Members of the Intrepid Tongues team, Victoria Beardwood and Amy Sheffield, attempted to recreate one of Flemish poet, Maud Vanhauwaert’s videos, ‘Poëzie en public’, in Sheffield. Here they recount their experiences and present the footage from their shoot.
Following the success of our Skype interview with De Gebroeders Fretz, we were all excited to chat to Flemish poet Maud Vanhauwaert and arrived on Friday armed with plenty of questions about her first poetry bundle Ik ben mogelijk. In our first meeting at the beginning of the semester, we watched a video of Maud performing her poem ‘Zullen we wachten?’. The video, which you can see below, sees Maud reciting lines of the poem to passers-by on the streets of Belgium and the responses from the general public certainly make it highly entertaining to watch! In an attempt to really get to grips with Maud’s poetry and to see what the reaction of the Sheffield public would be, we decided it would be a fun experiment to translate Zullen we wachten into English and make our own video on the streets of Sheffield, using lines from the poem in both Dutch and English.
We began our afternoon of filming with great trepidation. Translating the poem had been the easy part, but now both Victoria and I were coming to terms with the terrifying idea of walking up to random people and asking them if we should “wait until our children are grown.” However, we put on our brave faces for the sake of art, and chose the traffic lights outside the main University library as our location. We then agreed to take it in turns embarrassing ourselves in public and the video camera.
At first, the challenge was getting the people we were talking to to even acknowledge us. This may have simply been due to the noise of the traffic, but then again they may have just decided to ignore the crazy person talking about strawberries! Finally people began to respond, some politely replying “yes”, when asked, “should we wait”, while others gave us some wonderfully dirty looks. We filmed for about an hour, at the traffic lights and outside the doors of our departmental building and it did not get any less scary. An edit showing our endeavors has been made for your amusement.
During our interview with Maud I got the chance to ask her how she felt doing this kind of performance poetry and she admitted to being nervous, which I took comfort in. She also told us that she uses the city as her inspiration, which I think is clear to see from both her videos and Ik ben mogelijk. She seems very interested in people, how they go about their day-to-day lives, and how much they are willing to share with a stranger when given the opportunity.
Maud’s original video:
Before reading Maud Vanhauwaert’s poetry bundle, Ik ben mogelijk, we were first shown a video she had made, called ‘Poëzie en public’. In this clip, she recites lines from her poem, ‘Zullen we wachten?’ to unsuspecting strangers on the street. The Belgian public’s reaction proved extremely interesting, with the camera managing to capture some rather amusing moments, touching moments and very normal responses too. I loved Maud’s video and the idea behind it, and thought it would be an interesting experiment to try to recreate a similar video on the streets of Sheffield. Thus, Amy and I translated ‘Zullen we wachten?’ into English, grabbed a camera and mustered a modicum of courage before venturing into Sheffield and reciting poetry.
The nature of the poem – being almost entirely made up of interrogative phrases such as “zullen we wachten tot onze kinderen groot zijn?” and “zullen we wachten tot de aardbeien rood zijn?” – lent itself to the situation, as people initially thought we were just asking them a question. This was especially the case with the line, “shall we wait?” – as one might expect. When people realised, however, that what we were saying was more poetical than literal, they generally grew confused and uncomfortable.
We had various reactions to our public poetry. A few people simply laughed, when filming at traffic lights, some people responded to “shall we wait” with a bemused “er…yes”, and a few people just walked away. Every now and then someone would have a conversation with us, which was my favourite result as it meant the poetry had led to something real and led to us communicating with people. It was also my favourite result simply because it was quite amusing. I asked a man “shall we wait until our children are grown?”, to which he responded, “but we don’t have any children…”.
Overall the experiment was really interesting to do, although we filmed for just over an hour in total and didn’t get as much useful footage as I’d have liked. However, we spoke to Maud about this in our Skype interview and she said that she had to do a lot of filming in order to achieve her two and a half minute video. I’d love to have another go at this, but for a longer time, speaking totally in English, using a microphone and really acting out the poetry we recite.
Victoria and Amy’s version of ‘Poëzie en public’: