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Ginsberg lovers will appreciate Jim Carroll’s “Life at the Movies”


             Jim Carroll’s “Life at the Movies” is a raw though excellently eloquent recount and embodiment of life in the city. In his poetry, he draws upon strong themes of love, sex, friendship, and drugs, as well as incorporates into it specifically urban elements such as city transportation and work in order to create an exciting and unique atmosphere for the reader.  His style is somewhat reminiscent of the Beat poets in its honesty and fervor, though his form alters from poem to poem.   

            Some of his most vibrant and interesting work comes through Carroll’s description of drug use and abuse.  In “Heroin,” he paints erratic and almost impulsive scenes to convey the effects of heroin on its user.  Further, he confuses the literality of the imagery in order to continue the feeling of disorientation with lines like, “I’m beginning to see those sounds / that I never even thought / I would hear” (19). 

            He also deals heavily with relationships in his work.  One of my favorite poems in the collection is called, “The Narrows”.  It discusses a sexual and otherwise intimate relationship that seems to be coming to a close, or at the very least seems to be suggesting the fear of an end.  Carroll’s beautiful imagery and metaphor paints the scene of two lovers who seem to be wary of an end.  The poem closes with:


I’d like to watch myself holding you

above the cool shore of something really vast

like a vast sea, or ocean.

and when I was through watching

I’d become someone else, seducing the heavy

waters, allowing nothing to change.

as the sands are changing and night comes

and we’re not aware of all this endlessness,

which is springing up like The Moonlight Sonata

ascending from the glare of a thousand frightened moans.  (4)


            As previously mentioned, Carroll’s style is often inconsistent.  His poems vary from free verse to couplets to prose poem to the innovative use of indentation, in order to convey meaning.  Often he employs ellipses and parentheses to suggest possible asides or to encourage the continuation of thought on a subject.  The poem that ends the collection, “An Apple at Dawn” uses all of these irregular rhetorical and grammatical and structural devices.  This poem also seems to tie together many of the themes that have been explored throughout the other pieces in the book.  Unfortunately, its conclusion leaves readers with a pessimistic sense of what life in the city can be like.  It ends:


            …these stringy clouds               look out Manhattan


                                    your prince’s sorrow


                        might be back       again      tomorrow. (100)


            Jim Carroll’s collection, “Living at the Movies” is menacing, passionate, and often very true to life.  His view of the city dances between wild and exciting urban Holy Grail and desolate and bleak wasteland.  He explores both sides of the coin, so to speak, to allow the reader to catch a glimpse into his world of sex, drugs, and violence.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys edgy (and moderately controversial poetry), particularly anyone who enjoys Kerouac and Ginsberg.


Oh, as a side note – Jim Carroll also wrote “The Basketball Diaries,” which was made into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio if anyone is familiar with that.