Like the word, paint always became something more when she moved it.
Her stroke, a spell she did not understand beforehand, spoke.
Not until she let herself fall to the centre could she see the story she had made rise up around her.
Kathryn Douglas is the director of a university writing program, has been teaching undergraduate writing and graduate writing pedagogy for many years, and has an MFA in creative writing with a focus on poetry from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her current academic research focuses on using ekphrastic poetry to help freshmen see their creative potential as writers, and most of her writing has been academic, so she's working to find more time for poetry. She loves to read, write, sing, garden, hike, and visit art, and, in particular, photography museums.
Bear on a Barstool
A grizzly is sitting in a spotlight,
looking at something that is missing.
He is slumped, a sack of black fur,
his long snouted black-nosed face gazing
at the empty bar stool to his left.
The weight of the universe is on his shoulders,
shimming down through his fur black torso
to the base of his spine,
his tailbone pressed against the wooden seat,
high on its four thin cross-linked legs.
It is not clear whether this is a bar,
this Hopper-like pen and inked scene.
It really doesn’t matter –
just two bar stools, one bear, a spotlight.
It could be a stage, and he is waiting
for someone to make an entrance.
Whatever, this bear is looking for someone –
at someone – who isn’t there,
this precarious bear.
The white space above the empty stool
is the yin to his yang,
the anti-matter of black.
He could move to that stool
like a missing piece of a jigsaw,
but that would leave a void where he is right now.
There is no practical solution to this problem,
unless the artist can help him.
Groundhogs and a Globe
Gary is sitting on the North Pole,
his front paws neatly positioned,
side by side, just to the west of Ireland.
He is looking majestic, nose in the air.
Below him Graham is sitting tall,
short-tailed, his snout against the equator.
He appears to be scrutinising Côte d’Ivoire.
Occasionally he looks up at Gary.
Gary is sniffing the air.
Graham wants to be up there too
but there is no room,
and the sides of the globe are high and smooth.
Graham makes a salad of dandelion,
places the plate on the desk,
next to the base of the globe.
Gary sniffles, slithers, slips,
lands on the desk,
gnashes the greens
with his ivory teeth;
and while he is eating,
Graham starts to climb,
his long claws rasping and sliding.
The globe begins to spin,
faster and faster, as he scrambles,
jumping the arm on each pass,
blue and land whirling to white.
All Gary hears is a high-pitched whistle –
Ibis with an Inkwell
My dear Itsuhiko, –
Unless anything happens to change my plans,
I propose to fly to Japan tomorrow.
It has been a long time since
we met in Uttar Pradesh,
all those summers ago.
I remember the day that
you built me a nest in a saltwater marsh,
a solid construction of carefully chosen sticks,
lined with silvergrass and silken threads;
how we nuzzled together at night.
A lot has happened since then.
I settled down with an antiquarian,
surrounded by relics and rare books,
including (you may be interested)
Browning’s own copy of Pauline (Saunders and Ottley, 1833).
My antiquarian, himself an antique,
sadly passed away last winter.
I put the collection on eBay,
got enough to pay for a pond of my own
in its own private wood.
Life’s been good but, my dear,
I always wondered what would have happened
if the monsoon had not come that day,
if you and I had not been washed away.
My head is black from drinking the ink;
I cry black tears when I write.
I hope that you can read this;
I hope that you are there.
Until tomorrow, my dear Itsuhiko
Kite and a Kite
Bridle and tail,
lift and drag;
she is tethered
by an invisible hand.
He is entranced
by her abstraction,
of her form.
She has his colours,
yet is translucent;
the sunlight shines
through her wings.
He flies below her,
is solid between her
and the Earth.
He watches her soar and glide,
shifts in her ghostly shadow:
the doubles and seconds
of real things.
Newt on a novel
You know, this book is really not that good.
It is not about l’amour du triton,
affairs of the salamander,
the rapture of the fast-flowing stream.
It is not about how newts can regenerate
even tears of the heart.
It is not about exothermic love,
or the bed of a river,
the deep blue ocean,
where newts are at one with each other.
