Ekphrastic poetry

Both College English and English Journal came in the mail this week. I’ll admit to, in the past, ignoring my editions of English Journal because I’ve been so busy, but I’m gonna try to find what’s interesting in it right away before many months pass.

A few months ago my friend Sara wrote on her blog about ekphrastic poetry, a term that I wasn’t yet familiar with (Sara provides some links in her blog post that explain the term a bit). Today in English Journal, I was a bit excited to read an article titled “Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry About Visual Art,” because the idea of ekphrastic poetry has started to intrigue me, mainly because art should be in a conversation, so putting poetry and visual art into conversation together (or even better, blurring the boundaries between the two) is a pretty rad idea, I think. In case you don’t want to click links, the author of the article, Honor Moorman defines ekphrastic poetry simply as “poetry inspired by visual art” (46).

Moorman provides a pretty cool heuristic of the approach many poems take with the painting they are discussing that she shares with her students. She’s noted that poems usually approach paintings in one of the following ways:

  • Describing the scene itself
  • Relating the image in the painting to something else
  • Expressing an awareness of him- or herself observing the painting
  • Describing how the subject is organizd or presented by the artist
  • Trying to figure out what hte painting is about
  • Exploring the relationship between the artist and the subject of the painting
  • Assuming the reader’s familiarity with the image
  • Discussing the history of the painting
  • Imagining a story behind the scene depicted in the painting
  • Imainging what was happening while the portrait sitters posed for the painting
  • Speaking to the artist
  • Speaking to the subject of the painting
  • Speaking as the voice of a character from the painting
  • Speaking as the voice of multiple characters from the painting (48)

The article has some pretty good resources for ekphrastic poetry and teaching it to students. I’ve often bemoaned (in my head, mostly) how little time I give myself to write poetry – perhaps I’ll have to give Ekphrastic poetry a try soon.

Moorman, Honor. “Backing into Ekphrasis: Reading and Writing Poetry about Visual Art.” English Journal 96.1 (Sept. 2006): 46-53.

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