Former historian and scholar, author of four critically acclaimed poetry books, generous host to annual summer garden readings in her lush Roncesvalles backyard, Ruth Roach Pierson is also the editor of I Found It at the Movies: An Anthology of Film Poems published by Guernica Editions in 2014. A long-time cinephile, Ruth attends as many films as humanly possible during the annual Toronto International Film Festival, and has each September since 1980. One of the poems in her most recent collection, the richly exquisite and beautifully produced Realignment (Palimpsest Press) is a testament to this whirlwind commitment of an experience. By weaving a kaleidoscope of movie moments and images Ruth deftly and gracefully synthesizes the various strands from 33 films over ten days (her personal best) into a luminous whole. Mesmerizing and exact, she ushers readers into the world of cinema line by line leaving us in an altered state of post-film euphoria and in unison with the last word of the poem: floating.
33 Films in Ten Days
Wild grass growing in the tarmac’s
cracks, insects crawl over petals
lucent with sun, entwined bodies move,
moan. A man stands on a platform
as a train speeds away over tracks meeting
at the horizon. The door at the end of a hall
closes. Beneath a village’s pious surface, a cruel
discipline twists the wills of children,
and over the glorious summer of ’39, the dead
mount as evil accretes. Finding a wallet leads
to a prop plane plummeting from the sky, and a pianist
plays Bach with a clarity and exactitude that breaks
the heart, while a dancer-in-training strengthens
his body by bounding up stairs, two at a time, bags
of cement weighting his legs, and Clive Owen
appears on stage before a screening flanked
by two boys. The seven-year-old will steal
the show. And in a cell hidden in a Haitian citadel
henchmen torture a prisoner, the camera scanning
a tray of sinister tools, water-boarding escalating
to a necklacing some can’t stomach, refuse to watch,
though later delight in the whimsical revenge
exacted on the fat-cat arms manufacturers in Jeunet’s
Non-Stop Shenanigans, and at the last film on the last
night a packed house bursts into applause when
Victoria and Albert’s lips first meet, and by then
we wish the festival would go on forever, our minds
replaying the other first kiss—between tubercular Keats
and flirtatious but smitten Fanny Brawne—
and leaving the theatre night after night
in a press of nattering filmgoers, floating.
Here is the trailer for I Found It at the Movies: An Anthology of Film Poems.
Permission to use the poem “33 Films in Ten Days” from Realignment (2015) received from Palimpsest Press.
Winner of the International Festival of Authors’ Poetry NOW competition, Catherine Graham is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections. Her most recent collection, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award. Here is her website.