Reviewing the viewing of Poetry in Film [2nd Nov. ’09]


Most associate them with work, a return to a grind or another numbing expanse until the next two-preceding-Monday-days get here. I’m lucky. I associated this Monday with catharsis.


I’d like to give you all the elements that make an event: the initial idea; the months of planning; the meetings on meetings and emails on emails; and I’d especially like to give you the backstage meetings, handshakes and interesting asides that arise in being backstage but that would ruin the mystery and this review now wouldn’t it?


After welcoming everyone backstage and front, we all took our seats in the – without hyperbole – well-crafted, elegant, wooden Hall One of King’s Place in King’s Cross. The Guardian’s home seemed fitting since on the furthest right of the stage sat Philip French, The Guardian’s film critic.

To the left of him sat John Mole, Nick Drake, Kaleem Sheikh, Jay Visva Deva, Terence Davies and Lucy Tregear.

I was surprised at how much each speaker could fit in to their ten minutes and surprised that my enjoyment didn’t wane.

John Mole began proceedings with readings of his own poetry and recollections of his own film encounters. John’s always entertainingly warm and welcoming – I chuckled softly to find out that where he grew up they used to play films on a continuous run so that if you came in late you can carry on watching and catch the minutes you missed. He followed that up with his poem ‘This is Where We Came In’ – a run at the ambiguity of movie-dates. Endearing though it was, I wish I could have heard a more emotionally, physically tense version that wasn’t so many names dropped but fingers felt. His ten minutes were a welcome personal start to what would be both educational and almost overwhelming in its scope next.

Philip French gave ten minutes of what he saw as the history of poetry in film. His early definition veered away from poetic cinematography and toward actual text but, even after that, he managed to make example after example of exemplary films wherein poetry is used. He asked Lucy Tregear to read a few of the poems from the films he talked about and her readings were alternately funny and frank.Lucy would continue to read poetry for many of the speakers throughout the night.

I was honestly blown-away by the depth of Philip French’s knowledge. His style too helped – he seemed to be rolling this off the tongue. In his Northern-England inflected voice was a real sense of appreciating the intertwining of the two forms, much like the examples he gave. A deserved huge round of applause from the near 200 audience gave Philip’s ten minutes its end.

Next saw Nick Drake discuss his Best Australian Film award-winning film, ‘Romulus, My Father’.  Nick Drake isn’t the ghost of or the conspiracy location of the now very dead folk-singer but instead a lovely writer I’ve worked with many times.He also teaches where I work making me a little bias but having heard him read poetry before, seen him talk on film now and having just talked to the man – I know Nick knows his stuff. I have tried for the past hour to obtain his film through torrents and libraries but fear I may have to settle on the original book because his description of how he as a poet wrote the film script was so gut-wrenching that I now really want to see ‘Romulus, My Father’.

Next Jay Visva Deva and Kaleem Sheikh showed us film clips, played us songs and talked in depth about how in the times before Bollywood and now in contemporary Bollywood poetry is indistinguishable from Indian cinema. Poets have been drafted in to write the songs of films since the beginning of Indian cinema – I was interested to hear that some of the first filmmaking took place in India in the late 1800s. These clips – including Barsaat [Rain] and Mother India of which I’d seen – plus Kaleem’s reverential knowledge were enough to encourage me to later ask Kaleem if he had ever written or composed any poetry for screen. “He has done more than that, young Gwalchmai. He is a singer.” Jay smiled out, sipping his wine.
“A singer? Will you sing us something Kaleem?”

He did. I have never had the good fortune to hear Urdu poetry sung in person before. I often consider myself a fortunate man. Monday was no exception.But back to the event and not what came after – for those things are for those that were there.

Next Terence Davies came into the spotlight and told us ‘I remember , at the age of ten, opening my text book at the teacher’s request and turning to a poem that would later be the first of many poems I fell in love with. This was it…’ He then read, but didn’t read. He had no text in front of him but dramatically recited, word-for-word ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyse. Terence Davies has a somehow seductive voice. Perhaps it was this quality that caused the entire audience to clap so loud and some to stand when he’d finished with the flourish ‘…and it’s that simple when making poetry in film’.

I then had to leave in order to do manager things but thereafter a Q&A took place for 20 minutes.

The feedback we got told us the Q&A needed to be longer. I wish I hadn’t missed it.


I know my review is bias.

I know it seems like I might write no bad thing about it because I organised it but, you’ll know, if you’ve ever been ‘the manager’, you know what goes wrong and how badly it goes wrong. You know what the atmosphere is like because you’re still a little nervous about whether or not it’s any good as you sit at the back gauging the audience’s responses. This time I think everyone enjoyed it – I know that I did even though I was nervous.

If I had to pick favourites it would be Nick Drake’s underplayed account of how he as a poet approached transforming the original novel of Romulus, My Father [which in its own right is an eulogy] into a script and Philip French’s in-depth talk. Both seemed to give me a little of the man and a little of their processes.


That Monday night – once all was done – saw catharsis cover 30 minutes, 4 glasses of wine and one ale. After the busiest three weeks of my life, I think I may have deserved them and thankfully only had to pay for one.


4 thoughts on “Reviewing the viewing of Poetry in Film [2nd Nov. ’09]

  1. It sounds absolutely fantastic, and I am delighted that it went well. I would love to follow up on this and read some of the mentioned work? feel free to point me in the right direction.

    Have an important lecture to deliver at the county library tomorrow on pre-vedic vaisnavism, pretty stressed about it! But off to the ‘Pest for the weekend afterwards…

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