‘Academic Populous’ – The Grand Finale

Not strictly professional experience as far as conventional students go, but I referred to this project during my time in Iceland, and now with only days left to go before I leave Coventry for good, I decided to finish what I’d started – the final artefact of my poetry trident here at the university.

Two Minutes’ was for a little project in my second year, based around ‘time’. ‘Mr Nice Guy’ (or ‘The Original Mr Nice Guy’, depending on what your preference of titles is) was for another project in my third year, based around innocence, and the false perceptions of it. To close the show, here I finish with ‘Academic Populous’ – a short summary of an average student’s entire time in academia.

The content of the poem ranges from Year 11 at secondary school, right through to the days just before graduation, and accounts for all of the varying rites of passage that have been experienced along the way. It was not really written from my own experiences (some of it was), but rather from the view point of my generation as a whole. In the original version of this poem, no names, places, or titles are mentioned. The poem stops with ‘to remember them well’, and that’s simply it. Any student anywhere can apply this poem to their own feelings.

However, I added an extra two verses at the end, as I changed the purpose of the artefact to something else after writing it – I made it a homage to my entire social circle at the university. The people I had gone through my own rites of passage with. Thus, the last line was extended to something that would include ‘Coventry’, to represent this as a poem written by a Coventry student, for his friends that he’d met in Coventry. Ultimately, I liked this idea a lot, so that is why it is included here in this video. The original ending is marked with a slightly longer pause, symbolizing where the original ending was, and where the extra part is added (you can also tell that the context changes from looking back at past events, to looking forward at the events to come).

Unlike ‘Two Minutes’, this poem took longer than twenty minutes to write. Several years may be closer to the mark, as I originally wrote a similar poem for my college friends three years ago, entitled ‘The Clock Was Never Broken’. I was never happy with it though – ‘Academic Populous’ is a much more mature outlook on academia as a whole (but note that the ‘clock’ line remained from the original version of three years ago, as did the opening and closing lines ‘remember them well’).

Whether people who have never ‘done’ academia understand the emotion of the words in the same way is something I’m most interested in. This is really aimed at university students of a certain age at an exact moment in time. This is probably the first time in our entire lives when we have had to look back at something, and understand with perfect certainty that it will never happen again. I like this poem because there is something very final about the words. Depressing and simultaneously optimistic. But a hundred percent final, and non-avoidable (this poem is about ‘time’ as well, it seems!). It was written in the most sentimental and understanding way I could muster – my abilities as a poet usually have my poetry either revolving around myself, or founded on a purely descriptive basis. That I wrote this poem in appreciation of others made it something of a challenge for me.

I would imagine it will make most of my friends extremely sad – I know when I first read this poem back to myself, the line about the photographs certainly left a lump in my throat!

In terms of creating the artefact though, I didn’t want myself to be on screen doing a recitation – I’ve done that already, and I wanted to do something else. Given the content of the lyrics, what better way than to mash my entire three-year collection of photographs of some of the ‘best student moments’ together, and link them all in chronological order. Learning kung-fu and attending the summer ball… having my radio show and completing a work placement in Tenerife… heading out to make a movie in Iceland… This was not about the experiences themselves – it was about the people I’d met during them. I recorded this the same way I did with ‘Mr Nice Guy’ – a Marantz 660 and a reports mic.

Interestingly, you will notice that there are several recurring course-mates throughout the photographs. This was not really intentional – they are simply people I’ve gone out with lots over the years. In some ways, not only can you see the changes I’ve gone through, but also the changes my friends around me have gone through as well.

I was very selective about what shots I put up on this video… as mentioned, this is a rather sensitive poem for anyone in the target audience, so the last thing I would want to do is annoy or provoke any of my friends with a video of them being sick in a toilet (not that anybody else would want to see that either!). I think the ‘drinking culture’ of students was something I needed to capture though – the messiest and craziest videos are of my original flat mates from my first year, most of whom have not been around for my third year (they all left Coventry). I look back at them and laugh at the great nights we’d had. I hope that when people see the photos, and hear the words, that possibly they will feel the same way I do within their own memories. If they do… then the poem is a success.

Most photos are my own, with only a few exceptions (including one that is slightly stretched, but I thought was important to include). On the theme of being ‘final’, the last shot is not in ‘Ken Burns’ – it is static, showing the end of the memory, and the movement of sight towards the future.

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