Search This Blog


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Bright Star" the Film, "This Living Hand," and three poems by Anna Journey referencing Keats and Sappho

On the right, you'll find the movie poster for Bright Star, the forthcoming film about John Keats and Fanny Brawne's love affair at the end of his life. The film stars Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish. You can watch the trailer below.

I don't know. I'm skeptical. I think I'd be much more likely to see a biopic about John Keats and his last few years that focuses on his writing rather than the Hollywood-idealized love affair. After watching the trailer, the screenplay and John/Fanny plot seem as if they could be set in any time period, any environment. The "characters" seem stock to me. That the film is based on Keats and Brawne seems almost arbitrary, and this makes me sad.

I think I'd much rather see a film called "This Living Hand"--one about John Keats struggling to understand his oncoming death and reconciling his poetry with that fact, that he'd never finish his work, that his potential would never be fulfilled. Doesn't that sound better?

Give me the tragic and the elegiac. In real life, love arises out of those two anyway, no?

[This living hand, now warm and capable]

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

John Keats
from The Complete Poems

I'm pretty sure we'll see this in the theater just because the opportunity to see and support a biopic about a poet is so rare. I'm just crossing my fingers that it doesn't fail at the box office. If it does, chances are no studio exec is going to want to finance another film about a poet for a while.

Question: What poets should have biopics made about their lives and what would you title said film?

I'd seen several of her poems in journals and heard about Anna Journey's new book a few months ago, but with studying for comps and the semester rolling, I wasn't able to make time for it. Then, a few days ago, Sandy Longhorn posted a few lines from one of Journey's poems on her blog. That was all the reminder I needed. I'm happy to say that the library had a copy of her book, If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting, and I was able to make some time last night and this morning to read it.

I find these poems very intriguing for their diction, their musicality, the blending of higher and lower registers. As I told a couple people yesterday, "It's an odd book with odd poems." And I mean that in the best way, in the sense that I want to re-enter these poems. Not to, in a way, "figure them out." But to exist in this slightly askew world.

The poems are not overly erudite or stand-offish, though they do require you to jog at a faster pace than what you may be used to with other poets. And she has a great ability to turn a corner. "Change of pace and change of directions," as my old soccer coaches used to say. That's the best way I can describe the imagination behind these poems.

Following the Keats earlier in the post, here are two poems from If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting that mention Keats, and one that mentions Sappho.

The Child Keats

The boy heard the calcium crack
of his father’s skull on cobblestone.
Though he was at school in Enfield,
in a dream he knew wood doves
landing in the brittle arms
of a barkless aspen shocked an icicle
loose to stab into the soft rump
of a startled horse. The nudge of its
long face flashing in his father’s
last landscape was his mother’s
palomino throat—her secrecy
of birthmarks under crinoline.
This was the wrong season
for perfection, lovers, cowslips
in a field. He allowed the birds
their darting eyes, desultory
song—watched the white steam
rise from the horse’s back.

Walking Upright in a Field of Devils

Because billy goats rise to the height of a woman
and walk upright, I saw a field of devils,

blue and vertical, horned in the moonlight, heat
lightning in their luminous beards. Because the static

of grackles crying from ball moss in mesquite
meant this could be Italy, though it was the black

fields caught between strip malls
flanking Houston.

It's true that Keats walked further and further
from England into Scotland and the landscape grew

more grim with every step. Lakes shrunk to a slurp
in each cheek. It's also true

that ships from a distance bob as copper weathercocks
over the thatch of cottages. True, the prickly pear

is a leper dropping its limbs in the field. What is untrue?
The shape of a lung filled like a trough

might press down on a man's stomach—
he'd write his lover: a bellyache

brief as a devil's beard.
In the field: goat-eyed and planetary,

something about to move, the half-bloomed moon,
a pecked-out tea rose. The sun still hours away

in another century—morning stalling its laudanum
eyes over a field, a deathbed. Bodiless.

Then the rise.

Sappho on the Edge of the Bayou

Coughed up the jazz band’s brass throats,
weddings are a hollow music
pressed thickly around curls
of the wrought-iron gate,
the cast solid magnolia. There is rust
coppering down the fine
edges of everything here
in this violet light—the white pickup’s
eaten paint, rose ash of cinder blocks,
the one cool sting
of dill on my palm. I wave
good-bye to you as the stone
face of the swamp refuses
your far-off reflection. It’s better
this way. As you leave under
that snow of thrown rice, your veil
is the thinnest fishing net. Gongyla, arm
and arm with a man whose vow
grows heavier midair—it hangs
there like a darkening
smile, sweat on the edges
of your gown. This is the song I write
for your wedding, love, as pyramids
rise and weather: when willows
strangle the water pipes, a kiss
of cornmeal on your brow.
Now I wipe a stone bird’s wings; now
the washboards miss a beat. With this
song I am snapped
loose like the sheep-gut
strings of a lyre.

Anna Journey
from If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting

Support a poet! Click here to purchase Anna Journey's If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting from The University of Georgia Press.


Sandy Longhorn said...

You say so eloquently what I was unable to about Journey's poems. Thanks!

Josh said...

Well I don't know about "eloquently," but I would like to thank YOU for your post a few days ago. Like I was telling someone yesterday, this seems to be one of those books that can help one discover their own language in new ways, the stuff that's rattling around and hasn't gone anywhere. I guess that's what you were getting at in your post, too, wasn't it?--lines that "strike a chord" was your phrase, I believe. Yesindeedee--these poems do that.

Keith Wilson said...

I'm still sort of excited about the biopic, although I hadn't thought about it like you had. Thanks for ruining it. :P

I personally don't think I could handle it, but I bet a Maya Angelou biopic would do well. Oprah could even play her mom.