Poetry in film – January – Bright Star

As far as tangents go, I’m liking this poetry-in-film ‘project’. It offers time out but also structure. The fun part is that I can share the films with friends and family, but not necessarily the poetry. This is an important point since not everyone in my world is a fan of poetry. Here is potential for a spot of poetry by stealth.

Stealth poetry. It could be my new thing.

I can’t say that I’ve made a great deal of progress exploring Keats as a poet. I don’t often work with strongly rhyming forms and I can find them a challenge to read.* Yes, I know. This is odd given many of the texts I’m working with for my research … That said, I’ve dipped into the new volume I picked up at my fave secondhand bookstore and I’ve cruised around some websites.

With this being as far as I’ve gotten, my position in relation to Keats is going to have to remain as peripheral for now. What follows is, therefore, a general reaction rather than a considered comment.

A toe in the water

In my reading around the place I came across some observations about Keats being an uneven poet and from my toe-in-the-water effort I can see how this would be true. There are poems that just don’t work for me (‘A Song About Myself’ comes to mind even though I can see that there is a progression in there which I might enjoy looking at at a later point) but others are beautiful. I enjoyed the repetitions in ‘A Prophecy: To George Keats in America’. ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ is a favourite, as is ‘Ode to Autumn’.

I remember attending a talk on ‘On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer’ and feel I should hunt out my notes from that day. Unfortunately, hunt in this case is not a euphemism. I can’t remember ‘when, where or who’ at the moment so I’m stumped as to where to go in search of the notes. I do remember that my curiosity was piqued and I spent some time looking at the poem and Chapman’s Homer for a bit.

(And now, as I write that, I remember what it was that was happening around that time. There was chaos. At least I know which set of notebooks to go to …)

I think the poem that I am most likely to keep coming back to is ‘Ode to Autumn’. As far as an anchor for working through the body of work goes, I don’t think this is a bad choice. I have wondered (idly) whether I might like to write out a copy of the poem to have on a board near my writing space.

Then I think of the state of my writing space and … I turn my attention to other things.

Hello, domestic avoidance.

A tree in the Patricia Crawford Court last autumn
One of my autumn memories

Back to the film

Of course, what has brought me to this point is Jan Campion’s film Bright Star. The film is visually lush and I love it. Obviously, there is a fair bit of embroidering on the details of Keats’ life in order to construct a story for a ‘mass’ audience. I don’t mind a bit of embroidery in a film. It isn’t as though I was watching it for a true representation of Keats’ life. If I want ‘the truth’ I’ll find a biography or engage with primary source material. What I found particularly satisfying is that, in a stroke of serendipity, the film has been useful not just because of the pleasure factor of beetling about the place thinking of poetry but also because of one of the narrative’s strands: Fanny Braun’s obsession with (perhaps that should be reliance on) fashion.

My research topic is focused on late-medieval English texts and the connections between clothing and women’s personal agency. I’m starting to build up a little list of films that have statements about clothing/fashion which have nothing really to do with my topic but are interesting in terms of how personal agency is connected to dress. The most obvious of these is The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel, 2006) but there are some others that I am sure are going to come up at some point.*

In Bright Star, Fanny talks about the connection between originality, or singularity, of dress and how that connects with personality. It comes down to the idea of the making and marking of an individual. In addition, Fanny’s skills in design and tailoring are presented as useful. Clothing, for Fanny, is not the frivolous whim that is dismissed by the character of Charles Brown. Rather, it a statement of self and a practical means of survival. She might make money from her creations but Brown (and Keats) is unlikely to.

Fiction it may be but, as a reflection point, this has been incredibly useful in the past few weeks in terms of considering how modern audiences and readerships make meaning of medieval and early modern texts. I’ve been thinking about the relevance of production and reception contexts – in general terms of theory but also as part of what the forces are that are shaping my own readings and the direction of my research.

Three scented stars intended as pomanders in place of the picture of the night sky was planning on using but couldn't because, really, where is Perth's summer?
Stand-in stars

*I mention this dot-to-dot connection between recreation and research now mainly as a warning to those in my life who may find themselves participating in research-by-stealth activities when they really think they are just ‘catching a flick’.

 

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