Monday, May 08, 2006

Poetry prompt #1 - Ekphrastic poem

I didn’t know there was a name for poetry which is based on or talks back to works of art. But my recently acquired the poetry dictionary assures me there is. It’s called ekphrastic poetry.

John Drury defines ekphrastic poetry as poetry that imitates, describes, critiques, dramatizes, reflects upon or otherwise responds to a work of non-literary art, especially the visual.

Poems about photographs are considered a subcategory of this though, as Drury says, photograph poems are somewhat different, since they are based upon pictures never meant originally as art, perhaps snapshots from a family album, and will thus deal with the stuff of everyday life.

An ekphrastic poem, whether based on a painting, photograph, sculpture, song or whatever, should do more than just describe the work of art. It should also add something that takes off from the original work, or talks back to it.

The February 15th Writer’s Almanac poem “Photograph / 1936" by David Bengtson is a good example of such a poem, I think. It begins with simple description of an old fashioned scene from a photograph:

They face each other, my father in a white jacket,
rented for the day, my grandfather
in a dark suit, tie too short, a light felt
dress hat with a dark band, the shadow
of the brim covering his eyes.
But ends with a stanza loaded with enigma, reverberating with questions and heavy with the sad way things turned out:

I would like to stand in the space
between you and your dad, and say,
“Let’s sit together on this bench. Let’s talk
about the things that frighten us,” and we’d talk about boilers that explode,
long trips on rough seas to small islands,
why a son, given everything,
would turn on his father, his family,
the love of family.

So, my writing prompt to myself (and anyone who wishes to join me this week) is to write an ekphrastic poem.

Filed in Writing - Poetry

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