on ekphrasis, bowls, and other super things

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.


daniela elza said...

The poem should be able to stand on its own, regardless of what inspired it. It should not be an appendix to the art, unless that is the goal. Having the poem and the piece of art together could give another layer, reveal connections, or points of departure, or even perhaps puzzlement. However, it shouldn't be a prop for the poem. At least that is what I expect of the poems I have written to art.

I'll see you tonight, Rob.

Rob Taylor said...

Wait - a week ago you were speaking against sweeping generalizations, and now you're saying there's only one way to write an ekphrastic poem? Which is it going to be, Daniela? ;)

I sort of like the idea of poems that are completely dependent on art - after all, aren't all poems dependent on other art, if only in a less direct way?

Are we back to talking about Bloom?

See you tonight!

daniela elza said...

Ok, I was not aware I was making a sweeping generalization. I was speaking of what I expect of my poems, as i do not think the reader will always have access to the art piece. So in that case the poem has to have its own feet to stand on. (and sometimes I wish I could show the reader the art piece.) In the case where they are side by side, then we hope the reproduction will do, but we can never reproduce the encounter.Perhaps the poem is there to do capture that. I think of these moments as encounters. And the poem somehow becomes the testimony for that moment of encounter, propelled into the poem.

Ok, don't get me started on all poems are dependent on art, directly or indirectly. Aren't poems dependent on the human condition, on what it is to be human, and it is very often that we choose to express that through art. And, of course, we are inspired by others who have made such honest attempts. Yet, if we cannot bring new things from the world into the word, aren't we going to get a bit inbred, repetative, and incestuous (ok, I am not referring to Bloom here at all).

But most of all what fascinates me is that no matter what your prompt, where your point of departure or inspiration is, the poem will go where it has to go. Hopefully, if one lets it.

I enjoyed Aislinn Hunter's interview (thanks). The ending:
"So with that in mind I’ll say anything is possible in relation to art and language. What I think this issue demonstrates is something like that: the lack of fixity in apprehension, the beautiful slippage between seeing and saying; how form and language are really just winter coats for what is felt or gleaned, for what comes forward and recedes."

Yikes, sorry this ended up so long. I really should be writing on my blog, and linking, linking to yours. :-)

Rob Taylor said...

I wasn't meaning that poems are inspired solely by other art, just that other art is an importaant part of the process (and that emphasising that element of the creative process explicitly via a poem that is completely dependent on a piece of art is an interesting idea).

And yes, I knew you were meaning to speak only from your own perspective, but I've got to get all my sideways winky-faces out of my system somehow. ;)

daniela elza said...

What bothers me, though, is Their "Poet as Art Thief."
Perhaps Arc was looking for a catchy title, but this thievery talk is not true to the connection/encounter between the art and the poet.

I too have a build up of sideways winky-faces to get out of my system. Which probably accounts for why I am here;-)