Psycho Poetica

Hitchcock’s classic film recreated in original poetry and music, devised by Simon Barraclough for the 50th anniversary of Psycho in 2010. Simon Barraclough sliced the film up into twelve segments – ‘twelve cabins, and twelve vacancies’ at the Bates Motel – and then recruited twelve poets to write a brand new poem in response to their randomly-allocated segment. When read together in sequence, with no titles or introductions, a new version of the classic film emerges, by turns chilling, amusing and moving. To intensify the experience, Oli Barrett of Bleeding Heart Narrative composed a new score to accompany each poem, along with an interlude piece called ‘Cop Shy’. I got the penultimate scene – the shocking discovery in the Bates house –  and wrote a poem titled ‘Trappings’. (But I also wrote a second, somewhat more oblique poem, ‘California Gothic’, as I was asked to introduce the screening of the film at the British Film Institute, reading my Psycho poem, and I realised I neededa version with no ‘spoiler’, for those in the BFI audience who hadn’t seen the film before.)

Twelve different poetic voices and visions created a “faithful distortion” of Psycho, focusing in and out of the original. After packed performances in 2010 at the British Film Institute, the Whitechapel Gallery, Latitude Festival and the Royal Festival Hall, the StAnza International Poetry Festival in St Andrews featured a new “portable” version of the show, using three readers: Simon Barraclough, Isobel Dixon and Joe Dunthorne, and pre-recorded music.

In The List, Charlotte Runcie wrote that ‘the effect was a parallel universe version of Psycho, with poetry that read like woozy psychological reports and fragmented witness statements, the film’s subconscious articulated through a score of deeper, crazier strings than the original.’

On the StAnza blog, James Harding described the show’s ‘brilliant recipe’, adding that ‘the result of applying this recipe to Hitchcock’s Psycho was a thirty-five minute poem cycle inspired by the film, but in sometimes unexpected ways. It was a moving experience, and the poetry was read in suitably dramatic tones by Simon Barraclough, Isobel Dixon and Joe Dunthorne. The score by Oliver Barrett from Bleeding Hearts Narrative really helped contributed to the meditative yet frantic mood.’

And poet David Morley put it most succinctly, describing Psycho Poetica as ‘finely carved’.

The work of the twelve poets featured in the show are:

  •  Matthew Welton – Untitled
  • Dzifa Benson – The $40,000 Pill
  • Simon Barraclough – Being a Woman You Will
  • Heather Phillipson – 1960s Monochrome Hollywood Paraphernalia ($47, collection only)
  • Richard Price – Only My Share
  • Jane Draycott – Untitled
  • Emily Berry – Two Birds on the Wall Point Two Ways
  • Chris McCabe – Untitled
  • Joe Dunthorne – Dear Arbogast
  • Luke Heeley – Untitled
  • Isobel Dixon – Trappings
  • Annie Freud – The Yes and the No and the Terrible Thank You

Psycho Poetica’s musicians are: Oliver Barrett, Clarissa Carlyon, Phil Noyce and Simon Trevethick. Oliver Barrett has composed a new piece for this project entitled ‘Cop Shy’.

A performance and discussion of Psycho Poetica by Simon Barraclough and Isobel Dixon featured at ‘Visible and Invisible Authorships’: The 7th Annual Conference of The Association of Adaptation Studies at York University, 27th-28th September 2012 and the poems have all now been collected in a beautiful illustrated anthology from Sidekick Books. Edited by Simon Barraclough, the anthology features 16 poets and 18 poems – with a 'Main Feature' and 'Alternate Takes'.

You can see more about the anthology and order copies from Sidekick Books here.