Videotape
Andrew Zawacki. Counterpath Press, $14 paperback (128p) ISBN: 978-1-933996-34-9

Film and poetry share some interesting properties. Loosely speaking, both are laid out in long, sequential strips comprised of individual units. Each unit on its own makes little sense, yet when the linear strip is broadcast through some mechanism—the projected image to the eyeballs, the spoken word to the ears—a whole image is produced and consumed.

If we accept this functional simile, then what would we call Andrew Zawacki’s book-length poetry collection, Videotape, in filmic terms? Its scattered collection of loose scenes from around the world wouldn’t really qualify as a documentary, or any other genre one is likely to see at the megaplex. I see it as a home video collection. It was in an unmarked cardboard box, lost in the basement for many years. It’s damp, many of the tapes are damaged, and they are unlabeled. Slipping the forgotten tapes into the machine (recall that satisfying “ka-chunk” sound as the VCR accepts the cassette), you view the grainy scenes, memories from someone else. Broken scenes from a life that you don’t understand yet are compelled to watch.

Haloed by the devil’s own down- pour: stop motion poplars, in a platinum stutter, the binary code of gravity that pulls them toward the sod & solder their uv pro- gramming pushes them from ...

Zawacki’s shifty and impressionistic verse skips, cuts, and blurs the image, evoking eroding film stock. Though he avoids most emotional terms, the representation of the poems as damaged and beyond repair gives the book an undercurrent of decay and disuse. The thing about video tapes is that they are old, outdated, and almost considered (shudder) vintage.

. . . scrolling out from quinol clouds, by zoetrope or strobe: the moon, a strip of aluminum foil, stuck to the film stock - here

Again, if poetry is film and film poetry, what does it say about poetry to tie it so closely to a bygone technology? Has poetry lapsed into obsolescence too? I think it’s a little bit “yes” and a little bit “no”. Look to vinyl collectors, found-footage enthusiasts, classic 38mm revivalists, remix culture and ephemera hounds, where outmoded technologies are collected, discussed, dispersed, and loved despite their dust. Maybe Zawacki’s poems/tapes are like that, someone taking an old form, seeing possibilities in its age and imperfections, and projecting a bit of their weird light through it. (March 2013)

Purchase Videotape HERE.

Reviewer bio: Tom Taff lives and works in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
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