Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa, composer Stephen Moore and filmmaker Peter Madden have collaborated on a powerful filmpoem dedicated to Savita Halappanavar, who died on 28 October 2012, at University Hospital Galway in Ireland, of complications from a miscarriage after the hospital refused to perform an abortion. As people around the world celebrate their real or imagined Irishness today, it might be worth remembering some of the less savory aspects of St. Patrick’s legacy — or perhaps, to put it in a more positive way, some of the figurative serpents that still remain for Patrick’s spiritual descendents to cast out of Ireland.
The poem, originally titled “Recovery Room, Maternity Ward,” may be read in Numéro Cinq, which featured the video along with this description from the poet:
My poem Waking gives voice to a woman waking up in the recovery room of a maternity hospital. At the core of this poem is the sense of disorientation, loneliness and loss that follows a miscarriage. This is an experience that is, sadly, not unfamiliar to me, personally.
I chose to dedicate Waking to the memory of Savita Halappanavar, whose appalling death while under the care of the Irish maternity system left many in shock. She was admitted to hospital while suffering a miscarriage, and despite her repeated requests to terminate her pregnancy, she was denied the procedure that would have saved her life. Savita’s death led to many protests both in Ireland and abroad, where protestors demanded a review of Irish law that prevented her from accessing the abortion that would have saved her life. I would wish nothing more for Savita than to allow her the treatment she needed in order to wake up and draw breath, and it angers and saddens me to live in a country where a woman must die in order for society to effect essential constitutional change.
I am very grateful to the talented filmmaker Peter Madden for interpreting my poem visually with a sensitivity that I believe honours those many, many women who each year suffer the pain of miscarriage in silence. The haunting soundtrack is an original musical composition by guitarist Stephen Moore that adds further depth to the collaboration.
A film adaptation by Peter Madden of a piece originally titled “Skype,” by the bilingual Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Madden first released an English version, about which he noted: “This is basically a performance based video, Doireann simply reads the poem on skype.” Then he made Glaoch (embedded above): “Shot to the same beat as its English version ‘Call’ it varies only very slightly, echoing the changes that occur in translation.”
Both films were part of a recent feature of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s poetry in Numéro Cinq, which includes her statement about this poem:
Glaoch/Call is a consideration of modern life and love. I am intrigued by the multiple paradoxes of contemporary life — we are more connected than ever through technology, and yet there often remains a fundamental disconnect between us, an emotional distance, a fundamental interpersonal detachment. This poem arose from dissonance between these opposing constructs, and our collaboration in film seeks to further explore this matter.
I know I don’t post nearly as many performance videos here as I could. Sometimes that’s because the poetry is too didactic (a common failing especially of spoken-word poetry, in my view), but more often than not because the filming simply isn’t imaginative enough. But this film, short as it is, proves that a talented filmmaker can transform a performance video into something wonderful — and perhaps transcend the genre altogether. This could just as easily be classed as a videopoem/filmpoem that happens to feature the poet.
Then of course there’s the pleasure of watching and hearing a poem read in another language while reading a good translation in subtitles. That’s one of the things that most interests me about poetry video in general: the way it can be used to bring the music of poetry in other languages across, at the same time helping poets who write in languages with relatively small numbers of speakers to reach a global audience.
Irish poet Dave Lordan’s stirring recitation is backed up by music from Sunn O))) and an inspired cut-up of a movie about the Titanic, A Night to Remember (1958). Though I post a lot of videos that remix old film footage here at Moving Poems, I thought it was pretty unusual to make such a lengthy poetry film all from a single source—and one on the same subject as the poem. So I asked the video editor, Eamonn Crudden, to comment. Here’s what he wrote.
I made the video for “The Fucking Titanic”in about 20 hours over two days. Dave knew that his book of prose experiments—First Book of Frags—was about to come out and asked me to get involved in making a video for one of the pieces.
He left the choice of piece up to me and I picked the Titanic one because, reading it online months earlier, I had been struck by the ‘voice’ of the poem—a proletarian female voice cursing her fellow passengers on the Titanic, and the world generally, from beyond a watery grave. I imagined her voice condemning those on the upper levels of the ship, to reliving the disaster over and over for all eternity.
That thought was the hard work in the process of making something for Dave! The rest was really just a mechanical process. I knew that with any dramatized reconstruction I could get my hands on I could capture that thought. It would be as simple as putting the ‘voice’ in the piece over footage of the disaster in progress.
I have made a number of quite experimental films in the last few years—constructing new stories using original monologues (of my own usually) and combining these with edits of my own footage and footage drawn from films that come to hand. Dave knew about my approach so I guessed, without ever directly asking him, that he’d be OK with a piece made through appropriation.
He made a rapid voice recording at my request and e-mailed it to me. I decided to work by having a look at A Night To Remember—an old black and white film about the Titanic. I downloaded and started to watch a just-OK rip of it ‘in’ Final Cut Pro. As I viewed it, sometimes at double and triple speed, I started to strip out all of the dialogue scenes, keeping the unfolding action sequences, and started to make a sub-selection of resonant images that would suit being looped. I knew the moment I first tried looping some of those more resonant shots over the reading and the soundtrack by Sunn O)) that I had a crescendo to build up to. I then started into editing a fast summary of what was left of the film when the dialogue was removed and immediately knew that the almost ‘nouvelle vague’ feel that resulted, combined with a crescendo based on loops, would work as an approach for the whole piece.
I don’t feel bad or guilty about this kind of appropriation at all. It is not as if I or Dave will profit from the venture. I think the quite compelling nature of the result justifies the approach. I am primarily an editor and editing to me is a creative activity. The creative part of my work on it was a simple choice of music and of an existing text to rifle for imagery. Maybe it is useful to compare this approach to VJing? I don’t think there is ‘originality’ in the video—but as a little machine to heighten the intensity of Dave’s piece I think it works. That’s enough for me. I heartily recommend this cheap and dirty approach to others who want to give their poetry and writing a visual element.
To order a copy of First Book of Frags, see the Wurm Press website.
Like Judith Dekker’s lark, this is a videopoem made from a passage of poetic prose: in this case, the unpublished novel The Affection of a Hag by Irish writer Emer Martin. Daragh McCarthy is the producer, editor, composer and reader, with filming by Richard Donnelly (see Vimeo for the complete credits). McCarthy writes,
I came across the work of Emer Martin in a copy of Stinging Fly magazine that a friend left in my flat on a winter evening in 2011.
Leafing through the contents I was struck by the title “going underground” in the novel extracts section, as I had made a film about the Dublin punk rock scene “The Stars Are Underground”.
Reading the character’s monologue in my kitchen I realised I was speaking it out loud, caught up in the rhythm. The words felt like an anger cheat sheet and history lesson and I immediately knew I wanted to put it to music.
The words seemed to encapsulate what myself and many of my contemporaries have been trying to express in terms of our place within history at this time and how we might begin to create a route forward.
While initially they suggested a full throttle approach, in the end a considered and deliberate reading was more appropriate.
I had been planning to combine my love of both film and music and felt that this piece was where I should start.
I wanted the visuals to be abstract for the most part, suggestive of the natural world and an internal world in equal measure.
I wanted the music to be a combination of midi, analogue and the human voice. I have been exploring Shape Note singing for some time and felt it’s raw human power would suit the sense of a people’s emotional response to their situation perfectly.
Nic S.’s latest poetry video is especially noteworthy for its soundtrack, which blends the voices of four different LibriVox readers to great effect.