Canal Laureate

Artwork by Eric Gaskell
‘Gas Basin, Birmingham’ by Eric Gaskell. © The artist.

The Poetry Society, in partnership with the Canal & River Trust, appointed Nancy Campbell as the new Canal Laureate for 2017,  succeeding Luke Kennard who was Canal Laureate in 2016 and Jo Bell who was Laureate 2013-2015.

Nancy Campbell (photo (c) Bjorn Valdimarsson)

The Canal Laureate project is part of a wider partnership between the Canal & River Trust and Arts Council England, which aims to attract more visitors to the waterways while surprising and delighting existing communities through exciting and innovative art projects. You can find out more about the project, and read poems and posts by the previous laureates – as well as upcoming poems and events over on the Waterlines blog, or follow the project on Twitter @CanalPoetry.

Canal Filmpoems

As part of the Canal Laureate project, the Poetry Society and the Canal & River Trust have been commissioning a series of new filmpoems.

Nancy Campbell’s first film as 2018’s Canal Laureate is The Cut, made by her and artist Pierre Tremblay. It’s an impressionistic verbal-visual montage of a journey along the towpath from Paddington Basin to the mouth of the Islington Tunnel.

In 2014, we marked the centenary of the First World War with a new animated film by artist Linda Hughes, of poetry by Marian Allen. Written in May 1917, in the days following the death of her fiancé, Arthur Tylston Greg, Allen’s sequence of poems, The Wind on the Downs, describes the walks the couple used to take along the canal in Oxford, before the war and grief intervened.

Our first four filmpoems worked with new poems commissioned from poets Jo Bell, Liz Berry, Ian Duhig and Ian McMillan. The four canal-themed filmpoems were all produced by filmmaker and photographer Alastair Cook of Filmpoem, and were premiered at National Poetry Day Live at the Southbank Centre in London on National Poetry Day, 3 October 2013. 

Jo Bell, who was also appointed Canal Laureate in 2013, chose Stone in Staffordshire as the location for her piece, Lifted; while Ian McMillan went to Stanley Ferry, Wakefield to make The Water Doesn’t Move: The Past Does. “The aqueduct speaks / In the voice of round here: vowels / Flattened by hammers, words / Shortened like collier’s breath” writes McMillan.

Ian Duhig’s Grand Union Bridge returns to Paddington Basin, and the ‘old black canal’ of the poet’s adolescence. ‘I wanted my poem for Alastair’s film to suggest a place of transgressive glamour, including glamour in its own magical sense; a place where lines were crossed, even between the living and the dead,’ says Duhig, who draws on references from 1950s crime movie The Blue Lamp and the Irish mythical otherworld Tir na nOg.

Liz Berry’s The Black Delph Bride took her back to Dudley in the Black Country, after the discovery of an original Victorian canal map, with its dark and sinister-sounding placenames. ‘Enchanted by the feeling of ghostliness that lingers across the network’, Berry was ‘inspired by canal songs and murder ballads where a beloved girl all too often meets a sorrowful end in water.




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