How to Look at a Painting
Start with the jungle greenness of her sleeve.
Beneath its sun-splashed canopy
sweep up and down the lushness of its canyons.
Next, cross her crimson robe knee-deep,
like Dante, in a viscous bloody pool.
Emerge, slide up her neck to alpenglow,
then slip along her flawless cheek to meet
her oscillating forehead veil:
now creamy streaks, now gossamer transparency.
Fathom down, sound each abyss of sorrow:
her pupils' downcast symmetry.
Rope-up to hike the high white ridge between,
you'll intersect the subtle twenty pinks
conjoined into the sweetness of her lips.
Now scan the plump peach child top to bottom,
his little toes will point to where you started:
the sheens and green perfusions of her tunic.
Go back around, surprise yourself,
find unobserved new tints, a niche to ponder.
Then step away, allow the parts to fuse –
behold a perfect Raphael Madonna.
Kenneth Lee is a pathologist, practicing in Boston. He is the author of four books of poetry, the latest: Late Revelations, 2017.
Ekphrastic Writing Challenge
Thank you to everyone who participated in our last writing challenge for Rainy Night at Etaples, by William Edouard Scott, which ends today. Accepted responses for the Rainy Night challenge will be published on December 21, 2018.
The prompt this time is Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus, by Guido Reni. Deadline is December 28, 2018. PLEASE NOTE: In order to better organize submissions, we have a new email for challenge submissions:email@example.com
Everyone can participate! Try something new if you've never written from visual art before and discover why there are so many of us devotees. Ekphrastic writing helps artists and lovers of art to look more carefully, from different angles or mindsets, at visual art. And it helps writers discover new ways of approaching their work, their experiences, and writing itself.
The rules are simple.
1. Use this visual art prompt as a springboard for your writing. It can be a poem or short prose (fiction or nonfiction.) You can research the painting or artist and use your discoveries to fuel your writing, or you can let the image alone provoke your imagination.
2. Write as many poems and stories as you like.
3. Have fun.
4. Send only your best results to firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Include CHRISTMAS WRITING CHALLENGE in the subject line in all caps please. Please use this email only for challenge submissions. Continue to use the regular email for regular submissions and correspondence.
6. Include your name and a brief bio. If you do not include your bio, it will not be included with your work, if accepted. Even if you have already written for The Ekphrastic Review or submitted other works and your bio is "on file" you must include it in your challenge submission. Do not send it after acceptance or later; it will not be added to your poem. We are sorry about these technicalities, but have found that following up, requesting, adding, and changing later takes too much time and is very confusing.
7. Late submissions will be discarded. Sorry.
8. Deadline is December 28, 2018.
9. Please do not send revisions, corrections, or changes to your poetry or your biography after the fact. If it's not ready yet, hang on to it until it is.
10. Selected submissions will be published together, with the prompt, one week after the deadline.
11. Rinse and repeat with upcoming ekphrastic writing challenges!
Please note, next year we are going to have some special guest editors judging some of the challenges! We're hoping this will inspire in unexpected ways, add new flavours and perspectives to the journal, and foster community. When a challenge has a guest editor, it will be announced in advance as well as in this space the day the prompt is posted. We're excited about this and about having a whole year of challenges, now that we've found an ekphrastic prompt system that is working out in terms of consistency and longevity. Many great poems will be written in the year ahead!
Remembering Breughel’s Massacre of the Innocents
I should have known it hung there, in Vienna. But home
was the place for warnings of strangeness, of not
taking rides, or candy. With me now
even wieners from butcher shop owners were safe.
Together now we were climbing palatial
marble steps, the guidebook having said
nothing of archways twice
as high as our house, completely studded
with colour, real gold-covered crossbeams,
a ceiling of painted-on seasons of glory: each hair
on each head (as my father would say) so precise
you could see it, assuming you could get close
as the artists had, hanging there day after day
for months, their dangers of falling so far removed
from our journey past sculptures on landings
to canvas in far-off rooms.
I would have stared upward longer but you
were obsessed with the head of Medusa in What’s-
his-name’s hand, my memory not
so needed as saying it’s really all make-believe.
No one could ever have snakes for hair, no one
cut off her head although maybe
he would have, had she been real.
What’s true is I didn’t avoid when I could have
that room with fifteen original Breughels, the first
I had ever seen not in a book.
