1: Multimodality and Poetry

Growing up, I would write stories. To go along with these stories, I’d draw pictures that I thought captured the image that I had in mind. Little did I know at that age that if I put the two different interpretations of these narratives together, I would have a multimodal project. In Kristin Arola’s Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects, we learned that modes are ways of communicating such as the words we use to speak or write and the images we use to capture a moment (3). The written words of these stories were one mode while the drawn images were another. Much like the whimsy of childhood, my combination of drawing and writing weened off as I grew older.

Recently, I’ve found myself writing more poetry than stories and–thanks to this class–I’ve been wondering more and more about how to bring poetry to the multimodal world. One of the biggest and most popular ways I’ve found to do that is through recordings of poets reading their work; almost everyone has seen a spoken word poetry performance/slam poetry performance on YouTube (but if you haven’t, you should check Button Poetry!). What I’ve found interesting, however, is that I never took these as multimodal projects but they have many of the components mentioned in Writer/Designer (the linguistic, visual, and aural modes) (13-17). Many slam poetry videos include subtitles (linguistic) that follow along with the words spoken by the poet (aural). The visual aspect comes in through the way the poet expresses their words through the gestures they make and their body language. Combining all of these facets, the creators of these videos are producing multimodal works.

I thought this was the only way to work multiple modes into poetry until I stumbled across this video of Sarah Blake’s “A Day At The Mall Reminds Me Of America”. Feel free to check it out before I go on:

This adaptation of Blake’s poem is something that is called a motion poem. Motion poems are much like the videos of spoken word poems in that the poet/speaker reads the words originally written on a page. Occasionally, the motion poem might include subtitles, but this one doesn’t. When it comes to the visual, however, this is where it severs its connection with spoken word videos. Motion poems don’t rely on the poet on stage making gestures. Instead, they are short films which work with placement, lighting, and other visual cues to help add to the reader’s experience. In “The Magic of Multimodality”, Taj writes “modes help further develop the story and or message the author wants to convey to the readers”. Having images associated with the words in the poem allows for the reader to get a better understanding of the meaning of the poem or to even take a look at it in a whole new light. Having multiple modes truly enhances the experience for the readers and 10-year-old me would be blown away by the multimodal projects that are being created today.


Word Count: 502

Arola, Kristin L., et al. “What Are Multimodal Projects?” Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects, 2nd ed., Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2014.

wilsontj, The Magic of Multimodality. 30 January 2018.