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    DOGS ...
    BIRDS ...

        & A BOOK CALLED
                        REPUBLIC OF BIRDS

(Two cuts and five poems)

“For four decades, poet, translator and activist Stephen WATTS has been the quietly urgent, profoundly committed voice of the marginalised and the overlooked, whether person or place. He understands that the true ethical centre that matters lies at the edge, whether in the pull of outpost islands or the common ground of migrant streets. His tools are perennial witness and precise resistance through poem and prose, anchored in lyric anger for justice and praise song to the loved but fragile things. The language he deploys is one of dark illumination. His is fiercely internationalist writing, a challenge to the abuses of the age that is tense with solidarity, resonance and grace.

Now he has found his collaborative equal in the engaged 16mm filmmaker Huw WAHL, who has translated the text of Watt’s book-length prose poem REPUBLICS OF DOGS/REPUBLIC OF BIRDS (first published by Test Centre, 2017; and reissued by Prototype, 2020) into a luminous feature-length documentary essay of remarkable beauty and spirited attention. THE REPUBLICS moves from the early 1980s to the present, and from London’s Isle of Dogs and Scotland’s Western Isles—where Watts lived and worked as a shepherd in his youth—to the mountains of Northern Italy: at once a topographic journey and a highly personal meditation on history, memory, identity and belonging.”

            —Gareth EVANS, mmxx

Order the book direct from the publisher here.

For more on the film, see here.

“After a couple of meetings with Stephen, we began to talk about an anti-film; something that would avoid merely illustrating the words of the book but, instead, push towards a collaboration of image and prose that would converse with the places, histories and memories contained in the writing.

The manuscript for the Republic Of Dogs/Republic Of Birds was mislaid, found and, in places, both finished as unfinished. I wanted to bring about the same lost-and-found element into the film process, and it therefore seemed fitting to use 16mm film, and to develop it myself in my basement. I like both the material restriction and also the quality of b&w film, and the fact that when working with it you have to memorise (and perhaps even embody) everything you shoot, without being able to see it immediately. The process has been compared to a bit like writing with invisible ink.

In total, The Republics is edited from about four hours of footage (about ninety 100ft reels), a shooting ratio of less than 1:3.

A lot of the film is accountable to our roaming the countryside or the city, looking for things that caught our eye, and attending to the conversations that arose. It was an iterative process. I had a script at the start, but for the most part we were guided by my tatty copy of the book, marked with many notes. It was our guide.

The result is an opening up of language from many different sources that has broadened my understanding of form greatly. I absorbed so much richness in the making, and it has surely changed my way of working forever.”

I am indebted to the Chilean artist and filmmaker Malena SZLAM for this metaphor.

                            H.W., mmxx


... calm dappled horses that stood in perfect stillness for half hours or hours on the sands at the sea’s edge, waiting for the subtle and delicate waywardness of the shifting breeze, their bellies reflected in the still-wet sands. Horses that waited in the shape of more distant islands, or on the short headlands of schist cropping the grasses from among the moss. Horses that in winter walked the solid ice of the shattered land, cross- ing from lake to lake and crest to crest across a land that was solidified time. And that in spring and early summers pulled out every furrow there was room for and that later carried the ryes to the moor-edge mills. Horses that came down from the mountains, small and wiry and discerning; horses that were quite uncompromised but that would become a little fastidious if left in the easing meadows too long. Blue horses whose blood must almost be milk, blue horses with translucent bellies lit inside by the sun, and mares with white-blue foetuses floating upside down inside them. The horses of chance that in winter walked along snow ruts and thought about pain, even human pain, and in autumn stood on rock crests to watch brown days sink away. The horses of chance that stood against great gales and the peltings of hail, when the roofs of the houses and barns would be torn off. And that in snowfalls would stand under gable ends or in hollows on the lee sides where even so wreiths of snow would curl and dune their way against their stubborn legs. And then the horses of chance, the blue horses, change and become red : red translucent bellies x-rayed in the sunlight, translucent red-edged foetuses swimming in dark dreams; and then those terrible mornings, those dawns when it seemed that the bellies of the horseshad been ripped open and the waters of life gushed over the earth’s surface. The horses with their nuzzles agape and their bloodshot eyes, whatever the season of the year. The gentle eyes of the horses, that can no longer see ...


