In the last 100 years, perhaps no other artistic medium has provided more fodder for poetry than the cinema. Movies have become central to the poetic imagination, whether the poet celebrates the movies or reacts against celluloid saturation.
Movies have influenced many poets. In his poem “A Step Away from Them,” O’Hara builds on Ezra Pound’s Eisensteinian methods (“In a Station of the Metro”) by portraying an otherwise quotidian experience—his lunch hour—using cinematic techniques, rushing headlong through a series of jump cuts that make it an exhilarating scene. It is as if the eye of the poet has become the camera lens, and composition is merely an act of editing.
Poets have engaged with movies in a variety of ways: by re-creating the experience of being in a movie theater, as May Swenson does in “The James Bond Movie,” or by appropriating dialogue from Gone with the Wind like Vanessa Place, or by merging memory and identity around the experience of watching a film, as Virgil Suárez does in his poem “Isla.” Film has undeniably reshaped the poetic imagination, and it has further opened poetry to further capture the diverse aspects of modern life.
In celebration of Oscar season, here are a few poems that demonstrate the rich relationship between poetry and film.
“Ave Maria” by Frank O'Hara
“A Step Away from Them” by Frank O'Hara
The Cinema Experience
“Early Cinema” by Elizabeth Alexander
“The James Bond Movie” by May Swenson
“Please Refrain from Talking During the Movie” by Robert Polito
“Heroic Simile” by Robert Hass
“St. Agnes' Eve” by Kenneth Fearing
“The Last Movie” by Rachel Hadas
“Miss Scarlett” by Vanessa Place
“Walking the Dunes” by Brenda Hillman
“Charlie Chaplin Impersonates a Poet” by Cornelius Eady
“Silent Film” by Kurt Brown
“Movie” by Eileen Myles
“Everything's a Fake” by Fanny Howe
“Poem Ending with a Sentence by Heath Ledger” by Frank Bidart
“Sean Penn Anti-Ode” by Dean Young
“Hollywood & God” by Robert Polito