National Poetry Month

There was a time – many, many years ago, before radio and television – that people found entertainment through reading. Not just silently to themselves, but aloud, for everyone. And not just popular novels of the day. People were hungry for education as well as entertainment. They also read the newspaper – and poetry. Almost everyone remembers learning some poems in school, and many of us probably have favorites that we can recite. Poems that touched us in a way that made us want to remember that moment, so we learned them by heart. Poems that were, in fact, made to be read aloud.

I’m sure it would come as no surprise to learn that the library has documentaries about poets and poetry. But, for fun, I thought I’d mention some dramatizations of poems and poets’ lives. Yes, there are some movies based on poems. My favorite would have to be The Man from Snowy River. It’s based on the poem by Australian Banjo Paterson, who also wrote Waltzing Matilda. The movie is an adventure story about a young man’s determination to claim his right to live and work in the mountains. And prove his worth to a wealthy rancher – and the rancher’s beautiful daughter.

War and army service have inspired more than one author to create poems that commemorate a battle or the soldiers themselves. The classic movies The Charge of the Light Brigade and Gunga Din are based on poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Rudyard Kipling, respectively. The poems and movies emphasize honor, duty, and sacrifice of soldiers and even their aides. The Chinese poem Ballad of Mulan, written in the 6th century, has inspired several movies. The best known in the West is the Disney film Mulan. It tells the story of a young woman who joined an all-male army and became an inspiration to all.

Poets themselves have been subjects of many movies. We witness their personal lives and struggles, and we see how those times influenced their writing. Lord Byron was described as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” But his talent as a poet is unquestioned. His life is dramatized in the BBC production Byron. Jonny Lee Miller and Philip Glenister star. Sylvia Plath’s struggles with depression are echoed in her poetry and depicted in the movie Sylvia starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. In Tom & Viv, we see the troubled marriage of T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood, played by Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson. Triumph over incredible adversity is the subject of My Left Foot: the story of Christy Brown. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his portrayal of Irish poet Christy Brown. Brown was born with severe cerebral palsy. Able to control only his left foot, he learned to write and paint. Brenda Fricker also won an Oscar as Brown’s mother.

As for my own taste in poetry, I have a fondness for William Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, e.e. cummings, Edgar Allan Poe. Must be the romantic streak in me. Who are your favorite poets and poems?