W.B. Yeats’ Classic Poem “When You Are Old” Gets Adapted Into a Beautiful Short Film

W.B. Yeats’ 1891 poem "When You Are Old" is widely considered a commentary on his unrequited lifelong passion for actress, Irish Republican and suffragette Maud Gonne.

Yeats first met Gonne in 1889 (a meeting which Yeats was later to describe in his memoirs as the day ‘the troubling of my life began’) and he remained in love with her for much of his life, proposing marriage at least four times. Gonne became his muse, and he drew on his tortured love for her, albeit unnamed, as the inspiration for many of his works, including most notably the poem, "When You Are Old."

Freely based on a sonnet by Pierre de Ronsard, which first appeared in Le Second Livre Des Sonnets Pour Hélène in 1578, "When You Are Old" enjoins the object of an unreturned love to reflect--in years to come--on a love rejected, to remember one who ‘loved your moments of glad grace’, and who ‘loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face.’

Although Yeats’s poetry is often very dense and rich in allusion to mythology, the occult and history, in "When You Are Old" the pain and bittersweet nature of a spurned love is all too apparent.

Australian playwright Jessica Bellamy drew on the poem and her love of W.B. Yeats’ work when writing the theatre monologue "Little Love," which she then adapted with director Damien Power to create the short film Bat Eyes. Watch it above.

In Bat Eyes, Adam and Jenny (‘Bat Eyes’) Barrett are brought together through an incident of classroom bullying. Through the metaphor of visual impairment and an eye examination undergone by an adult Adam, Bellamy and Power explore the poem’s themes of longing, insight, revelation and regret, and poetry's capacity to provide solace and awaken empathy in everyday life. The script of this beautiful short film consists principally of the text of the poem, with the film’s two young leads repeating Yeats’ words back and forth to each other, as the story flips back and forth in time, the meaning of the lines becoming more tangible and resonant with each recitation.

Says Jessica Bellamy:

‘Yeats writes about ancient mythology and the history of his time, but you don’t have to understand all that to get the feeling of what he has to say. There are lines, there are moments that, as a reader, you just get and you think: I’m not alone in this world and that someone else has felt these things as well. I hope viewers will hear the truth of what this poem is saying, and that they’ll see the film as an ode to love, relationships and to poetry itself.

Gonne, who died in 1953, outlived Yeats by 14 years. She was photographed by Life magazine in October 1948, old and grey, sitting by a fire and reading Yeats poetry.

You can watch the original monologue, "Little Love," here:

And read and listen to the text of "When You Are Old" here. There's also a version read by Colin Farrell. Find it below.

Dan Prichard is an online film and webseries producer, based in Sydney, whose work explores identity, place, and the space between film and performance in the digital arena. Visit his website here.

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Rare Recordings of Burroughs, Bukowski, Ginsberg & More Now Available in a Digital Archive Created by the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

Image via Christiaan Tonnis

Americans can be quite ignorant of the richness of our country's cultural history. Part of this ignorance, I suspect, comes down to prejudice. Innovative American artists throughout history have come from groups often demonized and marginalized by the wider society. The dominance of corporate commerce also impoverishes the cultural landscape. Poetry and experimental art don’t sell much, so some people think they have little value.

Imagine if we were to invert these attitudes in public opinion: American poetry and art allow us to gain new perspectives from people and parts of the country we don’t know well; to enlarge and challenge our religious and political understanding; to experience a very different kind of economy, built on aesthetic invention and free intellectual enterprise rather than supply, demand, and profit. Creativity and finance are not, of course, mutually exclusive. But to consistently favor one at the expense of the other seems to me a great loss to everyone.

We find ourselves now in such a situation, as public universities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting face severe cuts or possible de-funding.

Such a political move would devastate many of the institutions that foster and preserve the country’s art and culture, and relegate the arts to the private sphere, where only sums of private money determine whose voices get heard. We can, however, be very appreciative of private institutions who make their collections public through open access libraries like the Internet Archive.

One such collection comes from the Digital Initiatives Unit of Decker Library at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), one of the oldest art colleges in the U.S., and one of the most highly regarded. They have digitally donated to Archive.org “a number of rare and previously unreleased audio recordings,” they write in a press release, “spanning the 1960s through the late 1990s” and consisting of “over 700 audiocassette tapes” documenting “literature and poetry readings, fine art and design lectures, race and culture discussions” and college events.