The Tower of Babel. Peasant Dance. The other
I couldn’t draw you away from, could only
respond: those soldiers lived too far back
to remember, they must have been following orders,
their leaders must have been mean. More
I could have said and still not enough.
So much you already knew of betrayals and still
you returned again and again from rooms of Rembrandt and Reubens,
Cranach’s Adam and Eve and hundreds of Christs on the cross,
you returned to take in details no one could
forget: the mothers pleading, the children
lying in blood, in snow, in a huge commotion of lances,
hooves, dogs, the wails of the children, the mothers
helpless with blood on their laps, on their hands,
their eyes turned back from Heaven.
Erin, no one forgives such things.
Nor do I know why we stayed until closing, hurrying out
with our postcards and parcels into the late May drizzle.
Why I sat on a park bench while you tried finding
pleasure in dancing like pigeons, hiding from me
again and again behind the base of Maria Theresa’s statue,
knowing I knew where you were, insisting
I couldn’t find you, anywhere.
This poem was first published in Ingrid Wendt's book, Moving the House (BOA Editions, 1980).
Ingrid Wendt’s first book, Moving the House, was selected by William Stafford for the New Poets of American Series, published by BOA Editions (1980). Her next three books received the Oregon Book Award (1987), the Yellowglen Award and the Editions prize from WordTech Editions (2003 and 2004). She is co-editor of the anthology In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts (1980) and the Oregon poetry anthology From Here We Speak (1993). Her most recent book, Evensong, is available from Truman State University Press (2011). She has taught poetry writing for over thirty years, at all educational levels, most recently as a Fulbright Senior Specialist at the University of Freiburg, Germany. She lives in Eugene, Oregon. www.ingridwendt.com
To Wrestle With the Irresistible
Holy Angels Chapel of Saint-Sulpice, Paris
It’s daybreak in the painting that Delacroix took twelve years
to complete. In the foreground, near two immense trees,
Jacob, who is turned away from us, wrestles with the angel,
resolute with his wings. Nearby, on the ground, a heap of clothes
Jacob has cast off for the hand-to-hand agon that’s lasted all night.
To the right, Jacob’s continuous caravan of sheep, shepherds...
gifts for Esau to appease his anger. One horse turns back,
the only one to notice these two, locked in furious embrace.
The angel’s hand, visible on Jacob’s thigh. The other hand,
clasping Jacob’s and raised high in the air. Disappearing
beyond a bend, a faraway woman holds a jar on her head.
We think we hear the angel say Let me go, for day is breaking.
Jacob, straining against him, wounded and taut, will refuse.
Not until you bless me. The imminence of the blessing.
Bonnie Naradzay leads poetry workshops at the Department of Corrections, at a day shelter for homeless people, and at a retirement centre, all in Washington DC. Poems have appeared in New Letters, Tampa Review, Tar River Poetry, Poet Lore, JAMA, Anglican Theological Review, Split This Rock, The Ekphrastic Review, The Northern Virginia Review, The Seminary Ridge Review, Pinch, and others. In 2010, she was awarded the New Orleans MFA Program’s Poetry Prize: a month’s stay in Ezra Pound’s daughter’s castle in Dorf Tyrol (northern Italy). She earned an MA from Harvard in 1969, an MFA in poetry from the University of Southern Maine in 2010, and an MA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College (Annapolis) in 2017.
A Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind
"Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch." Matthew 15:14
There is a pale square of eggshell white, an empty space where Bruegel used to be.
It has been removed from the museum, just as many statues, books, speakers, and other artworks have been toppled or torn, ripped from the roots, from city squares or libraries or galleries. The patrons of the historical sites of Naples must learn that their education and edification cannot come at the cost of anyone's hurt feelings.
The image of umbrage is The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind, a five century old work by the Flemish artist, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. His inspiration was from the gospel of Matthew, when the good Lord warned us about following the dictates of those who didn't know the truth, or weren't even looking for it. The source alone is objectionable to many!
In the painting, assorted men stumble each after one another, grasping and falling on their way. Their eyes are sick or glassy, or not there at all, as if plucked clean by crows, concave sockets, sight hollowed from heads with a cantaloupe baller.
