‘Moonbather’ – a poem written and read by Katie Griffiths.
Music – Katie Griffiths.

Moonbather Process Notes 2021

A poetry film made in collaboration by Helen Dewbery and Katie Griffiths

In February Katie Griffiths and I met on Zoom to discuss ‘Moonbather’, the poem Katie had suggested we might make into a poetry film. ‘Moonbather’ has the two components that make for a good poetry film: layers and space. I asked Katie to tell me about the poem. (I used to be nervous asking a poet what their poem was about, but it is an obvious question as I want to hear it from the perspective of it being written – even though I will already have my own thoughts on it.)

These are the things I noted down about the poem during our meeting (24 Feb):
Lost, questioning, searching, will you help/reach out/offer a rung – person out the window has a recognition of person outside. Maybe 2 parts same person. Lost, home, healing? Trying to bring two sides of person together. Wondering/lost – needs/wants to be out in this difficult world – not best place to be, but maybe inevitable. Wondering/lost/taking in other vibes. She is slink and fall – conveys her movement. Doesn’t want to be seen. Embodies – slinking – eg slink (embody). Fall – from grace, light falling. Not being upright/standing in your fullest self. Who was she? Where does she work? Lives in perpetual ‘not knowingness’ – always a moonbather.  Watcher at the window. Possible colours – monochrome greys, blacks, white. Perhaps rope ladder at end – gold/yellow. The character?

We discussed the music and I suggested it included some ‘humming’. A month or so later Katie sent me a soundtrack she had been working on. It was in three bits which recycle (the chorus lasting a bit longer each time).

Email from Katie to Helen (23 March):
When I say ‘chorus’, that is where some humming comes in. I’d already got a tune I was working on when suddenly the French childhood tune/nursery rhyme Au Clair de la Lune came to mind.  It seemed so relevant! Do you know it? It’s about a person who, during the light of the moon, turns to a friend called Pierrot to borrow a pen. Also, the person’s candle has gone out. Pierrot in a second verse replies that he doesn’t have a pen, and has gone to bed. He suggests going to the neighbour’s house, because she is creating a fire. 

It turned out I was able to hum that tune along with the music I already had.

At times the humming is joined by humming an octave higher.  Towards the end of the track the chorus runs on, and the low humming voice begins to sing the actual words to Au Clair de la Lune. It is then joined by the other voice singing an octave higher.

I thought this is brilliant, I had developed the idea of a fairy-tale-like setting for the film and this music was perfect for that. I had read and re-read the lines to the point that I woke up with them in my mind. I did what I usually do, that is to sit in my car in a carpark, the space giving me a different perspective. I looked for the significant lines and visualised the poem, thinking how I could frame it. I broke the poem down to find where the space was, keeping the line breaks but moving the stanza breaks (and then on the timeline I cut the audio track at the points where I had made these breaks). This was an important step but by the final version it was pretty much as it was before.

I filmed in a wooded area during the day, and made it appear to be by moonlight through post editing. I set up the tripod in several places and panned the camera. I had to return when it was windier to get movement in the top branches of the tall trees. (I later discovered that the area was ‘Friary Wood’ which was once a monastic settlement of an order founded in France. Can’t tell you how pleased I was to find that out!) On the way home from the wood, I located a stagnant pond – a poem that asks a question of the observer might need something reflective at some point (without being too much of a cliché), I thought!

I wanted the trees to move/walk and to have a human element in the wood. Chaucer Cameron provided this by being filmed against a green screen and moving a little to the soundtrack being played. I also merged the text of Au Clair de la lune onto the woodland floor towards the end – this is so subtle you may miss it!

It is fair to say that at one stage in the process I thought of giving up completely. I felt I had made two films – one for the poem and another for the music, neither of which was satisfactory, nor I could find a way of bringing them together. At that point I copied and pasted to a new timeline (keeping what I had made so that I could return to it if necessary), mixed things up a little and worked more freely until I was happy with the result. There’s a point in most of my poetry films where I think it best to give up – [whispers] I think maybe my inner critic doesn’t know about the other timeline thing…

Katie and I shared some email correspondence about the music which resulted in just the vocals at the start, some adjustments to volume and timing, and a musical round at the end.

Haunting sound effects at the start of the film add mystery, then a lone voice is heard humming, and the volume gradually builds until the first line: “She is slink and fall”. Movement then begins in the forest as shadows appear and fade. There are two turning points in the music and film. The first turn comes two minutes in at “Will you try to save her?”, and the viewer is in effect looking into the reflective surface of the water. The main turn comes at “sister sister shake out your limbs” – the figure is seen in the treetop silhouetted against the moon, the vocal Au Clair de la lune begins and the music moves up an octave and becomes more energetic. At this point the forest changes and becomes a fairy-tale in itself.

The film was launched on 13 May.

‘Moonbather’ by Katie Griffiths is from her Nine Arches Press poetry collection, The Attitudes (2021).