Monday, July 9, 2018


It's a long time since I wrote a proper poem. This poem was inspired by an idea expressed in the following Facebook post, which I posted last week:

Whenever I have to do shelving in the library, I always choose the film studies section, and I greatly enjoy shelving the film books. I found myself pondering why this morning. Why film studies? Why not poetry or philosophy or religion or any of my other interests?

And I realized I love shelving in the film studies section because I like the reflective, distanced mood it puts me in. A book of film criticism is looking at the glowing screen through the printed page, and the glowing screen is looking at life itself. It's life twice removed. And the appeal of this isn't to escape from life, but that there are two filters of human consciousness between me and life in the raw. Not so much screening me from it as heightening it, accentuating it.

It's also inspired by a friend of mine who is silver-haired, has a huge library, and is a connoisseur of whisky.


The man with silver hair hair rose with slow grace
And scanned the bookshelves lining every wall.
Outside, the summer night began to fall,
A rich, full-bodied dusk. He drew a book
About the later Kubrick from its place
And sauntered, browsing, back into his nook.

He flicked through twenty pages. Ah yes, here,
The Shining-- the Prince Charles in Leicester Square--
Munich and Watergate were in the air.
He raised his glass of Redbreast, took a sip,
And held it on his tongue. Kubrick's career
Unspooled within his memory, a trip

Through darkened auditoria, bright screens--
From fuzzy black-and-white to Blu-Ray. So
He swallowed, bathing in the subtle glow.
The movie's aura only grows with age,
He read. He saw again the well-known scenes,
Viewed through the prism of the printed page;

The screen seen through the word, and life itself
Seen through the screen; the flickering mystery
Best seen obliquely, darkly, partially;
The shadows on the wall, the images
Pondered in every book upon the shelf;
Dreamworlds less dream-like than the thing that is;

He drained the glass, and poured another. Light
Streamed through the blinds, an amber-sepia.
A hush fell on the world. That cinema
Whose screen is bigger than the sky was filled
With images too vivid for the sight;
Life filtered, heightened, gloriously distilled.


  1. Have printed this one out 'for permanent retention', as archivists say! I think it is marvellous and a poem to treasure, not just because it evokes a setting (a book-lined room in the golden hour of exactly that 'amber-sepia' light) that I find powerfully poetic anyway. The whole idea of the 'screen seen through the word' is ingenious and if any other poet has depicted it, I haven't heard of it.

    It reads so naturally that one might easily miss lines like the 'rich, full-bodied dusk' (like whisky?) or the 'prism of the printed page'...

    The penultimate verse is the crowning glory. For what my opinion is worth I think it is really quite something. Thank you for posting it.

    1. Thank you for commenting! I took considerable pains over this poem. For instance, there is really a Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square and it was open at the time The Shining was released.

      The idea of the screen seen through the text of a page is real. I was often perplexed by Keats's claim that "if poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all". I've come to think he means the theme rather than the execution. I've generally found that a poem doesn't really work when I've had to search for a theme.

      I'm touched you printed it out! Yes, the "rich, full-bodied dusk" was a reference to alcohol, though not necessarily whiskey...I suppose it works with whiskey!

    2. When I said the idea of the screen seen through the page was real, I meant it had really occurred to me, and motivated me to write the poem. But I said that in the preamble anyway.