Thursday, February 18, 2010

Poetry, Tarantino and the journey to Auteur

As we get closer to the Oscars, a lot of people are commenting on Quentin Tarantino and his chances with Inglorious Basterds. Among the more interesting questions is whether he has reached the stage where he may be considered an auteur. The critical question is: does he have enough of a body of work after five films that we can say, not only does he have a style, but he has something to say?

The concept of auteur intrigues and somewhat irks me because it suggests a writer's relationship to the film is subordinate to the vision of the director, which should be able to shine through even in spite of studio interference and other hazards of the industry.

Cinema is an industrial, commercial process, but this can be, to a degree, circumvented, according to other directors by the director exerting their vision and will to wield the camera the way an author wields a pen. But this may also mean one can be prey to hubris and excess.

In the US today, we often see directors credited more than the screenwriters. There's a lot of lip service given to the truly collaborative nature of the work. It's a very American notion in particular to seek individual heroes and mavericks rather than to celebrate a cohort of visions. It's very hierarchical. Our foregrounding the director as principle heart and vision of a film seems discourteous. To reject the contribution skilled cinematographers, writers and sound technicians, lighting experts and others bring to the process should be unconscionable.

I admit, I rather like the nature of poetry that is open to, but does not require a cavalcade of cast and crew to present it to the public. But I enjoy 'cross-training' and what I would extract from film and the question of auteur is: how do we present our vision.

Is it important for a poet to have a style, a set of consistent themes we deal with?

Perhaps, as my readers look at On the Other Side of the Eye, BARROW, Tanon Sai Jai, and my separate pieces one can detect certain stylistic tics I employ. Certainly, I think there are ways I write that reflect choices only I would make. Enjambments, allusions, Hmonglish, Laoglish, romanizations and tones. Now, have those been wielded effectively to examine worthy subjects? I would like to think so, and hope I've added something new and meaningful to the discourse. If not adding, why speaking, after all?

I am not necessarily inventing language but demonstrating plausible, communicative, expressive arrangements I suspect may work to somewhat consistently generate an artistic response from my reader. That is, the recognition of the words presented before them are known to be poetry, and not just a misplaced soup-can label. That it cannot be mistaken for the work of a Beat Poet, a Slam Poet or even another Lao or Asian American poet from the present moment, or the past or future. This is part of the artist's journey.

As I sit here tonight, I imagine it much like the old sayings about humans only borrowing their ancestors names. It's up to us to return it to them 'unblemished.' We usually only borrow language, rarely invent but occasionally repurpose. It is not ours to keep and hoard or else those words die and wilt. We wind up with hapax legomenons. Which, while interesting to a degree, don't contribute much to the larger business of languages yet.

So, poets might well turn to Shakespeare and a few others and note how some of us can buff and polish it to accomplish something more than a random grunt or hoot can.

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