The Matchsellers is an animated poem about Tommy a veteran who finds himself homeless and begging on the streets of London. Poem by Dr. Ian C. Hale Animated by Gary Jesch
Compiled by Keri Bowers
The point I hoped to convey in the animation is that the sad remnants of war, and the lack of peace, are found decades later. We could say they have always been there, and we have chosen not to look for them, to not seek them out.
I’m always fascinated by people with the intense latitude to flow – seemingly effortlessly – between highly right-brain orientation and razor-sharp left-brain function. To be simultaneously imaginative, intuitive, and creative, while possessing an intense degree of linear, logical, sequential and analytical-oriented order at the same time is a trait we see and appreciate in many neurodiverse individuals.
The nuanced collaboration in the creation of this video – a spoken word poem in animation – is an example of hemispheric collaboration. The Matchsellers video is the bold outcome between two men; one autistic and one neurotypical, their minds, and respective and joint processes.
The Art of Autism received many creative, thought-provoking, intellectually and philosophically poignant submissions for our 5th Annual Art and Poems for Peace Project 2020. Published in September each year, this year’s four-part series was a much-needed expression of peace and unity in this, a year of a global pandemic and polarized unrest around the world. Submissions came in from all over the world, and together, the artist’s brilliantly and collectively honored September 21st, the United Nation’s International Day of World Peace.
This animated poem was one such submission that made a lasting impact upon me.
The poem is cerebral and its emotional expression lends itself to uplift in these times of uncertainty, and by extension, promotes the continuation of the Art of Autism’s commitment to the practice of peace in our work.
We hope you will take some time to reflect on The Matchsellers’ message as discussed below by its author, Dr. Ian Hale, a poet who studied Special and Higher Education with Genetics at Bath Spa University in the United Kingdom. Gary Jesch, Hale’s collaborator and the animator of this project, is the Founder and Creative Director at CHOPS & Assoc. Live Animaton. The pair worked back-and-forth across two continents to create this piece for our Global Peace Project and is written as a tribute to Hale’s grandfather, an honored veteran.
I asked Dr. Hale and Jesch to answer some questions about their collaboration and what it meant to them respectively. Their answers reflect the emotion of their joint effort to realize this powerful outcome. Please note, Hale resides in the UK., and Jesch in the U.S. I have not altered their answers to my questions, leaving them unedited as self-determination directs, and our mission to honor our writers’ and bloggers’ words “as is” whenever possible.
To Hale: What was the inspiration behind your poem?
My Grandfather was a veteran of WW1. He joined the armed services in Oct 1914, invalided out in Nov 1917 after being badly gassed and hit by shrapnel at the battle of Passchendaele. I lived a bit on and off with him and my step-grandmother as a kid and saw-and heard the horrors he had experienced. He was an amazing man who lived to 95. I wrote my poem, The Matchsellers in commemoration of his death Nov 11th1989.
My Father was one of the most decorated air aces of WW II, he told me a story when I was young about an experience he had at a RAF reunion in London-about a homeless man, an ex-comrade, whom he could not help- and that came into the poem, and the rest is my research on WW I –a subject which is a true passion. I didn’t plan it-only the date, it just came one evening and was a painful experience, was writing 2 lines or a verse-then outside to cry, then back, then out and so on until I had the basic poem. After that, it was editing to get the scan and rhyme right in honour of all service people and to draw attention that nothing has changed, you see homeless vets, badly wounded in body and mind still today it both angers and saddens me.
In brief, how would you describe your relationship with autism and how you experience life presently?
I’m a person with moderate (level 1/2 Autism) and severe Asperger’s (high level 3) It is an indivisible part of who I am as an individual; it informs, goads and limits every moment of my life. It means having a different brain in terms of physical and chemical structure, so I perceive the world in a very different way than most.
It’s also a “Whole body Condition”, being genetic in origin (Autism Prof. is my specialism, as much as art and science) it affects everything. My hearing, physical sensitivity, digestion-allergies, intolerances, how I express, my emotional life, colours and much more: It’s really hard to describe and it’s hard and often lonely. It does though present a unique way of seeing and understanding things-sometimes that is, as Greta Thunberg has described it “A kind of super-power”, mostly it’s isolating, and I am often misunderstood and shunned as being “weird.”
What can you tell us about your experience in collaborating with Gary?
Gary and I have worked together before; and this was like each time before, a total dream. He is so creative and such a real and wonderful human being-it’s both a privilege and a pleasure. I treasure those experiences, our messages, and our talks. He always teaches me something on top of all that. Knowing Gary made it so easy, I just followed his train and contributed ideas and info as things come up.
