Sunday, January 07, 2007

Cinematic Techniques and Poetry

I've heard it said that it is "hard to be a poet living in an age of prose." But heck, let's face it, we're not living in an age of prose, we're living in an age of cinema. There is a fascinating entry in Dictionary of Poetic Terms, a book that I discovered via Brian Campbell's blog, about cinematic techniques, and how they have influenced contemporary poetry. A brief summary:


"Cinematic techniques are . . .devices of . . . narration and point of view borrowed from moving pictures." ". . . the authors know of no comprehensive work on the cross fertilization of the two art forms . . ." (hmmm . . . perhaps a thesis idea here?)

1) Cuts: the joining together of separate images/events

Straight cut: elements are connected linearly in time
Cross cut: two related elements happening at the same time
Contrast cut: joining seeming unrelated, or thematically contrasting or opposing elements
Jump cut: used to shorten time by skipping ahead

2) Transitions

Metaphorical dissolve: a spinning crime scene turns into a spinning newspaper headline
Form dissolve: a man trapped in whitewater turns into the image of his wife at a sink washing her hands
Sound dissolve: a baby's cry turns into a police siren
Thematic montage: a series of metaphorically related images, like a collage
Flashback : we all know what this is
Flashforward: see Merwin "For the Anniversary of my Death"
Substitute image: a predictable image replaced by an unexpected one
Voice of the narrator: obvious

3) Point of View

Range of view: distance of the camera from the scene
Establishing shot: as in Lawrence of Arabia, an opening with a shot of the desert over which a camel and rider move slowly
Deep focus shot: With this camera shot you can see background, middle ground, and foreground clearly. A view not possible with the naked eye.
Close-up shot: scrutinizing detail
Angle of view: refers to the elevation of the camera
Bird's eye view: as seen from the air, implying omniscience, condescension, or accusation
Low Angle shot: at the ground level looking up, dwarfs the viewer

4) Movement

A pan: panning horizontally, taking in the whole scene.
A movement shot: propels the viewer toward or away from the action.


I am fascinated by this. On the one hand, I want to know how poems are different than cinema. What can a poem do that a moving picture cannot? On the other hand, I want to take advantage of the richness of these "motion picture" effects in my poems. I’d be interested to know ways that you have used cinematic techniques, either consciously or unconsciously, in your poems.


Steven D. Schroeder said...

Peter, thanks for posting this. I find crossover ideas like these fascinating, and movies seem like an interesting avenue to follow.

Word verification: zenjug

Charles said...


To wit, "I make little films out of poems": My Blogger bio.

To me, there is no difference between cinema and poetry in terms of formal structure. Cinema is a literary form—it can function as prose or poetry depending its assemblage.

ReggieH said...

You are so right -- these cinema terms are tantalizing, and make me want to think about how to use them, and how others have done things that resemble the cinematic. The first poem that comes to mind is Weldon Kees' poem "1926" with its establishing shot ('The porchlight coming on again') scene setting, and then memory, leading back to the return of the establishing shot -- in the way that 'Citizen Kane' begins and ends with the shot of the gate and giant 'K' outside Xanadu.

Collin said...

However you define it, I know I wouldn't be a poet if it weren't for Wim Wenders, Kryzstof Kieslowski, Sally Potter, Francois Truffaut, Louis Malle and Robert name a few. These directors are some of our finest poets.

Peter said...

Charles: I thought this post might catch your eye. *wink*
Reggie: Yes, I agree, the nexus between poetry and cinema is tantalizing. (Or, as Charles says, they are so close as to be one in the same thing!)
Collin: I love the movies, but am not much of an expert/aficionado. Still, the Sarragosa Manuscript, by a Polish director, I believe, is one of my touchstones.