The beauty of BSL translation

At Alarum Productions we were lucky enough to secure an emergency grant in 2020 to help us through a difficult time, when the pandemic curtailed plans to stage live performances. One of the many facets of our Arts Council bid was to look at ways of making our work more accessible. We decided to commission RAW to add BSL (British Sign Language) translation and subtitles to one of our videos, and the one we chose is a performance of my poem Histrionic Water, filmed at Debdale Lock on the Staffs & Worcs Canal.

When I first approached Alex from RAW he wrote back: ‘There’s some very strong, visual English language and I’ll need a bit of time to work out the best signs’. Then when the edited film arrived, I was taken aback by how much the expressive movements of the signer, Gary, added to the meaning behind the poem. I was mesmerised and feel privileged now to have this new dimension to one of my pieces. I asked if RAW would be happy to share an insight into the whole process, and what came back is fascinating:

Process of filming the BSL translation by Real Arts Workshops (RAW)

Alex Vann from Real Arts Workshops (RAW) was delighted to get the call from Heather Wastie from Alarum Productions, to add British Sign Language and subtitles to the film of her wonderful poem ‘Histrionic Water’.

Alex is hearing and signs to level 6. He sometimes does communication support work in education and has previously added BSL to films and live performances. However, when it came to this project he asked his partner, in business and in life, Gary O’Dowd, to do the signing. This is because the words of the poem are so expressive and visual that it made sense for a native Deaf BSL user to perform the poem.

Most people who have studied BSL will quickly learn that it isn’t just about doing things with your hands and arms. Rather, it uses the whole body to communicate – facial expressions in particular – and it was felt that a Deaf signer would convey this with maximum authenticity.

When it came to translating ‘Histrionic Water’, it was vital to Alex and Gary that a Deaf audience would understand what it meant. It wouldn’t do just to translate the English straight into hand gestures, like other forms of communication – Makaton and Sign Supported English for example. It had to go further and tell the story and almost act it so that a Deaf audience would understand not just the words but the meaning. Alex and Gary worked on translating the poem on paper first, and Gary practiced and practiced until the poem flowed.

Filming was problematic because Gary obviously can’t hear the poem so Alex had to use hand signals and pointing to sections of the poem off camera. Even then – trying to match the timing of the spoken word was near impossible. So they shot it in small sections, in front of a greenscreen, and Alex had the unenviable task of ‘stitching’ the pieces together in video editing software to match the film of the poem. There are some fades between the signed sections because one thing BSL must do is flow – and not jump from one sign to another.

Initial feedback from Deaf audiences is very encouraging:

“What a beautiful poem: powerful too. I’m intrigued to take a walk on the canal.”

“Wow, brilliant BSL translation, You ought to join ‘See Hear’ on TV!”

“Brilliant, fantastic translation. Love it.”

“Love it. Very impressed.”

“Very awesome, wow.”

“Fantastic”

Alex Vann from RAW said: “We love working in collaborations with other organisations and artists so when Heather got in touch about this project we were very excited. One of our key values as a business is inclusion so making a film Deaf accessible is right up our street. We hope Heather’s film is a huge success and that we get to work together again in future.”

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Thank you RAW! To watch the finished film, click here: Histrionic Water

#BostinNews Al Barz

When I commissioned Al Barz for the Creative Black Country #BostinNews project I knew he’d come up with something special. Given the theme of Water & writing about Walsall, Al created a poem & video which tells a story created from local history which is very relevant to today. I love his armchair storytelling! There’s a link to the poem at the bottom of this post. Here’s what Al said about the commission:

For Spoke, my monthly poetry entertainment event at Brownhills Community Centre, Martin Hughes has been creating A5 flyers for me and delivering them to my house with a little cartoon of himself on a Post-It. “I’d love to see what more he can do”, I thought.

Sandfields is a historically important part of the Black Country heritage that only came about because of a pandemic. I signed up for its newsletter from David Moore of Lichfield Waterworks Trust a few years ago. They have saved it from being lost forever and I’ve been amazed at the huge amount of restoration work carried out by their team of dedicated volunteers.

When Heather Wastie approached me to be involved in Bostin’ News, I could see an exciting way of bringing possibilities together. A poem from me, cartoons from Martin, and all based on the tremendous achievement of Walsall’s life-saving water supply at Sandfields.

During coronavirus isolation we were unable to have our regular event, so I created SpokeScreen, a poetry video composed of clips from eight local poets in lockdown and a book launch by a Black Country author. The skills developed for that have helped enormously towards editing together “Rising From A Pandemic”, a video combining poetry, cartoons, archive photographs and heritage. Bostin’ News indeed!

Cartoon by Martin Hughes

Follow the link for poem, video and photographs: Rising From A Pandemic – Written & read by Al Barz (Bright Fork Poetry Media)

Launch of new poetry collection

Thursday 1st October is National Poetry Day – the perfect day to launch my new poetry collection. I can’t believe it’s my eighth! And I’m exceedingly lucky to have been able to make a short film about it with James McDonald from Clear Picture Productions Ltd. As well as readings of some of the poems, the film describes how the book was created in collaboration with illustrator Louise Regan.

Background to the book

In June 2019, I arrived with my note book and pen in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy, with the aim of writing poems about what I discovered. My inspiration for the pieces I wrote came from buried skeletons, a jackdaw, the Battle of Cropredy Bridge, the churchyard, the short mat bowls club, the canal, street names, love… and, of course, the annual Fairport Convention music festival. When I came across Louise Regan’s artwork in a gallery, I was immediately attracted to it and she agreed to illustrate my poems! “Producing the illustrations for this book has been a joy,” she says. “I hope, in my drawings, I have captured the essence of our lovely little Oxfordshire village which is so welcoming and brimming with life.”

Film premiere

To watch the film premiere on YouTube on Thursday 1st October at 7:15pm follow this link. There’s no need to sign in to watch, but if you do, you can set a reminder in advance, feel the buzz of the countdown, take part in the chat and add a comment if you like. If you can’t make 7:15 on Thursday, it will be available to watch after the premiere at any time.

To buy the book

To the Future, Love Cropredy is available from Lapal Publications, price £12 plus postage & packing.

#BostinNews Alex Vann

Not long after lockdown started at the end of March I applied to become a content editor for a Creative Black Country project called Bostin News. Together with three other editors, alongside producing our own pieces of work, we were also able to commission other creatives from across the Black Country. This blog is the first of several in which I will share links to the work produced.

I commissioned three other artists working in different disciplines, and created two pieces myself. We each responded to our chosen theme of ‘Water’, thinking also of Black Country locations.

Alex Vann is a singer/songwriter and visual artist based in Wolverhampton. Real Arts Workshops run a weekly arts session with residents of Mossley estate, near Bloxwich, Walsall (online during Covid). Alex worked with the group to write a poem about a visit to Sneyd Reservoir, set it to music and created a video incorporating art by the group. To find out more about how this beautiful song was created and to watch the video, click HERE.

As an unexpected bonus, the group entered their poem ‘The Bliss of Solitude – Ode To Sneyd’ into the Mossley residents’ newsletter poetry competition. They were over the moon to win a £20 Amazon voucher for their entry. The voucher has been used to purchase art materials for the group so they can get busy creating more artwork!

Tiller, Kettle, Windlass

I’m delighted to be featured in this wonderful new film by Erin Hopkins:

Tiller, Kettle, Windlass – A Narrowboat Film

Windlass100 year old windlass – backdrop, NB Tench, 2017