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Poets In The Movies!

June 12, 2008


I can’t say that I cared very much for Sean Penn’s “Into The Wild”. It’s sorta like “Grizzly Man” but more confusing, less pretty, and without any recognition of the evil of nature that only Herzog can affect. But–wait!–there’s poetry!

In the first few scenes of the film, Emile Hirsch’s character whips out a copy of Sharon Olds’ The Gold Cell and begins schooling his younger sister on the ways in which Poetry can totally help you understand that parents are fucked up everywhere. It kinda jumped out at me and I got scared like, “WHOA! A POEM! IN A MOVIE? Weird…”

Also weird? The lamely vague references to Augustine’s Confessions, which we can’t blame anyone for because, apparently some are true; like McCandless’ time in Carthage South Dakota. But good heavens, is every male story about self discovery a parallel to Augustine? (Yes, emphatically, says the historic record)

Let’s face it, we can’t beef with Penn because as it turns out, this is the most literary film to come across our radars since The Royal Tenenbaums. And, in case you aren’t now (or never were) in the Olds fan club and can’t recognize her work in three words or less, below is a reprint of the poem in its entirety (thanks to

I Go Back to May 1937 (from The Gold Cell)

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

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