Ellen McGrath Smith
teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and in the Carlow University Madwomen in the Attic program. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, Cerise, The Same, Kestrel, Oranges & Sardines, Diner, 5 a.m., Oxford Magazine, The Prose Poem: An International Journal, Southern Poetry Review, Descant (Canada), and others. Anthology publications include Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability (Cinco Puntos, 2011), Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po Listserv (Red Hen Press, 2008),and others. Flash fiction in Weave, Switchback, and The Shadyside Review.
"I'm not sure whether writing about movies is ekphrasis, criticism, or simply an act of writing from experience. I keep open to this last possibility because I can't help but feel that watching a film isn't just an act of art appreciation or cultural consumption but an experience. As in reality, living. In any event, The Bath in Poltergeist and Beating a Dead Horse are both poems that come out of the experience of watching or re-watching films through a specific lens and in a specific context. Having been a teen on the first release of Poltergeist, all I'd taken in then was the fear and suspense of the film (okay, maybe I was a bit surprised when the middle-class couple smoked a joint before bedtime in their well-appointed middle-class home); later, watching it as the Parental Guide during my child's sleepover, I started thinking that the true "horror" of the film lies in the fact that this violent paranormality occurs in the most normal of settings: the suburban bourgeois modern home rather than the decrepit haunted house. Maybe this critical way of viewing films through cultural lenses is my late defense against what used to be a more open immersion in the experiences that are films. This, to some extent, is what I'm beginning to question in myself in Beating a Dead Horse (although I've never been able to receive John Wayne movies open-faced; I remember hearing my parents extol The Quiet Man for its sublimity only to scratch my head when certain "romantic scenes" – eg. the John Wayne character dragging Maureen O'Hara up a dirty, rocky path – struck me as physical abuse.) I imagine just about anyone reading this journal has been this kind of viewer, the one who others wish would shut up and take a film for the entertainment that it is . . . some Edenic condition of movie-watching that I long ago lost after eating from the Lacanian et al. Tree of Knowledge."