Who Will Protect Poet Jimmy?

Lisa is a middle-aged kindergarten teacher. One day she discovers that one of her students, Jimmy, is a poet. For Lisa, who was attending poetry classes at the time, this was the beginning of a series of events that would become central to her life. She finds herself alone in supporting and protecting Jimmy. She finds a solution by kidnapping Jimmy. The movie ends with Lisa and Jimmy parting ways.

The Kindergarten Teacher (2018) stands out as an exceptional film for today’s people who seem to have forgotten the answers to big questions like “What is poetry?” and “What is art?”. Instead of giving mighty answers to these questions, the film only mirrors what is happening, and reminds us of our lack of response. We can even say that it searches for the answers by reversing the two questions above: “What is not poetry?” and “what is not art?”

Although the roots of today’s type of artist can be traced back to the turning points in the history of philosophy; it has grown from and became visible under the influence of romanticism and modernism. This type of artist is influenced by the invention of the “subject” and a self-legitimized existence. First of all, let us approach to The Kindergarten Teacher in terms of pointing to this type of artist who leads to some sort of  “sick-mindedness.” The characteristics of  this “artist” gradually carry Lisa and Jimmy to such an end.

The artist is different—special— needs to be discovered: Lisa one day hears Jimmy wording a poem, walking back and forth in an unusual manner. Jimmy, whom she had seen as one of her ordinary students until then, turns into a “genius poet” in her eyes.

Questions: Does Jimmy’s poetry depend on Lisa’s discovery? What would change if no one noticed, not even Jimmy himself? Is a poem incapable of existing and reaching its addressee if it is not put a price?

The artist is fragile—needs to be protected: Lisa talks to Jimmy’s nanny, uncle, and father, respectively. She warns them about the perishable nature of Jimmy’s talent for poetry and tries to persuade them to be more attentive to him.

Questions:  How accurate is it to talk about vulnerability if Jimmy is able to voice poems in an environment that is not considered appropriate for poetry at all (from Lisa’s point of view, because his parents are separated and his nanny treats him like a baby). Can anyone talk about protecting the poet, when the poet is the one who is chosen and protected by “the language”?

Real-life annihilates art: Lisa believes that the talent she once had has vanished in the course of life. Her marriage, children, and her relationship with her husband are depicted in a way that they were responsible for it. Her biggest fear is that Jimmy also suffers from a similar fate.

Questions: How is it possible that life tries to annihilate art when it is encompassing, nurturing, and making everything possible? Why are the artists who sacrifice their private lives for their art idealized? Does it necessarily cause resentment if life changes in the course of time, instead of continuing in the way it is planned at the beginning?

Unprotected talent can get lost, and it is a fall: Lisa perceives her life and the life of those around her in a sort of decline. To get rid of this situation, she attends poetry classes and encourages her children to do activities such as reading books and taking photographs.

Questions: Why isn’t it possible to accept decline? As Wim Wenders’ angels taught us [1], isn’t “the fall” a must for a new story to begin?

Art can be revealed only in certain forms: Lisa insists on supporting Jimmy and making him continue his life as a poet. She wants to introduce him to the milieu. To the point that she kidnaps Jimmy so that she can transcribe his poems and publish them as a book.

Questions: Is Jimmy’s artistry limited to his poetry? Who is an artist when he is not dealing with the work that makes him an artist? If Jimmy no longer sings poems, would his talent fade away or would it survive in other forms?

It might be helpful to remember the following lines at this point:

Oh yes. Fulcrum had broken, but that wasn’t wrong. Eggs break. Horses break. Waves break. Of course he broke. How else could someone so all certain-centered let his perfect answers out into the world? Some things were just too true to stay. [2]

It is inevitable for the story to get into a dilemma when an artist has or is thought to have these features. When Lisa cannot get the support of Jimmy’s family and her friends, instead of accepting the situation, she finds the solution in kidnapping Jimmy. Right at this moment, our poet Jimmy, who “needs to be protected”, catches on to the situation and rescues himself from Lisa by locking her in the bathroom and calling the police. The storyline seems to go on without taking sides and without passing judgments on the subject. It neither criticizes the type of artist that is described in the film nor supports Lisa’s effort. We can say that today’s people, who do not know what to do before the art and artist, are embodied in Lisa. However, Jimmy’s unanswered words in the last scene where he was alone in the police car indicate that the film shares all this confusion too. His poem is left unheard in the police car when Lisa, the only person who can protect him and save his poems, is gone.

By handling the issue of being an “artist” through a child, the film approaches poetry and art only via the opportunities provided by “childhood”. However, an average person who is into poetry or spent some time with children might find its approach to childhood a little fictitious. It is incorrect to talk about the distinction between the “poesy” and “non-poesy” of a child at an age when the children already have a special relationship with language. The mundane sentences of any child carry a fresh ripeness that can be handled as poetry. Besides, the poems Jimmy sings here are far from the poesy of a child. Rather, they carry the characteristics of the verses written by adults and recited by a child as per the scenario. This situation, which could well be tolerated in another story, turns into an issue that knocks the bottom out of the scenario which is written about a child poet. On the other hand, an ear that can recognize poetry would listen not only to Jimmy but also to other children in that kindergarten with the same amazement. With such a listening, there will be no need to explore, protect, or save.

[1] Wim Wenders, Der Himmel über Berlin (1987).

[2] Patrick Rothfuss, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, DAW Books, 2014.


She was born in Yozgat/Turkey in 1985. Graduated from The Faculty of Theology of Uludağ University. She is a teacher who lives in Istanbul. She is interested in cinema, TV series, music, and poetry. She spends most of her time looking closely at the words.

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