I’ve heard the phrase between you
and me too many times to believe
it to be true, but between me and you
there was Cocteau, wagging his testimonial
finger, as usual, while flat out on the floor
with my arms in receipt of the flower
of thought, palms upwards, I envisaged
the inside eyes of his hands remaking words
for a song that is a drawing that is a film —
that is, a poem; and in the middle of all this
the books on the shelves float down while
falling upwards, slipping out of their jackets
as the naked petals of their pages turn
into mirrors, which is to say, they blossom.
“Cocteau Twins” by Rachel Boast, from Pilgrim’s Flower. Copyright © 2013 by Rachel Boast. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Source: Pilgrim’s Flower (Pan MacMillan, 2013)
- This poem references the French poet, artist, and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, so understanding a bit about his work will deepen your understanding of the poem. How does the speaker seem to feel about Cocteau?
- Looking closely at the poem’s structure and images, in what ways does the poet invoke a sense of doubleness?
- What does the poet suggest about the power of the imagination? And about the relationship between a reader and writer?
- How would you describe the mood of this poem?
- If you were going to recite this poem, how would you convey this mood? How would you pace your recitation — where would you pause, slow down, or speed up?
- Think of a writer or visual artist you admire and make a list of images that appear in his or her work (as the images of hands, eyes, and mirrors appear throughout Cocteau’s work). Do you feel like you know this artist well, even though you have never met? Write a short poem with two-line stanzas that links to the emotions they trigger in you.
If you read French, check out Jean Cocteau’s poet page on our Les voix side and read the two poems of his included in our French-language anthology.
Here is a great long interview with Jean Cocteau translated into English from the Paris Review site:
You can watch this documentary about Jean Cocteau on Ubu Web, a great resource for avant-garde sound and film clips:
Many of Jean Cocteau’s films feel like visual poems. They are strange and mysterious and the stories are not always easy to follow but the images are beautiful, like dreams. Several of his films deal with the role of the poet, like Orphee and Blood of a Poet. If you can get your hands on a DVD, the films will look better than they do on a computer. But you can get a good sense of what they look like from clips on Youtube.
Here Jean Cocteau speaks to the people of the future, filmed in 1962: