Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poetry and Film

In “Poetry” a Korean film to be released this fall in the United States, a sixty-six year old Korean grandmother enrolls in a poetry class at her local community center. She is told by the instructor to look deep and hard at everything around her for the inspiration to write poetry. Great advice. It is advice that can be applied to many of the arts, including filmmaking. The film “Poetry” won the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Screenplay. Mija, the main character, turns to poetry to help deal with her sullen grandson with whom she lives and her own medical challenges. Poetry as self help? I don’t want to trivialize it by calling it that, but reading and writing poetry can help one find liberation. The Australian poet, Les Murray in his book “Killing The Black Dog” credits writing poetry with having helped to save his life. He goes on to say “I’d disapproved of using poetry as personal therapy, but the Black Dog (depression) taught me better.” The words and images of poetry carry great power.

The images in the film “Of Gods And Men” are also powerful. It is clear that the writer Etienne Comar and the writer/director Xavier Beauvois looked deeply into the lives of the Trappist monks living and working in Algeria during the ongoing civil unrest of the 1990’s. Comar and Beauvois met with theologians and did extensive research as well as contacting the relatives of the deceased monks. The writers and the actors lived for weeks with the monks of Tamié Abbey in Savoie to ensure the authenticity of the film’s historical and liturgical content. “Of Gods and Men” won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010. The film inspired me to write this poem.

The Monks

I want to tell you about the monks,
that band of mismatched brothers bound
by a strange, strong calling
to live and work in the mountains
between sea and desert.

I want to tell you
of the utter simplicity of their lives,
of their service to the Muslim people
stacked in poverty on the Algerian hillside.

I want to tell you of their fear,
caught in the confusion and cruelty of civil war,
and finally I want to tell you of
their courage and faith
that stuns me into silence.


  1. Claire, This is a wonderful poem about an extraordinary group of men, not to mention an extraordinary film, which SHOULD have won the Oscar, but wasn't even nominated. Insanity reigns. My daughter's school brought their entire upper school to the film; the middle school parents were instructed to take their kids to it. I don't know when I've seen a more powerful film. (I tried to post this on your blog but not sure it went...)

    From Paula Butturini

  2. Thanks Paula. It was hard to write a poem about a film that had such an impact on me.

  3. As someone struggling with a foreign language, do you think you could write effective poetry in Portugese? I suspect that the nuances and subtleties present in poetry are only accessible to native speakers. Pity.

  4. Although I was fluent in Portugese, I was never "bilingual". Lise Mueller is a Pulitzer prize winning poet. English supplanted her native language when she came to the US from Hitler's Germany at age fifteen. I think she became truly bilingual, a master of her second language. She has published a book of poetry called "Second Language" (among several others.) So it is possible---but it takes a mastery of the language which I suspect takes a while and perhaps a dash of genius.