The painting is offensive to people who are blind, or who otherwise identify that way, who might not approve the parallels implied about seeing, the pitfalls of spiritual sightlessness and its insinuated struggles. Peasants and farmers are also furious: this classist assault on the poor and their allies must be erased from memory. Hindus or Jews might be upset by work depicting the New Testament, and the atheists, too, are sick and tired of being force fed life lessons from fairy tale books. Human rights activist groups have asked that all opprobrious religious artwork be removed from the galleries, and curators have their work cut out for them ahead, as forklifts must be brought in to remove countless tons of artefacts from all over the world. All ancient Indian art, all African ritual art, all European Christian art must be tossed onto a bonfire so that aggressions, both micro and intended, can burn in hell. There will surely be some suitably secular moral illustrations from the last two decades that can fill in for the more than ten millennia that human creativity was tainted with faithful delusions.
Some sources report that women are also upset by the piece and have asked to have it destroyed- it looks like the work might have been painted by a man.
In an interview with the Washington Post, the museum director shared her perspective. "At first, we considered replacing this dangerous work with an appropriate painting from the era or from local contemporary talents. This proved difficult as a staggering number of submissions and backroom stock were equally offensive, if not more so. We thought leaving the blank space was a wonderful statement. And when we overheard a patron expressing how moved she was by the empty wall, we decided to leave it blank with nothing to see. With nothing to look at and nothing to see, it's a safe space for everyone."
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is a visual artist, writer, and editor of The Ekphrastic Review.
1. Introduction to Magritte
I pick Magritte up from the bottom of a star.
He is desolate with lavender.
"Who is it?" he moans, touching my wrist
with his wing. I help him to his feet,
careful of his cedar leg.
Behind his grimace he is smiling.
Like a man drowning in warm water.
2. First Experience—Dawn
We climb through a busted window.
Magritte cuts his arm. Blood drops out
like rusty pennies. A mermaid
standing on wet gravel waves to us.
He doffs his bowler.
The black paraffin that fills his head
This always happens.
"What's in your palm?" he asks.
She opens it.
It's a baby oyster
covered in cobweb.
3. Second Experience—Midmorning
The day's as gray as a century of salmon eggs.
One sun-pocked building catches my attention.
"No," he says. "Under this arch."
We cobble our way through old streets,
pass vegetable merchants, occasional hunchbacks,
daughters yet to be consecrated.
Arriving at the pier I see a sailboat in dead wind.
"That is pathos," Magritte says,
pointing to a barnacle.
4. The Woman
She folds and unfolds her kerchief
folding her eyes in her lap.
Her fingers are long and drawn and thin
like hollow reeds or scabbards.
She is all meekness, all pastel.
We see her at the scaffold
darkening in the air
where the clouds are heaving like minstrels
and the hawks watch as they fly.
Her majesty derives from open clouds
yet she derives from twilight.
We salute her in tandem
and gasp as her voice rises
and rises into our eyes.
That evening, stepping over lengthening shadows,
we are in Toledo where the moon
appears as the white bone of a rose,
where four clouds create the horizon,
where four sounds echo through the trees.
At the curtain of the city
we come across a thin strand of finger
belonging to El Greco.
"Give that to the woman,"
"She has more need of the digit
6. Bedtime Narrative
And on that day, the Creator said to Speech, "What makes your skin flat like the river? I shall give you wounds to perform in your flesh so that you may never be plain to me." And He was pleased with the lesion which He called Silence and touched His lips to the sky. That place, today, is forbidden to birds.
Now the tendon of God is stretched to plain view.
A million onions have been carried to the mirror.
Long birds fly in broken formation.
All is amethyst and milk.
Without warning the white sword
crashes down on orthodoxy.
The sky splits open like Hell's abortion.
A Saracen sun advances on Magritte.
This poem previously appeared in Central Park, Skidrow Penthouse, Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX 2012), and in Against Prompts (Lit Fest Press 2018).
Bill Yarrow, Professor of English at Joliet Junior College and an editor at Blue Fifth Review, is the author of Against Prompts, The Vig of Love, Blasphemer, Pointed Sentences, and five chapbooks. He has been nominated eight times for a Pushcart Prize. Accelerant, a new full-length collection, is forthcoming from Nixes Mate Books in 2019. https://billyarrow.wordpress.com/
Autumn Leaves, after a Rain
Brilliant, you were,
as if light could be material.
