Poet: Colette Bryce

Antiphonal: a “communal act of making” with twelve poets

An eight-minute filmpoem that still ends up seeming much too short. Digital artist Tom Schofield and filmmaker Kate Sweeney have created a truly masterful, immersive work that pays tribute to one of the glories of Medieval art. I’ll let Sweeney explain:

The Antiphonal project began as an original commission to 12 poets to write a poem inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels. The poets involved are all based in the region and include: Gillian Allnutt, Linda Anderson, Peter Armstrong, Peter Bennet, Colette Bryce, Christy Ducker, Alistair Elliot, Cynthia Fuller, Linda France, Bill Herbert, Pippa Little and Sean O’Brien. The poems were then turned into a sound installation, entitled Antiphonal, by digital artist Tom Schofield, and sited in two iconic places: the newly renovated Lookout Tower on Lindisfarne and the crypt of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh.

Visual artist Kate Sweeney then produced two films in response to the sound installations. Using time lapse Kate sought to capture the colossal beauty of the landscape at Lindisfarne and how it changes through the course of a day. This is contrasted with the fragile detail captured in the Crypt at Bamburgh, where she imagines the breath of the past gently disturbing the cobwebs over the stones.

There’s more background on the website of the Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal.

This project was also part of a larger project, The Colme Cille Spiral, of which it formed one of six ‘knots’.


The project was a communal act of making, involving a group of poets and digital artists sharing inspiration on two journeys to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne, before they embarked on the commission. Eminent medievalist, Professor Clare Lees, King’s College London, was also involved in a conversation with the poets and artists, providing relevant texts, images and stories. The sound installation produced from the poems worked in a different way from the written page, enacting a dialogue between the poems, and demonstrating the emotive power of the human voice. The project reworked medieval themes and images, translating them and re-interpreting them for the present. It also placed poetry in new settings and involved different audiences. The crypt was more successful than the Tower, because of the number and noisiness of the visitors to the Tower. This was the first use of the crypt, which has been newly opened to the public, and the members of the church and community took ownership of the project, asking for there to be chairs so they could sit and listen over a period of time. The impact of the project continues in two further exhibitions, and a radio programme. The project is about listening and attention, and about hearing the echoes of the past in the present.

The Lab Aquaria by Colette Bryce

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This was the first of the three films Kate Sweeney made in collaboration with poet Colette Bryce for her residency at the Dove Marine Laboratory. (The other two are Ballasting the Ark and Turbines in January.) Sweeney wrote:

‘The Lab Aquaria’ seeks to capture a tone, a feel of the lab; a sort of visual mood or reflection that leaves an after-image of the poem. Colette wished to include one site-specific piece about the Dove laboratory and we visited together to collect imagery in photography and video.

Though there are a couple of direct matches between text and film image, the film as a whole escapes the trap of excessive literalism, and comes across as a lyrical meditation on marine life and the work of science.

[UPDATE] The three films were shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Prize for new works in poetry in 2013.

Turbines in January by Colette Bryce

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Another of the Dove Marine Lab poetry films from UK poet Colette Bryce and artist Kate Sweeney. (See “Ballasting the Ark” for more details on the project.) On her website, Sweeney notes:

Building upon some of the challenges I found with the earlier films, I wanted to almost ignore the text and sideline the structure of the recording. I put up a kind of mental block between me and the text and ‘drew’ the shapes of the sentences. These small drawings, or plans made the basic structures of the animated sequences.

Sweeney goes on to reflect on the project as a whole — the first venture into poetry film for either of them:

While working with Colette on visual responses to her poetry, I have increasingly realized that the three films are a response not just to the three poems, but more specifically, the recordings of the three poems. I am not only responding to the content and motifs contained in the poems (as one would if responding to a single word, an idea, or a title) but also directly to the length of the poem, the rhythm, spacing and sounds of the words as they are delivered in the recording.

The poems have been, to a greater or lesser extent, a script. We have found a lot of questions have arisen about how the task of making a film in this way is different to less time-based parameters of more abstract types of collaborations. It highlights the difference between spatial and time-based video and film work, and has sparked an interest for both of us in how this brief could work in reverse – a poet creating text to a finished film or video, for example. This collaboration feels like a starting point, and we would be keen to collaborate further in different contexts. In the present context, the response to the science was the poet’s, while in a future context, we would be interested to explore what happens when both the artist and the poet are responding to the science and somehow bringing the results together in a collaborative work.

Ballasting the Ark by Colette Bryce

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A terrific videopoem addressing the invasive species epidemic. This is one of three Dove Marine Lab poetry films:

Three films made by artist Kate Sweeney and poet Colette Bryce in 2012 inspired by the poetry Colette produced as part of her Leverhulme residency at The Dove Marine Lab in Cullercoats, Tyne and Wear, UK.

On her website, Kate Sweeney describes her general approach to the project:

I am using photography, drawings, video and sound taken in and around the Dove Marine Laboratory to explore some of the motifs, rhythms, ideas and patterns that arise in Colette’s poems. In the poems, Colette to some extent celebrates the act of looking, for the poet and the scientist: the films take this visual thread forward into a new realm. I am trying to create a tension between the words and accentuate the rhythm and sounds of the spoken word through imagery without becoming distracting or merely illustrative.

“Ballasting the Ark,” she writes,

involves drawing, copying, inventing, imagining and re-imagining of some of the activity taking place in the poem. I wanted this film to begin as a sketch, or workings-out  on paper; like a god  sketching out an ‘Ark’; divine imagination, moving toward an opposing set of ideas – the science of observing ‘reality’, and of a scientist looking, counting, analysing, removing, deleting.

For more on Colette Bryce, see her Wikipedia page. And check out the Dove Marine Laboratory website.

[UPDATE] The three films were shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Prize for new works in poetry in 2013.