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Poetry Goes Technical: LYRA, Cancer Alley and AI poetry with Thomas Zadegiacomo del Bel

If you are in Bristol this weekend LYRA poetry festival is closing on the 21st with lots still to come, such as TS Eliot prize-winning poets Joelle Taylor and Alice Oswald (in Oswald’s case supported by Caroline Bird and Rachel Long). And for poetry film lovers and those interested in the interaction between poetry and technology there are two major events.

The installation Cancer Alley has been created by Bristol poet Professor Lucy English and intrepid American eco poetry film activists Pam Falkenberg and Jack Cochran, with technical support from Bristol company Holotronica. Whilst the event is situated in a small room at The Watershed, here you will find a melding of leading creative filmmakers (unbeatable visual and sound editing) with politically eloquent and strident voices. Pam and Jack have a total commitment to documenting environmental and human rights atrocities and spreading the word, and have worked with Lucy English on several environmental projects.

Cancer Alley is an 85-mile stretch of more than 200 chemical plants and oil refineries near the Mississippi river between East Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It has a high mortality rate as can be expected from what has been described as a Human Rights crisis with a mainly black population engulfed in toxic waste. Outlier have been documenting images of this nightmare set against the struggles of human habitation alongside the threatened natural environment, particularly cypress groves. The footage was collected on two trips in 2021 and 2022, often in difficult political conditions (they were warned to back off when caught on refinery security cameras). This resulted in their almost total use of a ‘camera car’, even for stills, and they found it ideal when venturing out into the cypress wetland areas.

After Pam and Jack collected footage, Lucy English wrote a poem to the visuals inspired by the accounts of local people and ‘the words of Manari Ushigua Santi, the indigenous leader and forest protector of the Sapara Nation of the Equadorian rainforest.’

Outlier first made a single channel video, then English gained funding from Bath Spa University to create an installation based on the same video, but with some important sensory differences. There are two screens, one which carries the main body of the footage (the ‘backplate’ of the installation) but, with the aid of three projectors, the poetic text and a parade of plastic bottles appear to ‘float’ on a larger silvered, hologauze screen, closer to us, whilst we also experience an effect of smokey air pollution.

CA installation video sample 1

From a creative point of view, pay attention to the quality of Outlier’s sound. They say: ‘The sound was mostly composed from our sound library, supplemented by sound we recorded on location in Cancer Alley, along with sound shared online by sound recording enthusiasts. But sync sound recording along with the images wasn’t a big part of the sound, since the sound of the car engine rather ruins that. But we did record non-sync sound from locations where we could stop and park. Some was in nature preserves, some in the refinery areas.’

CA installation video sample 2

Sitting in the Room at The Watershed

the link to Cancer Alley promo trailer on Vimeo:


Pam has written some really fascinating process notes about the project, and how her family came from an area of Southwestern Pennsylvania where fossil fuel mining caused its own devastation on the environment. These can be found at the very interesting project website


In Cancer Alley the artists have used technology against itself in a way; to shed light on corruption and disaster, but with a creative lens that allows us to be drawn into the desperate circumstances that have existed for far too long.  The viewer has to engage with the politics of human abuse. As the words from the poem state:  ‘Technology tells us we are alive… If we are aware why do we do nothing?’

Smokey pollution and flashes from ‘behind the scenes / screen’


If you care about the planet and want to learn more about how audio-visual media can help lobby for change, I would advise you to get to The Watershed before last call on Sunday. Poetry film and political action are walking hand in hand in this installation that is destined for many more iterations in the future. The team are also looking to show the screening in a larger venue with darkened walls and surround sound, so I am looking forward to that event with bated breath.

Poetry and New Technology (courtesy Thomas Zandegiacomo del Bel from ZEBRA)

(Saturday 3 p.m. The event is also available to watch via live stream, however this will only be the screening itself and not the Q&A.)

In contrast to using technology to reveal environmental and human atrocities, Thomas Zandegiacomo del Bel, the artistic director of leading poetry film festival ZEBRA in Berlin, is presenting a series of short films on the cutting edge intersection of poetry and technology (and will also answer questions afterwards) where ingenious geeks have run riot with text that proliferates between the graphics, codes, apps and devices of the world we live in. As the promotional information states: ‘the films are all technically sophisticated, crossing boundaries between AI, social media and algorithms, and are based on poems by Jörg Piringer, Raed Wahesh and Yehuda Amichai, among others. There is a dance of new technology that enthralls and captivates, and cannot help but insinuate itself into our lives. This is the other side of the coin to Cancer Alley and I recommend that you take time for both this weekend.