AWP 2018 Tampa: "Poetry on the Big Screen"

By: Greg Emilio

"Poetry on the Big Screen," a panel led by poet and filmmaker, Kai Carlson-Wee, addressed the ways in which poetry has been quietly sneaking into mainstream popular culture through film. Recent examples would be: Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 lyrical film Paterson, about a bus-driving poet obsessed with William Carlos Williams; James Franco’s films about American poets Allen Ginsberg and Hart Crane; not to mention a stream of Levi’s and Apple advertisements that regularly poach lines from the likes of Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and Charles Bukowski. It seems that people are more willing to experience poetry onscreen, accompanied by music and images, than to simply read it from the page. And that makes sense in a way, since poetry is meant to be heard. Like Carlson-Wee said, the words are dead on the page until someone reads them out loud.

The panel consisted of several other poets who have adapted their poetry for the screen. The video-poem is a vibrant, exciting new hybrid genre, one that might have the capacity to revitalize public interest in poetry. (A monumental, near-impossible task, I know, but we can hope.) These poets shared their short films, then took Q & A, during which they offered pragmatic advice for turning poems into video-poems. Ultimately, all panelists reminded the audience that poetry is hard work, that filmmaking is hard work, and that putting the two together is well, even harder work. Carlson’s-Wee’s four-minute video-poem, “Holes in the Mountain,” for example, took two years to edit. While the task of merging poetry and film is undoubtedly difficult, the result can be stunningly relevant, a form of art that satiates our endless thirst for images, and our hunger for concise, authentic language to clarify our puzzling zeitgeist.