I’ve seen two fascinating films recently, both of whose images and underlying attitudes have seeped (mysteriously, inexplicably) into my work. The first is The Tree of Life, whose cosmic interludes (and I mean this literally: one minute you’re observing a family at a dinner table and the next you’re panning across sunspots and galaxies… or maybe a child’s conception?) and drifting trajectories through time make you feel like you’re living inside a Jorie Graham poem. The second is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a lush, sometimes perplexing film whose primary effect was to draw me back into the sounds and mythologies of my childhood in Southeast Asia.
What I found after watching these films, Uncle Boonmee in particular, was that certain scenes began to haunt me, such that while drafting entirely unrelated poems I would start stitching lines together from the perspective of a character in a movie, or with an emotional pitch keyed to a particularly memorable scene. Weirdly enough, I found this productive; elements of the poems derived, however indirectly, from these films turned out to be not at all foreign to the impulses of the overall piece.
I’ve watched documentary films to fuel my poetry before, mostly to capture a sense of the figures who populate historical moments I’m fascinated by (and removed from), but this was different. This was a less linear process, because rather than engaging film as a purely communicative medium, I had allowed myself to stew, so to speak, in the visual rhythms and narrative dynamics of a piece, then emerged to transmute these impressions into writing.
Think back on a film you’ve seen recently (or watch one of the two I’ve mentioned here) and recall some of your dominant feelings and impressions. Which elements of the film now haunt you? Was it the quality of the light in a particular scene, or the look on a character’s face as they came to realize something? Think about particular moments or images that have “lodged,” so to speak, in the sticky web of your poetic sensibility, then start writing—from within the world of the filmmaker’s art.