AudiAnnotate’s design requiring layers for annotation helped me think through how the film placed poetry recitation—traditionally considered monologic, akin to soliloquy—in shot-reverse-shot sequences more frequently used for dialogue. Similar to this sense of poetic voice made public and dialogic, annotating the scenes I discuss in my chapter for AudiAnnotate allowed me to observe recurring elements of cinematography as they align with narrative. For instance, as Estrada et al. suggest that digital annotation tools create a stronger sense of scholarly self-awareness, I was able to more clearly notice the recurring use of shallow focus and tracking shots. These types of shots create tension between individual points of view and interiority, speaking to an ambiguous agency around poetic voice that resonates with theories of poetic voice as possession. Unlike using ELAN and Nvivo both of which were created for audiovisual annotation, I used AdobePremier, a film editing software, to create my annotations by inputting markers. This element of my method, while connected to usability and the ease of creating annotations in .tsv files for export, I believe allows film scholarship to align more with film editing instead of adapting the needs of film to software made for other disciplines. As for my completed AudiAnnotate project, I believe that by having annotations on AudiAnnotate of the scenes I analyze in my chapter my film scholarship (and the reader’s sense of it) starts to align the experience of viewing film with the experience of writing about it. Readers of my chapter will be able to see how my observations of film form, narrative, and dialogue, which shape my argument, are sourced within the moving image. This ties analysis more firmly to the artifact itself, which, unlike a film still, is situated in the scene’s time, space, and narrative movement.
A core element of creating annotations in the AudiAnnotate workflow involves shifting a holistic mode of analyzing film, where meaning-making and the observation of form occur simultaneously, to a more segmented and categorical mode of interpretation. Doing so, allowed me to more closely and intentionally observe moments when there is, in fact, overlap between multiple elements of film form. For instance, in the first scene, I annotated, a scene in which Jimmy the kindergarten student utters what his teacher understands as a poem called “Anna,” I created a number of different categories for understanding the scene’s details that would correspond to layers: cinematography, dialogue, editing, poetry recitation. Layers allow users to create different categories for presenting their annotations as necessary for their research purposes in the AudiAnnotate workflow. But as film form often stresses the simultaneity of its elements, it was impossible for these categories to remain distinct, as such many layers combine into ones like “cinematography and dialogue” or “cinematography, editing and recitation” (Bursztajn-Illingworth). However, as I made the distinction between “recitation” and “dialogue” for the sake of clarifying my layers in AudiAnnotate, I noticed something odd. A good deal of poetry recitation on screen typically occurs using voiceovers that layer voice over the image. This is the case in both narrative films about poetry—like Jane Campion’s Bright Star about the life of Keats—and in experimental films created by poets, like Claudia Rankine’s Situation Videos. But in The Kindergarten Teacher, a narrative film using poetry by Kaveh Akhbar and Ocean Vuong, poetry recitation is edited into shot-reverse-shot sequences more typical of dialogue. By approaching my analysis of the film through digital annotation, I was able to notice how the poetry recitation that occurs in The Kindergarten Teacher, whether recited by Jimmy (the kindergartener) or Lisa (his teacher who later plagiarizes his poetry as her own), occurs as dialogue rather than a monologic voiceover overlaying the images on screen.
