Billy Collins, THE DEAD – Last year I considered entering the Zebra Poetry Festival–an annual poetry film competition in Berlin. It is a cooperative project where participants create short films based on two or more poems, either written by the creator, or a poem from a favorite artist. The competition is judged by an international jury, and the winners get to share in a host of prizes. Which is pretty impressive because if your film is chosen you get to travel to Berlin and participate in the awarding festivities. You would also get to meet great filmmakers, poets, and artists alike! Alas, due to a difference in opinion regarding character creation and collaboration, my short-film never made it past storyboard stage. What this experience did bring about was how differently people interpret poetic works.
I love poetry. Recently I found myself in a bit of a lyrical rut. I realize now; it is directly related to my attempts at filming. If I found it difficult to project the meaning of a piece in the film, then, what might others think of my work? If I am reviewing a poem by someone, I usually begin reading the article to see if it has an emotional effect. If so, I read the poem backward. Yes. Backwards. Then I do picky little things like reviewing its form–word relation and cohesiveness. What might “stand out” in the piece, or what the author is trying to communicate. Most of the time, I find it easy to critique an article. Often, well lately, I am finding it tough to interpret poetry pieces by others. Especially when it comes to my work–but I digress.
Then I decided that poetry is best understood like beauty–in the eyes of the beholder. Like the piece was below written by former Poet Lauderate Billy Collins. The Dead had been interpreted in many different ways. I even read some critique, well comments, related to this piece, in that Collins’s poem perhaps, make a mockery of religion or those who believe in God. I do not see this. I feel that it is an announcement of a blessing. A blessing from those recent or having long past still gift to us the comfort of knowing that within our hearts, those of all who remain dear to us will still be here, always.
It can be as simple of interpretation, like that.
The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.
They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by him of a long afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,
Which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.
Sailing Alone around the Room: New and Selected Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 2001
Please enjoy the short film The Dead poem by Billy Collins, animated by Juan Delcán
The Dead was a 2008 Zebra Poetry Festival Prize winner.
Image credit: Juan Delcán