Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Artsongs Series


Poetry Inspired by Great Works of Art

Last year I did a series of ekphrastic poems inspired by an old Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, Portfolio of Art Masterpieces, Series IV that I happened to discover at our local library's used book sale. It was such a rewarding exercise that I decided to do it again. I went online and located the first volume of those Book-of-the-Month-Club collections, Portfolio of Art Masterpieces, Series I, and set it aside until the time was right.

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, 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. (1)

It Came to Me in a Dream

I had a dream not long ago in which I was fervently in the process of writing something in response to something that I was watching. What I was watching was unclear, but what I was writing had a musical rhythm. When I awoke, I realized that my subconscious must be telling me that the time is right to start writing those poems in response to my collection of art re-prints.

The rhythm of the dream had such an effect upon me that I decided that I would try writing each poem in metered verse, but without rhyme. My hope was that having rhythm without rhyme would result in poetry that is less formal but still "weighty" in its presentation.

Bouncing Off the Artist's Creativity

I spent the summer months taking on a new poem each week. One thing about ekphrastic poetry is that by writing in response to a work of art, I write on subjects that I would ordinarily not choose to write about. It therefore becomes a challenge to stretch myself and my writing. Another thing is that I am given ideas by seeing what the artist has done that I might not otherwise have thought of. Moreover, I am responding to and interacting with that artist's own creativity. I think that such a process naturally allows one to tap into his own creativity. 

While some of the thoughts expressed in these poems are things I have considered before (but not said in exactly the same way) it is safe to say that I would not have come up with any of these poetic concepts without engaging in the artwork of the masters represented in the series.

This page will serve as an index. I will post a new poem each week, and as they are posted, there will be a hyperlink added to the titles below.



1. From my essay, "Poetry Arising from Art," posted as an introduction to my first series of ekphrastic poems.

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