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.