Kra kra, kre kre! Caaaaw! Crow is here!

Thanks for being patient! We’re thrilled to share with you our third Snow Q filmpoem Crow! Wendy Pye has made a film of an extract from Maria Jastrzębska’s Subsongs of Crow with music by Peter Copley and animations by Dagmara Rudkin. Rita Suszek reads the poem, Ellie Blackshaw plays the viola and Simon Yapp is our sound engineer.

You can watch it here:

And here is Maria asking artist Dagmara about her part the Snow Q project and in Wendy’s films of Lullaby and Crow:

MJ: For the original Snow Q installation you did some work on Crow and birds.  Can you tell us what inspires you about the Crow figure and birds and what they mean to you?

DR: In the original installation, I created two bodies of work with images of birds and they occupied different spaces in  the Regency Town House where the very first Snow Q event took place, on Winter Solstice 2018.

In the Meat Safe, 3D textile winged forms were suspended from hooks where in the past dead pheasants and meat carcasses were hung. The space was filled with projections created by Wendy Pye. To do that, Wendy filmed my friend the artist, Isobel Smith puppeteering my sculptural forms and created  video-mapped footage. This was later used in the ‘Lullaby’ film. This installation symbolised  the tempestuous relationship of Gerda and the Little Robber Girl, both trapped by their circumstances, particularly the feral Little Robber Girl who could only express love through violence.  I entitled it ‘Hush, my fluttering Heart’.


The second bird-themed installation was combined with images of fish and made out of paper and fragments of maps. This body of work was displayed in the staircase as a metaphor of Gerda’s journey. It also referred to the overall theme of migration and displacement that you explored in your poems. This paper installation included several drawings of a crow which later appeared in the filmpoem, ‘Crow’.

It is interesting how important the Crow figure was for you, Maria. Without you, I would have probably overlooked the Crow’s presence in the story. But that was one of many aspects of the joy of working together – we were all drawn to slightly different themes and different characters in the ‘Snow Queen’ and helped each other to see and respond to them. I really loved that. Through our conversations and particularly after I read your poems, I realised how important the Crow figure was. To me, the Crow figure has many faces and many voices; of a narrator, a guide, a jester, the Unconscious. Crow’s character seems universal and timeless. I thought that our actress, Rita Suszek, played the Crow so well and captured all these qualities. For the Snow Q performance, I made a hat for her by adding a leathery beak to a baseball hat. I wanted Rita/Crow to have this quality of a wise but cheeky street kid but still keep some of the fairy tale’s dark romanticism.

MJ: What are the challenges for you as a visual artist of responding to poetry?

DR: I found poetry and visual arts completely compatible. Although they use different tools, both are about emotional charge created by associations: words/imagery, structures, textures. I felt that for our Snow Q event, we were creating our work parallel to each other as well as in response to each other. The challenge there was not to strictly respond to your poems as much as to make sure that your poems, my work, Peter’s music and Wendy’s moving image had some kind of cohesion when presented together. This balance was obviously changed in the second stage, where the focus was your filmpoems but I really enjoyed being able to have some of my imagery complementing your work. The challenge there was to include visuals that suggest but not overstate your intentions as a poet and leaving the public the emotional and intellectual space to ‘breathe’ and to focus on the text and the voice of the narrator.

MJ:What would you like to tell us about your contribution to the filmpoems – I think you mainly worked on Lullaby and Crow? any delights? any difficult bits?

DR: All three films were obviously created by Wendy and are products of her vision as a cinematographer and your ongoing dialogues with her but I was really glad that you and Wendy asked me to contribute to Lullaby and Crow.

In the Lullaby filmpoem, Wendy projected the imagery of the flapping wings which we originally displayed inside the Meat Safe. I always imagined that your ‘Lullaby’ would have been sung by the Little Robber Girl and Gerda, possibly in turns, to each other. Therefore using the flapping wings from the Meat Safe was an obvious choice. For your filmpoem, Wendy used the projections in a different part of the Basement- and I loved how they were transformed by Wendy who gave them more space and exploited textures of decaying wallpaper in the Servant’s Hall.

You can really see the flapping, restless wings, that makes one think of a  fast-beating, trembling heart, or a pair of lungs grasping for breath;  frantic and unsettled, slowly becoming soothed by the words of your Lullaby, Rita’s voice and Peter’s music.