These include (enter the archive here) a two hour poetry reading from Allen Ginsberg in 1978, at the top, with several other readings and talks from Ginsberg in the archive, the reading below it from Eileen Myles in 1992, and readings and talks above and below from Amiri Baraka, Anne Waldman, and William S. Burroughs. The collection represents a “strong focus on literature and poetry,” and features “a symposium on the Black Mountain poets.” Given the school’s mission, you’ll also find in the archive “a large selection of talks and lectures by visual artists, such as Elaine de Kooning, Alice Neel, Gordon Parks, Ad Rhinehart and Ben Shahn.”

Collections like this one from MICA and the Internet Archive allow anyone with internet access to experience in some part the breadth and range of American art and poetry, no matter their level of access to private institutions and sources of wealth. But the internet cannot fully replace or supplant the need for publicly funded arts initiatives in communities nationwide.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

T.S. Eliot’s Classic Poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Gets Adapted into a Hip Modern Film

T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” gives us a psychological portrait of a neurotic character who eloquently perseverates on the nature of his existence and the weakness of his will. The poem is a dream, but not an erotic one. Prufrock’s libido is too tied up in knots of self-doubt and self-consciousness for that. Though he moves through a high class brothel, he hardly ever seems to touch another person, asking himself repeatedly, "Do I dare?"

“I am no prophet,” muses Prufrock, his name conjuring a kind of gaunt Puritanical figure who fears that “the eternal Footman” and the women who come and go are laughing at him. Prufrock is pathetic and ridiculous, and he knows it. He escapes from the hell that is his life (the poem opens with an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno) with elaborate symbolist daydreams. He is a dandyish version of James Thurber’s Walter Mitty.

You may be forgiven for seeing few of these qualities in the central character of “A Lovesong,” a short film by director Laura Scrivano and starring Daniel Henshall (from the AMC series TURN: Washington's Spies). They are not there. The project supposedly arose from Henshall’s own fascination with the poem. But in this adaptation of it, Prufrock—if we can call Henshall’s character by that name—seems to have no trouble with his libido.

Henshall’s solitary figure is pensive, brooding, and hip—a whiskey-sipping Brooklyn flâneur---moving between a seductive nighttime New York and a sleeping lover in bed, recalling perhaps Prufrock’s reference to “one-night cheap hotels.” The film is a unique interpretation of Eliot’s commentary on modern alienation, one perhaps suited to our moment. Yet, we would half-expect that any contemporary Prufrock would wander the streets lost in his smartphone, fretting over his lack of sufficient “likes.”

For contrast to this stylish reimaging of “Prufrock,” we can hear Eliot himself read from the poem just above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Jeremy Irons Read the Poetry of T.S. Eliot (Available for a Limited Time)

We may have come nearly to the end of January already, but we can still call 2017 a new year — at least until we've listened to the poetry of T.S. Eliot to properly ring it in. "There's surely no better poet than Eliot to help us confront the problem of finding meaning in a world where old certainties are being troubled," says Martha Kearney, host of BBC Radio 4's New Year's series celebrating his work.

"Our lives are so busy now that we need some help from the season to just take stock, both of where we've been and where we might like to go to," says the first episode's guest, novelist Jeanette Winterson. We need to inhabit "that inward moment that poetry's so good at," and that Eliot made entirely his own. The bulk of that broadcast comprises a reading of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by Jeremy Irons, surely one of the poet's ideal living interpreters. (Note: you can stream all of the episodes in the series here.)

Irons reads more in the second, which includes a discussion with Winterson and Anthony Julius, Chair of Law and the Arts and University College London, about the opening of "Gerontion" and the "ugly references" made in Eliot's other poems. The discussion in the third, in which Irons takes on Eliot's immortal "The Waste Land," looks for the source of the power of its "poetry of fragments" with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Scots Makar (something like a Poet Laureate of Scotland) Jackie Kay.

"The Waste Land" continues as a subject in part four, as its guest, the actress Fiona Shaw, has drawn acclaim for her own reading of the poem, but the Irons section of the broadcast offers various other selections, including "The Hollow Men," "Ash Wednesday," and "Journey of the Magi." Finally, in part five, Kearney and Rory Stewart, Member of Parliament and man of letters, talk about and hear Irons deliver Eliot's "Four Quartets," whose language Stewart memorized on a walk through Nepal and which he later used during his political campaign.

This poetic, conversational, and performative radio feast comes to nearly four hours (listen to all of the episodes here), but you've got only the next six days to stream it. Otherwise you'll have to wait until Radio 4's next, as yet announced calendar-appropriate celebration of Eliot. They've used his work to refresh audiences after a troubling year; perhaps they'll use it again to get us through the cruelest month of this one.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Joan Miró-Inspired Animation of Federico García Lorca’s Poem, “Romance Sonámbulo”

What toddler is transfixed by a poem of tragically thwarted desire?

