A High Place

A High Place
click on the image to view the video


Helen Dewbery, film-maker, UK
Dawn Gorman, writer, UK


That night I dreamt they both died. She in a matchbox, small and desiccated, like an insect put there for safe keeping and forgotten. He of some pulmonary sequence, quick and undiscussed. In the garden, everyone asks if I can look after Grandad, suddenly back after all these years: that smell of cardigan pockets, sun on newspaper. I hold the whole story like a packet of seeds. In the cool house, a cupboard of toys they hadn't discarded, and a tall man taking the stairs two at a time to a high place I've never noticed. 'Dad' I call, and he pauses, almost as if he hears me. Then continues to climb.

Dawn Gorman on the project

I was thrilled when Helen Dewbery and Chaucer Cameron said they would like to make a poetry film of my prose poem, A High Place, but was totally unprepared for the emotional impact that the images and music they put together would deliver. Are you allowed to cry at your own voice reading your own poem? I did when I first watched this short but very beautiful film.

A High Place is a layering of stories within stories: the first, and most obvious, traces the weird, nocturnal logic of an actual dream. In it, my parents had died, and I was in the garden of my childhood home, surrounded by those anonymous, who-are-they people you get in dreams, who were wondering who was going to look after Grandad now my mother and father were gone. My Grandad – 'Pap' - actually died nearly 25 years ago - it's funny how things come back to haunt you in dreams.

Retreating into the house is part of a night-time loop for me - I often re-visit my childhood home when I'm asleep. That I saw my father on the stairs, and had my curious moment with him, relates partly to an incident in my father's own mother's life: her brother had gone on a day trip to the seaside but she had stayed home and, in the middle of the afternoon, suddenly saw her brother walking down the stairs. Later, they discovered he had died at exactly that moment. So stairs are, for me, a kind of window on to the 'other worldly', and a father perhaps metaphoring his way up the stairs to heaven, is about as 'other worldly' as you can get in a 1950s house in a small market town in the English Midlands.

I began writing the poem the instant I woke up - the dream was so vivid and bizarre, I knew I had to 'capture' it - and, because it was, essentially, a narrative sequence, I choose a simple, prose-poem style. It's not a form I use often, but it felt right here, not least because the scenes delve deeply into my childhood psyche - the toy cupboard, the long hot summers - and as a little girl, stories were where I felt safe.

Pap - my father's father - lived with us as I was growing up; he was my pal. When I think of him now, it's always summer, and he's in the garden shed, preparing seed trays and sprinkling tiny dots of life into small furrows in the fine, riddled earth. He taught me how to grow things - I still love gardening - and he taught me patience. So perhaps the poem is, in part, about his patience - waiting for me to turn back to him to tell his story. Because the 'whole story' referred to here is an as yet unmentioned and unmentionable one, about how he died, in tragic, shocking circumstances. Do I blame myself? Yes, in some ways, so another narrative layer in the poem concerns itself with guilt. The curious image of my mother fading away in a matchbox holds the burden of that sense of guilt for the reader, and again takes me to my childhood self, catching insects, toads, newts, anything I could, and putting them in containers of one kind or another. I tried to feed them, keep them alive, but I was young, sometimes forgot. We forget, we remember, guilt leans in.

The release date of this film, July 30th, was Pap's birthday.

Dawn Gorman
Dawn Gorman

Helen Dewbery on the project

Dawn and I met to discuss the poem and her family history, and we looked at photographs in frames and family albums. I scanned some of the photographs and recorded Dawn reading A High Place. On the way home, I began to develop ideas about how to approach the film. I wanted to use the scanned photographs but also to bring something new to them and to add some movement. Some years earlier I had bought a family archive of film reels dating from 1954 to 1979. It was important to me to be faithful to the value and definition of the scanned images as far as I knew that to be, and so I used split screen to differentiate, at least to myself, the scanned images and the archival film from a different source. I also wanted to include stairs in the film and so I projected several of the scanned images onto a staircase and digitally recorded the result.

Helen Dewbery
Helen Dewbery


Rabbit Heart Poetry Film Festival, USA, 2018


Helen Dewbery is co-director of Swindon Poetry Festival, UK, and co-editor of the online poetry film journal, Poetry Film Live. Her poetry films have been screened internationally in poetry and film festivals including Visible Verse, Canada; Festival Silêncio, Lisbon; Sadho, India. Her most recent project is working with Nine Arches press to create poetry film for their online content. Helen teaches, facilitates and promotes poetry film to poets and filmmakers and uses poetry film in community settings to promote well-being, and as a means of enabling people to express complex experiences. Helen is an Associate member of the Royal Photographic Society.

Dawn Gorman is a poet and editor, and devises and runs community arts events. She collaborates with film-makers, artists, photographers, musicians and other writers, and, with sculptor, Liz Watts, holds residencies in art galleries, where she runs poetry workshops and performance events. She has read her work at arts festivals, in pubs, bookshops and on street corners in London, New York, Paris and much smaller places. It appears regularly in journals, is widely anthologised, and has been turned into a symphony. Her pamphlet This Meeting of Tracks was published in the Pushcart Prize-nominated four-poet Mend & Hone (Toadlily Press, 2013).
For their contributions, advice and assistance, thanks to:
Alison Pridham, Aljaž Koprivnikar, Ari Raijas, Bill Mousoulis, Brendan Bonsack, Brian Short, Bronwen Manger, Caroline Rumley, Charles Olsen, Chris Luscri, Chris Windmill, Claudia Larose-Bell, Darko Duilo, Dave Bonta, David Quiles Guilló, Eduardo Yagüe, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Francesca Guiliani, Gemma Grist, Helen Dewbery, Ian Gibbins, Ivana Bojanić, Jackson, Jane Glennie, Jim Robson, Karen Dawson, Kathryn Darnell, James Meetze, Lino Mocerino, Liran Shachar, Lois P. Jones, Lori Ersolmaz, Lucia Sellars, Lucy English, Luigi Starace, Maria Vella, Marc Neys, Martin Kelly, Matt Hetherington, Matt Mullins, Mike Hoolboom, Nigel Wells, Pam Falkenberg, Paul Casey, R.W. Perkins, Sissy Doutsiou, Sylvia Toy St Louis, Vicky Mousoulis, the film-makers, writers and their collaborators.