Fishermen at Sea
The walls are red, vibrant, and I’m in too far, somehow inside a stomach or a lung,
consumed or inhaled. The lining proud before the organ ruptures.
The painting stops me, eyes blown open.
A Turner sea in all its violence, in its relentless taking in and taking on the light.
When the tears come, they come without a sound, landing on my lips.
I lick them and taste the seawater. A gallery assistant is looking at me,
lines spreading on his forehead, around his mouth.
I see myself through his eyes:
a small, still girl, petrified by a painting.
I see myself through my eyes:
[Lost is what cannot be recovered in any approximation of its previous shape, not a
simple misplacing –keys falling behind the couch, a pen someone took home– but the
full friction of what can only be reclaimed momentarily in memory and dreams. When
I dream these days, I dream of the texture of the carpet underneath my bare feet and
how well the desk concealed the coffee stains. I dream of faces that keep slipping
through the definition of their shape.]
I see the painting through my tears:
the seagulls are the first to come into focus, these folds of white. Then the moon.
Then the lamp. Then the certainty of drowning.
Maria Schiza is a freelance writer and translator from Thessaloniki, Greece. She has graduated with a master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of Nottingham and is currently a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, studying ekphrastic poetry. Her work has previously appeared in Persephone’s Daughters, on the website of Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies, in Voices, and others.
Author Interview- Simply Being: Roula-Maria Dib
The Ekphrastic Review: Tell us a bit about the process and experience of writing this book. How did it come together in your mind, and what challenges did you face? Did things go according to plan, or did it take on a life of its own?
Roula-Maria Dib: I would say the book came to me, poem by poem, and it became one unplanned piece all on its own. The idea was to write my way out of lockdown, and although I’ve been writing poetry all my life, I found myself rigorously limning experiences and reflections during confinement. During this time, my relationship with poetry changed somehow. It became my portal into the world at a time when I was physically bound in an upper-floor apartment, spacious but lacking a balcony and properly opening windows.
I missed nature, relished in memories as I waited for better times. I sensed the painful birth pangs of the world and focused on the better outcome. Articulating these feelings through writing poetry helped me reflect on the different voices within, and the various levels of being that are at work. It made me realize that we need to preserve the adamantine quality of the spirit, which is not as flimsy as we may think it is.
Poetry also helped me travel at a time when I was in constantly making the effort to ward off cabin fever. And it worked. One day, I realized that sometimes, the only means of travel is a train—of thought. I wrote it down in my poem, “Moonlighting,” which paved the way for other poems.
Not all of the poems in the book were written during lockdown though, as many were penned and published in poetry journals a long time ago (pre-covid world). I added them to those I wrote during the early months of the pandemic and realized after about 30 poems that they are all expressions of different facets of being. I would say that it definitely took on a life of its own and sought me, rather than the reverse!
As a Jungian scholar and someone passionate about mythology and symbolism, what kind of connection do you see between art, poetry, and personal or archetypal psychology? Is art cosmic?
I believe in the cosmic nature of art. The archetypes are the essential movers behind all forms of creative endeavors (visual, verbal, musical), and personal psychology is also reflective of the archetypes at work during different circumstances and experiences. This is what Simply Being shows. Each poem has its own unique voice, and two poems from the same book can sound very different. The archetypal energies at work represent every single thought, idea, or personality that can potentially have a life of its own.
As a Jungian scholar I also believe in the Jungian method: the performance of our ideas. Active imagination. Acknowledging the many voices, which are true to our psyche. The connection—or rather, common factor—between art, poetry, and the archetypes lies in the nature of the symbol. Symbols are actually archetypal images, embodiments of psychic “matter”. And because archetypes are impersonal and universal in nature, the archetypal images (symbols) connect us with the cosmos.
What do the gods and their stories have to teach those of us who don’t see the world through a Romantic or mythic or religious lens?
It doesn’t matter, one does not need to view the world through the filter of myth or religiosity in order to learn from mythology, legends, hagiographies, etc. because these narratives are reflections of archetypes inherent in us all. And the archetypes are these gods, alive, immortal, collective, omnipotent, reborn through all of us, and have the power and ability to create. And their creative abilities/potentials are realized and actualized through us, through our art.
Hence literature and other forms of art that had always been modes of knowledge, as well as objects of beauty. It’s the repeated patterns (recast and re-awakened, generation after generation) that we learn from because we can relate to essential truths that have been acknowledged thousands of years ago and still speak to us in the same language of intuitively graspable knowledge. So whether we believe in them or not, these “gods” are in us, intrinsic and collectively shared.
