Local poets putting words in motionby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis, Minn. — In Minneapolis Tuesday night, some local poets are going to get animated - or at least their verses will move. They hope to shake up the poetry world with what they call Motionpoems.
Todd Boss is remarkably successful for a poet. Last year, a big name publisher - Norton - put out his collection "Yellowrocket."
He's also the self-appointed poet laureate of Nina's Coffee Cafe in St. Paul, where he organizes regular readings. So he knows about the challenges facing his art form.
"The problem with poetry is its distribution method," he said.
He said there's great poetry being written today, but he said no one is reading it.
"And the reason is because it's packaged in a book," Boss said. "So you have to buy the whole book if you want to read the poetry, which is daunting for most people."
About a year ago, Boss decided one possible solution in this screen-dominated world is animating poetry. U.S. poet Laureate Billy Collins successfully tried it.
It turned out Minneapolis animator Angella Kassube, herself a poetry fan, was thinking along the same lines. She introduced herself to Boss at a Nina's reading.
"We had e-mailed back and forth some, and I thought he would probably recognize my name, which he did - but he pronounced it wrong," she said.
That was soon forgotten as they began talking over the possibilities. Of course saying you are going to animate a poem and actually doing it are two very different things, as Kassube readily admits.
"It's intimidating," she said. "I still feel like I have this precious thing and I don't know what the rules are."
She began working on a poem by Boss, kicking around some ideas they discussed.
"Eventually you just start, and you start doing something and it just becomes sort of an evolution, and then you end up with something that's usually pretty good," she said.
"Constellations" was the first piece Kassube and Boss did together. As Boss speaks, his words fly by on-screen, set against a backdrop of ancient star-maps and deftly-drawn rockets. There have been many more animations since, and Boss recruited other poets while Kassube roped in her colleagues to produce what Boss calls a menagerie of animated poetry.
"They're funky little, sort of animated commercials almost, but they are not trying to sell you anything, so that's what makes them kind of refreshing," Boss said.
Unless you consider a motionpoem as an ad for poetry. Each has a different look and feel. Major Jackson's poem "Even Strangers are not Strangers" takes a suggestive edge as crisscrossing wires briefly assume the curve of the human form.
Meanwhile, Freya Manfred's "Swimming into Winter" is set against film shot underwater.
"It gives me chills right now just thinking about it because it's so beautiful," said Kassube. "And her voice is just incredible."
The poets and animators will show 12 poems at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis Tuesday night. They'll talk about how they produced the words and the images.
However, Todd Boss will be looking to the audience for feedback and suggestions from the audience on what to do next with the motion poems.
"It feels like we are on the edge of something whose time has come, but again I have no idea where this stuff will land," he said.
Boss would love to get the Motionpoems shown on TV, or as part of a film festival. And of course there is always the internet. "Constellations" that early Motionpoem, has been viewed almost 3,000 times on YouTube.
- Morning Edition, 10/19/2009, 6:25 a.m.