Poets don't make the best movie characters because poetry is an inherently uncinematic form. It's all about words on the page–a difficult idea for any decent filmmaker to understand. But despite this handicap, there are still some pretty good movies about poets out there, although most of them are admittedly light on actual poetry. Here are 6 of them (What? We aren't all poets).
We'll start off with an exception to the rule, "Howl" is a movie about a poet that DOES feature actual poetry very heavily. And, what do you know, the poetry is actually pretty good. This could be because "Howl" is about real-life poet Allen Ginsberg, whose real-life titular poem "Howl" placed him in a courtroom on obscenity charges in the 1950's. The movie alternates between flashbacks of Ginsberg's life, scenes from the obscenity trial, and the actual poem brought to life by animation.
"Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters"
Japanese artist Yukio Mishima was only a poet when he wasn't engaging in his dozens of other pursuits–writing, acting, directing, committing ritual suicide, painting–but Paul Schrader's "Mishima" is one of the best, and most poetic, movies ever made. Schrader utilizes a wide variety of cinematic styles in order to bring Mishima's life, along with several of his literary works, to the screen. The result is unlike any other movie ever made.
"The Petrified Forest"
Leslie Howard in "The Petrified Forest" is a writer, intellectual, and poet. Humphrey Bogart in "The Petrified Forest" is a criminal, escaped fugitive, and killer. Normally, they wouldn't ever have occasion to meet, but sometimes fate makes abnormal things happen. We don't get to see much of Howard's poetry in the movie, but it's a sure bet that it got a lot more interesting after he met Bogart.
Jean Cocteau was a poet in addition to a filmmaker, and he is often considered a poet of the screen. And his movie "Orpheus"–the central film in a trilogy dealing with the myth of Orpheus–has a poet as the main character. Filled with of a kind of visual poetry, simple special effects are utilized to create a dreamlike atmosphere.
"Bonnie and Clyde"
Of course, not all poets are full-time professionals. Take Bonnie Parker, one half of the infamous bank-robbing duo Bonnie and Clyde. They become folk heroes during the Great Depression, despite their proclivity for violence and death. Bonnie plays up her newfound fame in a pretty interesting way–by sending poems to the newspapers, who publish them, of course. By the way, the poems in the movie are the very same poems written by the real-life Bonnie Parker.
"A Bucket of Blood"
Poetry's alright, but is there any need to take it so seriously all the time? Roger Corman's comic horror masterpiece "A Bucket of Blood" is a hilarious satire of the then-current beat poetry scene (the same scene that's given such rapturous adoration in "Howl"). The character of Maxwell H. Brock is a poet who accidentally inspires the movie's "hero," Walter Paisley, to practice his own form of art, which accidentally ends up taking the form of murder. Brock's poetry is pretty hilarious, although the only reason it's funny is because Brock takes it so seriously!