(This, the monadic, the maenadic, the maenad & nomad of knowing ...)


How is it possible ? How is it possible to write about the people in the cities of the Republic ? How is it possible to write about everyone of them or even any one of them ? For how can any words encompass a life ? Doesn’t a life change, immediately and without prescription, impossible to convey in words. How is it possible to write about the drunk and fighting men outside the cinema, as they reel past the doors as on a screen, or the women with alcoholically scarlet faces shat- tered outside the supermarket ? For after all, who on earthare they ? Out of which cluster of needs do they really come, emerging into common sharings of light ? How is it possible to write about the exhausted Armenian, snoring on the bench of the tube station, or the two girls truanting in the cafes until half-past three ? Or the women with prams passing through the market of melts, who knows from which houses, from which beds and what sort of beds, from what men or women or mothers or extended families they have come, solicitouson their working legs. Who knows them at all and which of the onlookers know anything of themselves, breathing through the coloured day ? Which market man or woman at a barrow.What moving man or woman in a chador. Or that man with flaxen hair and the woman with him just the same. Who can be able to say their precise thoughts ? How can it be possible ? To write about the people in the cinema, even though they were hardly a dozen at most. The girl selling carrot cake, the laughing one at the door. The youths dispensing iftar from under a yellow awning. How’s it possible to know what’s inside a person, let alone to find the words to encompass their lives, let alone the words to chalice round each life. For if he is the one, then so is she and so is someone else and so is everyone, each as much as the other. And if words cannot do, then what is the worth of saying such words ? And if you stand thereon the corner unable to eat or to utter at all in the stony rain ?


(The Recipe For Carp : already written)


Consider the sentence, that it is born and not written. As a human being might be said to be born, or a flower to flower. Consider then that a book is created and never is written. A childlike thought, the thought of a child. And then — whatever you may read or may write from now on, let it be done in like manner, guaranteed by the birth of a sentence, fashioned from the redaction of a human life come to be. For inside the soul there is an immense distance and yet the soul is a small calmness to reside in.

Stephen WATTS is a poet and translator. He feels poetry as energy and breath, as body and spirit. Recent books of his own include Ancient Sunlight (Enitharmon 2014) & Republic Of Dogs / Republic Of Birds (Test Centre, 2017; Prototype 2020). Prototype plan to publish his Collected Poems starting in 2022. Among recent co-translations are Adnan al-SAYEGH’s Pages From The Diary Of An Exile (Arc Publications 2016) & Golan HAJI’s A Tree Whose Name I Don’t Know (A Midsummer Night's Press 2017). Lemon Sun by Ziba KARBASSI is forthcoming in 2020. His mother’s family are from the Italian Alps (his grandfather was a shepherd: poets are shepherds of words!) & he himself quit university and went to look after sheep on North Uist where he began to write poetry. Since 1977 he has lived mostly in Whitechapel, working as a poet in schools, hospitals & drop-in centres and in situations of shared language & health & well-being. He researches international poetries.

Huw WAHL is an artist filmmaker born in London in 1985. His award winning work has been screened internationally, featured in magazines Sight and Sound and The Wire, and received funding from organisations such as The Henry Moore Foundation, ACE, and the RPS. His film Everything Lives (2016)looking at the artist as fatherscreened at Open City Docs and was selected for the Future Shorts summer programme. Action Space (2016) won the Prix Filaf d’Argent at FILAF film festival and the inflatable made as part of the film travelled to various places for screening and filming events, such as Flatpack Film Festival and Chelsea School of Arts in London. His first film, To Hell With Culture (2014), about the poet, writer and anarchist Sir Herbert Read premiered at the ICA and numerous film festivals such as DOKU.ARTS in Berlin. He has also written in academic journals, magazines, given papers at conferences, and taught short film and photography courses in university and community settings. See here.

WATT’s work also appears in Hotel #7;

        see here

A season of films curated by WAHL—including THE REPUBLICS—will be available on demand from 12th—26th March here.

Order a copy of
Republic of Dogs / Republic of Birds
direct from the publisher here.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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