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Moving images

When poet Jennifer Maloney saw Richard C. Miller’s 1955 photograph of James Dean at a market in Marfa, Texas, she knew she wanted to write a poem about the actor who, at the time the picture was taken, was in the middle of filming his last movie, Giant.

“Clearly it was posed but meant to [look like] a candid shot, and so I had this immediate reaction to it. I found it compelling immediately and just wrote a poem about it right away.”

That iconic image of James Dean, an American movie star who lived a fast life and died a tragic death, was the catalyst for Maloney’s poem “James Dean Goes Shopping” (see sidebar).

But her inspiration didn’t stop there. The wheels kept spinning. “If I’m having this kind of visceral reaction I wonder if I’m alone in that, you know, or if other folks, too, would have that kind of reaction to movie stars or movies themselves.”

She took her idea to a pre–COVID-19 dinner party at the home of fellow Rochester poet Bart White.

“The poets there were all just like, ‘Yes! I either have a poem about a movie that I want to share, or I want to write poems about movies,’” recalls Maloney. “Bart and I just looked at each other and went, ‘You want to do this?’”

From there, White and Maloney, both longtime active members of Rochester’s Just Poets, put out the call for submissions for Moving Images: Poems Inspired by the Movies (Before Your Quiet Eyes Publishing 2021)

An astounding 300 plus poems from around the world flooded into their email account. Ken Kelbaugh, owner of Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore on Monroe Avenue and the proprietor of the publishing company of the same name, was the first to sort through the entries.

“It’s been fun seeing all the different countries that people have seen movies in,” says Kelbaugh.

“It’s just amazing to me to see things from people from India to Scotland; it’s all across the world that people see a movie and get inspired in so many different ways.”

Kelbaugh removed all identifying information from each poem and gave them to White and Maloney who took turns reading them to each other. They were impressed by the caliber of the work they received.

“The quality of the work that came in was overwhelmingly fabulous, really good stuff, and so that’s a joy to just have the opportunity to read some of the finest work, most moving pieces,” says Maloney.

They also enjoyed the processes of choosing which poems would make the final cut, and sometimes one could bring out the magic of a piece for the other person.

“I just want to say what a wonderful reader Jennifer is,” says White. “Hearing in her voice a certain enthusiasm or an emotional connection with different lines in a poem really changed for me, you know, shifted my stance on more than a few poems to realize what she was able to discover in it or that sometimes I had missed.”

Together they chose about 140 poems for the anthology, though it took lots of hard work over Zoom and many phone calls. “I feel like we were really diligent and really earnest and were serious about this work,” says Maloney. “Every poem was given real consideration, real thought. So, I feel very comfortable with the pieces that we have, that we eventually selected because we were very thorough.”

Kelbaugh is thrilled with the final result and says that White and Maloney are “just the easiest and best people to work with. They’re just two really good people. I’m just happy that they were part of it and I was part of working with them, because they were a great team.”

The poems in the book reflect on films of every ilk from Godzilla monster films to tried-and-true classics like Casablanca. Readers will also find nods to Star Wars, Goodfellas, Psycho, and countless others, not to mention odes to actors like Dean and DiCaprio.

David Delaney is a Rochester writer with two poems in the book, “If It Weren’t for the Movies” and “More Powerful than a Locomotive.” As a dedicated cinephile, he was very excited when he saw the call for submissions and believes this book is going to make a splash in both the literary and film worlds.

“What a great concept. This is gonna be an ass-kicking publication, this one. This one’s gonna go. This ain’t gonna sit in Rochester, this is gonna move,” says Delaney.

Not all of the poems are about particular films or actors, though. Several are about the experience of watching films or going to the movies.

“I think the best poems in the anthology are when someone describes either being in a movie theater or how they’re relating to the story on the screen,” says Maloney. “Then they walk out of the theater. Now we’re in their real life, but they’re taking a piece of that movie with them.”

White agrees. “My personal favorites are poems that capture the particular excitement of watching movies in a dark theater—a shared experience that now seems impossibly remote.” 

When asked why he thought the theme of the anthology resonated with so many writers, Delaney says that both poetry and film are about creating images from emotion. “Much of it gives us a reflection of sorts, either in fantasy or in reality, and boy does that stir up the pot for everybody. It’s there. All those emotions are there; when someone else gets it we get the feel of it, we retract the mirror as we bring it out. And then we add our own to it if we’re metaphorically able to do it.”

Kelbaugh adds, “People see a movie and get inspired in so many different ways. From some of the real classics to some of the superhero movies, it’s just amazing to me to see what movies do for people … I think it’s a synergy between poetry as a language and movies as a visual art. So the two of them coming together is just indescribable in many ways.”

Moving Images: Poems Inspired by the Movies will be available this spring, and a limited number will include handwritten poems by both White and Maloney.

“We’re planning a sort of hybrid [event],” says Kelbaugh. “There’s a limited number that can come into the store, and we can do all the social distancing and masks and everything but then do a Zoom piece with that at the same time. And we’d like to do it at the same time as the Oscars are coming out so it would be like tying it all in during that month.” This year the Academy Awards will be celebrated on April 25.

To pick up a copy of Moving Images: Poems Inspired by the Movies, visit Before Your Quiet Eyes bookstore at 439 Monroe Avenue, Rochester.  

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