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Posts from the ‘Interviews + Views + Reviews’ Category

PoetryFilm: Semiotics and Multimodality

I was recently invited to contribute an essay about poetry films to a new magazine. The first issue of Poetryfilmkanal magazine, published in Weimar, Germany, is available as a printed edition and also in a digital version. Out now.

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PoetryFilm: Semiotics and Multimodality

I was recently invited to write an article for poetryfilmkanal’s online and print magazine in Germany. The article is live here and it is also pasted below. Many thanks to the team for the invitation.

PoetryFilm: Semiotics and Multimodality

Poetry films offer creative opportunities for exploring new semiotic modes and for communicating messages and meanings in innovative ways. Poetry films open up new methods of engagement, new audiences, and new means of self-expression, and also provide rich potential for the creation, perception and experience of emotion and meaning.

How do we create meanings? How do we perceive meanings? How do we experience these meanings? In any act of communication there’s a source, a sender, a message, a channel, and a receiver. The poetry film artform provides a means of exploring complex inter-semiotic relationships.

We are surrounded by communicative signs in literature, art, culture and in the world at large. Whilst words represent one system of communicating, there are many other ways of making meanings, for instance, colour semiotics, typographic design, and haptic, olfactive, gustatory and durational experiences – indeed, a comprehensive list could be infinite. The uses of spoken and written words to communicate represent just two approaches among many. Through using meaning-making systems other than words, by communicating without words, or by not using words alone, we can bypass these direct signifiers and tap directly into pools of meaning, or the signifieds, associated with those words. Different combinations of systems, or modes, can reinforce each other, render meanings more complex and subtle, or contrast with each other to illuminate different perspectives. Powerful juxtapositions, associations and new meanings can therefore emerge.

Visual design elements such as shapes and lines can be as effective as letters and words, and design principles are rooted firmly in the psychology of perception, so, there are good reasons why certain elements are more powerful than others. Shapes and forms are essential to visual vocabulary and visual grammar, and knowledge of design rationale and design thinking can help to create stronger visual artworks. It is important to note that absence is as valuable as presence in a semiotic context, for instance, silence is the absence of sound, the aural equivalent of the white space employed by gallery architects and by graphic designers, which can be very effective when used as a strategic element.

In this context, why does there seem to have been such a sudden rise in the popularity of poetry and film hybrids in recent years? Why are more people, Generation Z and beyond, turning to poetry and film to find means of expression in today’s media-saturated society? In the book The Sixth Language, the media ecologist and evolution specialist Robert K. Logan argues that speech, writing, maths, science, computing and internet use form an evolutionary chain of languages,and that new languages arise when information overload occurs, and the previous language can’t cope. New processing systems and new languages become necessary. We could take this idea further by suggesting that perhaps new artforms become necessary.

The term »media ecology« refers to the study of how communication channels affect human perception and understanding. Media ecologists argue that social and political change is actually caused by the current state of communication technology. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, developed by Benjamin Whorf, suggests that not only do language and grammar influence the way we form thoughts, but that language and grammar actually determine our thoughts, and determine our cognitive and perceptual abilities. The idea that the structure of language determines what people are even capable of conceiving is illustrated by George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which Newspeak is the fictional language designed to limit freedom of thought. This raises bigger questions … as a result of technological and social changes, is the way we think, and what we arecapable of thinking, changing too?

Crucially, variations occur in the reception of communicated transmissions because all signs need to be interpreted. The receiver of any meaningful transmission, or, any audience of a poetry film artwork, has to decode the full richness of the meaning and its associations through complex cognitive processes. The meanings we send and receive are not fixed. The receiver is fully involved in the decoding, and the decoding is dependent on perception.

Communication has always been multi-modal; however, today we seem to be moving towards an unprecedented consolidation of modes, and technology enables us to navigate these modes more easily. The understanding of semiotics and multimodality provides rich and valuable means for focussing and articulating critical readings of poetry film artworks.

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PoetryFilm is featured in the Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry

“Recent signs of poetic cine-literacy include Zata Kitowski’s PoetryFilm nights”

My PoetryFilm work is mentioned in the Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry (ed. Peter Robinson). Thanks to Sophie Mayer.

Oxford Handbook

Event Report, University of Liverpool (review of the Send & Receive symposium)

Below is a review of the Send & Receive: Poetry, Film & Technology in the 21st Century symposium, written by PhD student Ashwaq Basnawifor for The University of Liverpool’s Centre for New and International Writing website*.

