Angelus Septentrio

Angelus Septentrio


The following article is from Horizon Magazine about the film work…

Angelus Septentrio: Deconstructing an Angel

How do you write about something as iconic as The Angel of the North? I think there are two ways. One: you make it incidental, not the main focus of the poem. Two: you go for the ultimate personification of it, leaving the reader in no doubt what your poem is about.

‘Angelus Septentrio’ is of the second variety. The film dictated that. The process began after the first phonecall from the film’s director Anton Hecht. I started a notebook, copying down what I thought of the Angel, bits of research that I had done on the internet and generally anything I thought would be useful. Nothing formed. At this stage I had no idea of a title but was translating some Catallus poems from the Latin and thought a Latin title might add to the gravitas of the piece, and anyway the title had to be a discussion piece in itself. Not a literal translation, ‘Septentrio’ is the seven stars of The Great Bear in the Northern Sky and thus a general representation of ‘Northern’ rather than North, and even Angelus is not the only way Angel could be rendered.

Anton Hecht had set up some workshops with various groups in the Gateshead area where I ran workshops to generate ideas that might be incorporated into the poem. These consisted of working together to discuss feelings and attitudes towards Gormley’s artwork since it was first constructed, and develop descriptive terms for it. These were added to the general mix and I started to construct the poem.

The initial poem was three times longer than the final poem used. I was instructed by the director about the length in many phone calls and chats. Eventually I attacked the poem and shortened it to the length it is in the film. This was an intensive and brutal process, attempting to keep the theme of the poem whilst cutting away important elements. Much writing and re-writing ensued until I was happy with the version that I had come to call, ‘The Director’s Cut’.

I recorded my poem at a little studio in Leith, Edinburgh, and that was me done. (My version of the poem can be heard at the end of the film.) I took part in the filming though and had a fun day out in Gateshead posing with many assorted folk from dancers through to traffic wardens and all points in between.