News from Steve Griffiths

Late Love Poems – The Films

11 January 2019

In 2015, I was awarded an Arts Council England grant to work with film-maker Eamon Bourke of Park6Films to create 30 short films of performances of poems from my collection Late Love Poems, published by Cinnamon Press in 2016. The resulting films were uploaded to YouTube poem by poem, one a week. A selection of the poems appear in Weathereye: Selected Poems.

The film project was supported by social media partners from the arts, libraries and other community networks to engage with a range of audiences. 

It became a voyage of discovery. Over months, it took on new forms, with the visual dimensions and echoes glancing off the poems’ imagery from film-maker Eamon Bourke – and glancing off the map of my face in close-up. There was an unexpected and striking musical dimension, including evocative compositions by Ivan ‘Ogmios‘ Owen, battle-rapper, film-maker, composer, and my son’s best friend since the age of two: he created new worlds for film and poem to inhabit.

The results can be grouped under five broad headings:

  • Where film and poem take off together in celebration
  • Simple performance of the poem: nothing in the way of the poet
  • In sickness: poems and films of lament, defiance, celebration
  • Exposing and mapping the poet’s face in age
  • Music and the Late Love Poems

Where film and poem take off together in celebration

In several of the films, celebratory poem and film work as one and enhance both elements. The film-maker has taken a bold step, be it simple or complex, and it’s come off.

Imprint‘, where four short fragments are held together by one cinematic image, reflecting the economy of the poems.

The Same Place‘, where more complex filmwork enhances a stormy poem; and the tight, economic backing band provided by Ogmios takes film and poem to another place.

An opposite pole to the simplicity of ‘Imprint’ is the rich visual composition of ‘The Spotted Leaves of Some Marsh Orchids‘: an old man celebrates a moment of memorably profound connection. This is Ogmios’ stunning musical debut for the project.

Backstroke‘, though it appears complex, is a panned camera across the photo that’s the origin of the poem. The Corelli string music matches the rhythm of film and poem.

Finally, back to extreme simplicity: a little pair of poems, ‘January’ and ‘To arrive at breakfast’: one just a fragment, a delighted thought. January, maybe a midwinter of the soul, but it’s all right somehow, learning to be alone, and then not alone. There’s a magical transition from the slow penetration of a wood under deep snow, to a still in black and white, far, far, back, to a little boy on a beach, to the distant, evocative piano of old friend and composer John Hywel. 

Simple performance of the poem: nothing in the way of the poet

Some of the films of the Late Love Poems are simply a platform for the performance of the poem. No visual trickery: just the poet doing his thing, the poem in its simplicity or compexity. There’s:

In sickness: poems and films of lament, defiance, celebration

You write Late Love Poems. Ageing as we all are. Bits fall off. Integral to these poems is a long look at some of the ways our lives can be derailed by illness, the challenge of that, and the ways you can be sustained by a loving relationship. There is loss, so there is lament. You have to laugh if you’re going to survive. There is anger, defiance, plenty of that. A realisation that you may be knocked down, but you still carry in you the energy, or a vivid memory of the energy, of someone at a height of physical health. And then there is transcendent love.

Perhaps it’s challenging to people who want to click into a simple celebration of love – that lovely young couple, those raunchy bodies in their prime. It’s natural that that’s what you would want. It’s what we wanted: and what we had, more than forty years ago.  Then stuff happens, complexity happens: you have to deal with it. These poems are about us dealing with it, and coming through it, with a new force, a new quality to the lives we share, but lit from inside by what we had when we were young. Celebration of what we are and what we have is not far below the surface in these poems. It was not easily won, and poems such as ‘Being Strong’ and ‘The Harrowing of the Squamous Cell Carcinoma’ demonstrate this. The latter was the least viewed film in the YouTube series. It’s an intimidating title for a poem of laughter and affirmation.

Interestingly, some of the most inspired and inventive film work, and music, came out in response to these poems – powerful responses by my much younger colleagues:

Exposing and mapping the poet’s face in age

The theme of age – of love not in the first flush of youth – is explored extensively in the poems, and often mocked affectionately, as is the poet’s remembered youth. The films open up a dimension of this, by exposing the poet’s face, reminding the viewer far more than the reader that the poet is well past the half way point of his life.

Several of the films confront this with some force. The first part of ‘A pair for bodies‘ submits the poem’s playful treatment of age and decay to a ruthless light. For some, it might provoke an ageist response. Such a judgement has always been part of the egotism of youth. We who are old were not innocent of it once. ‘The Spotted Leaves of Some Marsh Orchids‘ similarly introduces a dimension of ageing which is hardly there in the poem, though it is an inescapable backdrop to the whole collection.

On the other hand, the subtle suggestion of a roomscape in the film of the poems of Imprint heightens their erotic charge.

Music and the Late Love Poems

Music for the films was not part of the original idea for the project. However, from first, successful experiments, it grew to be a feature of a third of the films.

My partnership with Ivan ‘Ogmios’ Owen arose out of casual conversation. I have known him since he was little. He is a musician, film-maker, and battle-rapper: his rap battles have attracted audiences on YouTube in excess of 100,000. He is pretty unorthodox: laid back, witty, with a strong poetic gift and most strikingly, a commitment to progressive ideas: his challenges to misogyny in his rap battles are a challenge to lazy assumptions.
Ivan’s music for five films amounted to a major contribution to the project:

Music was added to several other films. A piece by Corelli was used brilliantly by Eamon Bourke in constructing ‘Backstroke’, one of the peaks of the project. He identified two other fragments which were used with ‘Spring’, the most popular film, and ‘In Sickness’, again a superbly realised film. A fragment used in ‘January’ was donated by composer and close friend John Hywel.

My view is that a poem becomes one part of a different art form with the creation of a film; and music has been used with poetry since time immemorial. A silent background had its rightful place in two-thirds of the films.