FAM: Up Close and Personal

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Tracks, Lines and Videoclips

By FAM :: 20 February 2006

There was a mention of two weeks in the previous entry and “Sleeping Beauty” only accounts for one. So here, somewhat more briefly, is the account of the second week, spent at St. Mary’s College in Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham, and in Barnes, South London. Just before my sabbatical in June 2004 and again in November I was given an opportunity to read at the college, in the glorious if slightly faded Waldegrave Room, both readings set up by my dear friend, Robyn Bolam (Thanks very much once more, Robyn!).

To digress briefly into art history: much of St. Mary’s College is connected to Walpole House, the place Horace Walpole, author of the seminal Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto built for himself, never really intending it to last much longer than he would, which means that much of the Gothic stone lattice work and the wall decorations were made of material like papier machée and wood, presenting any preservation officer with headaches and nightmares. All in all it is an impressive set of buildings with splendid rooms situated in a park bordering onto the Thames.

After the second of these readings, which unbefittingly (I don’t write anything that could even loosely be described as Gothic) took place during a price giving for the best short story among the students on the college’s undergraduate creative writing programme, the director of the school Peter Dewar, a fellow linguist and TEFL specialist, introduced me to Barry Ingle, a lecturer in media and creative arts and a photographer, who’d been taking pictures all evening. It was during this reception, the wine being particularly suitable for the occasion, a Chilean Cabarnet Sauvignon called “Casillero del Diablo”, that we started discussing collaboration on a multimedia poetry project, making use of Barry’s knowledge and talents and the College’s resources for video and audio recordings.

It took a bit of time for this project to get under way for a variety of reasons, but finally, last September we got together and started looking at ways in which this idea was to proceed. What Barry had been planning and started story-boarding was ambitious and exciting in equal measures, but with term about to start, inevitably there were holdups in the filming that made it necessary to go back and shoot some more video footage at the beginning of February the day after Sleeping Beauty finished its run. This time there were few students around (term break) and we managed to get make good progress in the TV studio with Peter Buller rigging up cameras, mikes and blue screen backdrops and never losing his patience at fluffed lines and wobbles during those priceless moments when Barry made me balance on boxes and scaffolding for particular shots.

Evenings were spent with Hilary and Roger McGough a few train stops away so it is not surprising that my feet, figuratively and in some cases literally didn’t touch the ground. The work on basic footage is now almost finished and will hopefully be completed in early summer with some external shots in and around Walpole House. Given Barry’s full schedule it would be naïve to assume that the work will be finished more or less immediately after this, but with a bit of luck, and if our plans come to fruition perhaps before the year is out there should be a combined DVD (with video clips) and Audio CD with some of my poems. But until the next jaunt to St. Mary’s there will be some time and many opportunities to return to the planet Earth and resume normal life or whatever goes for normality in this part of the world.

In the meantime, my thanks go to Robyn Bolam, Peter Dewar, Barry Ingle, Peter Buller, to Allyson Otis and Lee (for audio recordings and computer work) and, of course, to Hilary, Izzy and Roger, for providing a bed, drinks, food and endlessly enjoyable company.


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