One of the things I'm always hearing about is how poetry is no longer viable or useful in the creative world. Unless, obviously, you can turn it into a pop song and make enough money to buy some land in Tokyo. But other than that, the general opinion for poetry and where it's headed is not an optimistic one. Fifty years ago, if your luck held out, you actually had a shot at making some decent money on poetry and poetry alone. Now, you're lucky if you can walk away with a contributor's copy of the few magazines that still publish poetry. And people point to that, the serious decline of magazines that feature poetry or books released by major publishing companies, as evidence of how no one gives a damn about it anymore.
I hear that a lot, and honestly, I can't say I believe it.
If you really think no one cares anymore, head over to Google, or whatever search engine turns you on (I prefer the easy ones, obviously) and hunt down websites like www.pathetic.org, or look up a few e-zines and ask the editors how many submissions they receive in a given period, or head out to the fringe of publishing and see how many writers are kicking ass in the self-publishing field. It's nothing to get excited about, and it's probably not going to change the world anytime soon, but it will prove, if nothing else that poetry's in better shape than some people are saying.
And some people take a completely different route to keep poetry alive, like DVDs, which is one I honestly, for some strange reason, never envisioned as a means to the end of moving poetry along.
Again, I don't know why it never occurred to me that you could promote poetry on DVD. It might have something to do with the way the obvious almost never comes to my mind until it's entirely too late to do anything about it.
But I can't say for sure.
At any rate, that's pretty much what filmmaker Bob Bryan has set out to accomplish with Poets, Passion & Poetry, which is the latest and, according to Bryan, final installment in what has been a six film series dedicated to not only poetry, but to graffiti, and a more specific, focused branch of poetry, hip-hop. To watch even one is to watch a subject that the people involved are clearly immersed in. It's something they know everything there is to know about it, and it's something they want other people to know more about. So far, the series has done quite well to that end, with numerous festival appearances and awards, and positive reviews from just about everybody who's come into contact with it. And it's not difficult to see why, if Poets, Passion & Poetry, which is the one I'm dealing with here and now, has anything to say about it.
Running at about seventy-two minutes, with numerous special features, including complete readings from all thirty-one of the featured names, Poets, Passion & Poetry is an in-depth look at thirty-one different poets, from countless walks of life, philosophies, and personalities. It's not just limited to their own work, which is a major aspect of the documentary and one of its main points, to show you how wildly diverse and varying poetry can be. The documentary also intends to bring you closer to the poets themselves, something that is generally left up to a few words in a short bio on the back of their book. And this where the whole thing held the most interest for me. I love poetry, as it's probably pretty easy to tell, but what I like more, possibly, because I don't deal with it as much is direct contact with the poets themselves. I find that part relentlessly fascinating, to hear where the writer got his start, what brought him in, what keeps him going. I don't think it should be taken as personal gospel, but I do think there's something to be said for listening to your peers, your contemporaries and maybe, at most, using that opportunity to try adding something onto your own ideas and beliefs. The idea is to get you thinking about sides of poetry you might not have looked at before. Poets, Passion & Poetry brings out this opportunity brilliantly, offering more perspective than I think I've ever seen gathered in a single place.
And just so you know, the poetry's not bad either. There's some brilliant, brutal work to be found throughout. It's the kind of insight, intelligence that makes you wonder why these people aren't getting all of the credit they truly deserve. All of them had something to say, but some of them struck me in such a way that I had to seriously wonder why the hell these people aren't in the same regard as Bukowski, Angelou and the like. Of course, there's no guarantee that you're going to love every poet's work. But really, there's nothing about this that demands you do that. In my mind, lining up all these major forces in poetry is a lot like setting up a music festival. If you don't like the first act, well, stick around for the next one, because it's not going to be anything like the one you just saw, and so on. Personally, I found something good or, at the minimum, interesting, in every poet that came on. I can't guarantee watching Poets, Passion & Poetry is going to be like that for everybody, but I can almost definitely promise that you won't be bored. Director Bob Bryan is clearly aiming this at not just people who might be starting out at poetry, but people who have no real experience in the medium to begin with. I honestly think this is the group Bryan wants to approach most of all, more than the people who already have a rough idea of what Bryan's trying to express. I'm talking more about the ones I mentioned at the start of this, who don't think poetry has anything to say in 2006. Bryan wants to prove to those people that the truth of the matter is that poetry is as alive, vibrant, and vicious as it was in the days of Dorothy Parker and Anne Sexton. Thanks to his excellent, well-paced, well-handled direction, I don't think he's going to have any problem continuing to do this, as he's done with the previous five volumes.
This is an essential purchase for anyone who's either already well-immersed into the world of poetry, or someone who just wants to know what the whole thing is about. Bryan is a documentary director of serious, confident talent. He's the kind of guy you want to keep your eye on, because there's a very good chance that anything he happens to be involved with is going to make for an extremely worthwhile trip. For less than forty bucks, you get a documentary that's a prime example of how the phrase "No wasted motion" applies to a film, and you get an in-depth look at some of the most talented, underrated writers of this moment in time.
As far as I know, you couldn't possibly ask for more than that.
Gabriel Ricard is a Staff Interviewer at Unlikely 2.0. You can learn more about him at his bio page.