It is about a Kaiser Mountain Newt held captive,
fed on blackworms, bloodworms,
second instar banded crickets;
his biography, from hatchling to eft;
how he became a preacher of water;
how the water vanished into the sky.
The pages of the book are soaked, curling.
Anne Osbourn: "I am a plant scientist based in Norwich. I started writing poetry in 2004 when on sabbatical in the School of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia as a National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts Dream Time Fellow. My poems have been published in poetry magazines and international science journals. My first poetry book Mock Orange (SPM Publications) was a winner in the 2018 Sentinel Poetry Book Competition. I am also the founder of the Science, Art and Writing Trust (www.sawtrust.org), an educational charity that uses science as a meeting place for interdisciplinary adventures.
Kirsten Bomblies: "I am a professor in genetics and evolutionary plant biology based at the Swiss Federal Technical University (ETH) in Zürich Switzerland. I have been drawing my whole life. 1992-1996 I worked part time as an illustrator in palaeobotany and palaeontology to pay the bills while at university; this started my love affair with ink illustration. My fascination for combining human-associated objects with animals began fairly recently – while I lived in Norwich five years ago; the Alliterative Animal Alphabet followed as a two-year project, finished in 2020. Art is where I find respite from an intense daily life, which is why I generally reserve it as a hobby – to protect my love for it. "
William Carlos Williams: A Journey Into Art
‘The real innovations in art and in life, whether in literature or painting, depend on the manner in which the elements of one medium are translated to the conditions of another.’ Bram Dijkstra
Several years ago, I attended an exhibition of the collected works of Kasimir Malevich in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. What struck me as I moved from room to room was that, in this astonishingly diverse one-man-show, I was witnessing the very development of modern art. It also occurred to me at the time that Malevich’s wide embrace of the emerging styles within modernism had much in common with the ekphrastic poetry of William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), a poet whose close involvement with the visual arts resulted in many successful attempts to break through the boundaries of his own medium (as Dijkstra expresses it). Indeed, as we move, so to speak, from poem to poem, we find the influence of many diverse modernist styles reflected there, and the sheer variety of these texts suggests that Williams was exploring his aesthetic milieu with the same intensity that Malevich explored his. In this essay, I trace Williams’ whole-hearted embrace of the world of art that altered the very nature of his poetry and, as in Malevich’s paintings, reflect the developments in the visual arts themselves.
From Keats to Picasso
the ear and the eye lie
down together in the same bed’.
Written at the end of his life, these lines from ‘Song’ offer a witty self-retrospective on Williams' continual engagement with the visual arts. His choice of a biblical allusion here suggests the unlikely joining of two seemingly incompatible entities: the visual and the verbal arts and the boundaries that divide them. These lines are also the poet’s final signature to an entire body of work in which the visual arts play a central role, much of the poetry illustrating Williams' conviction that ‘to bypass the eye, you bypass the mind’. It’s not surprising that Williams focuses on the sense of sight in his verse, as his first artistic efforts were not in writing but in painting. As he states in his preface to Selected Essays, ‘I almost became a painter, as had my mother been before me, and had it not been that it was easier to transport a manuscript than a wet canvas, the balance might have been tilted the other way.’ Of course, Williams was not the only poet/painter of his generation, nor was he alone in integrating elements belonging to the visual arts into his poetry. Yet his inter-art experiments were far more diverse and had more far-reaching consequences than those of his contemporaries, and the poems which grew from these ventures into the visual arts were to have a profound impact on the development of American poetry.
Williams’ understanding of the ‘undying accents’ in his poetry as an equal fusion of the visual and verbal were the product of a long poetic journey, one that reflects the unfolding history of the visual arts in the first half of the 20th century. But his first poems (published in Poems 1909, and The Tempers, 1913), do not carry any suggestion of the impact that the visual arts would soon have on his poetry. These early poems, in fact, were quite different from the sharply-focussed and clean-edged verse for which Williams is best known. His 1909 poem ’First Praise’ is a good example of how little these poems carry Williams’ later conviction that poetic language must have a direct and unadorned relationship with its object:
Lady of dusk-wood fastnesses
Thou art my Lady
I have known the crisp, splintering leaf-tread with thee on before
White, slender through green saplings;
I have lain by thee on the brown forest floor
Beside thee, my Lady.
