books, films

World Poetry Day: inVERSE – poetry in motion

inVERSE is a collection of five of the world’s oldest surviving poems, re-imagined for the 21st century through the medium of film. Filmed during lockdown 2020, the inVerse series is the brainchild of BAFTA nominated film maker Jack Jewers – the film director behind the award-winning adaptations of CJ Daugherty’s bestselling Night School series, published by Little Brown. The inVerse series also features narration from Adam Roche, host of the Secret History of Hollywood podcast.

Each short film takes a historical poem, ranging from 15,000 BC to 1,000 AD, as a prism through which to explore our modern world. Far from being dry, remote echoes of a long-gone age, each poem chosen for the collection feels like it could have been written yesterday, offering new meaning and a fresh perspective on some of the key global issues we face today.

Against the backdrop of lockdown and the pandemic, today’s gender and identity wars, the climate crisis, Europe’s refugee crisis, and the fight against racism, discrimination and inclusion, the films are perfect examples of the timelessness and universal significance of poetry, and the deep-rooted connections between past and present. It’s poetry – reimagined for the modern world.

The five films being released to mark World Poetry Day on Sunday 21st March are:

· Love Song – An Egyptian love poem written in 1400 BCE reveals a meditation on the meaning of relationship and gender in 2021.

A timeless declaration of love and desire, this poem feels as fresh today as it did when it was written – a long, long time ago. The imagery is strikingly sensual; how the narrator describes the sound of their true love’s voice as being like the taste of sweet wine; or wishing they were her very her clothes, so that they could forever be close to her body. It’s passionate, erotic, and quite beautiful

None of the couples you see in the film had met before they came into the studio on the bright, spring day on which it was filmed – with one exception. The older couple are Alfred and Leila Hoffman, who were 92 and 83 at the time of filming, who have been together for over 60 years. The velvet-voiced narration is provided by Adam Roche, host of the Secret History of Hollywood podcast – required listening for all classic movie fans.

· Long Wall A poem about loss and suffering from the Han Dynasty in China, opens up a conversation about Europe’s refugee crisis.

Jack Jewers says: The first time I read this anonymous poem – dating from the Han Dynasty in China, sometime around 120BCE – I was blown away by its age. How can a poem this rich and vivid be so old? The idea for this whole series of films grew from there. The poem conveys such poignant feelings of separation and loss that it seemed to be perfectly suited to a tale of refugees, far from home.
The refugee crisis is close to actress Sophia Eleni’s heart. Her mother fled the war in Cyprus in the mid-1970s, Most of the footage that ends the film was donated by the charity Refugee Rescue, who undertake tireless work saving desperate people at sea.

· My Heart Originating from ancient Mesopotamia, “My Heart Flutters Hastily” is a delightful reminder that those giddy, dizzy feelings you can get when you really like somebody are nothing new.

Originating from ancient Mesopotamia, “My Heart Flutters Hastily” is a delightful reminder that those giddy, dizzy feelings you can get when you really like somebody are nothing new. Whether it’s in a world of dating apps and socially-distanced love, or from a time that feels unimaginably distant, people have been falling in love the same way forever.

inVERSE started life in a world before anyone had ever heard the word ‘Covid’ and lockdown was something to do with home security. So when the world ground to a half in the spring of 2020, Jack had to find alternative ways of finishing the project. Working with Los Angeles-based actress Joanne Chew, Jack devised a method of directing over Zoom while she recorded the takes on her phone, as selfies. The result is the lightest of the five films, and the sweetest.

· The Look – A first century poem taken from Ovid’s Ars Amarosa is reimagined as a celebration of inclusivity and tolerance.

The Romans knew how to have a good time. The Look is an abridged version of ‘Take Care With How You Look,’ a chapter from Ars Amarosa (“The Art of Love”), by the poet Ovid. Its themes of rejecting false nostalgia about the past, and embracing the richness of the modern age, sounded to me like a celebration of inclusivity and tolerance. Of course, Ovid was writing about a very different age to our own, but the message holds as true today as it always has been. And what more fabulous harbingers this message than Drag Queens United?
This is the only INSIGHT short that was put together from found footage, rather than filmed specially for the series. The lovely, colourful, joyous shots of Drag Queens United were taken at Amsterdam Pride in 2017.

· The Dawn – The ancient Indian poet Kālidāsa’s Salutation to the Dawn transforms into a rallying cry for a better tomorrow led by young street protestors.

Considered the greatest poet of ancient India, Kālidāsa is a founding figure of world literature. And yet, a lot of mystery surrounds Kālidāsa. Some scholars even question whether he was a real person, suggesting instead that his work a kind of collected greatest hits of the ancient Sanskrit world. And perhaps it’s appropriate that such an inspiring poem was written by a semi-mythical figure. It sounds to me like a rallying cry for a better tomorrow. And who better to get that across than young street protestors?