An aura is in the eyes of the beholder.
Who is to argue, to quantify?
Does it’s value diminish, the sooner the setting sun?
Even in daylight, you were powerless to delay the approaching pall.
Raindrops accumulate, unless they batter. Both present
a weight too heavy to bear. A separation, on wings drifting down.
The earth sighs to receive you, the remnant of that aura
absorbed, shape and function meaningless.
No chrysalis here, but are you kin to the monarch,
genetic memory a guarantee of your return, come a new season?
Ken Gierke started writing poetry in his forties, but found new focus when he retired. It also gave him new perspectives, which come out in his poetry, primarily in free verse and haiku. He has been published at The Ekphrastic Review, Vita Brevis, Tuck Magazine, and forthcoming at Eunoia Review. His website: https://rivrvlogr.wordpress.com/
La Cinquième Saison (on seeing the Magritte exhibition, The Fifth Season, at S.F. MOMA)
When the two men carrying framed paintings pass, they will exchange canvases. Their landscapes will be rearranged; they will emerge as different men; they will be mirror images of each other; they will be Groucho and Harpo Marx; they will walk into parallel universes where worlds do not collide; they will burst into song; they will brawl in the street, their paintings torn and pixilated; they will move from pointillism to surrealism to impressionism to abstract expressionism to a pair of empty frames.
They will never pass; they will tip their hats; they will bow; they will shake hands; they will do a dance around each other; they will toss their paintings into the street and start to wrestle; they will knock each other out of the painting and into another canvas; they will die and be buried in a rose and be reborn in an era that does not appreciate them; they will sell their art to the highest bidder; they will become outsider artists drawing on walls and empty spaces between walls and starry nights on black canvases; they will be hopelessly lost.
They will be redeemed; they will pass each other again and again, their canvases will become LED screens streaming episodes of Babylon Berlin and The Americans; they will fight in World War II and World War III and they will join the Taliban and they will inhabit landscapes they never dreamed of and they will lose each other again and never see that they are behind each other; they have each other’s backs.
Their landscapes will melt into charred bodies that are not their bodies and they will rise like Phoenixes and merge with the boulder.
Today is the day we learn if their eggs hatch.
Dotty LeMieux has published three chapbooks and edited the eclectic journal Turkey Buzzard Review in the equally eclectic West Coast enclave of Bolinas California. She has seen her work in various publications such as Rise Up Review, Painted Bride, The Poeming Pigeon, Tuck, Telephone, and the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, among others. She lives and works as a campaign consultant and attorney in Northern California with her husband and two dogs.
Buy some cool stuff to support The Ekphrastic Review, like these blank or lined notebooks featuring the art of TER founder Lorette C. Luzajic.
The hardback journals are 5x7" with 128 pages. The spirals are softcover, 6x8" with 120 pages and a document pocket.
There are over 20 designs to choose from: click here.
Memory Sickness, in Khmer
One returned to drugs or never left them.
Television as a second act. One loved a woman
Taller than himself and left while she was pregnant.
He has agents, handlers, lifts in his shoes.
He breaks a rib and moves on and on in ceaseless industry.
The leaves turn, the altar of invention wans into parody,
The self lilts ever more inwards. Masks collect as evening
Drapes off the table into the future. Velveteen.
And still we have to speak of her breasts,
Or the one who left citing irreconcilable differences,
Or the one whose wife left him. How his drunkenness bled
Into everything, and everything into night, and night into a feeling
Of familiarity. And you will recognize this sculpture as your own,
All the days in the dirt, the same avoidance of pain
Staring down the gun barrel. Come October you will see all
Suffering as your own and the days will become bleached with light
And your bones will fill with air and you will think:
This photo was just someone trying their best,
Still who is that man who looks
Directly at the camera
If not you
David Joez Villaverde
Editor's note: This poem was written in response to a specific cast photograph by Alex Berliner (USA) from the Interview with a Vampire film premiere in 1994. Click here to view.
David Joez Villaverde is the winner of Black Warrior Review's 2018 poetry contest and his poems in Crab Fat Magazine and L'Éphémère Review are 2018 Best of the Net nominees. He has been recently published or is forthcoming in Yemassee, RHINO Poetry, The Indianapolis Review, Yes Poetry, and Occulum. Visit him at schadenfreudeanslip.com
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