Lady of rivers strewn with stones,
Only thou art my Lady
Where thousand the freshets are crowded like peasant to a fair
Clear-skinned, wild from seclusion,
They jostle white-armed down the tent-bordered thoroughfare
Praising my Lady.
These studiously romantic lines were written as an occasional poem recalling a visit to Williams’ girlfriend Flossie and her family at their summer home in Cooks Falls, New York. Aside from its excessive sentiment in view of the occasion, the poem does not yet suggest Williams’ later drive toward minimalism, which was soon to do away with what he called ‘stock responses, overripe images and the decayed rhythms of the language’. Williams himself looked back on poems like this one with dismay at their ‘falseness’ and the fact that ‘I knew nothing of language except what I’d heard in Keats or the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood’. Yet by the time Williams had written ‘The Arrival’ in 1915, it is clear that he had not only rejected the language of his earlier poems but presented even the objects of his devotion from a perspective unclouded by romantic idealism:
And yet one arrives somehow,
finds himself loosening the hooks of
in a strange bedroom
Feels the autumn
dropping its silk and linen leaves
about her ankles.
The tawdry veined body emerges
twisted upon itself
like a winter wind.
The difference between these two poems suggests that a remarkable development had taken place in Williams’ approach to his verse. Indeed, ‘First Praise’, with its focus on idealised beauty, prevents any concrete perception of the lady herself; but in ‘The Arrival’, a more realistic image of beauty emerges - one that lies outside the tradition of the love lyric and other poetic norms. But more than this, we also find here a significant deviation from the conventional idea of poetic subject matter: a ‘tawdry, veined body, is quite unlike the kind of beauty that inspires the praise of a ‘thousand freshets’.
Although this later poem is still far removed from the form Williams’ poetry was to take, its engagement with the object (which at this point has as much to do with the ‘Objectivist’ movement as it has with the visual arts) is still far more direct than the distancing panegyric of ‘First Praise’. Williams’ drive toward minimalism eventually produced poems like ‘This is just to say’, a husband’s loving apology to his wife:
This is just to say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold.
So what happened in these intervening years that would have had such a pronounced impact on the structure and focus of Williams’ verse? The Armory Show of 1913 happened.
The Armory Show
Officially known as the ‘Exhibition of Modern Art at the 69th Regiment Armory on East 25th Street’, the show was launched by the avant-garde Association of American Painters and Sculptors, which famously exhibited (among other art styles) modernist 20th century works by Picasso, Georges Braque, Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Ferdinand Leger, Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck, Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi and Alexander Archipenko. Modernist art embraced a number of radical movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism and others, and their common goal was to move away from realism and representationalism toward abstract art. This move was to prove highly challenging for many of the American public, who were used to realism and confused by abstraction.
(For a short BBC video on the Armory Show and its impact, see:
One member of the American public who was not distressed by the new abstract art was Williams, who was beginning to find his own poetic voice during this period, a period which had already witnessed considerable innovation and cross-fertilisation among the arts; in fact, the Armory Show was the single most important event that was to have far-reaching consequences for Williams. This exhibition, which was, according to John Hartz, ‘the most significant, improbable and iconoclastic art exhibit ever presented in America’, was organised to promote new developments in American art and with the Armory Show they intended to mark, as Walt Kuhn writes, ‘a starting point of the new spirit in art …and make the big wheel turn over in both hemispheres.’ This ‘new spirit in art’ was not lost on Williams, who immediately understood its implications for his own poetic art. As he explains in a 1963 essay:
'In Paris, painters from Cezanne to Pissarro had been painting their revolutionary canvases for fifty or more years, but it was not until I clapped my eyes on Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase that I burst out laughing from the relief it brought me! I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my spirit for which I was infinitely grateful.”
The enormous weight was the ‘encumbrance of traditional poetics and the dominance of the academies’. What was most attractive about the new forms which he saw at the Amory Show was that they suggested a more direct means of recording experience. For Williams, this meant the discarding of metaphor - or, in. his own words, ‘all the pretty glass balls’ - in favour of a direct engagement with the object and ‘one clear moment of perception’.
