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Review | The Cineaste By A. Van Jordan

Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on April 12, 2013

The Cineaste by A. Van Jordan

ISBN-13: 9780393239157
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication date: 4/2/2013
Pages: 144

April is National Poetry Month! Celebrate poets, memorize a poem, subscribe to literary journals and support small presses!

And, read more chapbooks. These wonderful little books of about 40 pages offer poets another avenue to publication. In their clever, thematic formats, chapbooks have been eagerly embraced by readers of poetry and can often subsidize poetry reading tours.

Consider one of the more passionate poems in A. Van Jordan’s latest collection The Cineaste: Poems. Inspired by the 1919 silent film by African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, “The Homesteader” was first published as a limited edition chapbook by Unicorn Press (2013).

“The Homesteader” reappears in The Cineaste, where Jordan’s film watching experiences serve as brilliant, evocative prompts for poems complete with flashbacks, montages, cuts and fades. Each poem takes the title of a favorite film. Jordan might riff off a theme, narrate as the hero or the villain or homage an influential director.

The recipient of a Whiting Writers Award and a Pushcart Prize, Jordan currently teaches in the creative writing program of the University of Michigan. His previous collections include M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (2005), based on the life of the first black finalist of the National Spelling Bee.

In The Cineaste, Jordan gives an affectionate nod to the lyrical 1956 Albert Lamorisse film in “The Red Balloon”:

Tribes of boys are jealous of the one
tethered to the red balloon. Adults
don’t seem to understand him either.

See, the boy runs with his balloon
trailing behind him; even when he
opens his grip, the balloon obeys

and, as if it had legs, runs
alongside him. Can you see?
Even in the silences between them.

“Stranger Than Paradise” (Jim Jarmusch, 1984) is a voyeur’s assessment of unwillingly goaded people on a quest.

I’ve been on this journey
meeting strangers who mistake me for someone
they owe, and I accept the offerings
with wit and suspicion.
What else does a traveler need to survive?

Jordan sounds off on the estrangement, rhetoric and social politics of race in “The Brother from Another Planet” (John Sayles, 1987), “Do the Right Thing” (Spike Lee, 1989) and “Blazing Saddles” (Mel Brooks, 1975).

Heat rose off the assonance of summer language.
Some called it music; others called it fire.
The days were a skillet but the nights were a match
lighting the gas. No moon appeared, only steam

(From “Do the Right Thing”)

He can also pry authentic verse from German expressionist film themes in “Metropolis, restored edition” (Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, September 14, 2010), “M” (Fritz Lang, 1931) and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (Robert Wiene, 1920).

Streets anesthetized in neon lights,
I walk through them in sleep, deep in sleep,
as an excuse

or acts I might only dream
of committing while wide awake.
What if I see you and call your name

in this state of being? What if I take your hand?
Well, I won’t be held responsible for what happens
in shadows, so don’t even ask

(From “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”)

The Cineaste by A. Van Jordan is a highly worthwhile read for a poet’s response to characters, themes, dialogue and imagery from his most favored films and directors.

Category: Nonfiction, Poetry

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