“Finds evocative new ways to connect us to a shared storytelling heritage.”—Entertainment Weekly
A. Van Jordan, an acclaimed American poet and the author of three previous volumes, “demonstrates poetry’s power to be at once intimate and wide-ranging” (Robert Pinsky, Washington Post Book World). In this penetrating new work he takes us with him to the movies, where history reverberates and characters are larger than life. The Cineaste is an entrancing montage of poems, wherein film serves as the setting for contemplative trances, memoir, and pure fantasy. At its center is a sonnet sequence that imagines the struggle of pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux against D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, which Micheaux saw not only as racist but also as the start of a powerful new art form. “Sharpen the focus in your lens, and you / Sharpen your view of the world; you can see / How people inhabit space in their lives, / How the skin of Negroes and whites both play / With light.” Scenes and characters from films such as Metropolis, Stranger than Paradise, Last Year at Marienbad, The Red Shoes, and The Great Train Robbery also come to luminous life in this vibrant new collection. The Cineaste is an extended riff on Jordan’s life as a moviegoer and a brilliant exploration of film, poetry, race, and the elusiveness of reverie.
from “Last Year at Marienbad”
A place, though visible, is like a ghost
of memories. Even memories one forgets
linger in the space in which they occurred.
Here within the expanse of vaulted ceilings,
doorways leading to more doors, hallways
leading to more halls, the faintest recollections
absorb over time; no act will wholly evanesce.
"Movies provide my last safe playground," writes Van Jordan in his fourth collection. Drawn from his experience as a moviegoer, these poems prove anything but safe each film is its own playground of dangers, of "strangers who mistake me for someone/ they owe." The collection spans surrealist works such as Un Chien Andalou (of which Van Jordan writes, in his notes, "I won't pretend to understand this film...but I do understand how it makes me feel when I see it,") to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. The connection is this poet's interest in the "voyeur," a theme enacted both through his role as a spectator and through his characters' consciousnesses: "I love staring, too,/ at how the most public spaces turn/ intimate after dark"; "I look/ and want to recall the first look." While Van Jordan plays with voice and register, the poems lean towards formal syntax and presentation; tercets and couplets belie the experimental content of the films the poems riff on. The collection's middle section, a sonnet sequence based on Homesteader (the 1919 film by Oscar Micheaux), does a particularly fine job of turning the moviegoer's public experience into private reverie without forgoing narrative and subtext, illustrating Van Jordan's keen skill with "The tenderness of truth reworked, retold ."