‘Bullet time’ is an effect that makes objects and people look like they are frozen in thin air. Creating true bullet time requires two things we did not have – time and money. So instead, Jack took a low-fi approach. Aside from a few simple computer-generated touches to enhance the overall effect, everything you see is done for real. The protestors are all professional dancers, who had the strength and balance necessary to be able to keep still for extended periods of time – often in difficult and uncomfortable poses.

Jack Jewers is a filmmaker and writer. Passionate about telling stories in all media, his body of work crosses film, TV, and digital. His short films and web series have been shown in and out of competition at dozens of film and web festivals, including Cannes, New York, Washington D.C., Marseille, Dublin, and London’s FrightFest.

In 2014 he developed and directed Night School, a web series based on the popular young adult novels of the same name. It quickly grew from a couple of low-budget short films to become one of the highest-profile British web series to date. Jack’s numerous short films as director include the critically-acclaimed Shalom Kabul, a dark comedy based on the true story of the last two Jews of Afghanistan.

Jack has won several accolades for his film work, including an award from the Royal Television Society and a nomination for Best Short Film by BAFTA Wales. He has been invited to speak about his work at several major film and TV industry events, including Series Mania in Paris. Jack has also worked in advertising.

Through his production company, Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack is currently in development on the fantasy TV series Whatever After, featuring Jessica Brown Findlay. He is also working on a small slate of feature film projects, including a thriller set in the international protest movement, entitled Generation Revolution.

Away from the cinema in all its forms, Jack has a deep interest in literature and history. He writes historical fiction, and is the co-founder of the publishing company Moonflower Books.

He lives near London with his wife, the author Christi Daugherty, a small menagerie of pets, and a friendly ghost. But that’s another story.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Million Story City – Marcus Preece*

An author whose experience embodies the struggle faced by millions of other working class regional writers

When the filmmaker, teacher and editor Marcus Preece died in 2017 he left behind incomplete notes and drafts for dozens of short stories, screenplays, comic strips, poems and music journalism. He was also in the process of writing an inter-connective short story collection Adventures in Million-Story City from which this collected works, edited by his friend, author Malu Halasa, takes it name.

Million-Story City is a fabulous place populated by highly original, delightful characters, where storybook conventions mix and flow in a sequence of tales for both adult and younger readers: Two guys named Tom Bone. A spaceman speaking only lyrics from pop songs, confusing the aliens. A Gogolesque telesales agent with a dog problem. A return to a desolate Australian mining town. Cowboys, detectives and witches, unlike any you’ve ever seen. An irate email to Sepp Blatter. Wise children. Musings on whiskey, the sea and the end of the damn world. It all made Preece one of the most interesting writers you never got the chance to hear of.

Marcus Preece was a solidly working class writer based largely in the Midlands, and the themes of his screenplays, short fiction and poetry – racism, migration, sexism and corrupt government – resonate loudly today. He was a punk at college in Walsall when he became friends with the Birmingham-based director John Humphreys. Their first film together was United Bad Art (1989) about graffiti and other scripts of his were made into films for Yorkshire TV and BBC2. If someone in a bedsit on one of those tumbled down two-up-two-down terraced houses had some success in the wider world than anyone in Birmingham could do it.

But Preece’s personal story is one still experienced by writers around the country, and especially in the regions. In Birmingham it was too hard to make the necessary contacts and when he couldn’t earn a living from his scripts and articles Preece worked as a builder with his dad in East Grinstead. In the 2009 he retrained as a teacher of English as a second language and moved to Hanoi, where he taught English, edited the Voice of Vietnam’s English-language website and held legendary pub quizzes in dive bars when he wasn’t obsessing over his latest short story for the page or film.

Preece’s life was tragically cut short but what remains are his wonderfully acerbic and witty comics and screenplays, his melancholic poems and this anthology is a sheer delight and tribute to that.

As the UK faces an uneasy future, Marcus’s undiscovered writings, his outrage and politics speak volumes now.

Paper + Ink founder Mitch Albert said, ‘Marcus Preece’s writings reveal a man who had considerable talent and vision, and once I tucked into the stories, comics, screenplays and poems, it was a while before I looked up again. In short, I’m a fan, in addition to admiring Malu’s meaningful and highly worthwhile tribute to a fallen friend.’

Malu Halasa is an editor, writer and curator based in London. She has written the novel, Mother of All Pigs, and edited many anthologies including Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline and The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design. Usually she writes about the Middle East but for Million-Story City she returns to Britain’s second city, which inspired her after she moved to the UK in the 1980s.

My thoughts:

Even in the shortest of this collection of writing you can feel how good a writer Marcus Preece was and what a loss his death is.

