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Offering a rung: Helen Dewbery on creating the film poem ‘Moonbather’ by Katie Griffiths

In February Katie Griffiths and I met on Zoom to discuss ‘Moonbather’, the poem Katie had suggested we might make into a poetry film. ‘Moonbather’ has the two components that make for a good poetry film: layers and space. I asked Katie to tell me about the poem. (I used to be nervous asking a poet what their poem was about, but it is an obvious question as I want to hear it from the perspective of it being written – even though I will already have my own thoughts on it.)

Capture

We discussed the music and I suggested it included some ‘humming’. A month or so later Katie sent me a soundtrack she had been working on. It was in three bits, which recycle, with the chorus lasting a bit longer each time.

Capture

I thought this is brilliant, I had developed the idea of a fairy-tale-like setting for the film and Katie’s music was perfect for that. I had read and re-read the lines to the point that I woke up with them in my mind. I did what I usually do, that is to sit in my car in a carpark, the space giving me a different perspective. I looked for the significant lines and visualised the poem, thinking how I could frame it. I broke the poem down to find where the space was, keeping the line breaks but moving the stanza breaks (and then on the timeline I cut the audio track at the points where I had made these breaks). This was an important step but by the final version it was pretty much as it was before.

I headed to an orchard to film but when I got there the footpath had been closed due to bad weather. By chance I came across a nearby woodland where I set up the tripod in several places and panned the camera (I made it appear to be by moonlight in post editing).

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I had to return when it was windier to get movement in the top branches of the tall trees. I later discovered that the area was ‘Friary Wood’ which was once a monastic settlement of an order founded in France. That seemed so apt! On the way home from the woods, I came across a stagnant pond – a poem that asks a question might need something reflective (without being too much of a cliché), I thought!

I wanted a human element in the wood and Chaucer Cameron provided this aspect by being filmed against a green screen and moving a little to the soundtrack being played. I also subtly merged the text of Au Clair de la Lune onto the woodland floor towards the end.

At one stage I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I felt I had made two films – one for the poem and another for the music – neither of which were satisfactory alone, and I could not find a way of bringing them together. At that point I copied and pasted to a new timeline, mixed things up a little and worked more freely until I was happy with the result. (There’s a point in most of my poetry films where I think it best to give up – my inner critic doesn’t know about the other timeline thing!)

Katie and I shared some email correspondence about the music which resulted in just the vocals at the start, some adjustments to volume and timing, and a musical round at the end.

Haunting sound effects at the start of the film add mystery, then a lone voice is heard humming, and the volume gradually builds until the first line: “She is slink and fall”. Movement then begins in the forest as shadows appear and fade. There are two turning points in the music and film. The first turn comes two minutes in at “Will you try to save her?”, and the viewer is in effect looking into the reflective surface of the water. The main turn comes at “sister sister shake out your limbs” – the figure is seen in the treetop silhouetted against the moon, the vocal, Au Clair de la Lune, begins and the music moves up an octave and becomes more energetic. At this point the forest changes and becomes a fairy-tale in itself.

Helen Dewbery

Helen Dewbery established Poetry Film Live, an online poetry film journal. Her poetry films have been shown at poetry events and festivals in the UK and internationally. She provides online and face to face training, as well as curating and talking about poetry film at festivals. Helen is co-director of The Big Poetry Weekend in Swindon, UK.

Katie Griffiths grew up in Ottawa, Canada, in a family originally from Northern Ireland.  She came second in 2018’s National Poetry Competition.  Her pamphlet, My Shrink is Pregnant, was a winner in Live Canon’s 2019 pamphlet competition.  She was published in Primers Volume One by Nine Arches Press, and her first full-length collection, The Attitudes, was published in April, also by Nine Arches Press.  She’s a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and Red Door Poets, and is singer-songwriter in the band A Woman in Goggles.

Watch the film trailer for The Attitudes

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