The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, silhouetted against Blitz fire and smoke. Coventry Cathedral, bombed and in flames. These iconic images – and the histories behind them – were the inspiration for two new poetry commissions we encouraged into the world through the project Where Light Falls.
Historic England and The Poetry Society worked with poets (Jane Commane in Coventry and Keith Jarrett in London) and local participants to create crowd-sourced poems based on the war-time stories of the two Cathedrals, to be beamed onto the walls of the two buildings alongside animations by projection art studio Double Take Productions.
Nearly 8,000 people in London and more than 16,000 people in Coventry came to see the projections over two weekends in October and November. The experience in both locations was totally overwhelming – spectacular animations and amazing sound filled the horizons with poetry. Both nights were live screened, and you can catch a glimpse of the full effect below. Each set of projections lasts about 10 minutes.
Keith Jarrett writes ‘I remembered St. Paul’s from my own childhood. I lived in East London, beyond Stratford on the Essex border. I knew places like Barking, Forest Gate, Walthamstow and Romford. I remember going ‘Up west’ to Liverpool Street on the Central Line and you’d come out and see St. Paul’s. I felt I could always see it … . London now is very different but you can still see it – it’s a halfway point between the past and the present.’ Working with Exiled Writers Ink, Claremont Centre writers group and four local schools, Keith created a poem – ‘From the Log Book’ – which combined his archive research into volunteers who protected the Cathedral during the Blitz with the memories and impressions of people who were in London during the WWII and those whose connection with the conflict is more distant and complex.
Jane’s Coventry poem ‘In a New Light’ is also a product of research and conversation – although contemporary documentary evidence is sparse for a Cathedral which was heavily bombed and burnt. The poem moves between two buildings, the new 1960s Cathedral standing next to the ruins of the old. She says ‘Thinking about the ethics of making a new poem out of the work of many, I drew on the actual process of making a Cathedral. This is a piece of work that involves the ideas and labour of many resolved into one finished form. Working in this way, my final poem was connected to the City’s own story with the Chorus being built out of verbatim pieces of writing done by the groups.’
Double Take Projections, who developed the projection technology and the breathaking animations for the events, are a team of architectural projection artists whose previous projects have transformed castles into lit-up Christmas presents and covered bridges in illuminated tartan.
Where Light Falls is a Historic England project, delivered in partnership with The Poetry Society and Double Take projections, with the participation of Caludon Castle School, Coventry Central Library, Coventry Older Voices, Good Chance, Coventry Stanza, Fire & Dust, Archbishop Tenison’s School, Eastbrook School, George Green’s School, Lady Margaret School, Exiled Writers Ink, Claremont Centre writers group, and the Cathedrals’ archivists, education and event staff.