How often do you flip on the TV and immediately start watching a film based on a poem? Let’s take it a step further: How often do you flip on the TV and immediately find yourself watching a compelling film based on a poem? For me, I can safely say that up until about four weeks ago, when it happened, this had never happened. In fact, come to think of it, I’m not sure how many films, short or otherwise (I think this one is only about 30 minutes), are based on poems. What makes it even more impressive is that the script for the film is virtually word for word from the poem itself.
Now, pick yourself up off the floor.
The poet, Christopher Reid (b. 1949), is something of a celebrity in London. Okay celebrity’s not the right word, but let’s just say he’s not exactly the unknown he is here stateside. He’s actually earned himself a solid reputation (if little critical attention anywhere) as one who publishes with the most elite of poetry publishers, Faber and Faber (where T.S. Eliot once held reign as poetry editor). All of this is rather inconsequential, however, to this truly wonderful book (and film!). Reid says it was inspired by an episode from Joyce’s Ulysses. You’ll have to excuse the movie trailer looking image of the front cover, but I suppose it is another anomaly to have a book of poems featuring two rather famous movie stars on its cover. It also helps that Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are perfectly cast. This is what the PBS synopsis says:
When a middling copy editor/failed poet meets his former lover for lunch 15 years after their affair, he finds that everything — and nothing — has changed. From the tablecloths to the wine to his former lover, wealth and success now gloss the surface where kitsch and passion once held sway. He is bitter, petulant and increasingly inebriated; she is glamorous, generous, and eventually provoked. A dramatization of Christopher Reid’s acclaimed narrative poem, The Song of Lunch stars Alan Rickman (Harry Potter films) and Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, film version) in the unnamed roles of He and She. Waiter, I’ll take the nostalgia special with a side of recrimination and finish with regret, for a lunch that celebrates love and ambition with poignancy, humor, and affection.
I found myself pulled in to the unexpected and “poetic-sounding” monologue, and to the highly-observant and sensuous imagery (imagery in the precise meaning of the word, as connoting all five senses). My first complete novel, The Director of Happiness, that takes place in an hour was inspired by a the contemporary novelist Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine. As I wrote it, I also re-examined some major 20th century classics that experimented with new ways of writing the novel (Ulysses, In Search of Lost Time, St. Petersburg, Mrs. Dalloway, The Metamorphosis). In this case, I could immediately tell that a lot was “happening” in the speaker’s mind even though very little was actually moving forward in plot time. When the book arrived, I literally could not put it down. Fantastic stuff that shows us the versatility of poetry, and what it can be.