Radicalism in Stillness

27 Feb 2021

By Joe Smith

This was Imogen Stirling’s third event as the first Paisley Book Festival Writer in Residence. It was an event full of treats. As well as an engaging discussion about creativity during lockdown, we were shown debut presentations of Imogen Stirling and Sarah Grant’s video poems. These films were made in response to the theme of Radical New Futures, set within the restrictions upon creativity imposed by the current pandemic.

Imogen introduced her guest Sarah, filmmaker and poet, as someone who was instrumental in the making of her commissioned work Speak. Imogen’s video poem, artistically shot around Paisley’s historical locations, was a powerful and inspiring work, connecting the past, present and future in a way that captured the radical possibilities that arise from our current predicament.

In the discussion that followed, Sarah insightfully shared some of the artistic secrets of how the film was made. In this video, the film featured sections of the text, in what was something of a poetic version of a music video. This allowed two stories to unfold, the visual and the poetic; one story, telling another. If you missed this event, you can soon see the video poem Speak on the Paisley Book Festival YouTube channel.

A very interesting discussion then ensued, covering the broader practicalities of creativity in lockdown. Sarah explored some of the creative processes that underpinned her recent work; the creative tensions between film and poetry. She talked of the challenges behind the personal demands to be productive, while having to reflect, sit back and take time out from the hustle, of creativity.

Throughout the festival, Imogen has been asking poets about their personal understanding of the meaning of the term ‘radicalism’ which was for her, about progressive and ‘quiet’ rebellion. Sarah agreed and talked about the concept of radical compassion, a kind of unconditional compassion we must show to everyone, irrespective of who they are. This idea was refreshing and inspiring at a time when current social media practices seem to be immersed in the unforgiving world of cancel culture, where people are defined by their worst action, rather than treated compassionately as human beings. Both artists agreed that radicalism entails questioning the taken-for-granted norms, as well as imagining a different future. “Radicalism can manifest itself in stillness; it does not have to be a riot”.

We were treated to Sarah’s micro-short film Breathe, a 90 second video of her fast paced, uplifting and artistically shot poem. Two fantastic premieres in one evening.

To conclude, Imogen asked Sarah to proffer one piece of advice, that she had learned over lockdown. She suggested that we be gentler with ourselves. Referring to our internal monologue, Sarah suggested that we apply the voice we use talk to others, when helping them, to ourselves. When dealing with yourself, Sarah points out, there are often two voices that speak to you; the harsh voice that chides you for not working hard enough, not being good enough, and the defeatist voice that tells you it’s all hopeless. Sarah recommends adopting the persona of the sensible adult – the kind and rational voice you use when you are helping others and being supportive. Good advice that puts into practice the idea of radical compassion.

Yet another wonderful event at the fabulous Paisley Book Festival.

If you missed Imogen's Radicalism in Stillness you can watch again with this link until 26th March.