Interview of George Aguilar

George Aguilar was director of one of the oldest and longest running annual poetry film festivals
and archivist to the largest and richest collection (over 500 titles) of poetry films, videopoems and cinepoems in the world. He was president of the National Poetry Association (based in San Francisco) and producer and consultant on the first all-literary website which streamed some of the

first poetry films and videos ever seen on the web. He is also an award-winning cinepoet and new media poetry innovator and early consultant to the founding of the Vancouver Videopoetry Festival,
The Zebra Poetry Award Festival in Berlin, VideoBardo in Buenos Aires
and the Sadho Poetry Film Festival in India (to name just a few).

He currently is designing new poetry media platforms for public display and
the Internet and continues to promotes cinepoetry in the educational field worldwide and is
working towards bringing the cinepoetry archive (over 500 titles, spanning 1975-2000) to the web.

Interview for the +Institute [for Experimental Arts]

 1. There are collectives, groups, persons who support and develop the field of Film Poetry , Cine Poetry, Video Poetry. When the Film Poetry Scene started?

I am happy to report that there are now approximately 15 ongoing independent all-poetry film/video festivals operating around the world in nearly every continent including Australia. And this month, Greece is hosting its first International Poetry Film Festival amid the weeds of austerity.
In addition, there are dozens of traditional film festivals that now regularly screen poetry films and videos including The Cannes film festival. Add to that a recentpoetry film conference (held in Berlin) and two online video portals dedicated to solely presenting poetry films and videos along with more books and essays coming out of academia, including Tom Konyves manifesto on Videopoetry, Kevin Stein’s book ‘Poetry’s Afterlife” and the book ‘Poetry Goes Intermedia’ by Prof. Martina Pfeiler, and you’ll get a sense that poetry (delivered through the creative vehicle of the moving image) is becoming more widespread and acceptable than ever before.
This was, of course, not always the case. There was a time when poetry films and videos were dismissed by established literary circles, treated with ambivalence and ignorance in the classroom and met with almost sheer hostility by many poets and their audiences.   According to  Christophe Wall-Romana’s essay, Cine’poetry, French poet Stephane Mallarmé was influenced by the new medium of film., after he was introduced to cinema in 1893.  He and hiis French surrealist partners experimented heavily in this mixture.
Since then, poetry films (and later videopoems) have appeared in various undergound art venues with many filmmakers, poets and artists, working hard in their own cities and towns trying to build audience appreciation. For instance, the hippie poet Herman Berlandt started perhaps the very 1st ongoing Annual Poetry Film Festival in San Francisco in 1975.  Canadian Tom Konyves, who coined the term ‘Videopoetry’ was very active in Canada since the late 1970’s as a videomaker and presenter and he continues to be actively engaged in its health and well-being to this day. But for the most part, films and videos that were entirely based on a poem, were ignored by the general public and established literary crowd. In America, the prevalent thought had been that poetry was meant to be experienced primarily on a stage or on the page.
I became involved with the San Francisco poetry film festival scene in 1991.  I basically cataloged the various films and videos in the archive and ran the film festival from 1991-1996, becoming head of the organization until 2000. During that time, I designed the first all-literary website for the National Poetry Association and first uploaded and streamed cinepoems in 1996. Although (at the time) the vast majority of Internet users did not have the capacity of watching videos on the web, I could see that here was a platform that could be vital in promoting the poetry films and videos in the very near future.
I came up with the term, “Cin(E)-Poetry”, short for Cinematic (Electronic)- Poetry in 1995. I wanted a new term that showed a balance between two artforms(cinema and poetry) all created through past, current and future electronic or digital means. I also wanted to make it clear that we will not show any films of a poet reading on a stage or a film that simply showed trees “swaying in the breeze”,  absent of any accompanying poetry.
Because of this activity, I was getting requests from interested poets in Seattle, WA, and Vancouver Canada, wondering how they could start their own poetry video festival. By the early 21st Century, I was consultant to the founding of the Zebra Poetry Festival in Berlin, the Sadho Poetry Festival in India, and VideoBardo Videpoetry Festival in Buenos Aires.  In 2001, I traveled around North American, teaching students and teaches how to create cinepoems using a laptop, graphic software and digital editing programs.