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The Double Negative (review of the Send & Receive symposium)

Below is a review of the Send & Receive: Poetry, Film & Technology in the 21st Century symposium written by Jay Bernard for the arts criticism journal, The Double Negative.

Trade Tattoo, Len Lye. GB 1937. Courtesy of the Len Lye Foundation and The British Postal Museum and Archive. From material preserved and made available by the New Zealand Film Archive Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua

Film meets poetry meets technology: as FACT’s Type Motion exhibition draws to a close, Jay Bernard assesses the changing perception of poetry in an ever increasing digital age…

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“Send & Receive: Poetry, Film & Technology” symposium at FACT: transcript of presentation by Zata Banks

Click on the image to download the full transcript of the presentation given at the “Send & Receive: Poetry, Film & Technology in the 21st Centurysymposium at FACT Liverpool on Thursday 5 February 2015. (20 pages)

The content of this presentation is taken from Zata Banks’ ongoing poetry and film research. This presentation was written to provoke discussions about aspects of poetry, film and technology at the Send & Receive: Poetry, Film & Technology in the 21st Century symposium at FACT on 5 February 2015. Thanks to Roger McKinley for the invitation, and to the team at FACT. 

© Zata Banks 2015


“Separating and combining the senses” – Write Out Loud interviews Zata about the poetry film artform

Have you ever wondered about combining your poetry with film? Frances Spurrier interviews Zata Kitowski, director of PoetryFilm, about the creative possibilities involved in the art form.


Thank you for agreeing to talk to Write Out Loud about your project.  Can you begin by telling us about how PoetryFilm started?

I started PoetryFilm in 2002.  It was quite a niche genre back then as no-one else was really thinking much of combining poetry and film. The project arose also out of my personal practice as an artist and poet. The PoetryFilm project explores semiotics and meaning-making approaches of the art form.

How did the project develop?

Since 2002 there have been over 60 events, including screenings, festivals, live performances and talks. I have also given lectures and presentations at academic and other institutions, and I have judged poetry film competitions. PoetryFilm is now supported by Arts Council funding.

Sounds like you hit the ground running.  So what exactly would be involved for someone thinking of creating a piece of work based on a combination of film and poem?

There are different ways of approaching the art form. There might be a collaboration between a film maker and a poet but this does not have to be the case. An idea can start with a poem or with a film, or a piece of sound design, or a particular typography, or the work can emerge from a different angle.  There can be films based on poems, poems based on films, or material created as a unified artwork from the beginning. There can be text on screen, voiceover, or images can be used as the vocabulary. There can be sound films, there can be silent films. This is not a definitive list of approaches. There are many more.

How would you define the relation of the poem to the film and vice versa?

The question implies that there is a separation between the poem and the film. Some poetry films are created from the outset as a cohesive poetry film so in this way there is no separation. If the artwork did begin with a poem at the start of the creative process, or with a film, then there are various integration approaches. Duplicating the visual, verbal and aural content is a popular obvious interpretation; however, in my opinion, contrasting different elements is more powerful, playing with the presence (or absence of) words, images and sounds. The poetry film art form is a fertile and creative area to explore, and the project celebrates many different approaches, separating the senses and combining the senses.

And your personal practice as an artist?

My personal creative practice explores the creation, perception and experience of emotion and meaning. I have a four-week artist residency coming up in Iceland in January 2015, where I shall be developing new creative projects relating to science and art, inspired by volcanoes, boiling mud, and the Northern Lights. Arts Council England recently funded the cataloguing of the entire PoetryFilm Archive, which at present contains over 500 international artworks, and in March 2015 I shall be contributing a presentation about this archive to an AHRC-funded conference at Leeds University. In March I’m also travelling to CCCB Barcelona to deliver PoetryFilm programmes there.


Zata Kitowski is available to present curated programmes and talks about the PoetryFilm project and about the poetry film art form. If you are inspired to submit a piece of work to the project, or would like further information, please contact Zata at:

Further information about submissions can be found hereThe next event is PoetryFilm Solstice at the ICA in London on Sunday 21 December at 3pm: Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH. Tickets cost between £7 and £11 and are available from the ICA website

Many thanks to Frances Spurrier at Write Out Loud. Friday 2 January 2015 (first posted 18th December 2014).