The Erotic Drawings of Egon Schiele
They are drawn from life
into the damp air of the studio--
Waves of green and blue stockings
wash the floor.
He watches them part their labia
with strudel-thick fingers
over the crayons and heavy paper
to which he affixes
the Chinese stamp of his signature
—or, if unfinished, does not.
They are released into the crowd of children
who play in the street.
E.C. Messer lives with her husband and cats by the Pacific Ocean in California. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @ecmesser. She would like very much to know you.
Imperfect Sheep in a Meadow
The moment of discovery elicits in me a mixture of affection, nostalgia for a farm I never knew, traveling through Wales, and instant appreciation of a piece of discarded art that might be considered a “second” if art were sold in outlet malls.
The idyllic, whimsical scene depicts four cloud-shaped sheep grazing in a meadow. The sheep are not the cotton-white of your imagination, but streaked with a gray hint of sadness. They appear contented though, with a fullness in the belly, yet they are neither adorable nor stoic; their black button-eyes follow you, absent of light. It’s nearly spring and their thick wool coats need shearing, but they don’t look like the receptive type.
I remember petting a sheep for the first time at five through a petting zoo fence, startled by how not-soft it was. After years of picture-book conditioning that promised sheep were fluffy pillows, I was disappointed. But I knew it wasn’t the sheep’s fault—that it would have been soft for me, if it had any say in the matter. A trick of the spinning wheel, it seemed to say.
The central sheep in the foreground simply stares at the viewer while the other three mill around in the background. I imagine their conversation roams from the mundane topic of clover to more philosophical concerns: Should we resist being herded?
The oil painting is on a stretched canvas, unframed, and raw. It’s the size of a mirror over a bathroom sink, and I imagine a sheep looking into it, thinking, Funny how when I chew the grass, that sheep chews the grass, but ultimately reasoning that every sheep is chewing the grass and that it must really get back to chewing the grass. The piece has earned a prominent place in my bedroom: not over the bed but on the opposite wall where I can see it more readily and can meditate on the stillness of the meadow.
The farm in my mind’s eye has always been a combination of the Waltons’, bed and breakfasts in the Welsh countryside, and the farm of a friend who had horses and barn cats. I was at home on a dairy farm, in my imagination anyway—no milkings at dawn or haying in mid-summer; just the romanticized version of fresh eggs plucked from the coop and the rambling, white farmhouse, curtains billowing in the breeze.
To the eye, the work consists of no more than six colours: white, yellow, green, blue, purple, and black. The tones are earthy and muted, the sheep almost blending into the clouds, the grass swallowing their black feet. The sky is not the picturesque blue shade of a tranquil day, but it’s not menacing either; the possibility of a small purple storm lingers in the distance.
Focused on the field, I’m nostalgic for a solo trip to Wales a dozen years ago, exploring all the out-of-the-way villages I’d seen in books. Travel is best done alone, I think, and this trip was a gift to myself after finishing graduate school. It was on a drive through North Wales that I crested a hillside and came upon a flock of sheep grazing the patchwork quilted countryside. I stopped the car and got out, feeling an instant kinship to these animals and their way of life: wandering, resting, and snacking. I watched them in silence as they watched me. We are all so curious about each other, I thought—sheep too.
Here was a flock roaming freer than in the petting zoo but still contained by the farm’s boundaries. Even the sheep of my painting were confined by the edge of the canvas. Were there no sheep left that were truly free? The child in me that day still wanted to pet one, but the adult in me was wary of getting nipped.
The signature element, however, is, to anyone else, the painting’s flaw. From the body of the innocent sheep on the left, the one absent-mindedly munching on sweetgrass, drips a white streak of paint that trickles, unintentionally, through the green meadow. You imagine an art appraiser readying his magnifying glass, only to lower it slowly, wondering what kind of joke you’re playing.
At least one friend has suggested that with a little green paint, I could fix that right up.
