There’s a long tradition of films made about poets and their work. What better time than National Poetry Month to gather some friends, watch a poetry-related movie, and perhaps discuss some of the poet's work after the film?
Try one of our suggestions below for the perfect cinematic event.
A Quiet Passion—Cynthia Nixon portrays Emily Dickinson in this biographical drama, which recounts the poet’s life and features some of her famous verses.
Before Night Falls—Javier Bardem plays Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in this film, adapted from Arenas's own memoir.
Bright Star—Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish play John Keats and Franny Brawne in this biographical romantic drama about the famous couple, which features several of Keats’s poems and takes its title from one of Keats’s famous love sonnets.
Il Postino—In this 1994 Italian film, a postman develops a relationship with his only customer, famous poet Pablo Neruda, living in exile in Italy, and through Neruda’s poetry, is better able to express his feelings to his love interest.
Kill Your Darlings—This biographical drama, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs, and Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, takes place in the early days of the Beat Movement when a 1944 murder affects the group of young writers.
Piñero—Benjamin Bratt stars in this biopic about Puerto Rican poet-playwright Miguel Piñero, who cofounded the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City.
Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle—The Algonquin Round Table comes alive in this film, which features Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker.
Set Fire to the Stars—Elijah Wood stars as poet John M. Brinnin and Celyn Jones stars as Dylan Thomas in this 2014 Welsh film, based on Brinnin’s memoir of the same name.
Sylvia—The relationship of Ted Hughes, played by Daniel Craig, and Sylvia Plath, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, is detailed in this film, which begins with the couple's courtship as young college students.
Tom & Viv—Willem Dafoe and Miranda Richardson star as T. S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood in a film that depicts their tumultuous marriage and Eliot's literary success.
Total Eclipse—This film captures the turbulent, explosive affair between Parisian poets Paul Verlaine, played by David Thewlis, and Arthur Rimbaud, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Wilde—Based on Richard Ellmann’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the famous poet, novelist, and playwright, Wilde, starring Jennifer Ehle, Vanessa Redgrave, Jude Law, and Stephen Fry as the eponymous writer, recounts Oscar Wilde’s growing realization and acceptance of his sexuality, leading up to his notorious trial and imprisonment.
Films That Reference Poetry
Big Bad Love—A Vietnam vet keen on writing poetry and prose struggles to improve his personal and his writing life in this film, based on the short stories of Mississippi writer Larry Brown. Brown's own poems, and those of William Carlos Williams, are in the film.
Dead Poets Society—Robin Williams plays an English teacher in an East Coast boys' prep school who inspires his students to love poetry, among other life lessons. The film, which popularized the tradition of carpe diem poems, features verse by Frost, Tennyson, and Shakespeare.
Four Weddings and a Funeral—This romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Andie Macdowell features a pivotal scene containing W. H. Auden's "Funeral Blues."
Henry Fool—This quirky film features Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry Fool, an ex-convict who encourages a friend, James Urbaniak as sanitation worker Simon Grim, to become a poet. His first work attains public notoriety and chaos ensues. Make it a double feature with the film's sequel, Fay Grim, starring Parker Posey.
HOWL—Starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, this film largely revolves around the text of Howl, its composition, initial reading, and the public's reaction. By the movie's end, nearly the entire poem has been recited.
Paterson—This subtle, meditative film follows the mundane daily life of a bus driver named Paterson, played by Adam Driver, who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, and writes poems about his everyday life. The film features poems by Ron Padgett.
Poetic Justice—Janet Jackson stars as a young woman struggling to find love and meaning in her life. Maya Angelou's poems "Alone" and "Phenomenal Woman" appear in the film, as does Angelou herself.
Shakespeare in Love—This film is a fictional imagining of the endeavors of a young William Shakespeare, played by Joseph Fiennes, and also starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Shakespeare's love interest, Viola. The dialogue and subject matter is full of allusions to Shakespeare's work.
Slam—Poetry is a means of redemption in this story about a D.C. youth, his incarceration, and his dedication to the spoken word poetry scene upon release. Slam luminaries such as Saul Williams (whose poetry punctuates the film), Taylor Mali, and Bob Holman have cameos.
The Kindergarten Teacher—In this remake of the 2014 Israeli film of the same name, Maggie Gyllenhaal stars as a New York kindergarten teacher who becomes obsessed with one of her students, who appears to be a literary prodigy. The movie features the poetry of Kaveh Akbar and Ocean Vuong.
read a related essay about poetry and movies