He creates a strong sense of place and time, drawing pictures that linger in the mind. Even in the opening piece about his birthplace of Ima in the Australian Outback, a tiny no horse town, you can see the things he’s describing so clearly, without ever having been there.

Living in the UK’s second city, Birmingham, for much of his adult life, gave him a unique perspective on its inhabitants and society. As an outsider he could see the idiosyncrasies while also feeling a deep bond and affection for his adopted home town.

This is a book that shows you snapshots of people and places, gifting them to you on the page. In the short stories, poems and screen plays, he creates whole worlds in a few words, strongly drawing you into his characters’ lives. Truly an underrated writer.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Bookstagram Tour: Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble – edited by Paul Cookson, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon*

Today i’m over on Instagram sharing my thoughts on a new book, so head on over to follow the tour.Can you hear the distant dragon’s rumble of thunder? And smell the sweet swampy aroma of the ogre? Can you taste the tangy tarantula tarts? And see the girl who’s really a wizard? From magic carpets and wands to unicorns, potions, creams and lotions, Paul Cookson’s brewing a spell of fantastically magic poems.
On this tattered magic carpet You can choose your destination For nothing’s quite as magical as your imagination. Beautifully illustrated, this enchanting anthology brings together work from a range of classic, established and rising poets including Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Benjamin Zephaniah, John Agard, Valerie Bloom, Matt Goodfellow, Joshua Seigal and A.F. Harrold.Whether you’re in the mood for a haunting or a spell gone wrong, this collection of mesmerising poems will have you bewitched from beginning to end!

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Paul Cookson lives in Retford with his wife, two children, a dog and several ukuleles. He has worked as a poet since 1989 and has visited thousands of schools and performed to hundreds of thousands of pupils and staff. Paul is the official Poet in Residence for the National Football Museum, the Poetry Ambassador for United Learning and Poet Laureate for Slade. He worked as the Poet for Everton Collection at Liverpool Library, was Poet in Residence for Literacy Times Plus and, as part of the National Year of Reading, was nominated a National Reading Hero and received his award at 10 Downing Street.

Paul has 60 titles to his name and poems that appear in over 200 other books. His work has taken him all over the world from Argentina, Uganda and Malaysia to France, Germany and Switzerland.
Paul is the official Poet in Residence for the National Football Museum, the Poetry Ambassador for United Learning and Poet Laureate for Slade. He worked as the Poet for Everton Collection at Liverpool Library, was Poet in Residence for Literacy Times Plus and, as part of the National Year of Reading, was nominated a National Reading Hero and received his award at 10 Downing Street.Paul has 60 titles to his name and poems that appear in over 200 other books. His work has taken him all over the world from Argentina, Uganda and Malaysia to France, Germany and Switzerland.My thoughts:This is a really fun collection of poems old and new, from Shakespeare’s weird sisters in Macbeth, to spells to make your teacher turn purple, in praise of unicorns and make your sister combust!Poetry is tremendous fun and should ideally be read aloud so you can hear the rhythm and flow of the words.There’s also poems for every reader, and while this collection is aimed at younger readers, with its fun illustrations, it can certainly be enjoyed by anyone.*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

books, reviews

Book Review: Cursed – Edited by Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

ALL THE BETTER TO READ YOU WITH
It’s a prick of blood, the bite of an apple, the evil eye, a wedding ring or a pair of red shoes. Curses come in all shapes and sizes, and they can happen to anyone, not just those of us with unpopular stepparents…
Here you’ll find unique twists on curses, from fairy tale classics to brand-new hexes of the modern world – expect new monsters and mythologies as well as twists on well-loved fables. Stories to shock and stories of warning, stories of monsters and stories of magic.
TWENTY TIMELESS FOLKTALES, NEW AND OLD
NEIL GAIMAN
JANE YOLEN
KAREN JOY FOWLER
M.R. CAREY
CHRISTINA HENRY
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN
TIM LEBBON
MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH
CHARLIE JANE ANDERS
JEN WILLIAMS
CATRIONA WARD
JAMES BROGDEN
MAURA McHUGH
ANGELA SLATTER
LILLITH SAINTCROW
CHRISTOPHER FOWLER
ALISON LITTLEWOOD
MARGO LANAGAN

My thoughts:

I am always available for new takes on fairy tales and folklore, so this collection was a treat. A mix of poems, short stories and vignettes focusing on the role of curses in classic fairy tales, twisting them into new creatures.

A host of established and critically acclaimed authors offer up their takes on being cursed.

I was kindly sent a copy of this book with no obligation to review.

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National Poetry Day

image
Cherry blossoms - via Twitter

Here’s one of my favourite poems for National Poetry Day.

The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths 
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W. B. Yeats

ramblingmads