Online Poetry Journal Adapts for the Big Screen

By Lisa Linsley

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Amherst Cinema has a history of featuring innovative films, films that challenge contemporary morays and occasionally turn them on their sides. Tonight, Amherst Cinema will try its hand at a new form of innovation, playing host to “When You Think of It,” a film that features people reading poems from many unexpected places.

“When You Think of It” will be presented by “Notnostrums,” an online poetry journal. Twenty-three poets participated in the film, including Christian Hawkey, Lori Shine and James Tate. Tate, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his work, “Selected Poems,” has been a professor at the University of Massachusetts since 1971.

The film is part of the Going Public Contemporary Lit Series, a project heralded by the UMass Juniper Initiative. The Juniper Initiative for Literary Arts and Action is a program for a hub of readings, summer writing workshops, forums and literary programming. In addition, the MFA Program for Poets and Writers, as well as the Fine Arts Center, is involved in the hosting of “When You Think of It.”

In advertising, the film has made the most of its unusual and unique content, accentuating its singular purpose as a film about poetry. The film is not a “movie” in the traditional sense, or as its slogans brazenly suggest – “Not about the loneliness of the long distance runner.” Viewers expecting a twist ending, akin to that of “The Crying Game,” are better advised to leave their expectations at home. Those pining for the slapstick comedy of “Blazing Saddles,” or for the poignancy of “All That Heaven Allows,” are in for a rude awakening. Quite simply, the film is about people reading poems in various places. The appeal lies in the content of those poems.

Emily Pettit, Guy Pettit and Luke Bloomfield were on hand to help edit the film, which is the first that the group has produced.

According to Lisa Olestin, associate director for the MFA Program for Poets and Writers, as well as for the Juniper Initiative, “By definition a film provides a different context for poetry than usual.” Olestin noted that the filmmakers had the poets come up with unusual places to read their work, including “the middle of a river to a tattoo parlor, to a front porch [and] a subway station.”

“[The varying locations] bring poetry out into the world, into different settings, into daily life,” said Olestin. “It allows the poems to bump up against interesting contexts and associations and it probably reveals some of our not very useful presumptions about what, where, and when poetry can occur. From what I’ve seen, the film is beautiful and startling and full of good humor.”

“When You Think of It” is the first of three events in the Going Public Lit Series. On October 15, the series presents the Western Massachusetts launch of the statewide Massachusetts Poetry Festival. James Tate, along with Ellen Watson and James Haug, will participate in the festival at Amherst Cinema. In 2010, the series will also co-sponsor the 10th annual Juniper Literary Festival with readings, addresses, roundtables and a small press fair held in the Fine Arts Center and at the Amherst Cinema.  

General admission to “When You Think of It” is $5. Tickets can be purchased at the Amherst Cinemas Box office.

Lisa Linsley can be reached at [email protected]