If, as Henry David Thoreau says, “our truest lives are when we are in dreams awake,” then millions of people have led, if not their truest, certainly their most vivid lives in darkened theaters, immersed in the transporting dreams unreeling before their open eyes. The narrator of Walker Percy’s classic novel, The Moviegoer, speaks for many in recalling the high points of his life: “Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Pantheon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I, too, once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach. And the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.”
That poets—practitioners of what is traditionally viewed as the most refined of arts—should devote their writings to a medium as demotic as the movies might seem paradoxical at a glance. But as the poet Vachel Lindsay was the first to acknowledge, the deities of the ancient pantheon have been replaced in the modern world by the gods and goddesses of the silver screen. Far from being mere entertainment, the movies constitute the myths of our time. In the century since the birth of the Hollywood studios, poets, as the works collected here attest, have been deeply engaged with the movies, exploring the countless ways those celluloid dreams have nourished, excited, and shaped the modern imagination.
—Harold Schechter and Michael Waters