Open Book Toronto: Do you think that an ekphrastic poem needs to be absorbed together with the artwork that inspired it in order to be fully appreciated?
Ruth Roach Pierson: Human curiosity being as compelling as it is, I conjecture that many readers want to see the work of art that has inspired the ekphrastic poem. To satisfy this curiosity in this day and age usually involves looking up a reproduction of the painting or photograph or piece of sculpture in an art book or on the web. But seeing such a reproduction is often disappointing, certainly much less satisfying than being able to gaze directly on the objet d’art, something possible for only a small minority of people with enough time and money to travel to distant art museums. But even then I’m not convinced the visceral understanding and emotive resonance of the poem are necessarily enhanced by seeing the work of art.
Perhaps in some cases, it is helpful to have an understanding of the spatial relations between and among the images in the work. But does one need to have run a finger over lichen-covered bark or heard the roar of a cataract in order to be moved by a poem responding to and invoking such images? I hope my Nevelson poem elicits an emotional response regardless of whether its reader has seen the sculpture. And it is possible someone who has read the poem and then sees the sculpture might exclaim: “I don’t at all see what she has seen!” On the other hand, at the AGO’s ekphrastic readings organized by Kelley Aitken, the audiences seemed to have enjoyed hearing the poem read in proximity to the painting or photograph or piece of sculpture. For many, it did move them to look much more closely at the work of art.
- Ruth Roach Pierson, discussing all things ekphrastic with Open Book Toronto. You can read the whole interview here, as well as interviews on the same subject from Aislinn Hunter and David O'Meara.
If you're in Vancouver and want to take in some hot ekphrastic action this weekend, a number of poets (including me!) will be reading poems inspired by an exhibit of photos from Ghana. The fun kicks off this Sunday night, right after the Super Bowl! It's like the Lingerie Bowl at half time, only it's after the game and absolutely nothing like the Lingerie Bowl. It's the Super Bowl of graphic, often dramatic descriptions of visual works of art! (Thanks, Wikipedia).
The reading will be in the gallery itself, so you'll be able to run your hands over the lichen-covered bark (metaphorically, people - don't smudge the glass), and find out if that impacts how you interpret the poems and/or the photos.
Here are the details:
Word Whips: Inspired by "Kumra, my Child"
Sunday, February 6th, 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery
Jewish Community Centre of British Columbia
950 W 41st Ave, Vancouver
Featuring: Daniela Elza, Fran Bourassa, myself and more!
$5 suggested donation (all proceeds to school projects in Ghana)
I hope to see you there. And if not there, at one of the bazillion other readings this month.