Archive for December, 2011

Christmas Things by John G. Rodwan, Jr.

In John’s new nonfiction chapbook Christmas Things, published by Monkey Puzzle Press, he begins his tale of a curmudgeon’s Christmas with an unforgettable adventure to the home of the couple who lived across the street from his parents for a Christmas cocktail.  A few years after the eggnog laden tour of the elderly collectors’ house both the man and woman died.  John’s mother went to the estate sale and purchased a few items for our then sparsely filled apartment.  She gave us a beautiful coffee table and slim tall bookcase.  While we were cleaning the bookcase John discovered a tiny little volume with the inscription “Bill’s favorite poem” inside the front cover. (Bill was not the man’s name.)  The hidden book was Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” the same poem Octavia Spencer has adapted in to her short film The Unforgiving Minute, which I discussed in my last post.


Christmas Things is available in print and e-book versions at Monkey Puzzle’s website.  Just follow this link http://monkeypuzzlepress.com/books/christmas-things/


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There is a lot of well deserved buzz about Octavia Spencer. The highly talented actress has just received nods from both SAG and the Golden Globes for her portrayal of Minny Jackson in the movie The Help. (Could an Oscar nomination be next?) With all this attention focusing on Octavia few of her fans are aware that she is just as gifted behind the camera as in front of it.

Octavia Spencer addressing students at the 2009 Chicago International Children's Film Festival after the screening of her film "The Captain"

I had the pleasure of meeting Octavia at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival in 2009. We both had films shown as part of the “Reel Poetry” class for Chicago area junior high school students. The class brought 600 students and their teachers together to learn about poetry through poetry based films. Octavia’s film The Captain, an inspiring adaption of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus,” captured the students’ attention with the story of a young man with downs syndrome who truly is his “own captain” and achieves what others thought him not capable of.

The Unforgiving Minute directed by Octavia Spencer

The Unforgiving Minute is Octavia’s latest poetry film. It’s based on Rudyard Kipling’s “If.” She explores the poem in a grade school setting where the protagonist is bullied but finds the strength to fight back. Later in his life the character achieves greatness. When I asked Octavia about the story she said, “I visualized it in the arena of grade school because it makes the poem more accessible to kids. In my opinion abstract ideas become concrete by grounding them in a reality tangible to the intended audience. Kipling’s ‘If’ has always been a source of inspiration for me. I use parts of it as daily affirmations/rules to live by. For example: keep your head when all around you are losing theirs. Trust yourself. Walk with kings, but don’t lose the common touch.”

Octavia’s goal as a film director is to educate and she thinks that “poetry has somehow become a lost art-form. To galvanize a renewed interest, I thought: why not bring these two mediums together?” In choosing poems for her films she says, “I usually gravitate toward poems that have had an impact on my own life. I then try to come up with an idea that is relevant to kids and start there. Because art programs are being excised from school budgets, I feel it’s imperative to make this type of material accessible to students.” She achieves her goal of educating through her work but it is also inspirational and entertaining. At the moment she is contemplating bringing Langston Hughes’s words to life. With her acting career soaring as it is I hope she is able find time to get back behind the camera.

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