Southern B.C. is one of the most creative corners of Canada, but without a guide you’d never know it. Filmmakers give the cold shoulder to animators, novelists stare through playwrights, and so on. Artists in different disciplines don’t hang out at the same bars, and they rarely attend each other’s parties. In the Lower Mainland, the introspection upon which all creativity depends extends to the social scene as well.
This probably explains why Quebec-born, Bowen Island–based poet-curator Heather Haley discovered the hybrid discipline of video poetry while living abroad. In Vancouver to host the 10th-anniversary edition of Visible Verse at the Pacific Cinémathí¨que (1131 Howe Street) on Friday and Saturday (November 19 and 20), Haley explained to the Georgia Straight how she discovered her unusual vocation.
“I lived in Los Angeles for many years,” she said while sipping tea on Davie Street. “I was going to be a rock star,” she added, laughing. “A lot of exciting stuff was happening down there, in poetry and spoken word, in literature and film. There was a lot more cross-pollination between different disciplines than you find up here. I had a friend named Doug Knott who was a lawyer by day and a poet by night. He had a little cable station named Poetry TV, taking off on MTV and goofing on that. He was also producing video poems. I don’t know if he called them video poems, but he was making these little three-minute films based on his poetry, and they’re still my favourite video poems of all time. So when I returned to Canada, I decided to mount a showcase of video poetry. We had our festival at Video Out in 1999. Then I met a guy, originally from Montreal, named Tom Konyves, whose work goes back to the 1970s. I think he originally coined the phrase video poem. In any case, I started running into people who were doing the same sort of work.”
Even now, Haley—strongly influenced by poet-director Jean Cocteau—isn’t exclusively a visual poet. “When I write a poem,” she mused, “it doesn’t matter whether it’s for performance, page, or stage. I just write it the best I can, and if I want to adopt it to video, I do.”
Two of Haley’s video poems employ actors. As she explained, “I script my video poems. I come up with a shot list and write a script based on the text. I know exactly what I want from my actors. It’s like doing a film, really. The performances have to be spot-on.”
Although she sometimes works with slam poets, Haley admits, “I’m not that big on slam. I always say that poets aren’t pugilists. It’s tough enough being a poet without being pitted against other poets.”
For Haley, the thing to celebrate about the 10th anniversary of this exhibition of video poetry—known this year as See the Voice: Visible Verse 2010—is its “survival”. To this end, she’s assembled a formidable array of panellists, as well as some of her all-time favourite video poems (including “A Big Ball of Foil in a Small NY Apartment” by Knott).
So be there or be non–L.A. Be Vancouver. Be isolated.