Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Poetry Arising from Art

Ekphrastic Poetry and the Masterworks Series

Ekphrastic poetry is poetry written in response to some work of art. That art is usually a painting or a sculpture, but it can also be a photograph. I have written ekphrastic poetry on this blog, usually in my Saturday Haiku series, when I found myself inspired by a work of art, as in The Gleize Bridge over the Vigueirat Canal. Another example was of poetry in response to art was Reflecting upon Michelangelo's Pieta.

Ekphrasis is a Greek term usually translated as "description." Ekphrastic poetry is an exercise that goes beyond mere description. It is an example of art inspiring art, or serving as a catalyst for creativity. An article at Poets.org, Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art speaks of how ekphrasis has been used in poetry since the time of Homer. The article observes that "modern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects." Ekphrastic poetry is one way to interpret, meditate upon, re-invent, or dialogue with a particular piece of art.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a small treasure for creative inspiration. I was at the local library's annual book sale. I already have too many books acquired from various places, but I cannot resist a good book sale. What I found that day was an old Book-of-the-Month Club selection, Portfolio of Art Masterpieces, Series IV. It consisted of twelve reproductions of masterpiece paintings. Each reproduction is mounted on heavy paper with a brief description of the artist and the artwork. The separate pieces are housed together in a heavy 11 X 14 box, tied with a heavy ribbon. The box itself was collapsing at the corners, but all of the reproductions were intact. I knew right away how I could make use of the art reproductions – I would use them as starting points for ekphrastic poems. My plan would be to spend some time visualizing and dwelling with each work of art, then write a poem based upon that experience of "dwelling with" the painting.

That is how this "Masterworks Series" began. As a discipline to give myself an appointed task to write poetry, I am setting out to do a weekly installment of ekphrastic poetry based upon the art masterpieces that fell into my hands that day at the public library book sale. Tomorrow will be the first installment with "The Arrival in Bethlehem."


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