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Two Reel Comedy

Lisa Michele Verigin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Since 1989, I have enjoyed a deep fascination with silent film comedienne Mabel Normand, and my first poem about her proved to be the catalyst for this entire collection inspired by the lives of various actresses of classic American film. Through them, I explore themes such as illusion and being/becoming. ^ The poems of the first section, “The Dream Factory,” tend to revel in the romantic illusions offered by the movies and unproblematically use them as a means of self-definition and making sense in the present tense. The second section, “Two Reel Comedy,” transports us to the early 20th century where, speaking chiefly through the voices of Normand and Mary Pickford, I “live” the history for its metaphors. Consequently, the illusions begin to deconstruct themselves so that, by the third section, “Re-takes,” they become aware of themselves. While this leads to moments of crisis, as in “Crisis Montage: Eleanor Powell,” I finally re-affirm the need for illusion, albeit a self-conscious form of it. For illusion allows us not only to get by in the world but thrive. Arguably, the cinema is its most popular inspiration. ^ This has been so since the beginning. And since then, poets have confronted it. As Laurence Goldstein shows in The American Poet at the Movies , there are two main traditions of “movie poems.” The first takes for its “founder” Vachel Lindsay, who wrote numerous, enthusiastically celebratory poems (we might even call them “love poems”) for favorite stars such as Mae Marsh. The second tradition follows the lead of Lindsay's contemporary Hart Crane, whose movie poems, such as “Chaplinesque,” treat film and viewership as a means of social criticism. While my work tends toward the latter end, echoes of Lindsay are audible throughout. The individual pieces here are celebrations and critiques. Then again, I think most poems ultimately are. ^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Literature, American|Cinema

Recommended Citation

Verigin, Lisa Michele, "Two Reel Comedy" (2002). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3045539.