Swindon Festival of Poetry

I had a rich and engaging time at the Swindon Festival of Poetry this weekend. At the heart of it all is Hilda Sheehan, with her stated goal to make it “the quirkiest poetry festival in the world.” Set mainly on the delightfully rustic and decidedly bohemian Lower Shaw Farm, it achieves not only this but other goals — being among the friendliest and least pretentious; rich, diverse, and encompassing; pushing past conventional views of poetry in the twenty-first century; intimately global; startlingly fresh.

lsfI had the pleasure of kicking off Friday’s afternoon of readings with poems from The Silence Teacher and my forthcoming book The Knowledge. The full-house audience in a converted calfing barn was among the most attentive I have known, and the conversations afterward rich, honest, and meaningful. Louisa Davison shares her own experience of my reading at the Festival Chronicle website. It was a pleasure to hear Jacquelyn Pope‘s strong, spare work and then dynamic fellow expat Carrie Etter, bringing themes of parenthood and loss to the fore between us, which Louisa again picked up on in her musings. Maurice Riordan and Kathryn Maris then rounded out the afternoon, lending their unique and decidedly expert voices to the day. It was truly an honour to be in the company of these four.

The evening rolled on with a highly experimental fusion of film and poetry as part of Malgorzata Kitowski’s PoetryFilm event. She screened our film-poem collaboration “The Shell of the World”, and I was delighted to overhear many poetry lovers coming up to my wife Valerie afterward to compliment her on the soundtrack (which she wrote and performed for this film). Sometimes pure sound can be sidelined in a word-focused gathering, but not this one.

As if to prove the point, festival-goers and Swindonians thronged to Don Share‘s live poetry-and-music collaborative show “Squandermania” that night. Val and I were riveted — the whole thing having come together with top-notch musicians from the local area all meeting one another, and Don, for the first time earlier that day. You would never know. As much as the show drew us to the edge of our seats like a high-wire act without a net, each performer also seemed at once highly confident and passionately collaborative. Here were five artists really listening to one another in service to the sum of their contributions achieving so much more than the parts. It was a tight and electrifying improvisation, and gave me a new reference point for what poetry-cum-music collaboration can be.

dcI sold books, met new friends, put real-life faces to long-virtual names, and came away with a copy of Domestic Cherry 4, in which I have two poems. The journal is an excellent and deliberately eclectic mix of poems from many well-known names and others I am keen to watch.

Sometimes, the real magic happens, not in the places you’d first expect, but in fertile cracks and crevices, tucked away, where conditions come together perfectly to give rise to new art forms, and poetry gatherings the way you always wish they would be — inviting, encompassing, dedicated to art as a real and necessary force in each participant’s life. That was Swindon for me. It was unforgettable.

Now I am whisking off to The Troubadour for one of their always-exceptional evenings of poetry. Once again, I will be reading alongside fellow Americans. I suppose that’s one way to keep remembering what your accent is supposed to sound like.


When it Rains, it Pours

I am involved with three different poetry events in the coming week.

The PityFirst, the UK Poetry Society commissioned me to design video sequences for “The Pity” — a commemoration of the centennial of the First World War involving new poetic responses to conflict.

As poets Denise Riley, Steve Ely, Zaffar Kunial, and Warsan Shire read their poems in the Purcell Room on Thursday night, my video sequences will be playing on the big screen behind them.

It was a pleasure to collaborate this way, and I am looking forward to the result. More details are here.

Swindon Festival of PoetryNext, we are off to Wiltshire for the excellent Swindon Festival of Poetry on Friday. I am giving a lunchtime reading at Lower Shaw Farm which promises to be delicious. I am looking forward to seeing friends, and putting real faces to a few virtual acquaintances. That evening Don Share, editor of Poetry will read his poetry to musical accompaniment. The whole festival looks terrific. Hats off to Hilda Sheehan for bringing together such a wealth and diversity of poetry events.

The TroubadourFinally, it is back to one of my favourite London venues, The Troubadour, on Monday night for an evening of American poetry. I am looking forward to finally meeting Tim Nolan, as well as a fine lineup of expats, transplants, and imports who all share the same accent as me. Come join us if you can.

More details about each event are available on my website. Come early, say hello, and bring an umbrella.


One Stop (Film-Poem)

One Stop Laurels

Our recent film-poem collaboration “One Stop” was nominated for best music/sound at Liberated Words III in Bristol, where it premiered. The original soundtrack was composed and performed by Valerie Kampmeier. The film commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

<a href="http://vimeo.com/105005307"><img src="http://cdn5.peakepro.com/files/2012/02/one-stop-screenshot-1024x577.png" alt="One Stop" style="max-width: 500px;">Click here to view the video</a>

 

One Stop

Do you remember beach-combing
for three-oh-three shells,
our little Easter-egg hunt
for exploding chocolate?
I think of you whenever
I snap the pill box shut.
You called our ride in a Higgins
boat "one stop on a busy tube."
We breathed through our helmets,
begging the spume to ricochet,
then leapt the ditch toward freedom
and cleared the snarling wire.
So this is freedom. This side
contains the same amount
of nitrogen in the air.
We won the race with our fists,
hands down, sound bananas.
What was it all for, Charlie?
Nineteen more minutes of linked
hands and holy prayers
to that bombshell divinity?
How do we know this road
leads back to the invisible base?
Go first. I'm right behind you.

