Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poetry

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Last evening I watched a wonderful Korean film call “Poetry.” It is the story of Mija (played by Yun Jung-hee), an older woman struggling to write a single poem, a challenge that I am certain many Open Book readers and contributors can relate to. Fittingly, its writer/director, Lee Chang-dong, is a former novelist. Poetry also won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2011, indicating that Lee Chang-dong, also a former Minister of Culture, clearly discovered a more rewarding profession.

Poetry is a meditation on human frailty and the transformative power of nature. It is a simple story, difficult and painful to watch at times, like a train wreck about to happen. Yet, it is also an inspiration, as its profound themes linger long after the closing credits.

Initially, Mija’s struggle to create art takes on special urgency when she learns that her beloved teenaged grandson, for whom she has sacrificed everything, is irredeemably worthless. On top of this, her doctor informs her that she has early-stage Alzheimer’s. Then, as she stoically tries to hold her unraveling life together, her most basic moral values are severely tested and ultimately compromised by her own fatal desire to please others. Her weekly poetry workshop becomes her last and final refuge. Following the teacher’s advice, she begins carefully observing and taking notes about the minutiae of the natural world around her. With each new observation of nature, she enters a question in her journal that eventually serves to inform her elusive poem. In context with the story, these unassuming yet resonating questions take on heartbreaking clarity, articulating the yearning of a gentle heart that has given unconditional love but never known it.

What struck me most about the film was how a series of quickly scribbled notes coalesced into art. I know many writers, myself included, who wake up in the night to scribble down a thought or idea. Sometimes, I will lay awake churning random disjointed thoughts around in my head. This for me is the real magic of writing: How does a particular idea or image or piece of music finally take me where I need to go? Is it luck, fate, divinity? I will never know and that’s what makes the film Poetry so remarkable. Mija’s poem comes together in one blinding moment of clarity that we, the viewers, never get to see. Yet it doesn’t feel like a missing obligatory scene. Her absence at that revelatory moment is part of the mystery of creativity itself. We never fully understand its source but are humbled by its power. In the end, Poetry radiates ineffable beauty and grace, articulating the transcendent qualities of life and art.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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David Tucker

David Tucker is an award-winning television writer, producer and director. His short story collection, One Way Ticket, is published by BookLand Press.

Go to David Tucker’s Author Page