For Crow, Wendy and yourself invited me to create an animation of crow drawings created for the paper installation I mentioned earlier. The crow in my animation is quite vulnerable and romantic, sometimes even dove-like and is contrasted with film footages of real crows – inquisitive and confident. I really liked how these hand-drawn birds and film footage were used together as they complemented the overall theme of juxtaposition of concepts, ideas, imagery, language.

MJ: How has it helped develop your own practice as an artist? What difference has it made?

DR: Being involved in the making the filmpoems has furthered my ideas on how my art, both 3D work as well as animation, can be used. It is easy to succumb to external expectations of having to categorise your practice. This experience confirmed my belief that visual arts are transferable and that collaborative practice, particularly with artists who use quite different media, opens possibilities and opportunities that are impossible to imagine when working in the solitude of your self-contained practice.

MJ: Dziekuję za rozmowę! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, (and images!) Dagmara.


Crow is coming!

We hope you are well and safe in the Covid 19 pandemic. We were lucky that the tour of our Snow Q live literature production ended just before lockdown began.  Lockdown did interfere with the making of our third film poem Crow, but we are very pleased to tell you it is almost ready! Our other two filmpoems are already up on this website – so if you haven’t seen them take a look:

Crow will be the longest and most complex of the filmpoems, not least as much of the poem is spoken in Ponglish by the excellent actor Rita Suszek. As in the other two filmpoems, there is music by composer Peter Copley and Crow also includes elements of animation which our filmmaker Wendy Pye created in collaboration with artist Dagmara Rudkin. Here is Wendy talking about the making of Crow:


Dziękujemy! Thankyou!

It’s been intense, exhausting, amazing… Snow Q’s first live literature tour is over. We visited Birmingham, Brighton, Lambeth (London), Lewes and Portsmouth. Our third filmpoem by Wendy Pye is almost finished. You can already watch the other two on :

Each performance was different, not least because of the dimensions of the space and the technical challenges and opportunities it provided. We want to say a huge thank you to all our hosts for welcoming us and to everyone who came to the performances (‘inclement’ weather – British understatement! – notwithstanding…). Thank you for all your support and feedback.  Here are some snippets of what you said:

“Engrossing, moving, powerful, tender..”       “…unsettling and heart-felt”

“loved the Ponglish”      “the music and film made a whole environment. Powerful, perfect acting from both”

“Oh the crow!”       “I will be dreaming in Ponglish!”

“The music was very good and directing particularly original”

“beautifully acted”          ”love the sound of words I don’t understand”

“…emotional currency that packs a punch”

“I loved revisiting Kai and Gerda…accessible, inaccessible..I moved into understanding, harmony and out again”

‘STUNNING…Both actors were excellent in their delivery, I loved their voices.But the words – the words. It crosses all sorts of borders.. and put into words (all three of the characters actually, but especially Kai) so much I have felt, (despite my apparently cloistered only-English heritage). I’m definitely Kai. And know Gerdas…”

‘I liked the character of Gerda most.”

“Team both here.”

“made me think about what you can’t hear in a relationship”

“..I could not always follow the switchcode between English and Ponglish. But I really like it and I think that’s what made it special. Besides I like the metaphor of the snow and cold as disconnection…”

‘Expressive language. It doesn’t matter we don’t know Polish, feeling, emotions still relevant”

“even though I was a bit afraid of the show being too avant-garde..I got emotional, impressed by the poetry and expression..”

“The play was fantastic…I would love to see it once again..”

Thank you to Mark C Hewitt our fast thinking performance director, also to Graham Rees who coped with 5 different venues, each with a different system of lighting, to Simon Yapp of Subtown Sounds on sound recording, Anna Błasiak of the European Literature Network who chaired a fascinating Q & A discussion after the performance at Clapham Library in Lambeth (covering everything from culture and language to the nature of snow and symbolism of sleep), to Melita Dennett for promotion, to Dagmara Rudkin for permission to use her art work and her support with the making of the filmpoems, to Peter Copley for permission to use his Snow Q music and Marta Carvalho for mentoring our fantastic actors Rita Suszek and Maria Ziółkowska, to Simon Sandys for technical support in Brighton and to our volunteers on front of house Deborah, Irene and Dagmara.

