March 13, 2017
On the poetry of a film on poetry
by Peter Clark
I’m not usually one to watch movies of my favorite books, or listen to them as audio. Perhaps it’s cliche to say this nowadays, but I don’t want to destroy the images and sounds that my mind has already created for the writing. That said, I do make one exception: poetry.
I love listening to poetry, even if it’s just a little recording at the Poetry Foundation website, or a YouTube video of a living poet reading her work. For me, there’s something to the argument that poetry is based on speech, and I think it can hit especially hard when it lands with some vocal inflection.
Enter the latest thing that has made me emotional in a good way: poetry as short film.
As Dan Prichard wrote a few weeks ago at OpenCulture, the Australian duo of screenwriter Jessica Bellamy and director Damien Power has taken on William Butler Yeats’s great poem “When You Are Old,” adapting it into a short movie called Bat Eyes.
Although many might interpret the source material as a reflection on earlier love by someone near death, Bellamy and Power imagine the characters a bit younger and more recoverable. As the man in the video regains his vision by going to an optometrist, he can almost be seen correcting for how cavalierly he has treated his love. But my favorite scene is of the young man lying together in bed with his lover as she recites the last lines of the poem, his hand lightly touching her neck to feel the words vibrate in her throat. Cut to the young man again ten years in the future, his features obscured now by glasses, perhaps a less poetic version of Yeats’ “face amid a crowd of stars.”
Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.