Williams underlines the importance of this decision, when he writes:
‘The coining of similes is a pastime of very low order …much more keen is that power which discovers in things those inimitable particles of dissimilarity to all other things’. This stress on paying attention to separate elements, or ‘particles’ of objects rather than on their similarity to other objects (ie, metaphor), can be seen in his poem ‘To a Solitary Disciple’ (1916). Here, he begins by directing the writer (and reader) to notice how the moon is ‘tilted above/the point of the steeple/than that its colour is shell-pink …’ and to ‘…observe that it is early morning’ rather than that ‘the sky is smooth as a turquoise.’ Most significantly, the rest of the poem is informed by the important innovations that Williams discovered at the Armory Show, specifically those of cubism:
How the dark
of the steeple
meet at the pinnacle -
Perceive how its little ornament
tries to stop them -
See how it fails!
see how the converging lines
of the hexagonal spire
escape upward -
that guard and contain
This poem bears witness to the fact that in a very short time following the publication of ‘The Arrival’, Williams was concentrating on a specifically pictorial approach to poetic form. The careful attention to the geometrical nature of the object, such as references to the ‘division’ of the ‘converging lines of the hexagonal spire’ - are a direct borrowing from both cubism and futurism. It is clear that, following the Armory Show, Williams’ verse began to give evidence of an entirely new way of looking at objects. ‘Seeing’, for Williams, (as Peter Halter has pointed out in The Revolution in the Visual Arts and the Poetry of William Carlos Williams) is ‘to perceive and feel the visual dynamics inherent in all forms and colours, and to assess the dynamic patterns that result from their interaction…an interaction which imitates the movement that flows through any work of art’. Williams did not regard his attempt at ‘seeing’ as a solitary venture: the reader of this poem is repeatedly asked to ‘grasp’, to ‘perceive’ and to ‘see’, and becomes as much the viewer of an object as the reader of a poem.
Williams went on to experiment with many modernist art movements during this period, and one need only notice the dates of publication of these poems to comprehend the intensely exploratory nature of his ekphrastic poetry. These poems (most of which were published in Spring and All, 1922) truly reflect the energy and diversity within the world of the visual arts during the first years of the 20th century. It is important to note that various movements in the visual arts and literary arts did not (and do not) develop in isolation, and the modernist period witnessed a substantial overlap between the arts and their ideologies. It is not surprising that these are reflected in Williams’ ekphrastic use of paintings and their various styles. As Paul Mariani points out in his biography of Williams A New World Naked, ‘art, like baseball and medicine, was for Williams very much a team effort.’ That Williams saw poetry as an integral part of the art ‘team’ is evident throughout his verse and these are the innovations that helped ‘turn the big wheel in both hemispheres’ in art and in literature.
Valerie Robillard was a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands (now retired). She is the author of The Ekphrastic Moment in the Poetry of William Carlos Williams (1999) and her website on ekphrasis (‘Poems Meet Paintings’) can be found here.
The Exhibition, by Joyce Bingham
I keep my mind vacant as a new canvas. I want the exhibition to reveal my utmost desire, to tell me how to feel. It may destroy me, disfigure my body, I welcome the danger. The Curator accepts my signed disclaimer, and money transfer with a smile.
Placing my right hand on the wall, I feel the thrum begin. Each finger vibrates, the pull of power is strong. My thumb stings with red, it tingles like the edges of fire. Index fingers feel blue, the chill caressing like waterfalls. Middle fingers prickle with yellow, dappled like a thousand dandelion serrated petals. The blackest of night flows through the ring finger. The smallest finger keeps the proportions of colour together, swarming into an eye watering whiteness.
The paintings are warming up, flexing their muscles under their canvas preparing to be seen in their full glory, the Curator calls, good to go. I place my left hand on the wall, it is the controller, the artist, channelling the colour mixtures thrown at my senses. It keeps the vibrancy in check allowing me to hear, see and feel the works of the masters. I’m pulled into the wall.