For five dollars at a yard sale in Belmont, MA, it was a steal—the work of an amateur with some skill who didn’t bother to clean up the drip. “My dad painted that,” a boy told me, taking my crumpled dollars. A guy who thought, Eh, somebody’ll buy it.
I couldn’t not buy it. This, to me, was Art. Not the perfect bucolic scene of serene sheep with a herder in the distance holding a staff, but a painting unlike any other that needed no signature or authentication. Its uniqueness spoke to my quirky desire for the unloved, the thing left behind. It has a lot to do with why I go to yard sales—on missions of rescuing unmatched candlesticks and books in need of a reader.
Pottery Barn houses mystify me. I don’t want to own the coffee table—and certainly not the art—of my neighbour. My neighbour, however, is equally mystified by my love of a sheep painting gone awry.
I remember spilling paint once as a seven-year-old in an after-school art class taught by former hippies in their home in Cambridge, MA. I tipped something over by accident—a jar of paint or the colour-tinged cup of water holding our brushes—and the colours spread all over the painting of the girl next to me while she was at the sink washing her hands. As cool as it looked—her painting was enhanced by the spill, I thought—I knew she wouldn’t think so, and I slipped out before the outcry. I lived right around the corner from that house for years, and it’s funny how shame follows you, like the beady eyes of a sheep.
Maybe staring at the painting is penance for ruining that girl’s picture. Or it’s a pining for a way of life that resonates with me, however unrealistic: the sheep, the chickens, the farm-fresh milk, and rhubarb pies on the windowsill. More likely though, it’s a selfish love of a piece of art that I, alone, love, dribble and all. I feel a kinship to the collector in whose house hangs Leaving the Paddock, by Edgar Degas, stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, both of us gazing upon our paintings in the same protective way. We share a bond, and perhaps a pang of guilt, that our masterpieces may never be appreciated by another.
Jaqi Holland is a writer and copyeditor living in Salem, MA, with an affinity for imperfect art and children’s art, particularly paintings discovered at yard sales. She has an M.A. in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College where she works in academic support.
The Vision of Chancellor Rolin
Chancellor Rolin is on his knees before his prie-dieu.
He sees a vision of the Virgin and Child before him.
His gimlet eye assesses them, as if about to negotiate
a deal; reach some accord; strike a bargain with heaven.
Rolin knows many secrets, who can be bought and how.
That brocade gown cannot disguise his calculating heart.
Beyond the window the river purls toward the horizon.
This land profits him more than the peasants who work it.
As Chief Adviser to the Duke of Burgundy he knows
all the ways to manipulate with bribes and threats
in the court and market. His portrait is by the top
court artist; nothing but the best can purchase piety.
Colin Pink’s poems have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines and often in the The Ekphrastic Review. He has published two poetry collections: Acrobats of Sound, 2016 from Poetry Salzburg Press and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, 2019 from Against the Grain Press and he has another pamphlet (Wreck of the Jeanne Gougy) and a full-length collection (Typicity) forthcoming in 2021.
Book of Kells: St Matthew
The man is eyeless, or his eyes are fixed
on something we can’t hope to see. Beneath
his naked feet, geometry – a field
of abstract pattern where we might perceive
the heads and feet of beasts and fowls. Beside
the man – a calf, an eagle, though to each
abstraction comes, as if the absolute
burned through their flesh and bone. There is a sort
of door or hallway arching past the man’s
gold locks, his halo, vault on vault in much
the way one meets in church doors. In his left
long-fingered hand, a closed book. Who is this
that comes in glory? What is in the book
he has not opened yet? What does he see
that we do not? In red and gold and blue
and lilac he has come to us on this
bare vellum rectangle. The swirl and line
of vision wraps around him. As we gaze
we are made holy. There is no escape.