Thousands of them, thanks to “The Sleepwalker,” animator Theodore Ushev's creative interpretation of Federico García Lorca’s poem, “Romance Sonámbulo.”

Ushev starts by scrapping the words, in favor of a purely visual language that draws heavily on the work of Lorca’s contemporary, surrealist painter Joan Miró.

Would Lorca have approved?

Possibly. He had great admiration for Miró, whose paintings he declared “the purest of all images” in a public lecture on modern art at Grenada’s Athenaeum:

They come from dream, from the center of the soul, there where love is made flesh and incredible breezes of distant sounds blow.

Animator Ushev is another who’s put a lot of stock in dreams:

I wanted to create a joyful film, that makes the public happy – inexplicably happy. The surrealist movement was a play, a game itself. I often start my masterclasses with the quotation, “The life is a dream (and everything is a game).” It is a modified version of the romantic belief of another Spanish writer – Pedro Calderón de la Barca. This little film can be seen as such – an allegory over the joy and mystery of life.

His take may confuse those who’ve been debating the original poem’s far-from-joyful meaning.

There are recognizable forms … Lorca’s “gypsy girl,” for instance.

What's going on?

Ask a toddler what’s he or she sees.

A wounded contraband runner dragging himself back to his forbidden lady love?

A grief-stricken Juliet throwing herself in a cistern?

More likely, dancing, and lots of it, thanks to the irresistible score - Bulgarian musician Kottarashky’s “Opa Hey.”

(Ushev made a conscious decision to expand the gypsy theme beyond Lorca’s native Andalucía to the Balkan region.)

“Romance Sonámbulo”

Green, how I want you green.

Green wind. Green branches.

The ship out on the sea

and the horse on the mountain. 

With the shade around her waist 

she dreams on her balcony, 

green flesh, her hair green, 

with eyes of cold silver. 

Green, how I want you green. 

Under the gypsy moon, 

all things are watching her 

and she cannot see them.

Green, how I want you green. 

Big hoarfrost stars 

come with the fish of shadow 

that opens the road of dawn. 

The fig tree rubs its wind 

with the sandpaper of its branches, 

and the forest, cunning cat, 

bristles its brittle fibers. 

But who will come? And from where? 

She is still on her balcony 

green flesh, her hair green, 

dreaming in the bitter sea.

—My friend, I want to trade 

my horse for her house, 

my saddle for her mirror, 

my knife for her blanket. 

My friend, I come bleeding 

from the gates of Cabra.

—If it were possible, my boy, 

I’d help you fix that trade. 

But now I am not I, 

nor is my house now my house.

—My friend, I want to die

decently in my bed. 

Of iron, if that’s possible, 

with blankets of fine chambray. 

Don’t you see the wound I have 

from my chest up to my throat?

—Your white shirt has grown 

thirsty dark brown roses. 

Your blood oozes and flees a

round the corners of your sash. 

But now I am not I, 

nor is my house now my house.

—Let me climb up, at least, 

up to the high balconies; 

Let me climb up! Let me, 

up to the green balconies. 

Railings of the moon 

through which the water rumbles.

Now the two friends climb up, 

up to the high balconies.

Leaving a trail of blood. 

Leaving a trail of teardrops. 

Tin bell vines

were trembling on the roofs.

A thousand crystal tambourines 

struck at the dawn light.

Green, how I want you green, 

green wind, green branches. 

The two friends climbed up. 

The stiff wind left 

in their mouths, a strange taste 

of bile, of mint, and of basil 

My friend, where is she—tell me—

where is your bitter girl?

How many times she waited for you! 

How many times would she wait for you, 

cool face, black hair, 

on this green balcony! 

Over the mouth of the cistern

the gypsy girl was swinging, 

green flesh, her hair green, 

with eyes of cold silver. 

An icicle of moon

holds her up above the water. 

The night became intimate 

like a little plaza.

Drunken “Guardias Civiles”

were pounding on the door. 

Green, how I want you green. 

Green wind. Green branches. 

The ship out on the sea. 

And the horse on the mountain.

