Looking For Cinemas

cinemas, leeds, film, imndustry

Sometime over the next few weeks three men, two cars and two red-velvet cinema seats, will be travelling around Leeds and looking for photo opportunities. This unlikely expedition, a kind of casual caravanserai if you like, will be visiting the sites of some of the sixty or so suburban cinemas that used to be a lively part of my home city’s cultural and entertainment life.

The three men, poets Matthew Hedley Stoppard and me, James Nash , with photographer and artist Kevin Hickson, will be unloading the cinema seats at different venues and looking for images to illustrate the collection of poems ‘Cinema Stories’ which Matthew and I have been writing over the last year or so.

I cannot tell you how powerful visiting the sites of past cinematic glories has been, looking at old buildings for signs of their history in what are now warehouses, offices and launderettes. And the joy of the few old buildings which still cling onto their historic use like The Lounge and The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds 6.

I’m imagining Matthew and myself beaming into the camera from our old plush vantage points, but as in our other journeying around the city, this photographic pilgrimage may well produce their own ideas and inspiration, and perhaps even some new poems.


Poetic inspiration and editing and redrafting


Humber Bridge

Two weeks ago I took the train to Hull and then on to Bridlington where I was going to spend a few days on my own looking at the poems that have been growing in my notebook over the last year. The inspiration for the poems has been, as many will know, the old suburban cinemas of Leeds in their heyday from the twenties to the sixties of the last century.

For me the experience of looking at these cinemas and thinking about their history was closely bound up with my own experience of ‘going to the pictures’ both in London where I spent my child and young manhood, and in Leeds where I have worked and lived since I was twenty two.

But this was a different journey. It was a journey of reacquainting myself with my poems and drafts, of getting to know them again. It felt like I was travelling to meet a family, a family I had fostered from time to time, and was now adopting as my own.

As the train edged along the Humber and under the bridge across it, I felt my excitement grow. Because although the poems were about suburban cinemas in Leeds, there was also something in there about mortality and creation, the constant companions of any artist, the grist and the fruit of their work.

Some half-remembered observation by the Venerable Bede filled my head. This extraordinary historian and ecclesiastic wrote that our lives were like that of a sparrow flying in and out of the warmth of a great hall in winter. There was a parallel here with the experience of going to the cinema and getting a few hours off from your own life before having to join it again later, of sitting in warm darkness and watching other people’s stories.

This last idea brewed away, and became this month’s Poem of the Month.