Gregory Robinson’s prose poems in All Movies Love the Moon, Prose Poems on Silent Film go above and beyond the subject matter by routes of true love. Robinson delves into his subject matter of silent films with a poet’s focus into the obscure, sanctified areas of the stories they tell. The exclusive nature of such a direct theme shouldn’t dissuade anyone from this book. The history and beauty of the silent film is turned into a magical journey through Robinson’s stolid and elegant prose.
Retaining the focus of the projection light beaming through celluloid, Robinson charms us with the brief history of silent film production introducing us to many of the movies. Each poem in all three sections of the book is named after a film, the first movies made: A Trip to the Moon, The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, Tess of the Storm Country, West of Zanzibar. Robinson’s intimacy with the silent storytelling is evident in his unique angles and approaches to the films:
“No fear greater
than a woman who wants sex
or who we think wants sex or
who we want to want sex.”
A Fool There Was (1915) 1-4
Robinson rekindles the old and has brought it out into the 21st century light with writing that defies genre and holds its own even out of context. The prose varies in detail but the firm, unrelenting tone never fails. It is always Robinson, the engaged viewer of silent films, exploring their impressions, comparing them to life experience, observing the effect, moving from fixed fact to the subjective with ease. Much of the poetry is colored with the exploration of factual anecdotes:
“The eye remembers- at least for an instant. Lucretius called it persistence of vision. Sixteen times a second, each frame sears into the retina just long enough for another to take its place, and voila! The dead come alive.”
A Trip to the Moon (1902) 1-3
Other pieces relate to characters or explore plot lines. Some stories and characters are immortal in the human psyche; in “The General (1926)” Robinson’s perspective provides immediate familiarity:
“There are two loves in my life, train A and train B, careening towards each other across continents. If it were not for their constant promise of disaster and repair, I do not know why I would bother to wake. I miss them when they are gone, these trains without brakes, without plans, and ultimately without rails. There is a joy in crisis, the possibility of being useful, noticed.” 3-7
Pointing out the link between past and present is something Robinson does naturally. In “The Last Laugh (1924)” Robinson notes the film “was the precursor to Fight Club, questioning the link between identity and occupation.” Perhaps given the relevance of the theme Robinson writes a personal piece on this film:
“You are not your job, but there are no dividing lines in the soul. For whatever I am, I am also Burger King and Di Nappoli Pizza, Ponderosa Steak House and grocery stores and bookstores and cafe sinks filled with dishes. I am a human sign for companies with inexcusable indifference to human suffering.”
The Last Laugh (1924) 9-12
These poems can stand alone, be out of context and remain perfectly elegant and worth your experience. That being said, the entirety of All Movies Love the Moon has an effect and yields to Robinson’s sentiment: “that which is new appeals the more it alludes to that which is old.” This prose show takes us somewhere ephemeral, a real place that doesn’t exist anymore, and though we remain in our 21st century seats, we are given an appreciative awe, a healthy nostalgia for the not-so-distant past, for the speed at which we collectively grew. It’s not a nostalgia guilted into existence or sentimentally plied from our fingertips but a nostalgia that feels good, an enjoyable dreaminess not dissimilar to emerging from the dark theater into bright daylight.
Darby Laine is a poet and reviewer currently living in Burlington.