Movie Captions and Text Create Unique Poems

A new poetry idea featuring The Great Gatsby

When text passages from a novel mingle with captions from its accompanying movie, interesting things happen. Here’s what I mean: I always watch movies with the captions on. It helps me catch every word of dialogue and also catch every nuance given through the sound effects.

One evening this summer, while watching a movie, I started to pay special attention to the words used to describe the various sounds on the screen. Y’know… phrases like indistinct chatter, tittering, skittering and other descriptors that provide sound for those with hearing difficulties.

Take a favorite novel, find its accompanying movie, grab a pen and paper, and start collecting interesting captions to pair with phrases and passages from the text. | Photo by Nathan Engel on

Later, when I was able to re-watch the movie, I jotted down some of those phrases to see what would happen when they were worked into a free-verse poem.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve done this a few times now and about a month ago, I realized this might be a fun activity to do with my grade 11 students the next time I teach The Great Gatsby.

It’s a way to merge two media into one cohesive whole… a creative kind of critical thinking.

Here’s a poem I created that ends at the explosive gathering at The Plaza Hotel in Baz Luhrman’s 2013 The Great Gatsby. It picks up some of the dialogue and sounds of the tension-filled dinner party that prompted the excursion, follows the group to Wilson’s Garage, and then continues to the sweltering suite at The Plaza Hotel.

The Great Gatsby: A Conversation with Catherine Martin | Clothes on Film
The poem below ends at this intense gathering at The Plaza in Baz Luhrman’s 2013 film, The Great Gatsby. It’s in chapter 7 of the book.

You’ll notice lines directly from Fitzgerald’s text in black below with lines from the captions in brackets.

The Lighter Strikes

[Lighter strikes]
A simple admission from Jay to Tom:
"I'm right across from you."
From Tom to Jay:
"So you are."
[Exhales lightly]
[Sighs, breathes deeply, lighter strikes]
"Who wants to go to town?"
[Lighter striking]
"You always look so cool."
And they stared together 
At each other, 
Alone in space.
And Tom Buchanan saw.
[Engine revs, horn honks, tires squeal]
Hot whips of panic 
[Coins clink]
"There's something very sensuous about it... 
Overripe, as if...
Funny fruits...
Fall into your hands."
A crazy idea: 
A swell suite.
[Knife splintering ice]

That’s one example that can serve as a mentor text of sorts for students. I like the mix of interesting, present tense verbs that add movement and “punch” to the lines of dialogue and description from the novel.

Five things I like about this activity:

  • It requires critical thinking to link captions with the novel text to encapsulate a scene and its most critical moments.
  • It’s a low-stakes activity that gets students playing with word choice and sound while cross-referencing to the text.
  • Students can present their poems to explain their choices and thought processes.
  • It makes viewing a film more accountable and meaningful. We’re not merely watching for entertainment, but we’re searching for interesting connections with the accompanying text.
    • To make this happen in a classroom, I envision pre-selecting some key scenes from the movie to replay for the class. As they watch, they should be writing down interesting captions they see. To connect their captions to the novel, guide them to the chapter (use this post) where they can re-read and select passages and phrases.
  • This activity could be used with any movie/book combination. For sure, the 2013 Gatsby aligns particularly well with the novel. I’ve broken down the movie to match the book’s chapters in my post, The Great Gatsby 2013 Film Chapter Breakdown.
Marilyn Yung of ELA Brave and True

Note: I have not tried this with my classes yet, but plan to in December when we read The Great Gatsby together.

However, I plan to explore this poetry form further. For example, this year in my British Literature classes, I’ll be pairing films with our readings to demonstrate how the foundational texts of Western culture resonate in contemporary stories and their movie adaptations. One idea: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus will be connected to Limitless starring Bradley Cooper. Writing a “captions and text poem” to join these two media should be fun.

Thanks for reading again this week! Feel free to leave a comment and/or share your own experiences with finding innovative ways to add more poetry into literature studies.

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Also… the twenty-year observance of Sept. 11 is right around the corner. Here’s an innovative activity that combines texts and artifact photography into memorable poems.

My next post will be a round-up of Great Gatsby posts I’ve published this summer. Be sure to bookmark my site to find ways to make this great American novel fresh and new for you this year!

My Teacher Pay Teachers store contains a handful of items you may find useful. Check it out on TpT at Marilyn Yung | ELA Brave and True.

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Published by Marilyn Yung

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