W.F. Lantry,

a native of San Diego, worked with Derek in Boston and Don in Houston, Jacqueline in Southern France and Carolyn in San Diego. His poetry collections are The Structure of Desire (Little Red Tree 2012) and a chapbook, The Language of Birds (Finishing Line Press 2011). Recent honors include the Potomac Review and LaNelle Daniel Poetry Awards, CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize, and the National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry. Currently he works in a quiet dark place in Washington, DC, perfect for watching movies.

Oz in the Jungle

To Have and Have Not

"Writing poetry is a solitary venture. One sits in a room and starts typing. Thirty minutes later, the thing is done. And a poem’s path is simple: there’s a definable author, an editor, a reader.

"Movies are different. Take To Have and Have Not. Hemingway wrote the book. Howard Hughes bought the movie rights, and sold them to Howard Hawks. Hawks worked with Hemingway on the first script. By the time they were done, less than a fifth of the book survived. They handed it to Jules Furthman, a script doctor, and when he was finished even less of the book remained. Then Hawks gave the script to the out-of-print and penniless William Faulkner, who rewrote the whole thing. Hawks then gave Faulkner’s script to Bogart and Bacall, who added things for themselves. That line, “You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow…” Not in Hemingway, not in Faulkner. Did Bacall make it up while she was flirting with Bogart? Not even Faulkner could have imagined the way she looked at that moment.

"So whose text is it? And this poem is like that. It wouldn’t exist without the editor’s call for poems about movies. Then Kate came into my office and said, “I need a poem about a movie. Deadline’s today. And there’s no dinner for you until you’re done!” Therefore I typed, typed typed. I clicked Save. She sent it off, and we sat down to eat.

"But that wasn’t the end of it. The editor wrote back, suggesting we make a recording. Actually, he suggested Kate make a recording. So we sat down, and watched some clips from the film. The part where Bacall jumps into Bogart’s lap. Then Kate started speaking into the microphone. That’s when the poem came alive.

"So who gets ‘credit’ for the poem? Think of the string: Hemingway, Hawks, Furthman, Faulkner, Bacall, your humble correspondent, Kate. For myself, I favor the latter. I’m just the scribbler. Kate’s the one who caused its existence, Kate’s reading gave it life and breath. The voice on my lips is hers. Listen to her reading the poem, and consider for a moment how lucky I am to be able to hear her voice every day. "

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Poetry at the Movies