On Tuesday 4 October, 6pm, the SPL hosts Filmpoesie, a night of film and poetry. The origins of the ‘filmpoem’ stretch back to 1936 and Night Mail, Watt and Bright’s collaboration with W.H. Auden. Since then, the likes of Tony Harrison, John Cooper Clarke and Alice Oswald have made filmpoems. The Quebec-Scotland Filmpoesie Project brings together poets from Scotland – Rachel McCrum and Calum Rodger – and from Quebec – Jonathan Lamy and Geneviève Gosselin-G – to create a series of intricately linked filmpoems. The evening will include a screening of the films, live performances from the poets, a discussion around traditions of filmpoetry in contemporary Quebec and Scotland, and the translation of poetry to film in different languages.
Below, Calum Rodger writes about making filmpoems in Montreal – and recapturing a sense of childishness.
‘An absence, like a gap in the fence, only makes sense in terms of what isn’t absent.’
I read this sentence in a book about existentialism somewhere above the Atlantic on my flight to Montreal. I copied it down. A little over 72 hours later, and I was again copying down this sentence, this time in chalk on the uneven pavement of a bus terminal somewhere on the edge of Montreal, next to a particularly fine specimen of railings. A security guard approached us and told us, politely, that we weren’t allowed to film here. It didn’t matter – we already had what we needed: a shot of me running a stick against the railings while gazing into the middle distance. ‘Shall we wash away the poetry?’ we asked the guard, using our water bottles to gesticulate the ephemerality of chalk. ‘No,’ he said, ‘leave the poetry. I wrote poetry too when I was a young man.’ The implication being, as Genevieve suggested as she translated the dialogue for me afterwards, was that he had long lost the appetite for such childish pursuits. Funny, I thought. I feel like I’ve just rediscovered mine.
It was the excitement of crossing the Atlantic for the first time since I was a teenager. It was the anonymity and adventure of a new city. It was catching up with Rachel McCrum and meeting Jonathan Lamy and Genevieve Gosslin-G, discovering their work and how they worked. It was the humid, hot Quebec summer – a real summer! It was not just making poems but making cinepoems, poems-in-films or films-in-poems or some conjunction or conjugation of the two I still haven’t quite figured out (but that’s okay – the project isn’t finished yet). It was all of these things, I guess, that lead me to describe my trip as a childish pursuit; or rather, perhaps, a pursuit of childishness.
I played a kind of veil-covered game of solipsistic tig. I pretended to be a tree growing poem-branches. I imagined myself an old man on a park bench idly reading, oblivious to the recumbent woman on the pavement below. I incanted a verse in the bright red mouth of a fibreglass whale. I played bilingual poem hopscotch by the banks of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent and participated in a head-to-head dandelion blowing contest (I lost – I think). And the railings – oh, the railings! As soon as I had found a good stick (which didn’t take long) I was running it earnestly along all the railings I could, their presences and their absences. All in the name of art you understand. By the end of our two days’ filming I couldn’t look at a fence without evaluating its stick-runnability. At first it felt strange – a little self-conscious, despite everything. But only at first. Most of all it felt good.
In the initial discussions the four of us had regarding the project, we considered exploring political correspondences between Quebec and Scotland. But once we started working the correspondences I found were much more personal and subjective, and it’s these I look forward to picking up on when we film the second part of the project in Scotland later this month.
How far can I pursue that spirit of childishness in Scotland, among the presences and absences I grew up around? How will Quebec, the collaboration, the camera, frame and reframe home? Do I know what I’m doing? Have I figured out what a cinepoem is yet? And will mine be any good? And, most importantly, what sound makes the railings? This project has raised many questions. I had to go to Montreal to ask them, and though I don’t have the answers yet, I hope to find them soon, possibly in an editing suite or hiding behind some railings somewhere. I’ve got a good stick ready, just in case.
Filmpoesie takes place on Tuesday 4 October, 6pm, with tickets £5 (£3 concessions). Tickets can be bought online here.