London’s poets can barely keep up with commissions for themed reading nights these days. Recently, we’ve heard of nights of new poems based on the Twelve Days of Christmas, Monopoly’s streets and the albums of Pink Floyd. The latest of these themed extravaganzas is Psycho Poetica which played out at the Whitechapel Gallery last night.
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Hitchcock’s masterwork, literary curator Simon Barraclough invited twelve poets to write and perform new pieces in response to ten minute segments of Psycho, and he shaped this performance with a director’s hand. There aren't that many poetry readings which feature poets in costume. All the night’s writers were dressed in monochrome - save for the scarlet nails of Liane Strauss, Richard Price’s crimson t-shirt peeping through his black shirt and Heather Philipson’s blood red mini dress. We saw what you did, you poets with a wardrobe mistress, and we liked it.
The twelve new poems of Psycho Poetica provided a Chinese Whispers Bluffers’ Guide to the film, from its taxidermy stuffed set (‘Lean in and you can hear innards’ wrote Heather Philipson) to the ‘butchered violins’ of its soundtrack (Joe Dunthorne); from its props (‘the coolest of coffins ... with tail fins’, John Stammers) to the way it grips hold of us when we watch, ‘It is only a film I have watched too many times’ (Annie Freud). Long shot or close up, these poems didn’t merely recount the film’s plot, they provided a poetic interpretation of it - a translation of the film’s concerns from a visual to a verbal medium.
In the intermission the impossibly urbane Bleeding Heart Narrative string quartet played Cop Shy, a new piece composed by Oliver Barrett in complementary tribute to the eek eek eek strings of Bernard Herrmann’s killer score.
Poets reading were Matthew Welton, Dfiza Benson, Simon Barraclough, Heather Philipson, Richard Price, Liane Strauss, John Stammers, Chris McCabe, Joe Dunthorne, Luke Heeley, Emily Berry and Annie Freud. The event was produced in association with the BFI and LOVEFILM.COM (who will be receiving our Psycho rental request imminently).
By Julia Bird