by M.A. Keller
An example of my preliminary questions about captioning poetry can be found in my previous Birdlab blog entry “Searching for Captioning Best Practice—Poetry.” The post provides just a few examples of problems the journal staff faced while trying to create and refine captions for a reading of untitled short poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt published in v17n2 of Blackbird.
Colleagues who do not work in production have an overly optimistic view that “we’ll just look at what someone else is doing” to find a solution; then the publications/organizations offered as sources are not doing any captioning of video at all, so where to start? The Poetry Foundation has one article referencing closed captioning “Poets, Turn on Your Close [sic] Captions,” but it centers not on delivery of poetry to deaf and hearing impaired communities, but how (presumably hearing) writers can use the poor quality of closed captioning in general to find idea for poems through error and ridiculous juxtapositions created by mechanical (auto) captioning.
“Should poems and other quoted material be captioned as they were originally written?” asked Sean Zdenek in a 2011 blog post titled “Iambic Pentameter Captions?” His answer to that (in short, “yes,” but be sure to read Zdenek’s entire post) aligns squarely my thinking, even as Zdenek points out limitations of line length in differing captioning formats. Zdenek is an associate professor at University of Delaware whose work centers on captioning and disability studies; I have previously distributed to student editors the first chapter of his Reading Sounds: Closed-Captions and Popular Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2015).
I have just recently discovered, as a base stylebook for captioning,The Captioning Key, a resource provided by the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) as “funded by the U.S. Department of Education and administered by the National Association of the Deaf.”
Blackbird Production Goals for Closed-Captioning Poetry
1. Use The Captioning Key as a base stylebook, and Zdenek’s call for an awareness of the poetic line in captioning (within character-display constraints), to develop a guide to best practice for captioning poetry.
2. Determine if Blackbird student editors and staff can readily execute these guidelines with current tools.
3. If primary VCU tool (Kaltura) is limited or difficult, search for a solution in our existing software library and/or look for another software solution
4. In discussion and planning, keep both product and process in mind; this isn’t just about producing “good enough” ADA compliant text; it is about teaching student interns and editors how to produce a product that best serves the audience and the genre. To that end, outsourcing undercuts the journal’s educational mission as well as our possible contribution toward developing best practice.
5. Use “A Reading from Kyrie” in v17n2 as a test case and proof-of-concept.
DCMP’s The Captioning Key opens with the logic of breaking text for readability under the section “Line Division,” stating “When a sentence is broken into two or more lines of captions, it should be broken at a logical point where speech normally pauses.” A series of clear examples follows, suggesting that captioning tools should readily allow control of the breaks and arrangement of text in any given caption window.
Poetry, however, complicates “the logical point[s] where speech normally pauses.” Because of this, the logic the The Captioning Key applies to prose may not be the best practice for poetry. What is the responsibility of a captioner to privilege the boundary of the line over the sentence when captioning poetry?
As I work on preliminary questions, at first solo, and then later with student editors, I will append my progress below in this document to keep discovery adjacent to the initial questions. From there, I’ll decide if something has the weight to warrant further explanation in a separate post.
Interview with Adam Pottle, author of Voice: On Writing with Deafness
Ableism, captioning, deaf culture, writing, etc., February 27, 2019
Designing Captions: Disruptive experiments with typography, color, icons, and effects
Sean Zdenek’s web text on experimental captioning in Kairos 23.1, Fall 2018