Filmpoems, poemfilms, poetry films - whatever you call them, they are gaining ground, gathering speed: there are workshops about them, chatter about them, showings of them in arthouse cinemas... So, in I plunged, knowing nothing, with film-maker Roger Pyne, who, in the context of filmpoems, also knew nothing. All we had was our enthusiasm and a new poem of mine, Given the Choice. And actually, given the choice, we perhaps wouldn't have begun with this particular one, had we known what we now know... but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the learning process is in itself an adventure and more than half the fun.
The poem is a response to Another Place, Antony Gormley's permanent art installation at Crosby Beach near Liverpool, which features 100 cast iron sculptures of the artist's own body, facing towards the sea. My original poem was intercut with dialogue (what can I say - I'd just been listening to a fabulous multi-voice performance of T S Eliot's The Wasteland), and this made for some interesting challenges and points of discussion regarding what does and does not work in a filmpoem. So, we ended up with two versions, one with and one without the dialogue. The general consensus was that the dialogue elements were distracting, so the film version you have here does not include them. But if you're curious, here's the full and unexpurgated version of the poem:
Given the Choice
You are one man, many men, all men.
When I stand next to you the space you fill
feels steady and sure and dependable;
I want to move in closer, lean on you.
I run my palm across your chest,
put my hands on your shoulders,
look with a small thrill into your eyes.
But your defiant gaze is fixed to the horizon,
your lips don't part.
"I had this dream last night -
I put my hand over his,
and I could feel the warmth
of his skin
and the knobbles of his knuckles,
but even though I couldn't see
his face I could tell
he was pissed off.
By physical, he meant
bending me over -
fingertips freaked him out."
What could you see? Gulls, fishing boats,
cranes at the port, a container ship,
a windfarm in the distance,
the changing blue to grey of sea and sky.
Some of you are up to your backsides
in water or look as if you're walking on it,
but nothing is real. That dip in the spine
before the curve of your buttocks,
where a woman or a man might rest their hand
and feel that they know everything about you
is just a metal hollow, weathering.
"The day after I got back we walked
from Camden to Hampstead Heath.
If he'd held my hand or kissed me
it would have been the most romantic day,
but he bought himself an ice cream
and worked out in the playground,
while I got colder and colder
even though it was July."
Your shadow is indiscernible
from that of a man who breathes,
but when I touch my ear to
where your heart should be,
there is only the bark of the brown spaniel
that stops to cock its leg on a half-
submerged you closer to the sea.
"He's behaving like a normal man,
I agree, but for the first four years
he was like a fairytale prince,
so I'm probably expecting
more than I should.
I think understanding
more about men
is not necessarily a benefit."
Ultimately, all I can do is walk away:
stride over jellyfish, push my shoes
against other people's footprints,
leave the sand to bother with forever.
Behind me, its tiny hammers work at it.
It waits, not like a lover
with infinite patience,
but with the tools of a safebreaker
listening for the drop of iron,
gathering you, flake by flake
into its sly lap.