Poetry has been choking, gasping, and drowning because of the seventh art. Because of filmmaking.
The last hundred years of filmmaking has turned the world into visually oriented consumers who don’t read books anymore, or mull words over in their head, or allow their imaginations time to have some fun and think and be creative. Poetry films are opening that up to poetry again. It is going to draw a lot more people back to it; it’s going to make people aware of the intrinsic value of poetry. Poetry has rich kernels of immense potential that people are completely unaware of. I think that poetry films are going to do a lot with regards to that.
People are going to realise that because of the flexibility of the filmmaking aspect of it, they can now create completely new animals. People don’t realise it is a unique art form in itself. The fusion creates something else entirely. When that is realised it will become a lot more popular.
That’s Paul Casey, founder and director of the weekly Ó Bhéal poetry reading series in Cork, Ireland that also sponsors an annual, international poetry film competition (which will open for submissions again on May 1). Last month, the shortlisted films from Ó Bhéal’s 2016 competion were screened as part of the Belfast Film Festival, and Helen and Chaucer from Poetry Film Live were there to take in the films and interview Paul. The result is worth reading in full. As a highly multilingual poet and a professional filmmaker, Casey’s perspectives on poetry film are extremely valuable. I like that he’s integrated poetry film screenings into the weekly readings, rather than reserving them for special occasions, I like his advice for poets at the end of the interview, and I love his answer to the question “What is a ‘good poetry film’?”
We are looking for the right balance. When you put the two art forms together there is the third thing that happens; you know when it has been achieved. It is difficult to describe.
Certainly what is true for filmmaking is true for poetry film. The first truth for filmmaking is that your foundation is the script. If that is a cracked foundation then the whole building will crumble. So the poem has to have integrity, it has to stand alone, it has to stand up for itself outside the film.
It is possible for a filmmaker to create visual art and for a poet to then interpret it in words, and then to create a poetry film in that way. But the most common place to start is with the poem first.
A lot of effort has been put into the poem. The filmmaker’s responsibility is to have the right kind of respect for the poem and to create a new way into the poem. The original poem ends up becoming more valuable because of the poetry film. You are creating a new dimension, a new way in, a new life for it.
The filmmaker does not usually have a lot of poetic insight. Their insight is in the poetry of the visual, so the collaboration becomes extremely important. If the poet and film maker aren’t the same person then the process of translation from poem to visual interpretation needs to be a collaborative one, so that the filmmaker truly takes on board what is happening in the poem and embodies, or at least has a good understanding of its mechanics. There are a lot of lazy filmmakers.