, but not before many attempts are consigned to the cutting room floor.

* new to me, but from a range that was being discontinued for not being this year’s shape and colour.

Do you perform your writing? How do you prefer to watch recitations?


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