13 stunning poetry scenes in movies
The first time I watched Coach Carter was back in 2008 at my high school leadership team-building retreat in South Africa. Timo Cruz’s Our Deepest Fear remains one of my favourite poetry scenes in a movie that still gives me chills to this day.
I ran a poll on our Facebook page and Facebook groups, asking everyone to nominate their favourite poetry movie or poetry scenes in a movie from the modern era. I can honestly report that I had a great deal of fun watching these films, some of which are much older than I!
These are my top picks, in no particular order. A few of these scenes are available on YouTube, but I do not think the clips do them any justice, so if you have a weekend to burn, I highly recommend watching the movies if you can find them.
Coach Carter (2005)
Coach Carter is a biographical teen sports drama film based on a true story. The film follows Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson), who makes headlines in 1999 for suspending his undefeated high school basketball team due to poor academic results.
The Poetry Scene: Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Before Sunrise is a romantic drama film that follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American man who meets Céline (Julie Delpy), a French woman on a train on his last day in Europe before returning to America. Upon disembarking in Vienna, the two decide to spend the night out together.
The Poetry Scene: Milkshake.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Dead poets society is an American teen drama film starring Robin Williams, an English teacher who inspires his students through poetry at a fictional elite boarding school called Welton Academy.
The Poetry Scene: The are multiple poetry scenes in the movie; however, Todd’s Poem- A sweaty Tooth Mad Man, is a fan favourite.
Don’t be a Menace (1996)
Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (or Don’t Be a Menace in short) tracks the journey of an innocent young black man, Ashtray (Shawn Wayans), who moves into a tough Los Angeles slum with his ghetto extended family. Ashtray is soon introduced to the city’s criminal underworld by his cousin Loc Dog ( Marlon Wayans) and has to make a series of tough decisions.
The Poetry Scene: Dashiki’s Poem.
Smoke is an American independent film that follows multiple characters’ lives, all interconnected via their patronage of a small Brooklyn tobacconist store, Brooklyn Cigar Co., located on 16th Street and Prospect Park West. Auggie (Harvey Keitel), the store manager, takes a photograph of the store from across the street at 8:00 am every morning.
The Poetry Scene: Augies Photographs.
For Colored Girls (2010)
For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry, highlights the struggles of twenty interconnected women of colour as initially told by Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.”
The film’s characters are hardly ever mentioned by name but rather as particular colours such as Lady in Red (Janet Jackson), Lady in Blue (Kerry Washington), Lady in White (Whoopi Goldberg) and so forth. Each character deals with a different personal conflict such as abortion, rape, infidelity and abandonment.
The Poetry Scene: There are multiple poetry scenes in the movie, but I particularly enjoyed Somebody Almost Ran Off With All Of My Stuff by Ntozake Shange.
Four Weddings and A Funeral (1994)
Four weddings and a funeral is a British romantic comedy that follows Charles’s (Hugh Grant) adventures with his best friends as they experience love throughout five social occasions.
The Poetry Scene: Funeral Blues by W. H Auden.
Slam is an American independent drama film starring and co-written by Saul Williams and Sonja Sohn. A talented MC (Williams) navigates a daunting criminal environment by competing in poetry slams.
The Poetry Scene: The movie contains multiple poetry performances; my personal favourite is Amethyst Rocks in the prison yard.
Poetic Justice (1993)
Poetic Justice is an American romantic drama film starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. The movie’s poems were all written by Maya Angelou, who makes a cameo appearance as one of the three elderly ladies whom the characters meet at a family reunion.
After witnessing the tragic murder of her first and only boyfriend, Justice (Jackson) decides to forget about college and become a hairdresser in California. She writes beautiful poetry to cope with her depression, and on her journey, Justice rides with an outspoken postal worker (Shakur) with whom she has not gotten along in the past.
The Poetry scene: The whole movie features poetry by Maya Angelou. Phenomenal Woman is a fan favourite.
Still Alice (2014)
Still Alice is an American independent drama film based on Lisa Genova’s bestselling 2007 novel of the same name. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a renowned linguistics professor, is diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease after her 50th birthday and her family has to face the inevitable.
The Poetry Scene: Love.
Perks Of Being a Wall Flower (2012)
Perks of Being a Wall Flower is an American drama film written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, based on his own 1999 novel of the same name.
The story is about a young and naive lad called Charlie (Logan Lerman) who is coping with the suicide of his best friend and the thrill of experiencing his first love (Emma Watson). The Introvert freshman finds comfort in the presence of two freshmen, Sam and Patrick, who become his friends and welcome him to the real world.
The Poetry Scene: Once on a piece of paper (deleted scene).
The Get Down (2016)
The Get Down is a fictional saga that reimagines a dilapidated 1970 New York City. We meet the South Bronx kids who changed the city and the world as they were the pioneers giving rise to the birth of hip-hop culture.
The Poetry scene: Ezekiel’s Poem
Interstellar is a 2014 epic science fiction film set in a dystopian future where humanity struggles to survive. A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space near Saturn in an attempt to ensure humanity’s survival.
The Poetry Scene: Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas.
The Originals (2013)
American fantasy supernatural drama television series, The Originals is a spin-off of The Vampire Diaries and set in New Orleans. The show centres on three of the Mikaelson siblings: Klaus (Joseph Morgan), Elijah (Daniel Gillies), and Rebekah (Claire Holt), who look to take back the city that they built and dominate all those who have done them wrong.
The Mikaelson family is also commonly known as “the Originals” because they are the first vampires to exist.
The Poetry Scene: (S01:E06) Klaus- A poison tree on We Heart It by William Blake
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
The Fault in Our Stars is an American romance film based on the 2012 novel of the same name by John Green. Hazel Grace Lancaster ( Shailene Woodley)is a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who reluctantly agrees to attend a support group by her parents’ recommendation. She meets and subsequently falls in love with Augustus Waters ( Ansel Elgort), another cancer patient.
The Poetry Scene: The unread letter.
Movies and poetry are two of my beloved pastimes, and it is genuinely a joy whenever the two overlap. Great poetry can be enchanting and profoundly reflective, and when a film appropriates such poems, the combination can be quite powerful and deeply satisfying. Read more about the benefits of poetry here.