Leonardo greets me and sits me in front of La Gioconda. She smiles, revealing her white teeth and dimples. She has a bruise on her neck, a love bite or a pinch. Leonardo warns me with a wave of his fingers to pass this by and instead look into her eyes, linger in their enigmatic grace. She looks at me, into my future, beyond all that she knew. She closes her eyes, the knowledge in her face shines through. My own bruises whisper, longing to share our pain, but my time is up.
Caravaggio appears, his Fortune Teller is looking into the eyes of a young man, his lust seeping from every pore. She smiles in deceit as she removes his ring, the reading of his palm a pretence. Returning his ardour, the rest of his money no longer in his pocket. She turns to me, looks into my soul, she knows her lies, I deny mine. Synapses unlock, paths rewire, I see my deception. Confession bites at me like a scourge of mosquitoes. Caravaggio hastens my departure, he has lies of his own to manage.
Frida Kahlo, nods a welcome, her eyes bright, suspicious, but she nods to her Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. She is her own self-portrait. Thorns pierce her neck. The sharp points twist in my skin, blood dripping, the monkey tightens its hold, digging the truth in further. The black panther bares its teeth, hissing bad luck. Frida looks away, I am not worthy of her time, my suffering is insufficient, my falsehoods spread too far.
The curator bows as my hands are removed from the wall. Two hours have passed in a fleeting moment.
I rest my worn-out hands in deep, gel filled bandages as the pain courses from my ruined fingertips to my arms, my heart, towards my hunger for forgiveness.
I hope it is not too late.
Joyce Bingham is a Scottish writer who enjoys writing short fiction with pieces published by Ellipsis Zine, FlashBack Fiction, VirtualZine, Funny Pearls and Free Flash Fiction. She lives in the North of England where she makes up stories and tells tall tales. @JoyceBingham10
Throwback Thursday: Yellow to Welcome Spring, with Alarie Tennille
Every winter I grow weary of the gray, though this year I have an adorable gray kitten in the house to keep my spirits up. Spring arrives late in the Midwest. In Virginia, where I was raised, flowers have been blooming for weeks. So I’ve selected yellow works of art from the archive that inspired writing to lift our moods.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle: And Simply Read
We get a double dose of sunshine from the girl’s daffodil dress to the pleasures of reading. Small wonder I couldn’t resist buying a print of this Fragonard painting when I was in high school. I’ve always had my nose in a book.
Sheila Wellehan: My Life with Matisse
Wellehan made my selection process easy by celebrating the vibrant colors and subjects Matisse is known for.
Judy Kronenfeld: Unfinished Painting
The painting welcomes us into a new day with it’s soft glow of yellow and serenity. Then Kronenfeld makes us wish to linger there with her powerful last stanza. We’re trespassing, but relish the chance to do so.
Mary McCarthy: Vincent
When I think of vivid yellow canvases, Van Gogh is the first artist I think of, which is one just one reason McCarthy was brilliant to use “Vincent” as the title instead of giving the wheat field or crows the credit for the painting’s electric pulse and that killer ending.
Bill Waters: A Found Poem, Submit
You may disagree about yellow being the main focus of this painting. After all, there’s a fair amount of Luzajic’s flirty pink and dramatic black to hold the painting down to earth. Yet I applaud the yellow for setting the playful tone that Waters bounced around like a balloon.
John Skeen: Inside and Out
The bird in the photo doesn’t just sing spring. He is spring, and he brought that feeling to John Skeen, too.
Barbara Lydecker Crane: Painting Henry
You might be surprised I chose this selection. It’s not the bright, springy, feel good moment caught in the other paintings, and the color is more greedy gold. But the insider
joke and mockery of Henry VIII make me laugh.
Kate Young: How Lovely Yellow Is!
It’s fitting to end this throwback admirationg of yellow with a poem specifically targetting the color and capturing the spirit and rooms in which Van Gogh lived and breathed his art.
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.
Along with your picks, send a vintage photo of yourself!
