In Scott Laudati’s Bones – Can Music Videos Save Poetry?

Modern poetry is breaking the bounds of tradition - are music videos the next stage in the resurrection of this medium of art?

Chances are you haven’t noticed, but poetry has experienced something of a revival recently. Love her or loathe her, Rupi Kaur’s collections have been flying off shelves, with no intention of stopping, faster than you can say ‘Instagram poetry is shit’. Claudia Rankine’s brilliant and experimental Citizen: An American Lyric was a New York Times bestseller, and, inextricably, Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers could be found on the front table of Waterstones’s up and down the nation throughout 2016.

In her brilliant article for Impact’s 250th print issue, Shanai Momi explored ‘The Power of Student Poetry’, especially in terms of spoken-word, which is “a brilliant and creative way for young people to vocalise their opinions on current affairs and fulfil their demands to be heard”.

Popularised and made accessible by YouTube channels such as Button Poetry, spoken word events and poetry societies can now be found all across the country, especially in university towns, with the society and campus cultures facilitating the ability to meet fellow proponents of what is largely seen as a fading art scene.

But it is not just spoken word poetry that is experiencing a renewal. Books, no longer bound to either traditional methods of printing and typography or even the page, now allow poets a near-infinite way to present their written work in a way which might appeal to larger audiences than the eggshell pages and sparse covers of more established publications.

“New poets recognise that the use of multi-media can break poetry out of the academy, and into the kaleidoscope world of mainstream appeal”

Kaur’s simple stanzas are elevated by her minimalist drawings, Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead utilises typography in a way that would make E. E. Cummings proud, and the aforementioned Citizen contains a portrait gallery within its pages. Increasingly, such ‘avant-garde’ collections can be seen shelved alongside debuts from conventional presses, as new poets recognise that the use of multi-media can break poetry out of the academy, and into the kaleidoscope world of mainstream appeal.

Scott Laudati’s second collection, Bone House, released earlier this year, does not rely on any of the same tricks as the above. There is nothing but words in this 97-page book, which builds on Insta-poetry’s foundations (the confessional lyric; direct address; simple, recognisable imagery which does not challenge readers but seeks to evoke a feeling through juxtaposition with abstractions; the steady control of metre ridding the voice of ambiguity) to construct poems more ‘full length’ than those confined to a single image or post.

Many of these poems are as much short stories as they are poems, and Laudati possesses a keen eye the majority of his contemporaries (and yes, there are tens of thousands posting poetry on the net) lack. ‘Buffalo Bones’ is a particularly stellar example, and it is on this poem that Laudati has applied his experimentalist stamp – a poetry ‘music video’.

The video, bursting with influence from the dub poetry of the ’70s (where poets would record their verse over reggae beats), combines images, a calculated reading of the poem, and necessarily life-affirming music to craft a perfect trailer to inspire conversation about the collection.

A collection which – though far from bad – won’t change the world. But that’s not the point. Just like the Insta-poets before him, Laudati has found a new and exciting way to promote his work to audiences who might never have even considered going near the poetry section of a bookshop before. If music videos can shift albums, why can’t they do the same for poetry collections?

“Video art has been combining spoken word, images, and sparse music for decades”

It mightn’t be the most original idea in the world (video art has been combining spoken word, images, and sparse music for decades, and people have posted stand-alone ‘visual poems’ (whose lyrical prowess are often softened by the author’s acknowledgement that its words will be elevated through accompanying media) on YouTube before, but by promoting a poetry collection with a ‘music video’ – that might be one of the ways the genre might really be rescued from dusty bookshelves, and put back to where it belongs: in the mouths and ears of people.

Matteo Everett

Image courtesy of Scott Laudati.

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