Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Poetry Challenge #7: Ekphrasis

Before you all panic at the weirdness of this week's poetic form's name, allow me to explain it. Ekphrasis means "vivid description of a thing," and it was first popular in Greek writing, hence the Greek name. It was mostly used to describe great works of art, either paintings, statues, or other classic art objects. Nowadays the form has come to be less about vividly describing the actual concrete art you have in mind, and more about trying to inhabit its world. Trying to describe something from within it can be challenging, but also very rewarding, as I can tell you now from experience. For this challenge, I want you to look around and find a piece of art--a painting, a statue, a photograph--that grabs you. Then think awhile about what in that piece of art speaks to you, and try to build a poem around that. There is no prescribed format for this particular type of poetry, so go with what feels right to you. I wrote a free verse.

OK, example time! One of my very favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, has a great example of ekphrasis, which I will share here:

Landscape With The Fall of Icarus 
by William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field 
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted 
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

For my example, I stumbled upon an amateur photo (which was uncredited, or else I would give the photographer his or her due) that was quite striking. The poem below came out of reflecting on that photo.

Still Life

It was never my intention

to call a viaduct my shelter,

to make concrete and masonry

my dwelling-place.

They say life is what happens

while you’re making other plans.

I made a wrong turn somewhere,

leading me here.

Don’t pity me.

I don’t need your patronizing.

I don’t have much,

but I still have my pride.

Let me retreat

from my harsh sur-reality

to the calming patterns

of celestial themes.

Let me meditate

on what life still offers

by studying the perfect

symmetry of flowers.

I still have my life

I still have my health

I still have beauty

I still have.

You can find more description of ekphrasis and more examples here. So, once you have found your object and tried to inhabit its world for awhile in poetic form, I would also ask that you find a picture of it on the web somewhere and post the link to it with your poem so readers can get the full experience of your writing. Have fun, I know I did!


Anonymous said...

Late to the party this week! A hard-working vacation and a totally unexpected change of Internet Service Providers'll do that.


Insofar as I understand the challenge at hand, there's no rhyme scheme, line limit, meter requirements, or any such thing, so....

Van Gogh's The Starry Night has always affected me since I first saw it (actually just a print of it, of course, since I've never been to New York City). For a link to an image of it, courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:VanGogh-starry_night_ballance1.jpg

More waves than particles,
The starlight swirls and eddies,
Washing the night-time sky.

(I suspect that these things are meant to be rather longer than this, but this is what I've got.)


Minerva said...

We missed you, Cicely! Glad you're back. You are correct, there is no prescribed format or limits to this form. 1,000 points for your return and a fine attempt at ekphrasis.

Anonymous said...

ok - for once I am putting something up - I wrote this a LONG time ago but at least I am participating...

Cancerous Dreams
for M.C. Escher

I don't really understand
the understanding of art.
Rippled faces in strange constellations
crinkled laughter on a torn page--
strangers connected by unspoken words.
Images flash across my frontal plate.
My body of dreams forms nightmares
of common places that are familiarly uncommon:
ghosts in the night of a strange hall of day
lizards traipse across foreign dreams and return to their shells.
This madness creates new life in me.
I don't really understand
the art of understanding really.


Minerva said...

Wow, thanks for sharing that, Susan! I have always been somewhat mesmerized by Escher's take on surrealism. Is there any particular piece of his that this poem was based on, or just all of his work? Is there a website you can point us to for visual aids? 1,000 points for a word-painting worthy of Escher.

Anonymous said...


"Ghosts in the night"


"Lizards traipse"

The full website is at http://www.mcescher.com/

And for some background, this was a comparison between his art and also about cancer and how your body betrays you...familiar ground, now unfamiliar. Hence the title "Cancerous Dreams"...

Thanks and I promise I will work on trying to find time to work on new stuff!


Minerva said...

thanks Susan! For those still mulling ideas, comparing the effect of an artwork with some other known entity is an excellent place to start, as you can see from Susan's example.

paige said...

Here's my sucky poem...

It's for The Kiss by Gustav Klimt

Completely enveloped.
Fingers intertwined with fingers
& the fine hair at the
nape of my neck.

Arms holding me.
My feet unable to find firm ground.
His breath is on me.
My cheeks afire.

Soft lips touch
burnt cheek.
No breath escapes.
My eyes close - i'm lost.

Golden tones.
Warmth & flashes of light.
Soft greens express
Our verdant love.

Minerva said...

I'm gonna share something with you that I learned in high school. You are (by FAR, usually) your own worst critic. Where you see a "sucky" poem, I see amazing. I know exactly the picture you're talking about, even though you can't post the image next to your poem. 1,000 points for a gorgeous portrayal of the woman in the iconic painting. I really mean that, by the way.

Alicia said...

Last minute, I know...sorry! It's certainly not my best work, but I like it anyway...

Trash? Maybe.
But those moments are priceless.
We live,
And eat.
We love.
A dinner between friends.
A tissue to wipe tears from a failed relationship.
A neighborhood barbeque.
A craft project gone awry.
So yes, to some it may be trash
But to me, it's the beauty
Of those memories
We created

Minerva said...

Alicia--a lovely poem, and a piece of art I was not familiar with. 1,000 points for making it under the wire with a great poem!