Once Upon a Time in Heaven

November 27, 2019


A while back I wrote a poem that was a hybrid form: part poem, part movie review, and part essay. The editors at Poets Reading the News took it and you can read the piece there now. 


Come to think of it, aren't all poems hybrid forms in some way? This Hollywood poem is no different in that respect. 


"Once Upon a Time in Heaven" may or may not include spoilers from the Quentin Tarantino film. But like the movie, the idea behind the poem has stuck with me ever since.


Just today I was reading through Richard Hugo's book "The Triggering Town," and found out even more about the premise of the movie. 


Dick Hugo and Sharon Tate 


In his essay titled "Statements of Faith" Hugo writes the following:


"There is more than just a temporal correlation between the destruction of the Louis Sullivan buildings in Chicago and the Sharon Tate murders in Los Angeles."


For those who don't know, Richard (Dick) Hugo was the patriarch of the Creative Writing Program at The University of Montana. Or one of the "arch"s. 


The simple line, written for The Atlantic Monthly in 1977 seems to capture the heart of the film. There is something dying here, beyond victims. Tarantino's film contrasts the moment of innocence before the Tate murder against everything after; a culture of excess in terms of gore. 


Render Me in a Swimming Pool 


Blame it on the Hockney painting fetching $90 million at auction this summer. Blame it on the opening credits of BoJack Horseman. 


Blame it on a poetry series Martin Cockroft and I worked on almost 20 years ago. 


Whatever you blame it on, there are swimming pools and dreams all over the "Heaven" poem, like this stanza:


When I die, render me in a movie poster
and draw my name in lights
around the frame of any sprawling town
you’ve invented in your spare time
and gloomy reminiscing. Sad is just a state
of mind; like heaven. It’s just the lines
we repeat at night
in the swimming pool of our dreams.



Tarantino and Films 


Just this week there has been public outcry over Martin Scorsese daring to challenge Marvel movies as something other than film. 


While I basically patterned my life after Wolverine, the guy might have a point. If what filmmakers like Tarantino and Scorsese are doing isn't so radically different than the pop juggernaut that is commercial movie making, then why do we experience these things so specifically?


Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wouldn't leave me. Hasn't left me. What does it mean, or think? Where is it now? What happens next?


This is a uniquely poetic experience. I hope it isn't gone when these dynamos stop saying "action."


Poetry as Epic


If Scorsese's Irishman isn't epic what is? What about the canon of Tarantino's films?


It may be a stretch on a blog post comparing films and poems and culture, but the bones of American cinema are poems. 


The Odyssey. Beowulf. 


What happens when poems die? Do they go to film heaven? 


Take a peek at my poetic film review on Poets Reading the News and let me know what you think happened at the end. 




Image above is "White Knuckle," from 2019. You can see more art prints here.






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