Young Student Filmmakers Respond to “Buttons”

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I received an email the other day that delighted me.

A teacher in the UK found “Buttons” online and use it, and the accompanying storybook, to teach both poetry and filmmaking to her year six students. The results are wonderful, showing an understanding of poetic technique, inventiveness, careful observation of the everyday, and a good dose of humor.

It occurs to me this might be a great way to reach the smartphone generation with poetry, and gives me greater hope for the emerging genre of film-poetry as well. I am also grateful to see teachers championing creativity in an educational system increasingly obsessed with standardised testing.

Do check out the short films.

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Reaching the Next Generation with Poetry

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Edwin in the RainI never thought of myself as a children’s poet.

Yet it was thanks to Dr. Seuss that I began to delight in language itself, and I believe this early contact was crucial to my subsequent love affair with poetry. The tradition continues today, with excellent children’s poetry books coming out in print like In the Land of the Giants by George Szirtes (Salt, 2012). Yet I wonder if reaching children where we increasingly find them — affixed to the glow of a touch-screen device, with the whole of the Internet just a tap away — can be just as effective to instil a love of words and sounds.

As I explained at the award ceremony for our film-poem “Buttons”, this was part of the impetus for the film’s creation. Video has taken on a new life online. The next generation is growing up on YouTube in the same way that we grew up on radio and television.

Our film-poem was a labour of love — both in its conception as a collaboration between my pianist wife Valerie and me, and in its dedication to our young nephew in Australia. The response that night in the Purcell room, and the following day during an interview and screening of this and other children’s film-poems at the Southbank Centre, as well as the reverberations throughout social media as parent-friends pulled their children close to watch it together — has been heartening indeed.

Continuing in this spirit, I have decided to make a storybook version of the poem available to download for free on both iOS and Android devices. My hope is that parents will be able to read the poem and watch the film with their children in the same way that I turned the dog-eared pages of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish with my own mum so long ago.

You can download the book and watch the film right here.

Download for iOS/MacDownload for Android


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

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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://www.robertpeake.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.

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