Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Dilemmas of Elimination and Unification

The process of deciding where to go and who to research will be as much a process of elimination as selection. Case in point: Sylvia Plath.

I'd like to visit Massachusetts -- Wellesley, Smith College, Boston -- and trace the footsteps of this famous woman. Yet, would a documentary intended to be more or less evenly about an array of American writers suffer at the inclusion of Plath and all the inevitable import her fame would bring to the film's tenor? On the flip side, can a documentary about American writers be considered comprehensive in any manner when it leaves out one of our most famous poets?

I'm also debating documentary vs. serial at this point. How could I possibly pare this down to a three-hour feature? I need to devise a narrow unifying thread. A common denominator. Even then it will be vast enough to taunt me.

The obvious choice being only those who wrote directly about the American landscape.

Or those who were extensive travelers themselves. Whitman, Kerouac. The vagabonds.

Those who died of suicide, alcoholism, or overdose. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Plath.

I could simply choose the movements that I find most compelling -- the Lost Generation, the original Confessional poets, and the Beats.

Funny how I deemed this project so important to undertake, ever since its conception almost exactly a year ago -- and now, after the span of one year, it strikes me as more immense than important. Rather lost. I'll find it though, I will.


  1. I love this.

    But I think if you haven't set out to do this to achieve a certain specific thing, then you should tailor it to do what you would be upset with yourself if you didn't achieve. Are there certain writers who you absolutely must see? Conversely, are there writers who you have no real interest in seeing unless they're 'on the way?'

    Figure out a general path you absolutely must take, or the closest thing to that you can, and then figure out what these writers have in common.

    It may become a sort of autobiography, in that respect. Sort of the Julie and Julia of American Writers. Or it may become something else altogether, if you notice all the writers you chose were beat writers, or died very young, or whatever else.

    BTW, photographer Walter Skold is going around the country taking photos of dead poets' graves. He was recently here in Kentucky, and called for a Dead Poet's Bash, which my friend Bianca threw for him (we're Kentucky poets). I actually have his number, if that would at all be useful, but he's on Facebook as well, if you have that. It might be useful to ask him the kind of difficulties he's experienced, or what he'd do differently if he were to do it again.

    Wow, my comments are always so long.

  2. Your comments are always most welcome.

    I will definitely look up Mr. Skold. Thanks, and thank you also for all the other insights! I especially appreciate that you suggested I look inward, instead of touting figures who pose significantly in the canon or something.

    Now I'm twice as curious to see Julie & Julia!

  3. Oh, in case you want to add him as a friend, he created the (strangely named) Walter Chiefleaf name to differentiate between his personal account and the one related to dead poets.