>a couple thoughts on poetry & cinema

>I have a fondness for poetry. I used to read it a great deal, even reading collections of poems much like I read novels, beginning at the front of the book and plowing through to the last page, although my version of plowing is rather slow going most of the time. A couple of my favorite collections are Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney and The Collected Poems by Czeslaw Milosz. Maybe what draws me most to a given poem is much the same thing that draws me to a great film or photograph.

Cinema can have a poetic quality, tapping into a part of one’s brain and calling forth certain emotions or ideas that don’t typically emerge in the normal course of the day. Some filmmakers naturally get tagged with the “poetic” label, for example Tarkovsky. But I would contend that we find elements of the poetic in cinema in many films, even if only for a few moments here and there.

I like to think of poetry as being the art of the unsayable (among other things). In other words, whatever it is about poetry, it taps into and expresses something that cannot be expressed directly, or denotated with words, but can only be hinted at, suggested, or connotated. In the same way cinema has the ability to connote, to suggest, to hint at. I am drawn to that quality of cinema, to those moments within films that, while transitioning us from one plot point to the next, take the time to elicit from within us something unsayable but real.

I have to say that this post came about by my re-reading an old poem of mine that someone once told me has certain “cinematic qualities” – whatever that means.

independence day

a simple breeze brings
the scent of summer fields
below a starless sky.
along the country highway
the night is cooling comfortably.
I walk in the dry grass
toward the lights.

I move quietly through the crowd;
weird, immobile, sentinel,
like reeds in a frozen lake
gathered in subjective silence.

I can feel myself
beginning to move in slow-motion,
almost floating, almost absent;
my body and mind slowly separating
like the tide receding from the shore.

what remains of the two cars
is a sculpture of brutality;
a performance piece of abject fury
staged without intention or wit,
a muricated death posing for no one,
visceral and empty.

I can see myself observing the accident
as though I’m hovering overhead.
my mind remains transfixed,
like the raised hand of the hypnotized.
there is the bloody head,
the motionless body.
(I am taking notes)
there is the twisted coffin
the thumping of a compressor,
an infant crying.

my body keeps moving around the vehicles;
spotlights casting ghostly silhouettes,
paramedics waiting for the
mangled door to be pried away,
and vapor floating skyward
like spirits escaping.

there are more people now
and Maricel has found me.
we see the crooked form
loaded on the gurney,
crippled legs illuminated
in a multicolored glow,
accompanied by the wails
of distant sirens,
and police radios,
and diesel fumes.

there is little we can say.
it is getting late
so we take another road home.
in bed I cannot sleep,
my mind is elsewhere.

the morning paper will say,
‘youths fall asleep at wheel
just miles from home.’
others will say ‘tragic,’
and still others will ask,
‘how can this happen?’
and I? sinner among sinners,
I am thinking of poetry.

– July, 1998

2 thoughts on “>a couple thoughts on poetry & cinema

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