Another Good Question

Watch on Vimeowatch lower-res version on YouTube

I recently took the time to completely re-do this videopoem, which was a break-through video for me when I first made it a year and a half ago. I’ve now replaced that original with this new version (one of the main advantages of Vimeo over YouTube is that it allows one to upload a new file for an already-posted video), but you can still read what I originally said about it back on February 5, 2009. It was the first poetry video I made with the text in a spoken-word soundtrack instead of as silent captions. But more than that, it was the first in which film and poem were equal partners in a kind of dance. The footage had come first, and the text about five days later, but both changed dramatically in the editing.

My impetus to re-do it was simply the feeling that the audio quality could be improved, now that I have better audio-editing skills and software (Adobe Audition). When I went to look for the text, I discovered that I had apparently never saved it — a very rare oversight, but perhaps indicative of the extent to which I saw it as component rather than end product. I had to transcribe it from the video:

A good question never satisfies the way one might expect. It’s not like a conviction. There’s no warm glow of satisfaction. Everyone tells you, That’s a good question! But they don’t know how it torments you in secret with its indifference and its perplexing transformations. Living with the questions is like living with a house full of cats. Wouldn’t you rather have an uninterrupted sleep? Wouldn’t you rather be numb? Sure you would. But getting there involves a brief and jarring realignment of molecules, a hot iron fry pan going into the water, that squeal no real voice can begin to answer.

Once transcribed, I could see that it might need work: wasn’t “in secret” better left implied? Isn’t “warm glow” a bit of a cliché? As I worked through a second draft, trying to figure out where to put in line breaks, it occurred to me to try recasting the poem as a series of questions. At this point, the title changed from “The Good Question” to simply “Good Question.” Here’s the text I ended up generating for the new version of the video:

What makes a good question “good”?
Why doesn’t it ever satisfy, the way a conviction does?
Why doesn’t it impart an incandescent glow
& draw lost moths to its semblance of a moon?

Why do people say “That’s a good question”
instead of simply admitting “I don’t know”?
Why does one good question turn into so many others the closer you get?
Why can’t it stay round & whole?

When a theologian advocates living with the questions,
should we presume he has a house full of cats?
And is it wrong to prefer an uninterrupted sleep?
What if all the best questions led only to despair?

But how can we rid ourselves of them
without a jarring realignment of molecules,
like a hot iron fry pan going into the water?
And how do you answer that brief, inhuman squeal?

If anything, I think the text is actually less suitable now as a stand-alone poem, but it might be a better match for the film images. The image of the moon/(implied) bulb, for example, as well as the “round and whole” bit, were influenced by the snowball imagery in the video. The idea of questions breeding more questions would help prepare the listener for that house full of cats, I thought. Despair entered on its own during the writing, but stayed because it seemed to form an additional feedback loop with the video imagery.

I experimented with different arrangements of the footage, but in the end went back almost to what I had at the beginning. I did decide to include music in the soundtrack this time, a piece by Michael Lambright from, licenced Attribution-Noncommercial under the Creative Commons. I wanted something from a solo instrument that was simulataneously spirited and a bit doleful, and “Poirot” seemed to fit the bill. The fact that its title referenced Agatha Christie’s famous fictional detective cemented the link.

I think the ending still needs work…


Over at the Moving Poems discussion blog, I’ve talked videopoetry pioneer Tom Konyves into sharing his latest “summary of videopoetry.” Here’s the essence of his definition:

Videopoetry is a genre of poetry displayed on a screen, distinguished by its time-based, poetic juxtaposition of text with images and sound. In the measured blending of these 3 elements, it produces in the viewer the realization of a poetic experience.

The poetic juxtaposition of the elements implies an appreciation of the weight and reach of each element; the method is analogous to the poet’s process of selecting just-the-right word or phrase and positioning these in a concentrated “vertical” pattern.

To differentiate it from other forms of cinema, the principal function of a videopoem is to demonstrate the process of thought and the simultaneity of experience, expressed in words — visible and/or audible — whose meaning is blended with but not illustrated by the images.

Please stop by and read the rest.

2 Replies to “Another Good Question”

  1. I like what you did with this. I remember watching the old version and being fascinated by those snowballs rolling out like endless questions. I think it works even better now with the poem structured as a series of questions.

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