‘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.
“As part of Bristol Poetry Festival 2014, Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival asked for films on the theme of Gloucestershire WWI poet Ivor Gurney’s The High Hills Have a Bitterness, to commemorate the anniversary of the 1914-18 war,” notes the Vimeo description. I posted one of the other submissions, by Othniel Smith, last June. This one is by Helen Dewbery. Animated text, layered images and industrial soundtrack all come together very well. The Liberated Words description continues:
This film brings out the sense of loss: loss of self, the environment and industry. The quarries of the Mendip Hills, many of which are long gone and are now geological sites of Special Scientific Interest, are places to reflect on the ‘soul helpless gone’. The active quarries are used for road construction and other building work. It doesn’t take an expert to realise that they too will one day run out.
Helen is an associate member of the Royal Photographic Society and works in collaboration with poets to produce film poems and collections and images.
My friend Rachel attended Liberated Words‘ “Reflections” screening at Bath last week, and this film, directed by Howard Vause of Frome Media Arts, was one of her favorites. I agree it’s a marvelous blend of live and animated sequences, and the back-story—the way it grew out of creative sessions with adults with dementia—is compelling, too. Here’s the description from Vimeo:
‘Babka and The Golden Bird’ is a Russian folktale in which the heroine, Babka, an elderly woman rescues a dying bird. When the forest is threatened, the bird grants her three wishes…
The Golden Bird Project invited patients on the RUH [Royal United Hospitals] Older People’s Units to take part in a series of interactive storytelling workshops with poet, Helen Moore and film-maker Howard Vause. With music by Frankie Simpkins and models by Edwina Bridgeman (Art At The Heart Musician and Artist in Residence respectively), the project was initiated by Sarah Tremlett (Liberated Words), funded by BaNES and supported by Art at the Heart’s Hetty Dupays and Diane Samways (Arts Programme Manager and Marketing, respectively).
This film features an original poem by Helen Moore based on both the folktale and contributions from workshop participants. It premieres at Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival (Arnolfini, Bristol) in September 2014.
Drawing on my experience of running story sessions with older adults with dementia, I’ve seen how tactile objects can offer a stimulating opener for group work. Handling the objects provides the participants with sensory engagement, which helps ground them in the present moment. And by choosing things that connect with the story I’m about to tell, there’s a ‘bridge’ into what will follow. … Encouraging participants to express associations that arise with the objects can also facilitate self-expression in new/unexpected areas, mining memories and experiences, which were perhaps long forgotten.
This is “Proem,” the famous introduction to Hart Crane’s book-length poem The Bridge. The poem has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, committed to memory before I even knew what half of the words meant. What great nostalgic pleasure, then, to watch this animated version by Suzie Hanna with a reading by Tennessee Williams in the soundtrack! I think this is an excellent example of how animators can get away with something that directors of live-action poetry films usually cannot: direct illustration of a text. Well, in part that’s because there’s rarely anything “direct” about good animation, which is almost by definition an order of magnitude more abstract than a live-action illustration would be. In addition, poems like this one, where the language is intensely rich and far from the vernacular, can really benefit from a visual connection to the narrative thread (to the extent that there is one). Not every casual consumer of poetry is as comfortable with bafflement as are those lucky few of us that grew up with difficult poems, and so I think a good animation can get people to lower their guard.
At any rate, here’s what that the folks from Liberated Words posted at Vimeo about the animator:
Professor Suzie Hanna has been teaching in Higher Education for over two decades, specialising in the subject areas of animation and sound design. During this time she has developed international academic and industry networks, as well as maintaining her own creative practice. She engages in diverse collaborations with other artists, performers and academics to create original films.
Her current research includes the creation of animation from documentary material, and the study of parallels in animation, poetry and sound design. Suzie also designs and animates commissioned innovative theatrical and site specific animation ranging in scale from puppet theatre to architectural projection. She presents papers at international symposia and industry seminars as well as contributing to academic journals and other publications.
The soundtrack is by Tom Simmons, and led to the film taking 1st Prize for Best Music/Sound at Liberated Words III, judged by Rich Ferguson and Mark Wilkinson. It also won 2nd Prize for Best Editing. In a post at a closed group on Facebook, Sarah Tremlett quotes Ferguson and Wilkinson:
We found the visual treatment in Proem to be arresting and original; clear in its intentions and unified in its design as it evolved visually throughout the piece. A balanced and elegant pairing of spoken words and moving pictures.
Hanna’s description from her own upload of the film to Vimeo is also worth quoting:
Suzie Hanna animated the film using hand cut stencils imitating some graphic aspects of contemporaneous 1920s New York artists who were in Hart Crane’s coterie, such as Joseph Stella and Marsden Hartley. She also referenced Vorticism to capture vertiginous aspects of the verse. The voice of Tennessee Williams, who was an ardent admirer of Crane, is taken from a 1960 recording. Tom Simmons has built this into a resonant dramatic soundscape which interprets the materiality of the bridge, the surrounding land and waterscape and the ‘prayerful’ qualities of the Proem. He embeds sonic references to Hart Crane’s ‘shamanic process’ in which the poet played records on his Victrola, including Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, loudly and repeatedly, whilst drinking heavily and typing phrases in manic bursts.
Hanna, Simmons, and producer Sally Bayley all teach at British universities, Hanna at Norwich University of the Arts, which features the film on its website and adds some information in a news story:
The work is part of an ongoing collaboration with Dr Sally Bayley of the University of Oxford and Tom Simmons of the Royal College of Art researching into representation of poetic metaphor. […]
Proem has been selected for screenings at the Laugharne Castle Poetry and Film Festival Wales, the Filmpoem Festival in Antwerp, Belgium and the Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival and conference in Bristol. In March Professor Hanna and Dr Bayley gave a masterclass titled ‘Poetry in the Making’ at the Oxford Literary Festival.
An article on ‘Thinking Metaphorically and Allegorically: A Conversation between the fields of Poetry, Animation and Sound’ by Professor Hanna, Tom Simmons and Dr Bayley was published in 2013 in the Journal of American Studies, and a further installment has been commissioned for publication in 2014.
The film is also due to be screened at Visible Verse in Vancouver next month.
Reading this poem I immediately knew (felt) what I wanted for this video.
I had images made last year (visiting old boats with Alastair Cook) in Antwerp (left screen) and earlier this year on St. Andrew’s beach (right screen)
The images were ‘tested’ on several tracks.
‘Maximum Suspicion‘ worked the best with the images, but I still needed a voice.
Nic S. (still the most spot-on reader I know) was willing to participate and she provided me with a great recording almost the same day.
This is Swoon’s entry in the Liberated Words Poetry Film Festival Competition‘s “Four by Four” contest, in which filmmakers are invited to make a video of three minutes or less in response to one of four poems, “The Shipwright’s Love Song” among them. Jo Bell is — I love this — “the UK’s Canal Laureate, appointed by the Poetry Society and the Canal and River Trust.”