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  • Writer's pictureNoah Cain

Embodiment and Poetry Film

The body, in Western thought dating back to Plato, has been presented in dualist contrast to the intellect and thus viewed with suspicion. In this dualist view, the body is the feminine elicitor of irrationality, intensity, and emotionality that threatens the higher masculine realm of detached ideas and logical rationality. Work on embodiment in various fields, including neuroscience, recenters the body, exploring the ways in which human experience is best understood as an embodied experience rather than a purely intellectual experience.

As part of my ongoing Master's research, which explores embodiment, creativity, technology, and literacy, I have started experimenting with poetry film or video poetry. A relatively new form, Sarah Tremlett, who wrote the first book on the poetics of poetry film in 2020, presents the emergence of poetry film as a returning of poetry to its more affective and embodied roots.

In the early days of poetry, before the changes that resulted from the mind-body split and the movement of poetry to the printed page, poetry was a communal, multisensory, and sometimes ceremonial experience, often involving costume, music, and dramatized performance. With the transition to the printed page, poetry became a more individual, intellectual experience, focusing on analysis, precision, and the advanced, technical manipulation of language. In my creative practice, I have felt myself drawn from the page toward the more holistic and embodied work of poetry film.

I record and present my video poetry in portrait rather than landscape to be optimally viewed on a smartphone. My work explores our new reality in which a high-definition eye and ear with access to terabytes of external memory bounces in our pockets. Often presented as the antithesis to embodiment—being lost in a screen certainly feels like nowhere—I am interested in exploring handheld digital devices as facilitators for embodied artmaking because of their ability to be marshalled on the move—while engaged bodily.

The changes to perception that we are seeing intensified with the ubiquity of smart phones was previously a fascination of early avant-garde silent filmmaker Dziga Vertov who was active in the early 20th Century. He referred to the camera as his Kino-Eye and was fascinated with its ability to capture aspects of the world that were inaccessible to his head-bound eyes and ears. The camera’s gaze can achieve angles and framings that the human eye can’t and can hold its gaze on its subject in near perpetuity. Vertov created experimental montage films of the working class in play and at work and viewed this work as part of a larger project of disrupting what he considered to be the pro-capitalist propaganda coming out of Hollywood and the pro-war propaganda coming out of the Soviet Union

I view my work as an extension of Vertov's work as well as an extension of Marshall McLuhan's work throughout the 20th Century on the ways emerging media and technology change human perception and societies.

You can follow along with my experiments with video poetry at @emulatethecanoe on instagram and tiktok.

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