Ekphrastic Poetry, Part 1
The primary purpose of art is to inspire. What is it we hope for when we make a poem, a painting, a work of sculpture, or a photograph? We want others to share in our act of seeing, to see what we have seen, and to be as moved by it as we ourselves were when we made it. So it is a great compliment when something you have made has inspired another artist to make something in response, and so—that wonderful gift—inspiration-- is passed on.
An ekphrastic poem, in the most general sense, is a poem directly inspired by another work of art, most often in the visual mediums of painting, sculpture or photography. The poem may describe, narrate, react to, interpret, or comment on the other work of art.
In this blog and in the next 2 to follow, I am including examples of ekphrastic poems and of the works that inspired them, followed by a single example of what I will call a parallel inspiration, where two works of art are inspired by the same source.
I recently went to a mixed media art show at the Strathmore Gallery in Washington DC. I enjoyed the show immensely. The general theme was Night. There were many compelling paintings, photographs, sculptures, and etc. that absorbed my attention and I felt very elated with inspirational energy after the show. But one piece in particular that lodged itself beautifully and painfully in my imagination was a sculpture titled, The Aftermath. I knew I had to respond to it—if for no other reason than to get it out of my head. When I got home, as soon as I had the chance, I quickly jotted down draft after draft on a yellow legal pad as the poem progressed. I think I must have written more than 15 initial drafts of the poem before it finally began to congeal into a nearly finished poem, all the while the vision of the sculpture that inspired the poem was as sharp in my mind as a 3D photograph.
The Aftermath After a sculpture titled “The Aftermath” by Irina Parshikova.
It is as if we are already
In Dante’s Hell, looking up.
Outside the iron gates,
A naked soul is sitting
On a stone, a Thinker; the blood
Smeared arrows shot through
The crown of her head, her torso,
The thick of every limb, as she
Meditates in her agony, on the lost
Heaven out of which she has fallen,
The hell within. How her mute suffering is
Magnified by our contemplation,