Matthew Lippman's new collection of poetry, Monkey Bars, is published by Typecast Publishing. His first collection, The New Year of Yellow, won the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize, and is published by Sarabande Books. He teaches at high school students at Beaver Country Day School and lives with this family in the greater Boston Area.
My particular interest in cinema is this: the 1970s. The grittiness of these films-- particularly those that were shot in New York City--never leaves my consciousness, in part because I grew up in Manhattan during that time and all of my references—spiritual, psychological, cultural, musical, linguistic—rise up out from the dirt and garbage and street sense that I learned or "got" from those days. My poems, my voice, has an edge that has its root in the funk and bristle of being 7 in 1972 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. So, when I see films like Serpico, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Dog Day Afternoon, Saturday Night Fever, I think: that's my language. The dirt in those films is the dirt in my poems. It's all very tender and very raw at the same time. The look, the music, the absence of make-up, Pacino's sweat, Lumet's long shots of lower Manhattan, the garbage on the streets, the ethnicity, Hackman standing outside of storefront as Popeye, for what feels like three minutes of visual quiet, just him on a stake-out, smoking a cigarette—all of this is my music, what helped me to make my voice. So, when I write, in "PhD in Pelican,"
Even still, they're out there—dead broke—
pedaling like mad
on their souped up bikes
with the crazy pink banana seats,
going down the hill, up the ramp,
through a burning ring of fire
like it was the first goddamn day of spring.
….the whole passage is right out of my experience living on 94th street—the bike with the banana seat, the attitude of the last line—even though none of it has any direct connection to the subject of the poem—the economic hardships of a 21st century America. The "stuff" of the poem has been informed by those films, by my upbringing. It's in my DNA. It's that 1970's, New York City modality, tone, vibe, funk, groove, attitude. All the cinema that came from that time is in me when I write. Sometimes I feel like that is all I ever try and do in a poem—be cinematic in that regard: splice a Martin Balsam performance with a little Faye Dunaway, a dash of Walter Matthau, a ton of Pacino, some Elton John, the Brooklyn Bridge, silence, then a siren getting louder, then softer until the sound disappears into the ether like exhaust coming out of a lavender Buick Riviera barreling into Queens over the 59th Street Bridge as the camera pans out.