Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Public Art vs Private Art

Apologies to my readers, regular and transient (howdy Madrid, Huntsville, Greensboro, and Columbus!), for the lack of posting. I've been job hunting and to Pittsburgh and back for a wedding. Now to address "the franchise approach to poetry promotion." Sort of.

While in Pittsburgh, I saw this piece. I said to my good friend (the one who was getting married, for the scorekeepers):

"You know, that piece is really interesting, but it's too ugly to be anywhere but in a museum."

He said "no, I don't think so -- I could see it in a building or in a park -- anywhere in public."

I responded that he was both right and said what I meant -- the piece was "public art" not "private art."

I hadn't done much (or any) thinking on the differences between public and private art up to this point -- I had only been aghast that poetry was so unread and marginalized. But when viewed within the context of public v private art, the clouds cleared a little. My complaint is looking to shape up this way:

Almost all contemporary, published poetry is private poetry. In order to keep poetry from being a dead art, we need to be writing public poetry.

So now I am reading this, this, and this. If anybody has any suggestions for other books to read, I'm all ears.

More when I get done reading,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Narrative & Film

Brett says:

"Try to influence producers, screenwriters, directors, so that they start looking for movies in poetry.

Try to influence writers so that they write good, substantial, dramatic narrative poetry. "

For the first we must apparently write things called "treatments." Quoth the Brett:

"It's called a 'treatment,' and if you're going to have 1-10 pages of lines to describe the actions, settings, plots, and characters that will become a movie, it might as well just be a 'treatment,' which is superior because it is Designed For and has the Explicit Goal Of selling itself as a movie."

"You could use a poem as a basis for a treatment, if the poem had character, setting, drama, plot, etc. (much the way you would use a short story for a treatment).

Many times the best movies-from-books come from novellas and short stories...long novels are much clunkier"

I must say a jillion times thanks to Brett for the schoolin. So here we have the specific instructions for putting narrative poetry-based ideas into the minds of filmmakers. For those of you interested in the experiment -- try it with this poem. I would be delighted to see the results.
So we know what to do. But how?

I would assume that we would have to get in front of some filmmakers. Anyone know any? I know one -- but he's spending more time on plays than film. I've a good friend in the movie scoring program at UCB, but I don't suppose her contacts will develop for at least a few years.

So if you know anyone
if you know how to get these treatments in front of people irrespective of y/our relationship to them, please let us know.

For the second:

Let's each write a 10-page-or-so narrative poem. 300 lines or there abouts ought to do the trick. You can go over if you want but don't go too shy of 250 or so lines. I'm currently working on retellings of fairy-tales. An excellent starting point. Ovid had great luck with myths. I'm sure there's something out there you can try your pen at. Submit them to Strong Verse or maybe someone will want to set up a narrative poetry mag just for us -- who knows? But then we'll have a stock of poems on which to experiment. What fun!

That's all for today -- I think we're at the point in "poetry-as-basis-for-film" where we have to move into the doing and not the talking stage. So go! Do!

Next time we'll get started on "a 'multimedia, franchise approach' to poetry promotion."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Poetry, Movies, and Pop Music

Howdy! Things are back to relatively normal. Thanks to Virilelit and Ravenswingpoetry for the links.

Last time, I left with two quotes about poetry and movies. The first by a certain brilliant young man name of Aaron Shapiro.

I will resume by letting Aaron speak for me:

"If the goal is to popularize poetry, then we need more poems that can be made into movies. Beowulf, Troy. Not great movies, no ... but only that kind of multimedia, franchise approach has any chance in the contemporary entertainment market. Look what happened to sales of Neruda after Il Postino! Imagine: The Wasteland, starring Keanu Reeves and directed by David Cronenberg; The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock directed by Robert Altman, starring Anthony Hopkins!

The real problem is that the lyric mode does NOT lend itself to film at all. Narrative poems and biopics that displace the poetry in favor of the poet's life are pretty much all Hollywood can handle. Seriously, how do you shoot the Dream Songs?

Performance poetry offers a different option. We need more poetry shows. Def Jam is fine if you’re a postconfessional poet and have a sense of the melodrama slam poetry requires. And if you’re cool looking and not too avant. Kevin Young, for example, is brilliant and cool looking, and every bit as hiphoppishly lyrical as Saul Williams. But he’s not on Def Jam. Too odd, too much aggressive enjambment, and far too much terza rima. In short, too poetic.

