Show and tell 1: Henry Stead

History boy: Henry Stead

How can digitally produced sound and visuals create new performance conditions for ancient poetry and drama? I’ve been experimenting with cross-media poetry for a few years now. I began when I was studying for a Masters in professional writing at the London Metropolitan University and continued through my time researching the Romantic reception of ancient poetry for the Open and Oxford Universities.

In 2011 , I wrote a play, Seneca’s Medea, which was performed in February that year at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford. An extract from it won a prize in the open section of the Times Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation.

Prometheus Chained, my new version of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, was performed this June in an amphitheatre in Sheffield as part of Sheffest, the city’s festival of ancient drama. Both plays were directed by Helen Slaney and enhanced by powerful scores by Jef Oswald.

To give an example of my work, I’ve chosen a couple of smaller, cross-media poems. The first is a short audio poem called “Another Slow Day”, concerning the dangers of solitude in excess:

The second is “Attis”, an AV translation of the Roman poet Catullus’ 63rd poem. It tells the story of a Greek-ish Roman youth who runs away from home to join the cult of the fearsome mother goddess, Cybele. In a frenzy (and as part of his initiation into that cult), he castrates himself. In the Latin text, this act changes Attis (grammatically) from male to female. I have kept this feature, however foreign it might now feel.¬†The video and sound provide the performance context for the live show in which I perform the poem and are not really designed to stand alone. But this version has a rough recording of the vocal on it to give an idea of the live performance. The poem kicks in at around the three-minute mark. It takes a little while for Attis to make it to Phrygia . . .

<p><a href=”″>Attis (rough cut)</a> from <a href=””>AdamPellinDeeve</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Henry Stead is a poet, translator and co-founder of the multimedia poetry collective London Poetry Systems