I’ll Say I Know Buddy, And They’ll Let Me Eat In
Finally lost Nick. My bet, he’s down Tennessee. Always finds bus fare to go cryin’ to his momma, Nicky does. I’m meeting Buddy, I’ll say. Or maybe, I’m waiting for Buddy. Maybe put my jacket down first. No, just order, don’t give ‘em time to think. Coke and steak‘n’fries, real hot. Got some money today, yes sir. I’ll pay for my sizzling plate, scoop up that change real easy, like I do it every day, and slip my ass into a seat, casual. Use that little wooden pick like a silver fork. Like Buddy’s on his way any second. Maybe even strike up a little conversation. They’re not bad guys, I know. And I’m a- ok today.
This piece was inspired by Fish and Chips, by Brett Amory (USA) 2015. Click here to view it.
Kalliopy Paleos is a teacher of French with roots in Greece, France, and the US. Her poems and micros have recently been seen in the Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge and Mediterranean Poetry. Interests include 18th century history and staring at trees while thinking.
Loneliness Naked on the Grass
The collagist cuts precisely around her edges
careful not to damage hair, fingers,
skin, vulnerable as a snail without shell,
a pale tree whose outer bark
She won’t be needing clothes or shoes.
He offers her a pillow,
searches his files for the perfect
bed of grass.
He pastes her down. She must look
away from the castle. She doesn’t belong
inside stone walls feasting on stuffed swan,
peacock, mutton and tarts–banquets
of the wealthy. She doesn’t hunger,
almost like a mannequin,
a gift for men.
But he wasn’t thinking of them.
No one will question his intentions,
a reclining nude is the tradition.
His scissors hiss
as he cuts out contents for the basket:
a newborn. He never meant
to harm her daughter.
He was poor all his life, drawn to
women beyond his touch.
Haven’t you ever wanted
someone you couldn’t have?
Carrie Albert is a writer and visual artist. Sometimes these merge. Her works have been published widely in journals and anthologies, most recently: The Protest Diaries (B Cubed Press), Gyroscope Review, Sleet, Plumtree Homeless Edition and upcoming in Canticles and Spheres, Propertius Press. She lives in Seattle with her papier-mâché animals.
A Game of Patience, by Helen How
A Game of Patience
The door clicks closed behind me.
Julia glances up, poised mid-game, a playing card held aloft in her delicate,
elegant, long, tapered, thin, white fingers.
In that pregnant moment between now and the future, no sound.
My eyes and brain freeze the scene, burning it acid-sharp in memory.
This is a moment to which we can never return.
She sits in her virginal, soft-folded, cornflower dress, cotton-trimmed
with angular severity.
She will make a good nurse.
She has whiled away this sultry afternoon, patiently.
She is faintly puzzled now.
I have left the fields. Left the men to the burning, harvest heat. They will surely slack.
The circle of the green-baize table traps the circle of cards.
On the table, two apples, one rich, ripe and tempting, the other a bitter gall.
From beyond the open window, a hot draught eddies across the room,
Stirs a stem of barley, carelessly abandoned to its fate
A poppy bud, prematurely picked, falls to the floor
Like Janus, I stand at the thresh
But the door to ‘before’, is closed.
Now we can only look forward to
Future or no future.
The die has been cast
The Black King revealed.
Julia’s bare and barren fingers are poised,
Taut, ready to turn the next card
She is expectant,
This woman with burnished, copper hair and stiff spine.
She knows I have not brought a marriage proposal
Thought that may follow,
Sooner than we expected.
With impassive gaze and oblivious expectancy, she waits,
To speak is to sin
To break this moment
The burden of my news weighs heavy on my heart
Still, Julia waits with practised poise.
‘They’ve declared war’
Slowly, she blinks and turns her head
To the scene outside
Where the men toil in the poppy-stained fields
Until their card is called.
Helen How is an award-winning writer living on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. Her family roots are Gaelic-speaking Scots and she enjoys performing and writing to share the culture of both North-East England, where she grew up, and Scotland, her chosen home. A professional writer and teacher, she now devotes her time to creative writing. Much of her work embodies the haunting tone of childhood memories and the stories told to her by her parents and grandparents. She takes her inspiration from folklore, the landscape and art.