 2. There is the need to combine the picture, the sound and the words together in a piece of art. Is this form of expression   affiliate with the languor of reading poetry in the 21st Century? Do you think that the Video Poetry is an expedient   to   make the Poetry more interesting, more seductive?

This is a very important question that you ask. Every generation contends with a new technology and experiments with it in relation to its Arts.  People can be critical of any change that affects an established way to experience something like poetry or music.  In the early 20th century, some poets refused to speak into the new technology of the microphone because they felt it took away from the true human, natural voice.  In an earlier century, some poets even felt threatened at the prospect of writing down poetry because they felt it would eventually eliminate the ancient oral tradition of poetry expression.  On this last statement, it is my personal opinion that poetry-in-books did bring poetry to more people, but I also believe it did also lose a bit of the human connection that the oral tradition brought.
So I believe cinepoetry and videopoetry is getting us closer to the ancient, oral tradition of poetry expression but on a global, electronic scale.  I believe that the creative mixing of sound, moving images, text/or voiceover, all with the idea of the artist/poet behind it, takes us closer to the ancient poet who stood on a rock, and waved his/her arms and spoke.  The body is cinema. The voice is sound. The words are ideas…the poetry allows us to peek into the mind of the poet.
I certainly believe that cinepoetry and videopoetry can make poetry more interesting to the filmmaker.  What I find breath-taking about making cinepoems, is the non-linear and visually interesting possibilities that are spread out before me.  Narratives and documentaries typically lock a filmmaker into a formula that starts at Point A and arrives, logically, at Point B.  Cinepoems invite the filmmaker to imagine deeply the meaning of each word of poetry and wonder at what kind of visual construction would be most thrilling to accompany it.  Overall, I think it makes it more interesting to the poet/artist to wonder how differently something ca be expressed by multimedia tools.  For current and future generations, it is possible that they best way for them to experience an idea, is when its presented in a multimedia format.  The brain could evolve to better process more information in newer ways, making it difficult to connect with old methods of poetry delivery.

3. Where are the Great Poets in our days? Should we wait them to die first so as to admire and appreciate their poetry?

That’s a question best answered by an expert who knows who the “Great Poets of the day” are.  I certainly think its up to each person to decide if they want to appreciate a poet while they are alive or not.  As for me, I certainly don’t mind people emailing me, or leaving comments on a videopage expressing their admiration for one of my works.  And there is always the chance that meeting “your favorite artist” might actually turn you off to their art.  And there will be those who are simply ahead of their time and can’t be appreciated until 100 years later.
4.How the politics inform the poetry over the years?
Recently, I read about a cinepoetry festival that was cancelled in Israel, due to the recent attacks in Gaza.Cinepoetry cancelled .I imagine this would be one way of political action.  For others, it may be to subvert text-based mobile software so that it is used for poetic expression about a particular political issue.  I think if cinepoems have an affect on politics, its subtle and mysterious….like the wind.
Can poetry make something happen? Poetry, like any other artform, is only as powerful an element as the individual wants to make it.  The Arts have always served on the good (and bad) side of politics.  Poetry seems a much more powerful voice for good and humanity in that the words can rarely be subverted like music or painting.  I suppose, at its core, the act of writing, speaking, performing or filmmaking poetry is a naturally subversive act since it typically speaks to humanity at its highest capacity and not to its baser instincts.
Personally, I would say that cinepoetry “saved my life” because it offered my mind an alternative to the crass consumer capitalism that was apparent in most American media TV and film programs.  Since I had probably watched over 1000 cinepoems, in a 10 year span, I felt that it may have even re-wired my brain in such a way that makes it almost impossible to watch most other types of movies, unless they are well-written and directed.

George Aguilar, November 2012

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