Can't Sleep? We can help: Documentaries about Poets

cover art poetry in motionIt would take a genuine, back-slapping-swimming-pool-blue-sportcoat-and-shiny-white-loafers-with-matching-belt-wearing used car salesman with 90 proof snake oil coursing through his double-thick Teflon-coated veins to convince most folks to read a blog on this particular subject—I'm talking some mutant mix of Tony Robbins, the late Billy Mays and LBJ in his arm-twisting-brow-beating-Uncle-Lyndie-with-a-lollipop-cooing prime.

This is a subject so fearsomely, so ostentatiously, dull that if your eyes are not by now rolling up into your head like slot machine tumblers you should think about a career as a statue. The very thought of documentaries about poets is so baroquely and perversely boring as to produce uncontrollable yawning in double espresso drinking Chihuahuas. I've nodded off twice already, and I (heaven help me) actually care about this stuff.

Despite my own (admittedly intermittent and self-defeating) efforts, and those of thousands of others who were bitten by the poetry vampire when young and who have ever since roamed the night streets in search kindred souls and the best words in the best order, the average American would just as soon read the ingredients list off a bag of Cheetos than read a poem. It is an equally sad fact that documentary filmmakers and the people who love them, are in a similar, though slightly less extreme, situation. In a world in which arguably intelligent people shell out oodles of cash to watch such cinematic gems as Adam Sandler's Jack and Jill and Battleship and anything with Rob Schneider in it, documentaries if they get theatrical releases at all, play to empty or near-empty houses.

So why am I writing this? Why am I urging you once again to ignore your entirely justified self-protective instincts and think about reading poetry?

The short answer: the usual poet's chip on the shoulder roughly the size of a Ford Fiesta and insomnia.

The somewhat longer answer: I am betting on the notion that movies can be like the proverbial gateway drug. Perhaps, you watch one of these documentaries and see a poet who you find interesting, then maybe you'll find yourself in the poetry section of the library and check out one thin volume by that poet, and hopefully before you know it you'll be hooked--placing holds on the 996-page Complete Poems of Robert Lowell.

The long (winded) answer: Because really good poetry is the highest form of human communication. Because if your high school English teacher murdered poetry for you (as so many have for so many others), then you don't really know what poetry is and owe it to yourself to find out, and because poetry helps you to articulate the hard questions--pushes you to formulate your own hard questions (such as: why did I sit through Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo?) and because asking and searching for the answers to those questions is what differentiates a LIFE from a life--an engaged citizen of the universe from someone who can abide the existence of a single Kardashian without waves of nausea and despair for the culture, let alone to think of them as anything but the exquisitely-packaged soul-poison they are.

Documentaries and Spoken Word Performances on DVD

American Poet Laureates [DVD]
ASL Poetry: Selected Works of Clayton Valli [DVD]
Augustan Poets: Pope and Dryden [DVD]
Bukowski: Born into This
Donald Hall & Jane Kenyon: Keeping You Safe Beside Me
Dylan Thomas [Great Writers of the 20th Century Series]
Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and their Craft [DVD & Books]
Furious Flower II: Regenerating the Black Poetic Tradition
Healing Words: Poetry and Medicine
The Lake Poets: Wordsworth & Coleridge
Literary Visions
Poetry in Motion I & Poetry in Motion II
Poetry Lounge: Self Expression through the Spoken Word
Poetry Lounge 2: The Power of Poetics
Poetry Lounge 3: The Power of Performance
The Poetry of War: Owen, Brooke, Sassoon
Romantic Poets
Victorian Poets

Voices & Visions [3 volumes]
The War Poets
When Hell Freezes Over, I’ll Skate

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