Film poems

As part of the Canal Laureate project, The Poetry Society and the Canal & River Trust commission a variety of new film poems.

Here’s Canal Life from Ian McMillan to begin with.

We commissioned four new poems from poets Jo Bell, Liz Berry, Ian Duhig and Ian McMillan and the related film poems were all produced by filmmaker and photographer Alastair Cook of Filmpoem. They were premiered at National Poetry Day Live at the Southbank Centre in London on National Poetry Day, October 2013. 

Jo Bell, who was Canal Laureate 2013-5, chose Stone in Staffordshire as the location for her piece, Lifted

Ian McMillan went to Stanley Ferry, Wakefield to make The Water Doesn’t Move: The Past Does. “The aqueduct speaks / In the voice of round here: vowels / Flattened by hammers, words / Shortened like collier’s breath” writes McMillan.

Ian Duhig’s Grand Union Bridge returns to Paddington Basin, and the ‘old black canal’ of the poet’s adolescence. ‘I wanted my poem for Alastair’s film to suggest a place of transgressive glamour, including glamour in its own magical sense; a place where lines were crossed, even between the living and the dead,’ says Duhig, who draws on references from 1950s crime movie The Blue Lampand the Irish mythical otherworld Tir na nOg.

Liz Berry’s The Black Delph Bride took her back to Dudley in the Black Country, after the discovery of an original Victorian canal map, with its dark and sinister-sounding placenames. ‘Enchanted by the feeling of ghostliness that lingers across the network’, Berry was ‘inspired by canal songs and murder ballads where a beloved girl all too often meets a sorrowful end in water.

In 2014, we marked the centenary of the First World War with a new animated film by artist Linda Hughes, of poetry by Marian Allen. Written in May 1917, in the days following the death of her fiancé, Arthur Tylston Greg, Allen’s sequence of poems, The Wind on the Downs, describes the walks the couple used to take along the canal in Oxford, before the war and grief intervened.

Nancy Campbell, the current Canal Laureate, made The Cut with artist Pierre Tremblay.

Chris Morris made this beautiful film inspired by a poem by Jonathan Edwards.

Ian Humphreys wrote ‘Treading Water’, an elegy for his mum, centred round the Rochdale Canal at Hebden Bridge.