(Emily Carr, Canadian artist & writer, 1878-1945)
Stand still. The forest knows
where you are. You must let it find you.
The subject is movement
—and sky: a rising
surge of repetitions,
brush strokes like auras, arcs
through the undergrowth,
across the gravel pit
past loggers’ culls
beyond the vertical
spars of trees.
Today, Vancouver’s children
pay crayon rainbow homage.
To be an Emily, all you need
are bright, vibrating lines,
your vision drawn, as hers was,
onto fields of air.
Then file out
of doors, art in hand, and down
the sunny walk. Never mind
hills, ridge upon ridge
green brown to green black
to green blue--
or the reverse
avalanche of clouds
the upthrust trunks, the roots’
ii. Monkey Puzzle Tree
(Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C., 2002)
Serrated, drooping, with stiff
each branch makes a ristra of knife-
edged, succulent stars.
A cactus in the rain forest?
One of her cubistic dreams?
Its palette spells restriction,
a dark, puritanical green,
but the underwater sea
creature it conjures casts about
in wild contortion.
Snaking branches, Medusa’s
tortured hair. Independent.
Don’t touch! No other
of its kind on the continent.
A loneliness, beloved,
she might have said, of the sky.
(Tsatsinukwomi Village, 1907)
I slept in tents, in roadmakers’ tool sheds, and in Indian houses.
I travelled in anything that floated on water or crawled over land.
No more the timid student, too shy
to view a naked model, you have come
up the coast by boat, alone,
and are not afraid now to sleep alone
in the emptied longhouse. You step gingerly
past banana slugs, dodge famished
cats that swirl underfoot as you tramp
the rotting plank walk out to the edge
of the abandoned Indian village.
There, through clouds of mosquitoes
and stinging nettles higher than your head,
you slip, fall before D’Sonoqua, woman
of the woods, stare stunned into the wild
OO’s of her eyes, the black cavity
of her mouth, its breath filling the air
between the outstretched arms,
the dangling, eagle-headed wooden breasts.
Easy sacrifice—if burning skin is all it takes
to find her, this towering totem, partner
of Raven, figure to warn children against.
Witch Woman, hungry, unappeasable, you
must capture her before moss and rain reclaim
the heavily sculptured torso and the eyes that echo
through you until you hear your own fear
beating inside her body’s hollow drum.
or is it burl? The knot on the trunk,
the condensed whorled pattern
in the wood. Then the unraveling, the out-
reaching. Knot as navel, wrist, magic
spot these ribbons extend from. The witch
in the wood is breathing, extruding a bouquet
of scrawny spruce fingers, a root system
grasping for air twenty feet above the ground.
So this is how forest becomes sea--
a voyage the mind takes, anticipating
boundless waves, new islands
of light, the brush stirring in its wake
the fingers tagging clumsily along.
Emily, old girl, you have us
bouncing through a whirl-
pool you long ago defined.
With what relish you frame
these tumults of cloud, boiling
eddies of sky, thunder
we can almost see
crumpling the canvas surface.
Tempting to ask
why you would have none
of it, not Georgia’s flagrant petals
or Frida’s florid hearts. Why
you favored greens, not reds.
Not flesh but the mind home-
bound Emily knew was “wider than
the sky.” In love with trunks, ferns,
bark, and air, high and fathomless--
abrupt maiden, vagabond sister
how can we know you except for
these coils, spurts, cascades
of writhing growth, a raw sexual
force your forests understand.
viii. Indian Basket
Between its earth-red stripes
a tawny grass wind blows
like currents around a globe
in arrows of circulating light.
She wants to breathe inside
its brittle flexibility,
immerse her face in its darkness,
leave it out in the rain
and inhale the sweetgrass smell.
Recalling Sophie, her basket-
maker friend, Emily strokes
the knobs grass makes crossing
over grass, thinks she might
dissolve at the edges,
the way its curved sides
alter the space around it.
(Victoria, B.C., 2002)
Teatime and the Bengal tiger
in the Kipling Room at the Empress Hotel
still sends its stuffed snarl through sun-
slatted afternoons, potted palms and lace.