Read “Romance Sonámbulo” in the original Spanish here

Read an interview with animator Ushev here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Jim Jarmusch Lists His Favorite Poets: Dante, William Carlos Williams, Arthur Rimbaud, John Ashbery & More


Wikimedia Commons photo by Chrysoula Artemis

When it comes to American indie director Jim Jarmusch, we tend to think right away of the importance of music in his films, what with his collaborations with Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Iggy Pop. (Jarmusch is himself a musician who has released two studio albums and three EPs under the moniker Sqürl.) But Jarmusch’s most recent film, Paterson, is an ode to poetry, drawn from his own love of New York School poets like Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery. Set in Paterson, New Jersey and featuring a main character also named Paterson (Adam Driver), the film aims to show, writes Time magazine, “how art—maybe even especially art made in the margins—can fill up everyday life.”

Jarmusch was drawn to Paterson, the town, by William Carlos Williams. The modernist poet called the town home and published an epic poem called Paterson in 1946. Although that dense, complex work is “not one of my favorite poems,” Jarmusch tells Time, he namechecks Williams as one of his favorite poets.

I think we can see the influence of Williams’ spare visual imagination in Jarmusch films like Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law, Ghost Dog, and Broken Flowers. Jarmusch goes on in the course of his discussion about Paterson, the film, to name a handful of other poets he counts as inspirations. In the list below, you can find Jarmusch’s favorites, along with links to some of their most-beloved poems.

--William Carlos Williams (“Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” “4th of July”)
--Wallace Stevens (“The Man with the Blue Guitar,” “The Snow Man,” “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”)
--Dante Alighieri (Canto I of the Inferno)
--Arthur Rimbaud (“The Drunken Boat,” “Vagabonds”)
--John Ashbery (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”—read by Ashbery)
--Kenneth Koch (“In Love With You,” “One Train May Hide Another”)
--Frank O’Hara (“Steps,” Various Poems)

As we read or re-read these poets, we might ask how they have informed Jarmusch's stylish films in addition to the influence of his cinematic favorites. Several great directors have contributed to his peculiar visual aesthetic. The only filmmaker he mentions as a hero in his Time interview is Bernardo Bertollucci, but you can read about Jarmusch's top ten films at our previous post--films directed by such luminaries as Yasujiro Ozu, Nicholas Ray, and Robert Bresson.

via Austen Kleon's weekly newsletter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Jorge Luis Borges Read 30 of His Poems (in the Original Spanish)

In a recent post on the mathematical-minded Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, Colin Marshall referred to David Auerbach's short “Inquest on Left-Brained Literature." Here, Auerbach situates Jorge Luis Borges among writers like Richard Powers, Umberto Eco, David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami and others, who exist “on a parallel track of literature that is popular specifically among engineers.” From his observations, Auerbach draws only “one obvious conclusion... that engineers tend to like novelists that deal in math and science material.”

Auerbach’s list seems legitimate (he mentions “another scholar who also works amongst engineers” and who “produced near-duplication of this list”). But it prompts one important question for me: How do these writers see themselves? As primarily literary authors? Genre writers? Engineers themselves, of a sort?

In the case of Borges, we have an eloquent self-description from the author in his introduction to the Selected Poems 1923-1967. “First and foremost,” writes Borges, “I think of myself as a reader, then as a poet, then as a prose writer.”

While Borges may hold tremendous appeal for left-brain thinkers like programmer Jamie Zawinski, he began his career as a very right-brained poet, and continued to see his work as primarily “addressed to the imagination” rather than “to the reason.”

I cannot say whether my work is poetry or not; I can only say that my appeal is to the imagination. I am not a thinker. I am merely a man who has tried to explore the literary possibilities of metaphysics and of religion.

Borges is inordinately modest. His work is poetry, especially, of course, his actual poetry—volumes of it, written over six decades of his life--- from his first published collection in 1923, Fervor de Buenos Aires, to his last, Los conjurados in 1985. It has always seemed to me something of a tragedy that Borges is not better-known as a poet among his English-speaking readers. It’s not for lack of excellent translations, most of them guided by the multi-lingual Borges himself.

The situation is much different, in my experience, among Spanish-speakers. There is indeed a Latin-American—and specifically Argentine—resonance in some of Borges’ verse that is impossible to translate. For those who can appreciate Borges in his original language, we bring you the album above, 30 poems read by the author himself. You can hear one of those readings, “Arte Poetica,” in the video at the top of the post, with English subtitles. The director, Neels Castillon, describes the short film as “a journey around Argentina and Uruguay to illustrate words of Jorge Luis Borges.”

English speakers can also sample translations of Borges’ poetry here and here. Or dive into the translation of “Arte Poetica,” or “The Art of Poetry" here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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