John Bresland Video Essay

Thirteen years ago, when we first started reading each other’s work, I was under the impression that I was a poet and John was an anti-poet, entirely opposed to poetry.

I began to suspect that I had been wrong about this when I watched the rough cut of “Zero Station”.

Biss has established herself as an admired poet and essayist whose writing is celebrated for its lyrical beauty and intellectual precision.

Bresland has masterfully pioneered what he calls the video essay, a form that re-envisions the traditional written essay and argues for understanding video as our culture’s most powerful and prevalent form of contemporary rhetoric.

It was dense, intricate, highly dependent on association, and visually rich but so textually spare as to demand quite a bit of interpretation on the part of the viewer — in other words, it operated very much like a poem. And now John has made an even more explicit foray into poetry with his adaptation of David Trinidad’s.

Meanwhile, I’m writing work that strikes some readers as less lyric and less obviously inflected by poetry than my early work.

I would say, too—and it’s occurring to me now that I sound defensive, but probably I’m just being offensive—is that her writing might be seen as less lyrical these days because she has something to say. One can certainly have something to say in poetry, but it’s true that I didn’t privilege overt lyricism in my most recent book. EB: In retrospect it seems to me like we needed to establish ourselves somewhat in our solo work before collaborating. But I remember feeling ready to be jostled out of my groove as a writer when the idea of working on “Ode” came up.

When you have something to say, when you express your convictions with clarity and control, nobody outside the academy cares about the form, or whether it’s lyrical of whether, like, there’s white spaces between the paragraphs. It was a concern, but it wasn’t the most urgent pressure on the work. And my desire for that kind of jostling has really only increased since then.

—is that I lack the robust sensorium one requires to detect the less “lyrical” bent to Eula’s recent writings. I was bagging on essayists—the beautiful ones who obsess over form at the expense of a potent confrontation with their subject. Several years later, after the birth of our son, when neither of us was getting much writing done, a Chicago-based journal by the name of asked if I had any new video work. But it seemed easier to manage a new project — between feedings, between trips to the pediatrician — if Eula and I were to team up, share the work, and author a video essay together.

If anything, I would argue that her sentences carry a more subtle tune these days, and tend to be coiled more tightly—and deliver a harder punch. The ability and desire to transform the mundane materials at hand that we both bring into the collaboration well beyond the sum total of the parts – to birth a new baby neither of us could claim single parentage of.


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