»We want to bridge a gap between the international poetry film world and the UK poetry world. We want poetry film to be mainstream in the poetry life of the UK, not seen as merely an attempt to illustrate poetry, but as poetry in itself – a unique poetry art form.«
Poetry film has slow-burned its way into poetry establishments in the UK. The National Poetry Award, in collaboration with The Poetry Society, commissions poetry films for the winning poems. Poetry festivals and events have been increasingly inviting poetry films into their programmes. In addition, film and art schools have been promoting poetry film as a way to get work onto the film festival circuit. And poetry and visual and sound installations have been seen frequently in galleries.
Spoken word on film is taking off dramatically, and now, more than ever, this unique genre of poetry film needs platforms where the best can be celebrated. Apples and Snakes have been alone for too long in showcasing spoken word on film. Hollie McNish and Kate Tempest have both won the Ted Hughes poetry award for new work in poetry (this year’s shortlist contained three spoken word poets, including Hollie). Hollie’s spoken word poetry film has been shown widely on popular media. Television adverts have also recently included spoken word poetry film, particularly memorable is Jo Bell’s performance for Nationwide.
Collaborative region and city poetry and film projects have been highlighted on Poetry Film Live. Coventry’s Disappear Here project, led by Adam Steiner, has celebrated Coventry’s ring road with 27 new poetry films made by 18 poets and filmmakers. The aim was to »make people see the city of Coventry in a different light … and will inspire others to write/read/experience poetry in its many forms … as well as sparking interest in the new and developing genre of poetry films«. Poetry Film Live also recently featured Bun Stop, the poetry film by Dan Douglas and Paul Summers who set out to »find beauty in the grimiest parts of Newcastle« which is the first in an anticipated series of poetry films about the north-east of England. We ourselves are developing a similar project with Poetry Swindon, in the south of England, to take place in 2018.
Academia has embraced poetry film in some places and not in others. Schools are often willing for us to talk about, and show, poetry films, but there is limited funding available. Universities have invited us to talk about poetry film but this is often on the edge of the curriculum (a notable exception being Bath Spa University, influenced, one suspects, by Lucy English). Liberated Words, the UKs leading poetry film festival, began life as a one-day curated screening as part of MIX – Merging Intermedia Conference 2012 at Bath Spa University, which Sarah Tremlett and Lucy founded and co-organised. Elsewhere, other practice led symposiums exploring multimedia work often include poetry film in the line up.
Two other projects that promote poetry film in the UK are PoetryFilm and Filmpoem. PoetryFilm is a research art project and screening series founded by Zata Banks. The PoetryFilm Archive includes over 1,000 artworks of experimental text/image/sound screening and performance. Filmpoem is an artists’ moving image project founded by Alastair Cook. Filmpoem delivers education and community projects as well as producing and promoting the work of poets, filmmakers and composers. Filmpoem collaborates with organisations such as the Poetry Society and Poetry International.
So, why Poetry Film Live? Well, we want to bridge a gap between the international poetry film world and the UK poetry world. We want poetry film to be mainstream in the poetry life of the UK, not seen as merely an attempt to illustrate poetry, but as poetry in itself – a unique poetry art form. And we want poet-made films, and poets and filmmaker collaborative works, to thrive and be seen.
At Poetry Film Live we resist a clear-cut definition of poetry film, and look instead for a strong poetic experience that is experienced in the relationship of words (written or spoken) to music, voice, sounds, visuals, daily human activity, performance and dance. We are conscious that sometimes, in the words of Simon Armitage, »the poetry can become facile because it’s a subtitle« to the film.
We decided early on that we wanted to partner with a written poetry journal in order to open up the creative opportunities for exploring and communicating poetry in new ways, to established as well as emerging poets. We want to show poets that poetry film brings new audiences and can become a vehicle that enables the poem to travel the distance from the poet to others to make an impact on someone, somewhere. The current editor of The Interpreter’s House, Martin Malone, understands that poetry film is more than just a supplement to, or illustration of, the real content of the magazine. We are therefore, delighted that this new and exciting partnership evolved. The Interpreter’s House is in its 23rd year, so it knows a thing or two about the need to embrace change and opportunity.
Poetry Film Live welcomes submissions of poetry film, articles on poetry film and interviews with practitioners and researchers of poetry film.
Our own personal practices include developing poetry film within a collaborative framework. Collaboration demands a high level of flexibility, good communication, respect, mindfulness, and trust. It challenges egos and requires a willingness to stay open to challenges and changes that come up, being aware of self-motivations and asking, ›what is the driving force behind what you hope to achieve‹. This is what poetry film should be about. It is a vehicle of communication, ideally towards making links and connections with people and places that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.
From the outset we have wanted our work to be underpinned by an ethic and an aesthetic that reflected ourselves as the artists we want to be. The extraordinary alchemy of poetry film, as word and other elements align, can make poetry an active participant in the world – to carry spiritual, political, and sociological messages. Poetry film has the capacity to show what it is to be human-and-engaged with individuals, community and the wider world.
We teach, and lead workshops, in community settings and universities. Where a poet and filmmaker work together, we urge the poet to make themselves available to the filmmaker, to highlight text issues, help with interpretations and to be confident enough to make suggestions. Likewise, the filmmaker is encouraged to make themselves available to the poet and pro-actively seek the poet’s input.
What is up next?
Poetry film needs to be accessible to everyone. We are currently researching the impact of sound levels and cinema type environments on audiences, particularly in relation to mental well-being and noise sensitivity. We would be interested to know anyone’s experience of this.
We are also delighted to be supporting, with poetry film, the British Sign Language poetry of Paul Scott and the vocal gestures of Victoria Punch. For Britain’s native sign language community, poetry is a linguistic, visual, kinesthetic and visceral experience. Form in sign language poetry is created through play with language, space, image and movement. For Scott’s live performance, Kyra Pollitt (BSL translator) has analysed the image rhyming in his poems, to create a basic score onto which Victoria Punch has mapped a series of vocal gestures (inspired by the Estill method). Our poetry film, simultaneously superimposed onto the live performance, will enable access to the content of the poems for those who don’t sign.
Chaucer Cameron, Helen Dewbery
About the Authors
Chaucer Cameron and Helen Dewbery are the editors of Poetry Film Live. Chaucer is a poet who has been published in journals, anthologies and online. Helen is a member of the Royal Photographic Society and has trained in contemporary photography and film. They also work collaboratively under the name Elephant’s Footprint. Their work includes: poetry films, poetry film screenings and curations, designing augmented poetry performances, and creative-writing and poetry-film workshops in community and poetry settings. They have co-edited three collections of poetry and image. They are currently working on two projects funded by Arts Council England: Wild Whispers – an international multi-media poetry film translation project, and developing the concept of poetry film collections as a genre of poetry film. Chaucer and Helen also work with Poetry Swindon on their year-round programme of poetry film activities in Swindon’s diverse communities and at their annual poetry festival.