The Anatomy Project was devised as the creative element of my M.A. thesis in creative writing, as the realisation of the academic argument the thesis supported: that poetry presented off the page and utilising techniques beyond the written word (such as film, light, visual media, environment and so on) represented a development of poetic form, rather than a departure from poetry proper. The basis of this argument (loosely and briefly expressed) was that when those techniques were focused on communicating the emotional centre of a piece of poetry, they could be considered as complementary to written techniques such as format, line-breaking and other such tools.
In this context, poetry was defined as “work that, through the selection and arrangement of concise and focused language, distils and intensifies experience, awareness, perception or emotion” – and don’t get me started on the two or so years it took me to finally decide on that as a workable definition; it was the hardest part of the whole damn degree.
Anatomy, an installation of 13 poems, set in a medical centre, explored the dichotomy of the fact that we are inclined, except when they fail us in some way, to take the functioning of our bodies for granted, while at the same time relying on them for the perception of psychological as well as physiological experience, and often for the words and images by which we express that experience.
Using anatomical metaphors and imagery, therefore, the installation followed 4 characters: a young man, a young woman, a middle-aged woman and an older man, through a visit to the medical centre, where each explored, in three poems, a character arc intended to reveal not only their expressed reason for visiting the doctor, but also their wider concerns about their lives and their futures. Each poem was titled with a feature from human anatomy.
Technically, the characters “spoke” in three locations within the environment: a cafe/tea-room space, the doctor’s waiting room and the doctor’s office. 4 actors were filmed, and the pieces were then edited to create 3 DVDs, These were then played in such a way that the actors' faces served to animate TV screen heads attached to three mannequins placed within the environment, one in each space. The actors "moved" in effect, by being projected into a different mannequin.
A fourth DVD, which first presented an introductory piece spoken by the Doctor with interjections from the four patients, and then slides containing medical information about the anatomical feature the poem was titled for, was created to complement and add a second level of meaning to the words. This slide show was projected onto a large screen at the rear of the room. Technically complex - as four entirely separate DVDs had to interact with each other to precise timings - the whole collection was designed to create an arc for each character, and a sense of narrative and commonality about the quite separate concerns and conditions they were bringing to the space.
The poems, their speaker and their location within the installation are given in order below.
Anatomy 101(Doctor & patients) projected on rear screen
Splenius Capitis (Older man) Waiting room
Dermis (Middle aged woman) Cafe
Bony Labyrinth (Young man) Waiting room
Skull (Young woman) Cafe
Temporal Lobe (Older man) Doctor’s office
Metatarsal (Young woman) Waiting Room
Optic System(Young man) Doctor’s Office (this poem cannot be adequately reproduced on e2, as the visual layout of it is as essential as the actual words – the piece is presented as an eye chart and the patient reads them letter by letter as the words the letters form are highlighted for the audience)
Islets of Langerhans (Middle aged woman) Waiting room
Abdomen (Young Woman) Doctor’s Office
Suprasternal Notch (Young man) Cafe
Vertebral Column (Middle aged woman) Doctor’s office
Larynx (Older man) Cafe
A video record of the installation, which gives some kind of sense of the piece, can be seen on Youtube.