We talked a lot before (about the concept) and during the whole process, with no crossed wires or problems. I’m sometimes a pain to work with, yet Gary, never is and he’s always clear and patient.
How do you experience (your feelings) about the “art” of writing poetry and conveying ideas through spoken words?
Oh, now you’ve put me on the spot as an artist, Keri. I don’t know. Sometimes a snatch of music or a snippet of conversation, a line in a book or on TV will just start a poem, sometimes they start in dreams, many I think are already running about somewhere out there, looking for someone to write down their story, “The Matchsellers” was like that.
I felt these men wanted their stories told, to remind the world of just what war is-and its aftermath. I very, very seldom see something and “OK, gonna sit down and write a poem about that.” To capture the scene that’s more of the photographic art –I’m a keen amateur photographer-love capturing “the instant”, like writing Haikus-it’s about the impact of one unique moment in time.
How does the theme of your poem about war/veterans, relate to peace for you?
Why do I write about war-and that’s quite a % of my poems, maybe 10/20%? Why do I put all the grisly horrors of the battlefield in-and the mundane, so often ignored by society horrors after-the effects on combatants, their families, and society?
My own experience included, yes, that’s a small factor. But I’d keep it to myself. No-it’s to make people realise that war itself is the ultimate, shameful admission of human failure as social animals. There are-in the end, no winners-so the cycle just keeps on repeating, war after war after war: A cycle of failure, misery, and defeat, doing so much harm. The true victory-the ONLY lasting victory is to achieve Peace. The real heroes are those who fight for a place at the Peace Table. The only peace to be found on the battlefield is that beneath the headstone. I hate that-I write about war to, hopefully, make people see that Peace is the right answer every time.
My questions to Jesch were slightly different.
Gary, what was your inspiration for engaging in this collaboration with Hale?
I had recently been working with Ian and his poetry, so I asked if he had some short poems that I could examine and choose from, in order to combine my animation art with his verses. From several that he proposed, I selected “The Matchsellers.”
This poem reminds me of how the effects of wars long over are still experienced in the present and future, and how we tend to filter out and forget the sacrifices that were made by others, while fighting for us. Dr. Hale showed great sensitivity to this issue in his poem, and he is a noted person who lives with autism and constantly helps those on the spectrum, as do the folks involved in The Art of Autism. I gladly give my support to AoA and your causes, as well as to the free expression by all individuals through the many varied forms that art can take.
This particular creation emerged as a combination of several art forms, making it a unique experience for The Art of Autism followers – live animation of a digital being in a performance of a poetic reading, with the additional of powerful visuals and an audio background, to elevate the ideas communicated.
Can you tell us a bit about your process to bring Hale’s poem to life?
The planning and preparation of the visuals and photography was the first stage. Fortunately, this experience felt easy and a bit exhilarating, as the correct pictures just seemed to appear out of the searching process. Preparing them for the scenes reminded me of the story that was being told by Ian, and soon to be told, using the live animation.
Each rehearsal of the interaction of the avatar with the images and the script brought it closer to the desired effect. I’d record my performance and play it back, attentive to the movements of the avatar as well as the delivery of the lines of the poem. At some point, I concluded that the last take I tried was the best one, or at least, the best one in the moment. Watching that entire expression on the screen reinforced the feelings that I wanted to inspire in the piece.
What drew you to this particular poem out of the handful of poems Hale provided?
We are surrounded by the long-lasting artifacts of war, in the tragic stories of people left in survival mode with both mental and physical injuries. That makes lasting peace so important. War has a terrible cost in lives lost, lives shattered lives ruined, homes and structures destroyed, and some things cannot be rebuilt.
After Dr. Hale explained to me that his poem was based on World War I, I decided to include imagery that spanned the entire 20th Century and WWII as well. The point I hoped to convey is that the sad remnants of war, and the lack of peace, are found decades later. We could say they have always been there, and we have chosen not to look for them, to not seek them out.
When former soldiers are dismissed as annoying panhandlers and homeless bums, society runs the risks of devaluing human life. When we uplift our war veterans, care for them and treat them with extra pride and respect, we are respecting ourselves. We are supporters of peace, advocates for the future of all children, whether challenged by autism or not, and we are awake to the consequences of choosing violence as a solution to our problems.
Violence is never an acceptable solution to our problems. We hope that art can help make that obvious.