Documentary Making #1 (and a poem)

Blimey-flimey, what a week  it’s been. From Wednesday 26 November to Friday 5 December I was in schools. I think I did something like 20 performances and about 20 workshops. Knackering to say the least. But fun. I met some really great teenagers along the way and saw them write some really cool poems.

Last school was in Haywards Heath and I went straight from there on Friday morning to Somerset to pick up Zara and head down to Devon to meet the first couple to be featured in our documentary. We’re going to feature seven couples all together and the idea is that I write their stories up as poems and then give the words back to them for them to perform/read for the cameras. It’s a fairly avant garde idea as far as prime time documentaries go.

It’s a very nerve wracking process for me. These are people’s lives I’m trying to squash into iambic. When you’re writing a poem details change to fit metre; names, colours and places morph as the rhyme dictates. In this case I can’t do that, these are actuals events and memories and I must be true to them. My poetic license has been revoked.

We weren’t filming on Saturday but we went to meet Victoria and Nick as theirs is a particularly sensitive story and Zara and I felt I couldn’t’ finish their poem without meeting them face to face. Nick has Pick’s disease, which is a bit like altzeimers. He is loosing his words and now can remember very little of his past. Victoria has written their memories down because she feels that without Nick to remember them with she’ll loose her memories as well. It’s a sad situation, but what I got from Victoria and Nick was a really life-affriming. The love they have for each other is so strong, many people never feel that their entire lives.

I had written most of their poem before we arrived. I was up at dawn on Saturday, watching the sun rise from my freezing bedroom in the B&B, trying to make Victoria’s words scan and not loose their potency. We met them at 10am and spent an hour or two walking around the beautiful town of Topsham where they live as Zara was scouted locations for the shoot. When we got back to theirs I showed Victoria the poem. It was a very tense moment. I was so scared she would be offended or hurt. I had so many details from their life together I felt like a trespasser. Poetry can be so evasive. It can be a weapon. And it can be the opposite. She loved what I had so far. By the end we were all nearly in tears.

Nick showed me his poetry collection. He can’t understand the words now, but he knows he used to love them, the books still bring him pleasure. He also showed me the drawings he does now. He copies misericords (medieval carvings found on church pews) from books. I was astounded at his creative verve, the pencil drawings were beautiful. Drawing was not something he had ever done in his youth, the visual creativity something he picked up as his words started to leave.

I now feel like I have enough to finish the poem. In fact I feel more inspired than I feel for a long time. I am on a train at the moment heading to London to meet some 7 year old kids who will be the first people featured on the doc. I am going to run a little workshop to find out what love means to them. I think it will be nice for the doc to start with ‘love’ being dealt with in a very catholic sense before we focus in on romantic love.

I’ll keep posting our progress as we go along. I won’t post up the poems though, I want you to hear them as they were intended on the doc when it’s aired on 13 February on Channel 4.

In the mean time here’s one I knocked up at the station this morning:


There is a woman at Norwich station
with a canvas bag that reads
Kate’s a celebrity.
It’s an ironic statement
a big joke we’re all in on

the bag is taking part
in a cultural discourse
the bag is like Tom Paulin
or Stuart Maconie
only made out of hemp
and with room for a laptop

The woman eats a Thai chicken wrap
Her husband picks his nose
passers-by glance at the bag
it says to students, young mums
men in tweeds, women in trouser suits.

it chirps from Super Bowl car park
buying cat food at Tescos
collecting kids from piano

it screams at job interviews,
birthday drinks, Harvesters,
bus stops, away days, used car lots,
chemists, cafes and PC World

and no one can remember why
or when or what it looked like
or if it was even Kate
or just another stylish hag
and all I got was this lousy bag


  • elaine December 11, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    Great poem, can’t wait for the documentary. We need more poetry on TV.

  • Tom December 12, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Love the poem, Luke.

  • Life Poems February 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Poems are a starting step for children to learn anything. so it is very needed for small children to learn and have a good poem and you have a nice collection of poems.
    Thanks for such an useful and important post about poem.


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