The Monthly interviews poet and film poetry producer, and winner of the Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film competition, Janet Lees – Part 1 – Being Creative

What was the impetus for marrying film and poetry?

I think it was about 8 or 9 years ago. I used to write a lot of poetry as a child but took a long break due to depression and addiction, which stopped me doing anything creative for a very long time. It was during my recovery that I returned to being creative.

I lived in London and when I was on the tube I would write down phrases that I would see on adverts or other mass communications. At that time I had no idea that there was a term for what I was doing: found poetry.

I shared some of the resulting weird pieces with a long-time colleague of mine, an art director I worked with called Rooney, who is also a photographer and videographer – I’d been working as a copywriter. He really liked them and started to marry the writing with little snippets of film. Then I started doing that myself. I would film things, collect some footage, and get friends – I am a bit of a technophobe so I was slow to do this myself ­­– to help with editing.

Once you started doing that what happened?

I started on a journey, experimenting with imagery and words and combining the two.

Does that change how you write poetry?

I am not precious with my own work. I think anything that I write could work with film and so I have explored the use of imagery with words, film with words. The only limitations might be that you really can’t have too much text on screen unless you are doing something which is intended to be quite long.

I have started to write specific poems which connect directly with particular imagery and I am continually experimenting with what works when blended together. I don’t just want to illustrate the poem literally, partly because I don’t think that is particularly interesting. I am not saying it can’t work but it isn’t the direction I want to move in. I see film poetry as its own thing, separate from film and poetry. I try to find an instinctive and intuitive connection between the imagery and the words.

For you film poetry is a distinct entity?

Yes, I think that would be how I see it and I have been through quite a deal of experimentation over the years to see what works. Tom Konyves, known by many as the godfather of film poetry, argues that there has to be a dissonance between the elements which make up the film poem, and which can make it more compelling, also allowing for people to make their own interpretations.

You also have material where music is added to the process?

I love music and this process has allowed me to think about the connection between music, words and film. I have also found that I am discovering new music all the time which adds another dimension to the work, because musicians are sharing music with me and that allows me to widen the horizons even further.

I think the people I work with typically think about music in an intuitive way and so we work together to get the best material to fuse together. I also think that people are used to hearing and seeing different things at the same time. For example, most adverts have imagery, music and words married together. I sometimes hear music that I really, really like and I get in touch with the creator to see if I can find some way of getting access to the music. In one of the latest pieces, Martyn Cain collaborated with me for the particular film poem that won the Ó Bhéal International Poetry-Film competition. We’ve worked together on various projects and for our latest collaboration we are actually working from a blank canvas, sharing ideas across disciplines, with me ultimately producing the words and the images, and Martyn producing the music.

Part two of this interview is here

See more of Janet Lee’s work at the following link –

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