Directed by Vibhas P A Kendzia and Elizabeth Martina Bishop | Reviewed by Sabarno Sinha
It is perhaps on the rarest of occasions that a film reviewer gets the fortune of watching poetry in film, something that he finds lacking in a lot of movies and I am quite honoured to have got the rare opportunity to review Bishop and Kendzia’s latest production, A Poet’s Childhood: Awakening to Consciousness. The 24-minute short is an interview of the novelist, poet and academician Elizabeth Martina Bishop, an American-born lady who has written poetry since her childhood and currently resides in Dublin, Ireland. She recently completed her MFA from the prestigious Trinity College and the short film is an interview of this charming and profoundly poetic soul who has led her entire life immersed in the arts. The short begins with stock footage of night-time at Dublin which resonates the beauty that one can effortlessly perceive in the film. Bishop has penned over 70 books and many of those are novels. For her, the art of novel-writing is not so much as creating a different world but rather extending an ongoing or past conversation in paper. Such qualities make her books gripping and relatable, undoubtedly. Bishop had an exceptional childhood, to say the least. At the age of 5, she had to sign a contract which stated that she would be leaving her childhood home to stay with someone else. This ‘someone else’ turned out to be none other than the famous Hollywood actress Jane Wyatt’s mother. The eccentric woman led a life revolving around Shakespeare parties, balls and a world that was reminiscent of Regency-era England. Bishop remembers that she had to keep this entire affair a secret at school as nobody was supposed to know about their identity. Thus, when she tried writing about Jane and her mother for her school magazine, they stopped her from doing so and discouraged her from writing. This had been one of the two reasons why she couldn’t write for a very long time. Elizabeth had also suffered from dyslexia in her childhood. She read and wrote backwards and during her time, teachers weren’t sensitive to such psychological disorders and simply thought that the students weren’t putting in a lot of effort. Being an introverted child, she didn’t trust a lot of people and every time she gave them a chance, she was simply let down by others. This theme of mistrust and breach of trust resounds in her poetry and I too could feel while watching and listening to her reading out some of her poems, especially “Anna”, that she had not been able to come out of those nightmarish times and her only vent was poetry. The short film takes the form of an interview, in which memories of childhood are interspersed with poems that she wrote about that time. The choice of poems is nuanced and listening to Elizabeth read out her poetry, her emotions resurfacing as she read, was an extremely emotional experience for me. The only thing that would have made the entire scene truly evocative are good visuals. If the directors decided to present some photographs of Bishop as a child or other stock footage related to childhood, seasons and other things that Elizabeth talks about in her poetry, the entire sequence would have been a visual treat alongside an aural one. It would help the ordinary unpoetic viewer picture what Elizabeth wanted them to imagine and experience when she declaimed the beautiful lines from her poems. Even though the natural ambient sounds are quite good, some sound effects would also have made the experience of listening to her poetry even more profound and memorable. Being a poet and student of literature myself, I could visualise her poetry well but I am not so sure whether others would be able to do so without certain aids. The quality of editing in the film has not been up to the mark. Elizabeth’s voice is mellifluous and jarring cuts and shots of 2-3 seconds in between longer ones only mar the experience of watching her speak. Instead, subtler cuts, longer shots and transitions such as fade and dissolve could have been used to make the editing better. The lack of uniform transitions was also unpleasant to the eye. Yet, for me, Elizabeth’s poetry surmounts all of this and envelops the entire film with warmth, hope and profundity and turns A Poet’s Childhood to an indelible experience.
Sabarno Sinha is an undergraduate student of English at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He was active in the debating and MUN circuit in Kolkata. Sabarno frequently writes short stories, poems and screenplays for short films. A lover of world cinema, Sabarno finds pleasure in watching contemporary as well as classic films from Japan, Italy and Germany among others.