Poets as Cameras

My very first class here at Geneseo in fall of 2016 was ENGL 203 Reader & Text: Adaptation & Discipline with Professor Harrison. The class was all about works of literature that are adapted over and over by other people. In this class we read Goodbye to Berlin which was adapted into the play I Am a Camera which was then adapted into the musical Cabaret. The class was really interesting because I loved learning about the impact of adaptation, and we also read Trilby and watched its adaptations. However, for this post I want to focus on I Am a Camera. Ever since I read that play, I have been obsessed with the idea of a writer/artist as a human camera. I mentioned it in class about Erin Kae’s Grasp This Salt. I think that the concept of documenting someone else’s story (even if it’s your own story i.e. separating the poet from the speaker of the poem) is a great way to think about a narrative or vignette-style poem.

I think a really cool “camera” writing exercise would be to do some good old fashioned people watching! At home I like to sit in the mall and people watch, but that mall has had a string of violent crimes lately, so I’m starting to develop a fear of malls. Anyway! A great Geneseo substitute is the Union. I like to sit in Starbucks and eavesdrop on conversations. Being a camera is great because it gives you distance from the poem, and with the distance you have more room to lie or be fictitious in writing. I find it really difficult to lie in my writing when I’m too close to the piece. I recommend everyone try to people watch a little this weekend!

One Reply to “Poets as Cameras”

  1. I read this as I was people watching/doing my homework in the mail room lol. I love the idea of the camera and how a poets embodiment of one can lead to distance. I also struggle with distancing myself from my poetry, as it is so personal to me, no matter what I write about. I encourage you to read some good ol’ Charles Bukowski and Carol Ann Duffy. Their poetry always creates the most beautiful, at times disturbing, imagery in my head, creating mental movies every time I read them. And now I have a writing exercise for you! Take a photograph, painting, movie, etc. (any piece of visual art) and write a poem inspired by it. You don’t always have to rely on the lenses in your eyes (no matter how much fun they are to use).

    P.S. I did not know that Cabaret was the second adaption to an original piece of work! I adore that movie so I don’t know why I never looked into it.

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