John Claiborne Isbell
Since 2016, various MSS of John Claiborne Isbell’s have placed as finalist or semifinalist for The Washington Prize (three times), The Brittingham & Felix Pollak Prizes (twice), the Elixir Press 19th Annual Poetry Award, The Gival Press Poetry Award, the 2020 Able Muse Book Award (twice) and the 2020 Richard Snyder Publication Prize. He published his first book of poetry, Allegro, in 2018, and has published in Poetry Durham, threecandles.org, the Jewish Post & Opinion, and The Ekphrastic Review. As a young man in the 1990s, he published books with Oxford and with Cambridge University Press and appeared in Who’s Who in the World.
The Great Wave and Katsushika
The fishermen bowed their heads waiting for the blow. They had known the wave was out there, circling the seas in a never-ending rush of rage, fury and power. Tales had been told by those who had seen others crushed beneath the rampaging wall of foaming water, but never by any who had actually been consumed by the curving carving crescent of seething white and blistering blue, for none had survived a face-to-face encounter.
But the fisherman had taken the risk, for rough seas throw up the fish, bringing the large lurking treasures from the sea floor up to the surface.
And none of them had ever actually seen the Great Wave and knew better than to fully fear a myth.
But now they could see it, and it was greater than they could ever have imagined.
Even Fuji, the mighty mountain, the untameable tower, cowered at the sight of the on-rushing Great Wave.
The fishermen bowed their heads waiting for the blow, for it was too late now to attempt to flee. They were waiting for the smash that would shatter down on them from on high, their bamboo boats which had seemed sturdy on the shore to be splintered into kindling by the ferocity of the Great Wave.
They had been in choppy waters before, laughed as the wind whipped the waves into a frenzy, sending showers of salty brine over their weather-beaten faces.
They had won those battles, but this wall of water was the full war bearing down on them now.
Only Katsushika raised his head as the Great Wave roared its approach.
No, he cried in his mind, I will not bow out like this. He gritted his teeth against the whirling blizzards sweeping and sucked by the Great Wave.
He heaved on the tiller and turned his boat so he faced the wave head on.
And he felt the Great Wave see him and he felt the Great Wave laugh.
Finally, someone was posing a challenge.
The Great Wave rushed towards Katsushika, and Katsushika was pulled towards the Great Wave by the water being sucked up to fuel its mighty face.
He gripped the tiller, holding it firm, strong and straight, his eyes narrowed against the spray spattering his face, and the boat started to rise, soaring vertically up the sheer front of the Great Wave.
Be strong, his mind screamed, keep true, and with every grain of strength and courage he kept his boat straight as it rose higher and higher towards the over-bearing peak.
And just as he felt his craft starting to be pushed upside down by the Great Wave, he felt the water give, and he burst through the crest and sailed down its back.
He had looked The Great Wave in the face and he had won.
And behind the wave was calm, and a large squid sprawled dazed on the surface ready to be finished off and fished out by Katsushika's harpoon.
Duncan Leatherdale is an award-winning journalist and author based in the UK.
Your chances of winning the Flash in a Flash contest, here, are pretty good - so far no one has signed up (as of Feb 20).
On the Ides of March, you have 24 hours to write, polish, and submit a flash fiction story. The prompt will be posted at 12.01 on March 15 and your work is due at midnight.
First prize is $100. Entry is $10.
Our challenges and general submissions remain free and are unpaid. Your contest fees help the journal immeasurably and have allowed us to start having occasional cash prizes for writers. Much appreciated, thank you!
Get the details here, and sign up today!
The Wounded Angel, Hugo Simberg, 1903
The kid on the left is me. I’ve just stolen
hubcaps, regret stealing hubcaps, have just
had my own hubcaps stolen, and here I am,
back to work, EMT, how they hire children,
how they fire children, tire children, pyre
children, how the dying angel was working,
blinded by the mines, the front kid mortician
with his black stolen hat, how we slog, how
we keep doing this, the emptiness of this job,
factory-faced, the training, how I did this
for years, ever since then, back then, my
face, then, so handsome and pissed.
Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press). Riekki co-edited Undocumented (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited The Many Lives of It (McFarland), And Here (MSU Press), Here (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book). Right now, he's listening to Tom Waits' "Hell Broke Loose."
The new prompt is up today. Don't forget that all challenges, contests, and related info are now posted at menu item above, "Ekphrastic Writing Challenges." If you click there you will always find the latest information through posts or links.
Click here for prompt and instructions.
Join us! Flash and microfiction, CNF and poetry all welcome.
There are almost six years worth of writing at The Ekphrastic Review. With daily or more posts of poetry, fiction, and prose for most of that history, we have a wealth of talent to show off. We encourage readers to explore our archives by month and year in the sidebar. Click on a random selection and read through our history.
Our new Throwback Thursday feature will highlight writing from our past, chosen on purpose or chosen randomly. You’ll get the chance to discover past contributors, work you missed, or responses to older ekphrastic challenges.
Hands, by Joan Leotta
Storyteller Joan Leotta also writes poetry and contributes her work regularly. Here she thinks about Rodin's sculpture of hands.
Vincent's Ear, by Heather Browne
Poet Heather Browne shows us how to look at Van Gogh's work anew.
Special Showcase: Ekphrastic Workshops with Bonnie Naradzay and the Ingleside Independent Living Retirement Community
Contributor Bonnie Naradzay began doing workshops at Ingleside when a poet friend of hers turned 98. The participants enjoy ekphrastic writing on occasion and we were very happy to share the results on our pages. One of the poets, Sarah Yerkes, went viral after a Washington Post feature about her publishing her first book at the age of 101.
House Behind the Trees, by Barbara Crooker
We have been fortunate to publish a broad selection of poetry by Barbara Crooker, who has written countless ekphrastic poetry collections. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 55 times!
Victorious Youth: a Sonnet in the Fibonacci Sequence+ by Leanne Ogasawara
An intriguing piece inspired by an ancient sculpture.
Silhouette, by Jennifer Martelli
Poet Jennifer Martelli contemplates the art of Kara Walker.
On the Water, by Ashley Mabbitt
Ashley Mabbitt takes us into a J.M.W. Turner painting.
Ekphrastic Challenge Responses on Toyen
Toyen is a surrealist artist known for darker themes and an examination of gender roles and sexuality.
We featured a curious painting in one of our challenges, and here are the amazing responses.
Recess, by Mary McCarthy
Longtime contributor Mary MCCarthy looks into Miro in the early days of our journal.
Would you like to be a guest editor for a Throwback Thursday? Pick up to 10 favourite or random posts from the archives of The Ekphrastic Review. Use the format you see above: title, name of author, a sentence or two about your choice, and the link. Include a bio and if you wish, a note to readers about the Review, your relationship to the journal, ekphrastic writing in general, or any other relevant subject. Put THROWBACK THURSDAYS in the subject line and send to email@example.com.
Liquorice Allsorts. Artwork by Patrick Hughes (UK) 1960
If flowers, fruit and jugs of wine,
why not a natures mortes of sweets,
laid out dismembered with eyes staring.
I can still taste them, coconut, vanilla
and more than a hint of exotic darkness.
Sometimes I would peel away the soft icing
with sticky fingers lovingly licked,
though never sure of the pebble dashed
round ones, best rolled between teeth
and a curling of tongue.
On sad troubled days, when parents fought
or pets died, Bertie B. was our childhood
comfort; a sweet reminder that come
what may, there was still a life;
and one of many sorts.
Doug Sandle is a writer, a psychologist and a former university academic. A Manxman, he came to study in Leeds in 1960, founding and editing several arts and poetry publications. His then contribution to Leeds Poetry is acknowledged in the Poetry Archive website of Leeds University’s Poetry Collection. He has been published intermittently over the years, including once sharing a poetry page with Harold Pinter. Recently his poetry has appeared in The New European, The Ekphrastic Review and the anthology The View from Olympia, poems on Olympic sports. He also writes plays and short stories.
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