What I fear most is becoming “a poet” by Katerina Gogou

This took the top honors in the 9th Ó Bhéal poetry film competition last fall, and I can see why. It’s a masterclass in bringing still images to life—and they’re powerful images, too: flaming trumpets facing off; an empty chair birthing clouds or smoke juxtaposed with the text “I fear that i might learn to use meter and rhythm / and thus I will be trapped within them”; clouds circling overhead as the words “they see to us being ashamed for not working” appear. Filmmaker Janet Lees‘ deep images are usually in service to her own texts, but this was a commissioned film, as the Vimeo description makes clear:

Filmmaker: Janet Lees
Poet: Katerina Gogou
Translator: G Chalkiadakis
Composer/musician: Tromlhie
Produced by +the Institute for Experimenal Arts and commissioned by the art platform filmpoetry.org, as part of the Digital Culture Programme, Ministry of Culture / Greece.

Katerina Gogou (1949-1993) was Greece’s greatest modern anarchist poetess. Her poems have become synonymous with the radical culture of Greece and with Exarcheia, the Athens neighbourhood known as the anarchist quarter. Born into the Nazi occupation of Greece, she lived through the years of far right military junta oppression and the country’s resurgent anarchist movement in the 1980s. An activist herself, she became a prophet of the movement and her poems anthems for it. She died of an overdose on 3 October 1993.

The judges’ comments may be read in the announcement post on +the Institute for Experimental Arts website:

There were so many beautiful filmpoems entered into the competition, I loved watching every single one of them, and appreciated all of the work, imagination and innovation that went into making them. In the end, the piece called What I fear most is becoming a poet stood out as a stunning example of filmpoetry as a unique art form. Janet Lees has created a powerful visual rendering of Katerina Gogou’s poem. I was both floored and inspired by it. Comhghairdeas ó chroí!
Paula Kehoe

What I fear most is becoming “a poet” is such an evocative and moving piece. Katerina Gogou’s poem, enormous in itself which speaks so intimately about the poet’s world of peril and uncertainty, met with this filigreed balance of soft pianissimo and perfectly-paced typography, the haunting, completely captivating visuals, the almost hesitant text (in places), and the very absence of voice bringing us so much closer to the poet’s inner sanctum… all just fantastically done. A highly worthy winner.
Paul Casey

From the same source, here’s Janet’s director’s note:

For me this poem resounds with the psychological distress Katerina experienced as a result of experiencing and bearing witness to collective trauma. Despair and loneliness hover over every line, but there is also a core of steel in the shape of her unwavering conviction and commitment to the cause and to her people. To bring this great poem to life as a poetry film, I drew on my own urban images and footage. In animating the stills, I used the recurring motif of fire and smoke to indicate rebellion and oppression/passion and despair. I worked with the composer/musician Tromlhie to bring out the poem’s emotional journey in musical form and to complement the poem’s slow build – layer upon layer of the fear of ‘becoming “a poet”’.

The northern Ireland-based CAP Monthly interviewed Janet after her win about how she came to poetry film and how she looks at it. It’s well worth a read.

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