Moreover, this perspective on how the film stages poetic recitation as dialogue resonates with recent attempts to complicate monologic theories of voice in lyric poetry. For instance, John Stuart Mills’s characterization of poetic voice in “What is Poetry?” (1833) sets in motion the Romantic and post-Romantic idea of lyric voice as univocal. Mills characterizes poetry as “overheard” and, by definition, “of the nature of soliloquy” unlike the “heard” and addressed quality of eloquence (1216). Jimmy’s recitation of his poems as he paces back and forth would appear to fall within the type of solitary speech (that is also performance) that Mills parallels with the actor on the stage:
What we have said to ourselves, we may tell to others afterwards; what we have said or done in solitude, we may voluntarily reproduce when we know that other eyes are upon us. But no trace of consciousness that any eyes are upon us must be visible in the work itself. The actor knows that there is an audience present; but if he acts as though he knew it, he acts ill. (1216)
At the beginning of The Kindergarten Teacher, Jimmy’s sense of the boundary between public and private speech seems permeable: the poem is mumbled to himself but may or may not be overheard by others; the poem may be recorded or effaced. By using the AudiAnnotate workflow, which by design makes the user think categorically about audiovisual analysis, I came a conclusion that contrasted editing and cinematography. The private poetic speech, figured in shallow focus cinematography, that isolates the poet from the world around him becomes dialogic through the film’s editorial choice to figure Jimmy’s poetic voice as inscribed within Lisa’s gaze. Using the AudiAnnotate workflow for other scenes in The Kindergarten Teacher involving poetry performance, which I have titled “The Bull” and “Jimmy Performs at the Bowery” in my AudiAnnotate project, it becomes clear that The Kindergarten Teacher posits poetry recitation not as solely aural and expressive, but as inscribed within the communicatory gaze of the other. This sense of poetry recitation as creating a communicatory exchange through the gaze, in which poetic voice belongs not only to the speaker alone, echoes the film’s plot in which Lisa, the kindergarten teacher, overhears Jimmy (her student) uttering what she takes to be poetry. Lisa transcribes Jimmy’s words and presents them as her own for a poetry workshop where her own writing had been overlooked; ultimately, after revealing that Jimmy is the poems’ author during a public performance at The Bowery, Lisa attempts to kidnap the boy. The Kindergarten Teacher’s narrative weaves a cautionary tale about poetry’s social power.
While creating a research use case for the AudiAnnotate workflow elucidated the dialogic mode of editing used to film poetic recitation in The Kindergarten Teacher, this characterization of poetic voice as dialogic also resonates with current ideas of poetic voice that stress the importance of address in poetry. In Poetry’s Touch, William Waters argues that Mills’s theory of lyric poetry as definitively “overheard” fails to capture a more ambivalent relationship between public and private uses of language. In a chapter on “Poems Addressing Contemporaries,” Waters evaluates the last line of T.S. Eliot’s poem “A Dedication to My Wife”—“These are private words addressed to you in public” (20)—to suggest that:
[P]oetry, its stylization of the basic gesture of address into a quasi-ritual form, may be said to have placed the “private words” into a “public” communicative framework even before, and, independent of, their publication…the words are private, even as they may call attention to the way this privacy is changed by the same “listening” of nonaddressed bystanders that the words’ utterance as poetry may be said to license. (20)
The ambivalent stance on poetic address that Waters articulates—in which singular address such as that in Eliot’s “A Dedication to My Wife” or the found text of William Carlos Williams’s note to his wife in “This is Just to Say” is necessarily public by virtue of poetry being a “quasi-ritual form” in which private words are transformed by their context as public—resonates with the ambiguity of placing an unaddressed lyric “I” into a form of film editing typical for dialogue. Since Jimmy is five or six years old, it is hard to know whether he conceives of his poetic utterances as “poetry” until Lisa describes them as such. However, it is clear that the camera shoots his utterances as if they were poetry by placing them into the film’s visual lexicon for poetic performance.
Similarly, creating my research use case for AudiAnnotate’s workflow facilitated new theoretical insights about the film’s cinematography by throwing this feature of film form into relief when I created an individual layer for it. For instance, I have mentioned the use of shallow focus while both Lisa and Jimmy recite poetry like “Anna” and “The Bull.” Shallow focus creates a sense of the subject in sharper focus against a more impressionistic background. This cinematographic choice conjures the sense of the performer at an otherworldly remove despite the shot-reverse-shot sequences placing the subject in a social context. The use of tracking shots of Lisa while Jimmy performs “The Bull” at The Bowery Ballroom create a similar tension between poetry as public and private, but through differences in audio and visual focus. In Poetry and the Fate of the Senses, Susan Stewart theorizes poetic voice as a form of “possession;” that is, Stewart argues that voice in the lyric is marked by such ambiguities around agency. She pinpoints “an anxiety [that] accompanies the idea of poetic will” about “whose agency is speaking in the poetic voice” as an essential quality of voice in lyric poetry: “When actors become recipients of actions, when speakers, speak from the position of listeners, when thought is unattributable and intention wayward, the situation of poetry is evoked” ( Stewart 111). It is exactly this situation of poetry, blurring the lines between speaker and listener, that I have been able to underscore by using a digital method to create more fine-grained distinctions in my analysis of The Kindergarten Teacher.