Down the street, past the place of your birth,
herons fly from the park where you painted,
soar above your “House of All Sorts”
in their daily departure for the shore.
stands display at the Royal Museum.
Klee Wyck the Haida name you, “Laughing One.”
But by the time you finish your “Potlatch Welcome”
the Crown will already have banned
the dancers, locked up elders, grandmothers--
the gift of feasting forbidden, the art of
gifting abandoned—and all the weave
unraveled until Sophie’s twenty babies
arrive half-starved and so silent the grave-
stone carver, not unkindly, calls her
his best customer, helps keep her tab alive
so she might place another marker
in the village’s overgrown burying ground.
Scrub, rearrange, reorder and resign
yourself to reduced circumstance.
The King’s radio message New Year’s Eve
still makes you cry. Crabby tenants.
Fix the plumbing, and the heat. In the center
of the ceiling paint eagles, still there.
Tlingit design. At last, pack your van. Collect
your menagerie. How many dogs? Add
boxes, sketchpads, your monkey and the rat.
Tighten canvas sides. Put the entire household
on wheels. Now leave. You’re off!
Summer’s woods at last. You’re old enough
to bathe naked in the stream.
Rivers of air fill your later canvases. Above
the Strait of Juan de Fuca, headlands you
climbed to sketch from, your skies unleash
reverberating lines. What did you see
but magnetism, subatomic timbres,
currents you struggled to make visible
until the ethereal became too bright to bear
and you re-entered shadow and wood. Green
drape of cedar. A trunk’s undulating stalk.
Regardless of horizon, all is swirling, fierce,
boring not down into darkness but through
these pulsing trees frame a birth canal
into the deeply scarred, deeply scarved dark--
your hand drawing the shawl of the forest,
coaxing her to lift her hem and let us in.
Terry Bohnhorst Blackhawk
NB: Italicized phrases in the poems are taken from Carr's writings.
These sequences are from the author's book, Escape Artist (BkMk Press, 2003).
Terry Bohnhorst Blackhawk is the founding director (1995-2015) of Detroit's InsideOut Literary Arts Project (www.insideoutdetroit.org) and the author of five full-length volumes of poetry and four chapbooks. Escape Artist (BkMk Press) won the 2003 John Ciardi Poetry Prize, and One Less River (Mayapple Press) was listed as a Top 2019 Indie Poetry Title by Kirkus Reviews. During her years as an educator, Blackhawk enjoyed using ekphrasis with high school and university students through the Detroit Institute of Arts. She writes about ekphrasis here. Teachers & Writers Magazine / Ekphrastic Poetry: Entering and Giving Voice to Works of Art
Bird in Flight
over the tree tops
a boisterous chorus--
even when not
conducting the wind
a raven shapes
the twilight sky
a single blackbird
swallows the day--
The Dreaming Muse
An infinite dream blooms inside the elegant head, at rest
on a pedestal. Her eyes close to the noise of the wakened world.
Cast in white marble, an ageless patina smooths brow and cheek, carved
in the edges of a crescent moon.
The air around her shapes itself into clean, linear features⸺an abstraction
of woman. One you might know at night; an evocation in the morning.
Her mouth is inscrutable. The marble softens at the Cupid’s bow, allowing
only the slightest opening of her lips.
Come closer and you will feel the cool breath of one descending into the deep
end of sleep; into a pool of lassitude.
Her dream is sweet, and so magically elsewhere – lapis skies swirling
with gold stars both day and night.
Exotic forests with sated tigers. Believing this dream will never end,
she cannot help but smile.
Barbara Sabol is a retired speech pathologist attuned to the music and timbre of voices in conversation, and within the lines of a poem. She writes both long-form poetry and haiku. Her fifth collection, core & all: haiku and senryu, was published by Bird Dog Press in 2022. She is the associate editor of Sheila-Na-Gig online, and edited the 2022 anthology, Sharing this Delicate Bread: Selections from Sheila-Na-Gig online. Barbara finds both editing and teaching essential to a sustainable writing life. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two wise old dogs, who listen to every line she writes.
The Ekphrastic Review
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