Process Notes

I sourced archival colour footage of WWII, and composited this into an animation that I created using Blender 3D. I recorded journeys on the tube with an X1 Zoom, and mixed this under Valerie's music and my voice reading the poem.


“Buttons” (Award-Winning Film-Poem for Children)

Buttons LaurelsI am delighted to announce that “Buttons” won the judge’s prize in the 2014 Southbank Centre Poetry Film Competition “Shot Through the Heart” children’s category. It will premiere at the prize-giving ceremony on July 18th at the Purcell Room in London.

<a href="http://vimeo.com/89524515"><img src="http://cdn5.peakepro.com/files/2014/07/20140302175638-1024x576.jpg" alt="Buttons" style="max-width: 500px;"/><br>Click here to view the video</a>

Buttons

Buttons themselves are a kind of love token,
they fasten your coat to keep out the damp,
and love is each stitch sewn tight and unbroken
sticking them down like a well-licked stamp.

Buttons make eyes for your stuffed toys to see,
which bulge when you squeeze them right up
but love holds them on through the teddybear tea
or they’d fall with a splash — in your cup!

The things that we love we keep close as we can
sewn into our pockets and stitched on our sleeve
but one day, time’s tick-tock will unravel our plans
and a button will fall down, roll on, and just leave.

Buttons make eyes for your stuffed toys to see,
they fasten your coat to keep out the breeze,
the things that we love we keep close as can be,
but sometimes our love means we let them go free.

So, goodbye to the buttons, both pearly and black,
you fastened our trousers, you picked up the slack,
we will miss your bright shine, and miss your click-clack
we love you, goodbye now, and we hope you come back.

Process Notes

Raspberry Pi Camera with LEGO armature

When Valerie and I read the call-out for a film-poem competition with a children’s category happening here in London, we had to give it a try.

I wrote and recorded the poem, and then began playing with stop-motion animation. I used Christmas ornaments made of teasel, blue tack, coloured paper, a Raspberry Pi with LEGO-mounted camera arm (my own creation, at right), and of course lots of buttons. Valerie wrote and recorded the music at the end.

After more than forty hours of painstaking animation work, it was so gratifying to discover that the judges — a group of London school children — really liked the result.

We hope you do too.


Push-Bike by Elaine Gaston (Film-Poem)

<a href="http://vimeo.com/91520689"><img src="http://cdn5.peakepro.com/files/2014/06/screenshot-1024x576.png" alt="push-bike" style="max-width: 500px;"/><br>Click here to view the video</a>

Push-Bike
Click here to read the text of the poem on the Poetry Society website.

Process Notes

Valerie and I were honoured to be selected to make a film from one of the seven commended poems in the 2013 UK National Poetry Competition. We admired Elaine Gaston’s “Push Bike” as a poem, and sought to carefully expand on some of its themes with music and visual imagery. I used the camera module on a Raspberry Pi to capture time-lapse of clouds out our front window, and mixed this in with public domain footage from Preligner archives. Valerie composed piano music based on “Oh, Oh Antonio” by C.W. Murphy, which is mentioned in the poem. The film premiered at Filmpoem 2014, Antwerp.


Filmpoem 2014, Antwerp

Alastair Cook saying interesting things about film-poemsPoets, musicians, and filmmakers from all over the world converged on FelixPakhuis in Antwerp last Saturday for a fantastic day of screenings and conversation.

It was a pleasure to see John Glenday again, and to meet outstanding poets like Michael Symmons Roberts and Zeynep Köylü alongside filmmakers like Marc Neys and Adele Myers.

You can read more of my thoughts on the day, and view a selection of excellent film-poems from the first screening curated by Alastair Cook, which provides a fine introduction to the genre overall, in my article on the Huffington Post.

Click here to read the article and enjoy the films.


Aerial Manoeuvres (Film-Poem)

<a href="https://vimeo.com/97862897"><img src="http://cdn5.peakepro.com/files/2014/06/birds.png" style="max-width: 500px;"><br>Click here to view the video</a>

Aerial Manoeuvres

In dreams, I am convinced
I have always been able to fly — 
the updraft from the cliff
will catch me like my mother
when I launched from the stairs
on a bird-brained impulse,
avian memory, invincible faith.
Airline rituals reassure me — 
the act is routine ad tedium — 
tyres drift up off the tarmac,
metal wings skate the air.
“Falling doesn’t hurt,” we joke,
“it’s hitting the ground.”
So I fall, and fall into myself,
gasping awake on a feather bed.
Larks slice through the dawn,
and part of me goes with them,
diving toward the updrafts,
hoping, mid-air, to be caught.

Process Notes

I had a feeling of the kind of film-poem I wanted to create here, something about flight. I used Blender to render a flock of birds and then composited them together with historic aviation footage from the Prelinger Archives. The poem wrote itself after that, and Valerie’s piano accompaniment followed. We also recorded birdsong on an H1 Zoom and looped it to create a backdrop of sound.