Thank you to our funders and partners without whom none of this would be possible: to Arts Council England, New Writing South and Lewes Live Literature for their financial assistance and to: Blueprint 22, Centrala (Birmingham), European Literature Network, Lambeth Libraries, Polish Cultural Institute, Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, Spire Arts (Brighton)  and Tongues and Grooves (Portsmouth). 




Parley-vous Ponglish?

In the original Snow Queen story by Hans Christian Andersen, Gerda is on a quest to find her beloved Kai lost in ice and snow. She is helped by various people and creatures. Of all of them poet Maria Jastrzębska was drawn most to the Crow. Here she tells us about the third character in her Snow Q poems:
“…it is so difficult to speak your language” says Crow as it struggles to communicate with Gerda. Crow’s first language – naturally – is Crow. Sadly, although Gerda’s grandmother understands Crow, Gerda has never learnt to speak it. How many migrant families struggle with communication across generations as well as with their host countries? How many languages become erased?
According to the editor of Poems from the Edge, An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages, Chris McCabe, one language is falling silent every 2 weeks. With the loss of those languages are lost unique traditions, oral and written, poetic, cultural. The work of translators is more precious than ever today as the U.K is steered – dragged – towards deeper and deeper insularity and disconnection from the rest of the world, from cultural diversity and richness, while the same troubling nationalism is on the increase in many other parts of the world.
I grew up between two cultures, two languages. We children would mix those languages as I hear young Polish people doing today. My parents discouraged this, hoping to preserve our mother-tongue. Largely thanks to them I’ve maintained a good level of Polish, but of course there was something deliciously transgressive about mixing the languages – Ponglish has that charm for me. As I began to write Crow’s words I realised what a multilingual creature this Crow could be, with its mix of Polish and English learned as as additional languages to its mother tongue. We both – the Crow and myself – enjoyed playing with language, relishing each sound, each word. Celebration as resistance.
Readers of English poetry will be familiar with Ted Hughes’ very masculine – and more naturalistic – Crow. What of the pronouns for my Crow? In Polish Crow is Wrona, a feminine creature, while animals in English are generally ‘it’, although English speakers often use the traditionally masculine ”default” and say ‘he’ automatically of any animal. People have been getting quite muddled about the genders of my characters, calling Kai ‘he’ – as in the original Andersen story and not knowing what to call Crow, but mostly saying ‘he’ whereas this Crow is decidedly not a ‘he’… 
My Snow Q Crow is a trickster, a Greek chorus/Shakespearian Fool, deadly serious and utterly silly at the same time, a multilingual Crone, a Time Lord (sic) as in Dr Who. Being timeless and very old ( as well as being a bird) it has a wider, different perspective from the two earth-bound young people Gerda and Kai. 

If you had widzieliście what I have seen, the dead on every street,

police with pistolety on horseback,

soldiers, tanks…

the snowy dark.”


Do Crow and Gerda struggle to communicate as well because Crow is old and Gerda is young? I’m passionate about intergenerational dialogue. In the first phase of this project we worked with the Young Carers group in Brighton and Older & Out LGBT group. This year we’re delighted to have young people from the Blueprint 22 project coming to our performance in Brighton. Previously I’ve been involved with Are You Happy Are You Free? a film made by Queer in Brighton where we interviewed younger and older queer people about their lives. We don’t always see exactly eye to eye with the generation below or above us age-wise, but it’s essential we go on reaching out and trying to understand one another. We need each other. 
Images by Dagmara Rudkin

Snow Q filmpoems!

still_lullaby_03We’re thrilled at Snow Q – our collaborative project re-imagining Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story – to be working with filmmaker Wendy Pye again. For this next version of Snow Q as a live literature production,  we needed to make our collaborative work as portable as possible –  what better way to do this than through the medium of film!  Wendy is working on three short filmpoems which combine Maria Jastrzębska’s poetry, Peter Copley’s music, fine artist Dagmara Rudkin’s work and Wendy’s own ideas and imagery. The three films will run alongside the live literature performances’ February tour. (See also: Snow Q Live Lit Event 2020 TICKETS)


Here is Wendy’s post about her thoughts and concepts about the creation of the Snow Q  filmpoems. Photos of Wendy setting up projections in the servants hall at The Regency Town House before darkness set in by Dagmara Rudkin.

