When I was finishing my session in the State Hospital, Carstairs, last week, I asked what they’d like me to do on my next visit in February. The patients said they were doing an animation project, so we agreed we’d do poems inspired by film generally, and animation in particular. By coincidence, the following evening I was at the Neu Reekie event in the Scottish Boot Trust, organised by Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen, where the evening consisted of poetry, music and animated films. So that’s got me thinking about links between poetry and film.
I’ve enjoyed the poemfilms made by Alastair Cook, where he creates a unity between moving visual images and the sound of poets reading their work. He has made several poemfilms with poets I admire, such as Morgan Downie and Andrew Philip, and I was delighted recently when Alastair asked me to record a poem to feature in a future film. StAnza, a couple of years ago, had Films and Poetry as one of its themes, and I was surprised by the range and diversity of films featuring poetry. Music and film are natural companions; I remember seeing the film Jazz On a Summer’s Day back in 1959, and being knocked out by the way the images of ripples in the harbour beautifully matched Jimmy Giuffre’s tune, The Train and the River. I think it’s more difficult – perhaps because more rare – to match poetry and film. And yet there are some very good films which feature poetry. But are there examples of the other way round – poems about film? I’m sure there must be, so I’m going to trawl through my poetry collection to find examples before I go back to Carstairs next month.
I took with me this time a book of poetry, The Blasting of Billy P, by (Eric) Rayne McKinnon. Eric had been a patient in Carstairs for around 14 years, from the 1980s, and the title poem describes life there at that time. I wanted to compare conditions then with conditions now, and to look forward to the changes the patients will encounter later this year, when they move into new accommodation. I was very moved to discover that two of the patients and one of the staff in the Book Group remembered Eric. One had been his room-mate, and he remembers him constantly writing poetry. He became very animated, describing Eric and his life in hospital, and he in turn was moved to discover the respect in which Rayne McKinnon is still held as a poet, and the extent to which he has been anthologised and published. McKinnon died in 2002, having lived successfully ‘in the community’ in Edinburgh for several years. We were able to agree that his story is a triumph of the human spirit. It was a very emotional and uplifting session.