Earth-writing and film

Like the English summer and the Central Line, this post comes slightly delayed; nonetheless, a recent Passengerfilms event is worth recounting, especially because it launched a new chapter for our Department.

On the 19th of July, a crowd at Roxy Bar & Screen celebrated the new Master’s program, jointly run between Geography and English at Royal Holloway. The MA Creative Writing: Place, Environment, Writing, is the first of its kind and captures the current renaissance of place-based creative writing.

Passengerfilm’s founder & PhD Candidate Amy Cutler introduces the evening (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

David Gilbert spoke briefly about the much-anticipated program before introducing former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who read ten short poems, setting a reflective, if somewhat wistful, tone for the evening.  Along with his tender writings, Sir Motion shared his enthusiasm for the program, its applicants, and the evening’s rich program.

David Gilbert invites Andrew Motion to the floor (photo by RUpert Griffiths)

Heather Yeung, co-organiser of WALK, introduced our first film Little Sparta, a visual ode to Ian Hamilton Finlay’s renowned garden.  The film pensively meanders through the epigrams and historical witticisms inscribed into the landscape at varying states of (in)completion, reflecting Finlay’s belief that “a garden is not an object, but a process”. Many of us agreed we want to see the garden in the flesh and at one point David Gilbert could be overheard reminiscing about days past when, behind the wheel of a mini-bus, he took postgrads on road trips.  Could a tour to Little Sparta be in the cards?

Ian Hamilton Finlay’s “Little Sparta” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Head Curator Jamie Andrews promoted the British Library’s current exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands, which exposes the storied relationship between British landscape and literature.  This was followed by UCL’s James Kneale who joined us to introduce the Literary Geographies blog, which promises to be useful for geographers and writers alike – required reading for new MA students perhaps?

The evening’s feature was introduced by the film’s co-producer, and author in his own right, Gareth Evans.  Gareth said he thought the film Patience (After Sebald) (2012) captured the spirit of this enigmatic writer.  We couldn’t agree more.

Crowds enjoying Grant Gee’s “Patience (After Sebald)” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Grant Gee’s meditative film weaves through W.G. Sebald’s walks and meditations around coastal East Anglia and around his masterpiece The Rings of Saturn (1995).  The moving work charts Sebald’s influence on other practitioners, including Tacita Dean, Robert Macfarlane, Katie Mitchell, Rick Moody, Andrew Motion, Chris Petit, Iain Sinclair, and Marina Warner.  Visually and aurally compelling, the film captures the complexity and melancholy of Sebald’s work and illustrates how a writer’s imagination, experience, and creativity imbues place with life and meaning.  Even in David Gilbert’s mini-bus, we may never find Sebald’s East Anglia.

From “Patience (After Sebald)” (photo by Rupert Griffiths)

Sebald’s work is sure to inspire the place-based writing of incoming MA students.  Indeed, we all left the cinema with both a reverence for his work and an excitement for the work to come.

Mia Hunt (Ph.D. student at Royal Holloway)

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