The combination of poetry and film I have found out has many different names and appears under different guises. Filmpoems, moving poems, film poetry, videopoetry, multimedia poetry and any other terms of this vein is a “genre” or “art form” that I haven’t paid much attention to until recently, when poet Maria Jastrzębska, invited me to make three film/videos in response to her poems inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen story.  In this digital age, I can also struggle with how to identify myself: photographer, filmmaker, video artist or visual artist (or all)?  Perhaps in reality, my main mode of identification just varies depending on the particular context.

So for clarification purposes, Maria and I seem to have settled on naming the pieces ‘filmpoems’, and that is the term we shall embrace to proceed. The interesting aspect of creating film poems is the collaborative process and Maria insisted that I was not making an ‘illustration’ of her poem, she was more interested in my response to the melding of word and image which then creates a separate experience.

I’m just finishing the first film poem of the trio titled Lullaby. Lullaby traditionally a soothing song or piece of music that is usually sung to (or played for) children to sooth them to sleep. However it’s interesting that the lyrics of lullabies are more than often not sweet and soothing; they are dark and creepy and sometimes macabre.

So which character is singing the Lullaby in Maria’s poem? Is it the Little Robber Girl’s mother who, according to H C. Andersen had ‘a long, scrubby beard’ ? Or is it the Little Robber Girl herself who wants the frightened Gerda to go to sleep? In the story of ‘The Snow Queen’, the Little Robber Girl took Gerda to a ruined castle filled with captured animals.

In our original R&D installation performance of Snow Q on the Winter Solstice in 2018, within the former servants’ basement of The Regency Town House in Brighton, it was fitting to set the Lullaby installation piece in the disused and creepy Meat Safe room. In our interpretation, visual artist and fellow collaborator Dagmara Rudkin created strange and wonderful, textile bird like sculptural puppets that she originated as a symbol of Gerda and The Robber Girl and their tempestuous relationship. Both are trapped by their circumstances. Gerda has to travel through unwelcoming, foreign lands and Dagmara’s representation of Gerda and her journey are bird creations, with laced and embroidered surfaces. The Little Robber Girl knows only a world governed by violence and is represented by birds with scavenged, torn materials, leather gloves and wire. The audience peeped through the meat safe grills to see the suspended bird-like creatures dangling from hooks, layered with video projections of the wings flapping, sometimes frantically and sometimes gently, recalling acts of romantic courtships and acts of violence; moments of fear and anxiety followed by temporary moments of calmness. Raising the question does this ‘Lullaby’ attempt to sooth what is untamed?

As we were approaching the first anniversary of our Snow Q installation performance, It was an obvious opportunity to revisit the eerie basement at The Regency Town House and use the stark space to film my response to Maria’s Lullaby poem.settinguplullaby_02

This time, I decided to film the entire video in the empty, former old Servant’s Hall.  The room became the contained space for Gerda’s Lullaby and her imagined restless night’s sleep. With the help of friend and photographer James Pike on camera and Dagmara’s creative support, we filmed video projections that I preprepared in response to Maria’s Lullaby poem. The projections included the presence of Dagmara’s flapping birds on the walls and in cupboards, transforming the room into a fairytale landscape – also filled with wolves and scorpions, wintery woods and stormy oceans.

Even though I was working very simply, I had a clear vision that I wanted the filmpoems to bear a visual, humble resemblance to the haunting black-and-white quality of Ingmar Bergman films and another more modern, recent film inspiration; Polish Director Paweł Pawlikowski who directed the films Ida and Cold War. I managed to simply create a harsh, shadowy ambience just using minimal light combined with the projections, to conjure up an unsettling, dream like quality within the room. The film poem is also accompanied by composer Peter Copley’s solo viola piece that was written and performed to accompany Lullaby for the original Snow Q installation. The music perfectly enriches the dark, unsettling nature of the Lullaby film poem.

I am now starting to work on my responses to the other two poems and will look forward to seeing how they all relate to the new touring Snow Q Live Lit events in February.

Stills and featured image  from Lullaby filmpoem by Wendy Pye