Monday, April 16, 2018

Interview _ Carol Leeming

Carol Leeming is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and is an award winning, internationally acclaimed, multi-genre writer, director, musician, singer/songwriter, performing artist, actor and arts curator.

Her poems have been featured in anthologies that include Out of Bounds (Bloodaxe, 2014), Hidden Stories (University of Leicester and Phoenix Leicester, 2015), Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) and Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016).

In 2016, working with digital arts practitioner Rob Gurney, Carol Leeming produced The Enchanter, a short film that fuses music, poetry and performance. She is also the author of The Declamations of Cool Eye (Dare to Diva Productions, 2017), a poetry chapbook.

In this interview, Carol Leeming talks about the work she is doing.

How would you describe The Enchanter?

The Enchanter is a mythical, magical character, a narrator, and it is also the title of the film poem which features a love song, "Habibi", and a love poem, “Drawing” which is included in my debut poetry collection, The Declamations of Cool Eye.

I produced Enchanter in March 2016 with Rob Gurney of Digital Mechanic.

The Enchanter, as an idea for a persona, came to me via a silver sequinned hat made in Morocco. I got the hat whilst in Brighton for a play of mine at Brighton Dome Theatre in March 2016.

Some of my interests in the arts include Magic Realism, Afro-Futurism and Fantasy, and using the arts and technology as a kind of magic practice. So the Enchanter persona stems from these things. It can be located in an actual space, for example, Leicester, but also within a creative, imagined space. The Enchanter persona is mysterious, acts as a jali or griot or chronicler, and shows North African tribal roots of the Amazigh or Turareg people of the Sahara. These are people I have some ancestral links with.

What were the most challenging aspects of the work that went into the film?

Time constraints for Rob, a busy, creative person and a freelancer, and myself. We had both decided to make the work in late 2015 but only got together in March 2016 to actually get round to shoot it. Also, finding a location to shoot on the weekend, for example, on Sundays, proved a challenge, which was solved by using the 2 Queens Gallery’s downstairs space.

Being a member of the Seven Five Film Production group, based at the Phoenix Arts, I was able to recruit a good crew for the shoot.

Sound was also something we had to pay special attention to.

Subsequently, when Enchanter was completed, we organised a preview launch event at Phoenix Arts. The film was well received. During the Q&A that followed, people described the film as ‘mesmerising’, ‘stunning’, and ‘magical’. And recently, at Upstairs at the Western, several people came to see the film again. They enjoyed it and said they wanted to see it again as they experience different things each time they watch it. Enchanter also received the 2016 Penfold Media Award from Leicester Writers Club.

What connects The Enchanter and The Declamations of Cool Eye?

The poetry collection gives a strong, poetic, narrative voice to Cool Eye, a mythologised black female narrator, who may or may not occupy, simultaneously, physical and metaphysical space; a chronicler who feels marginalised, who reports on the ‘down pressure’ of society. The collection starts with a sense of place and natural events, before moving into sensuality and sexuality at times, the interior of self, expressing angst, disquiet, pleasure, joy and the spirit or just observing and reflecting.

The Declamations of Cool Eye came about over time and coalesced, after the video was made, into a collection. I had been thinking, for some time, to create a collection of some of my shorter poems. I felt I needed to find out what audience there was for my page poetry and promote myself more as a poet, to try and get bookings and develop an audience also. I knew my choreopoetry, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva, had an audience after sell out performances at Curve in 2012 and my second choreopoem, Love the Life You Live, Live The Life You Love, included in Hidden Stories, sold well.

I have sold copies of my poetry book to professed ‘non-poetry’ people who tell me they have read Cool Eye more than once. I have received positive reviews from respected poetry reviewers. I have also been giving readings from the collection locally at venues like Upstairs at the Western where some audience members who had already bought the book came because they wanted to hear me read the poems.

For you, what is the connection between film, music, poetry and stage performance?

I seek beauty. I may see beauty where others may not, or connections between things that may seem disparate. It can create a liminal space, for interesting things to happen. This is a challenge I like. I also see myself primarily as a storyteller, whether it is in music, songs, theatre, dance, poetry or images still or moving. In the African Diasporic culture, we have always expressed ourselves through a variety of these mediums or combined them.

In the 90s when I was not performing music, I was paid to take photos, or work as a fashion stylist. I have an eye and a unique take on things. I was like a hunter getting shots to capture a look, a moment, a mood or feeling. Always constructing a narrative, whether with clothes or makeup, creating a mis en scene. The same is true of performance, creating a stage picture, casting performers, using space in a particular way, through body movement, to create something wonderful, a look, a mood, a feeling through which to convey a particular narrative or narratives.

I also write plays, short form poetry, and long form poetry. My choreopoems are like prose short stories in non-rhyming verse. I like very much the depth, compression and freedom for the imagination that poetry provides. I seek to be transliterate as an artist and make connections, combine, juxtapose, contrast and interlink different forms and ideas. You could think of what I do as a kind of weaving, to make a whole or ask questions from the different threads.

Most artists tend to focus on one medium. You embrace and work in more than one. How did this happen?

I displayed artistic abilities in visual art, music and theatre, from childhood, but lacked the opportunities, early on, to develop them. So, after growing up in Highfields, having kids, getting married and later getting divorced, then being a single parent, I eventually came to an arts career, firstly, in music and, later on, in other art forms. Being in the music industry on a major record label, taught me so much about music, film, photography, fashion, art direction, business, performance and the experience of travel around the world.

I had always been interested in ideas and art, and I tried and was successful at many different art forms. I am a naturally curious person, with a big imagination, and I am happiest when I am learning new things. I would often put forward creative ideas, ahead of their time. Others would say the ideas would not work or that they were not possible, but I knew they would succeed. This has been key to my achievements to date, along with a knack for looking forward and anticipating future outcomes and trends.

Early on, it was difficult for others to understand or comprehend how I was able to do this so easily. From a western perspective, some tried to classify me and confine me to one art form. This was frustrating, at times. After I went to West Africa in the early noughties, then did I fully understand, from an Afrocentric point of view, given specifically my African heritage, that it was natural for me to convey my artistic expression through different art forms or mediums or a combination of forms and media. I later learned the Arts Council called me a multi-artist, whilst others in the arts and academia called me a polymath.

What would say is the role of The Arts in a city like Leicester?

I like the saying I heard, which I paraphrase: “Art should discomfort the comfortable and comfort the discomforted.” I believe the role for The Arts in Leicester should be to continue to make culturally diverse art, that reflects excellence at its very best, and to share the beauty and creativity of all its artists, from across the different communities and groups, particularly the marginalised groups. We can all see what it is we are not seeing and whose voices we are not hearing.

I think we live in a world of stories, but often we keep hearing the same ones over and over again. The role would be to be bold, to interrupt these dominant self-referencing stories, replace them, make new stories, tell old stories in new ways, but let us hear new old voices, from the marginalised communities and groups, and bring these new voices to the centre of everything in The Arts. The new voices are there but there is often wilful deafness and blindness to them. This should stop.

This article was first published online in March 2017 in the magazine, Great Central.