It is not often that a feature length motion picture is based on a poem. Thinking about this, in a different context, I once put together a partial list of movies based poems and it looked like this:
Casey at the Bat
The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Man from Snowy River
The White Cliffs of Dover
Recently, I found a couple of late additions:
Beyond these classic titles, there have been other movies based on the lives of poets (Sylvia, Il Postino, Barfly, Byron, Tom & Viv, Before Night Falls, Stevie, Tales of Ordinary Madness, and Omar Khayyam come to mind), and now there is a new 2010 film, Lucky Life, based on a poem of the same name by the poet, Gerald Stern, and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. As you might imagine, its release is extremely limited and whether it will ever play in Stern’s birthplace, Pittsburgh, is open to conjecture. One can only hope.
If you’ve never experienced the poetry of native son Stern, you are missing out on something very special, indeed. It is at once down to earth and ecstatic, full of great joy and great sorrow, compassionate and soulful, intense and lyrical, imaginative and celebratory. If you think you might like a brief, insightful introduction to his work while discussing 3 of his wonderful poems, consider attending our next meeting of the 3 Poems by … Poetry Discussion group, when Gerald Stern’s work will be the center of attention. We will meet Thursday, June 10th, at 7:30 in Museum Classroom A.
“Lucky Life,” the poem, is bit too long to quote here, but you may read it online or the old-fashioned way. To give you a taste of the man and his work, here is a short, lyrical poem that at once captures his passion, feeling, and sorrow, all precisely pinned to a particular moment in time, in a particular place, and concerning a particular person.
Today as I ride down Twenty-fifth Street I smell honeysuckle
rising from Shell and Victor Balata and K-Diner.
The goddess of sweet memory is there
staggering over fruit and drinking old blossoms.
A man in white socks and a blue T-shirt
is sitting on the grass outside Bethlehem Steel
eating lunch and dreaming.
Before he walks back inside he will be changed.
He will remember when he stands again under the dirty windows
a moment of great misgiving and puzzlement
just before sweetness ruined him and thinking
tore him apart. He will remember lying
on his left elbow studying the sky,
and the loss he felt, and the sudden freedom,
the mixture of pain and pleasure – terror and hope –
what he calls “honeysuckle.”
I must admit that, though no native son myself, I am an unabashed fan of Gerald Stern. (Disclaimer: though born and raised in Pittsburgh, Stern went on to become the first State Poet of NJ; there were only two, but that’s another story.) Though he’s received a great deal of recognition, still I think it is nowhere near what he deserves. Would I call him one of the best American poets of the later half of the twentieth century? Absolutely. Would a great many, more knowledgeable folks disagree vociferously? No doubt.
Yet, if poetry isn’t the speaking of one heart to another, what is it?
And, for the record, Gerald Stern speaks to me.
P.S. Wonder if there are any more movies based on poems that could be added to the above list? Wikipedia has a few suggestions that I’ve yet to confirm. Perhaps that’s the subject of a future post.