It’s never going to beat out film, though. As a culture, we love and need our stories, perhaps more than our poems, especially since the lyric has been coopted by pop music anyway. Still, maybe we could get some poems and poets inserted into films, product-placement-wise. For example, in the inevitable American Psycho 3, instead of rattling on for hours about Huey Lewis, our intrepid serial murderer might extemporize on My Last Duchess before chainsawing his present last duchess’s face off. And Auden said poetry makes nothing happen. . ."

And there you have it.

For my part, I think that Aaron wraps up the "let's hold off on this lyric poetry crap for a while" experiment I've been proposing. See that bold hyperlink up there? the one just a few lines up? Read it again in paraphrase:

Lyric poetry has been replaced by pop music.

Now, this may be overstating a wee bit. But not a wee lot. It's pretty obvious that poetry that is short enough has always had some stiff competition in song (what the heck did you think all those ballads Robbie Burns collected were?) and when we have the revolution digitized (i.e. one is likely to have far more .mp3s than books), it's easy for short poetry (especially heartfelt lyric poetry) to get washed pretty effectively away (all that angst that went into loving poetry now has its own genre of music). What this means for me is that I'm done arguing against lyric poetry -- I will focus instead on Aaron's first three paragraphs. I will defer to Aaron's statement on this and if anyone continues to harp on it, I will simply ask if their little poem is catchier than "Dancing Queen." The sad truth is that it probably won't be.

So what to do? Before I go much further, I think we should be introduced to this theorist. Granted, B.H.O. is an interesting cat but I think what's far more interesting is those organizing principles he seems to be working with.

This clears up a second sticking point for some of my readers. Audacity and arrogance. If you want to change poetry and our perception of poetry you certainly can't do it by paying your dues and doing it the old way. The old way hasn't worked. The old way has gotten us less recognition in a year than genitalia gets in 36 hours. So if you get all bristly because I tell you you must do something or you have to do something, get over it. Those other folks certainly are wrong -- their theories of audience and subject and prosody are incoherent if existent (or free from poor readings of Derrida). My approach is at least grounded in reality -- that is, the world as it is and not as it ought to be.

So we are left with three points of work from Aaron:

1) poetry-as-basis-for-film
2) a "multimedia, franchise approach" to poetry promotion
3) a need for reexamining the performance poetry scene

For the first, I have already talked at length about the need for long, clear, compelling narrative poetry. But even relatively short narrative poetry could easily be made into a movie (filmmakers -- feel free to email me about that last link). In fact, given the constraints of the screenplay process, I think that a narrative poem as short as Palm Sunday would be an excellent choice for filmmaking -- since it is fairly brief (312 lines), there's no claim that a 120-minute movie can't "cover it all."

So that brings up the problem of catching filmmakers/screenwriters. How do we do this? Thoughts? Ideas? Because I sure as heck don't know.

For the second, I am all about this. Perhaps those filmmaking/screenwriting buddies that we are meeting right now can't use one of our narratives for a film. I bet they could have a character quote us or go to a poetry reading where our work is read aloud. This is no different from Gibson's shameless merch plugs in Juno -- except that we don't have that kind of money to throw around (and if we do, why aren't we starting a publishing company?). Moreover, we need to use the internet to disburse and promote our work. We should be reviewing as much great and good poetry as we possibly can. Also, if we come up with some popular sort of poem, why not write several of them (for instance, Palm Sunday has two companion pieces and I am working on a Civil War epic to match my American Revolution epic)?

For the third, we need two things in our poetry readings:

excellent readers and
excellent poems.

The problem is that since poetry readings are aural entertainment, listeners can often forgive bad poetry because of a good reading. We can't tolerate this. Unfortunately, like bad karaoke, you just have to grin and bear it at an open mike.

Which is why we should promote something else -- like performance poetry at a restaurant or hang-out-spot/coffee shop. We should charge admission. Before you howl about how people won't pay, check these folks out. I can assure you their events are well-attended. Having invitation-only poetry events may go against your silly notions of egalitarianism but come on. Would you pay several hundred dollars for a rock festival if the headliners were open mike emo kids and karaoke queens? Hardly.

I will tackle all three topics in turn as Spring gets sprung.