Hold onto your haikus, it’s National Poetry Day! To celebrate, we invited modern day masters of poetry Scroobius Pip, George The Poet and John Hegley to wax lyrical on film in response to art on display at Tate Britain. Maria Kennedy, part of the Tate Media team filming their performances, shares how her experience on set stirred up a newfound appreciation of poetry
It’s all well and good to have a National Poetry Day, but how does one celebrate it? By reciting sonnets in the street? Or answering the phone in iambic pentameter - ‘But soft! She is not at her desk right now, can I take a message?’ Well, there’s really no need to feel excluded or separate from this most locquaious, linguistic day.
Having worked in Tate’s film unit for several years, I’ve been lucky enough to assist on interesting shoots with lots of well-known musicians, designers, comedians, and artists. But when the time came to prep our ‘Poetry Meets Art’ film series, my usual enthusiasm for working with contributors was replaced by a slight apprehension.
I have to admit, when I think of poetry and poets – it’s easy to conjure up images of pipes and suede elbow-patches. In my mind poetry is homework, poetry is serious, poetry is stuffy. But working with upbeat lyricist Scroobius Pip, spoken word social commentator George The Poet, and the jolly performance poet John Hegley reminded me of the street-cred scope of modern poetry, the power of words and the versatility of the English language.
Coming up with ways to match our films to their performances led us try a few new tricks. To get the shots to match George the Poet’s smooth urban style, our camera-man ended up roller-blading around him in an underground tunnel by Waterloo station, surrounded by graffiti, traffic and concrete. We transported John Hegley right into the paintings by shooting him against a green screen and then compositing-in moving elements to match his rhythms. For Scroobius Pip, it was all about capturing the immersive atmosphere of the installation by the Chapman Brothers, using a glide-cam to move smoothly around the sculptures.
But to be honest, there’s only so much I can say. To really feel the power these guys’ poetry in response to the art at Tate Britain, you’ve got take a look at them in action:
Scroobius Pip chose The Chapman Brothers’ The Chapman Family Collection. Inspired by the masks and hidden mascots, the sombre political tone of his piece was literally amplified by the silence in the gallery as we shoot contributors outside opening hours. I can still hear the eerie, haunting reverberations of Scroobius repeating ‘ss-ks….ss-ks….ss-ks’….
George The Poet took on Paul Graham’s Untitled #38, Woman on Sidewalk, New York. Even though this photograph was taken in New York, George’s poem transports her life and her story to the streets of London.
John Hegley’s poem is insipred by two of Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s paintings - The Arrival and The Soul of the Soulless City (‘New York - an Abstraction’). Whilst Scroobius and George picked modern pieces to respond to, John chose paintings from 100 years ago, and ties his poem to an imagined memory of his French Grandmother who emigrated to New York at this time.
After spending time watching these artists perform their poetry, I now visit the artworks with each writers’ words ringing in my ears. I realise that poetry isn’t stuffy or sedate or inaccessible – it’s personal, it’s political and it’s alive.