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Mixing It Up: Experimenting with Mixed-Media Literature

By Jay Paine

For the past couple of years, I have mainly been composing written art, art that exists only as text on a page. However, I’ve lately been getting the itch to create more aurally and visually focused works, works that include sounds and images like music, photographs, and drawings. I often experimented with all these media in high school: I would play jazz music on my trumpet and mess around with my dad’s collection of cameras. I would draw elaborate portraits, and—of course—I composed lots and lots of poetry. Poetry was my favorite, so much so that I believed that if I wanted to be a serious poet, I would need to narrow my focus to just poetry, but I’ve now realized that that belief was holding me back. There’s no reason why I can’t write my poems and snap some photographs too. Nothing is stopping me, and taking things one step further, nothing is stopping me from mixing my poetry with my pictures and other artistic endeavors; i.e., nothing is stopping me from creating mixed-media literature.

Mixing the literary medium with other media like photography, painting, music, drawings, film, etc., is known as mixed-media literature. More works fall into this category than you might think. Picture books fall into the mixed-media category because they contain written text and illustrations. Comic books do, too, for the same reason. Recorded poems that exist on the page and in an aural format also count, and I’m speaking about mixed-media literature broadly, but many subcategories exist like video poetry, which is precisely what the name implies: poems accompanied by moving images and often narration and soundtrack. Video poetry is the subcategory of mixed-media literature that I like to experiment with most.

What I love most about mixed-media literature, especially video poetry, is that it gives me an excuse to experiment with other media. Although I’m reconnecting with media like music and photography, I’m also experimenting with media that I hadn’t previously experimented with. For example, I painted a picture using acrylics for the first time. If it had not been for the fact that one of my video poems suddenly called for an acrylic art installation (my muses take me to some wild places when I play with mixed-media), I probably never would have given the acrylic medium a fair chance or a serious attempt. I’ve also messed around with video editing software like Adobe Premiere Rush. Although I still have a long way to go before I can consider myself a proficient video editor, it is still satisfying when I edit something and it turns out presentable or pretty good. At the very least, my experimentation shows me new ways to create.

I have found that experimenting with mixed-media literature has helped me see my own creative work from new angles. Even if I never go on to take amazing photographs, paint stellar acrylic paintings, or edit awesome videos, I will at the very least have experimented with the many forms my work can take on. My work never has to be just a poem; it can be a poem and a picture, a poem and a video, and so much more. If you’re feeling the urge to mess around with media that you’ve long abandoned or experiment with a kind of art that you’ve not yet tried, go for it, and try using it alongside the genre you prefer writing. I’ve mainly discussed poetry since that is what I usually write, but nothing stops you from doing the same with fiction or nonfiction. The main thing is that you’re mixing up and exploring your full artistic potential.

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