When poets, myself included, turn to cinema for inspiration, it’s often to complex films with a philosophical bent which are crafted with deliberately poetic tools; not machine guns, armored cars, and aliens who burst through the chests of their hosts. Action movies don’t inspire a lot of poetry.
Why Aliens, then, for a one-day poetry workshop?
I could respond ‘Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?’ but that response might either delight or alienate you (no pun intended) depending on whether you’d seen the film or not. This basic tension between how much and when it is good to quote – how much you should or shouldn’t care about what a reader already knows – is at the heart of what I’m interested in, and something we’ll talk about on the day.
Poets draw from multiple sources all the time. There are likely some people reading this who know exactly where the line ‘jug jug jug jug jug jug’ in The Waste Land comes from and how violent and horrible it actually is, and there are likely others thinking ‘well, that’s a lot of jugs’. Modernists made no apologies because their work was necessarily, deliberately formed by these multiple different clashing and complementing sources, and there was some sense that even if we didn’t know each reference, we should. Their work was literary, made with a capital M for Modern. Would Eliot have included a line from Aliens in it if he was alive now? Hmm. Probably not. Though he may have been inspired by Jonesy the cat.
The touchstones I use to make sense of my complicated experience in the world come from a mixture of historical, literary and pop cultural sources
It’s different now, obviously. Poetry and the people writing it are outgrowing the historically white male literary canon. As poet Morgan Parker, author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, has said: ‘If I’m going to write poetry, it has to reflect who I am and the things that are making up my world and the things that I’m consumed by’. That pretty much sums it up for me.
The touchstones I use to make sense of my complicated experience in the world come from a mixture of historical, literary and pop cultural sources – they can come from Elizabethan drama, and they can come from James Cameron’s cinematic oeuvre. If the internet has taught me anything, it’s that all browser tabs are equal. Each source is given an equal share of the space these days.
Aliens is a sublime action film that takes an existing idea and transforms it into something surprisingly different and dynamic
And why Aliens specifically? Because that film lives inside me and bursts out at unexpected moments. I’ve seen it more times than I can recall. I can quote most of the dialogue and I still smile on a rewatch. If Alien was a horror film, Aliens is a sublime action film that takes an existing idea and transforms it into something surprisingly different and dynamic. It adds family into the equation. It adds motherhood. It adds war. It turns destructive corporate concerns from opportunism into design. Game over, man, game over!
It is also heroic. It dissects tropes of expected heroic behaviour – by gender, by physicality, by age, even by profession – in an incredibly powerful and still relevant way. There’s a reason this film has stayed high on critical and fan lists over the 37 years since its release. Although it is “only a sequel”, it remains a seminal work, one that is worthy of everyone’s attention. And, on some level, isn’t reusing ideas and ‘making them new’ exactly what poetry is about?
The day itself will be really fun. We’ll be talking about the film, watching clips, looking at existing poems engaged with pop culture, and then writing our own. There’s no obligation to show your work to others on the day. It will be a fast-paced workshop that’s all about sharing ideas and taking your writing in unexpected directions. The tools I use are primarily ones of juxtaposition, and you’ll be able to take them away to apply to your own writing in the future.
Ultimately, I think the key to writing good poems inspired by films is not to write “about” them, but to use them to write about ourselves. Join me on the workshop and find out. It’s the only way to be sure.
Chrissy Williams is teaching our one-day Zoom workshop, Short Controlled Bursts: Poems Inspired by the Movie ALIENS, this Saturday 28 October 2023, from 10.30am to 4.30pm.