As her ambitious Book of Hours has unfolded, it’s been fascinating to watch Lucy English‘s poetry evolve and adapt to the online video medium and to the exigencies of particular film-making styles. Here’s how Stevie Ronnie, her collaborator for this film (along with composer Jim Ronnie), describes their process at Vimeo:
Lucy and I wanted to try something different as a way of kick starting the collaborative process for Dark Place. It started from a desire to work on something that was going to become part of Lucy’s Book of Hours poetry film project. Poetry films often begin with the words or footage or sound but we decided to start from a colour palette. I created a palette and sent it to Lucy and she wrote the poem from the colours. Lucy then sent me a couple of drafts of the poem and, after spending some time digesting Lucy’s words, I decided to respond to it visually. Using the colours that I found in Lucy’s poem I rendered the poem as a painting, where each mark on the canvas represents a letter in the poem. I then captured this process as a series of still images which have been strung together into the film. The soundtrack, performed by my father Jim Ronnie, was composed and added during the video editing phase as a response to the poem’s images and the words.
‘Dear Alison’ is a poem featured in the anthology No Map Could Show Them by critically acclaimed poet Helen Mort – a collection of poems centring on women making their mark and forging their own paths throughout history, both in the wilderness and in modern urban life. ‘Dear Alison’ is a personal tribute written by Helen to the late British mountaineer Alison Hargreaves – a mother, a wife and a talented climber who faced criticism due to her risk taking and her decision to continue climbing as a young mother, before her untimely death on K2 in 1995. The short film Dear Alison by Dark Sky Media and UKClimbing.com is a visual recreation of Helen’s words with imagery and sounds which evoke the poet’s emotional connection to Alison.
The film is currently featured on the front page of Liberated Words, where the accompanying, unsigned essay calls Dear Alison “a metanarrative on the process of writing: of the struggle of putting one word after another; of literally conceiving poetry, line by line.”
With the topic of non-metaphorical poetry films still echoing in our minds we also might consider this particular work as riven with metaphorical seams (rock metaphors to discuss metaphor notwithstanding). Throughout ‘Dear Alison’ close-up shots of Helen’s hand writing the poem punctuate the film and at the end she draws a firm but balanced line under the last word. We might think of this as jointly associative for both climber and poet: the metaphorical horizontal evocation of the joyous release from the vertical ropes and carabiners that stop a climber’s fall; or equally, the poet’s release from language, deliberately letting the line go; the summit having been reached. However, the analogy between mountaineering and writing ends there: the poet displays their roped words, carabinered like woven lace; the mountaineer hauls in their rope erasing all traces of the climb.
I see a lot of religious poetry videos on Vimeo and YouTube, and most of them, it has to be said, are pretty godawful. Not this one! Filmmaker Toby Lewis Thomas and poet Tolu Agbelusi really raise the bar for poetry films of Christian witness in this video uploaded a week ago by the London Diocese, who note:
On 3 June, we hosted a beacon event at St Paul’s Cathedral as part of the global wave of prayer “Thy Kingdom Come”. Tolu Agbelusi, a Nigerian British poet, playwright, facilitator and lawyer, wrote a poem on prayer commissioned specially for the event.
Tolu worships at St Luke’s Kentish Town and her father is Vicar at Christ Church, Crouch End.
The film was made in London by Toby Lewis-Thomas who is part of St John at Hackney church, with the support of Christian Vision.
The latest addition to the Book of Hours, Lucy English’s multi-filmmaker collaborative poetry film project, is by Marie Craven, who used footage from the 1942 documentary A Child Went Forth and music by Kevin MacLeod. The close fit of text to images paves the way for an especially affecting zinger of a last line.
Incidentally, I gather from Facebook that Lucy is still looking for collaborators. Get in touch with her if you’re interested.