Your book of poetry as a whole explores the theme of “being” and what that means philosophically, spiritually, and practically. I find it intriguing that so many of the tools we use to examine and express consciousness and the human experience are creative and not tangible- analysis, myth, spirituality, poetry, and art, to name a few. How does imagination help us understand existence? Does this suggest or prove that humans are different in their “being” than other animals or life forms? Is consciousness linked to self-consciousness and memory? Do writing and art reflect consciousness or did they create it?
The world, or life, is experienced in countless ways. Our empirical and rational perception of it is important, but it’s not all what really is. In an age of information and over-emphasis on the rational, sometimes it’s good to express the truth, rather than just read about it. That’s where the role of imagination comes into play.
And that’s what poetry, art, mythology, and religion show us: they express truths that can be scientifically explained. Sometimes we are more exact when we are more expressive, and we tend to understand more when we stop attempting to rationalize things and comprehend them (cognitively); at times, the connection we build with truths told by symbols, images, and metaphors has a lot more to teach us.
Thus, imagination helps us understand existence, as it works the archetypes into archetypal images, which is what art and writing is all about. The archetypes are potentialities that are actualized through our experience; they find their way into consciousness through many ways, art being one of them—so yes, I believe that writing and art reflect consciousness (and the conscious resurfacing of unconscious content).
Consciousness is linked to both self-consciousness and memory, though not exclusively.
As for the differences in “being” between humans and other life forms: our individual experiences, sensorial perceptions, and physical abilities vary, rendering us different in many ways. However, on a collective level, we share similar unconscious energies—again, the archetypes: their universal quality suggests that we share the same unconscious potentialities despite the fact that they are actualized or reflected differently. The interconnectedness between all life forms in the ecosystem suggests this common thread.
One artist you visit over and over as a writer and scholar is Vincent Van Gogh. He is also one of the most “ekphrasticized” painters in history, and we never tire of his imagery in museums, on mouse pads, pillow cases, and t-shirts. What is the draw for you personally? Why do you think his pictures are so essential to so many people?
Van Gogh himself was an ekphrastic painter—he wrote and appreciated poetry, and he saw painting as another medium for it, one that is accessible to all, claiming that “poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it.” He considered his paintings as visual poems.
More or less, the popularity and accessibility of Van Gogh’s works lies in his colourful depictions of nature, which was very inspirational and important to him. Van Gogh, as a derelict who greatly suffered from poverty and illness in life, shows how there is always room for happiness in life, and in nature especially. We can feel his attempt to preserve life energy in his artwork, for he himself had announced that the only time he feels alive is when he paints.
He found colours in the deepest depths of night, saying “I often think that the night is more alive and more richly coloured than the day”. Van Gogh’s paintings were all about light and brightness. Take for example his starry nights, yellow haystacks, and golden sunflowers, which people of all ages have enjoyed contemplating. He has brightened the lives of millions of homes that host replicas of these masterpieces. It’s the fact that they are sunflowers and the fact that his use of the colour yellow was very unique—he tries to capture the sun, to bring brightness and life into the inanimate. It was an incredibly special colour to him: “How lovely yellow is! It stands for the sun.”
And in his own way, Van Gogh was aware of the archetypal energies behind his work—he declared that he dreamt of paintings and painted his dreams. He understood the therapeutic powers of art, nature, and poetry, saying, “I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”
And this therapy is contagious, which I truly believe to be the main reason behind the popularity of his paintings; the eyes of his fans can sense this positive energy that found life in his paintings, despite the artist’s hardships.
Is ekphrastic writing a form of therapy or psychoanalysis?
Well, in a way, the patience and contemplation involved in writing ekphrastic poetry (along with the focus and the internalization, articulation and projection of experience onto art) is therapeutic. During hard times like these, with all the seeming inscrutability of the world, it helps to quiet down our minds, “commit metaphors” (also from “Moonlighting”) and open our eyes to a few things we never really stopped to contemplate before. During the deepest of uncertainties, it makes us realize that there is an ineffability of the world that we must respect.
As for the psychoanalysis aspect: although I am against regarding art as symptomatic or as a diagnostic tool, the projective nature of ekphrastic writing definitely manifests psychic content reflected through symbols and images. As I had mentioned earlier, the artist or poet is a vessel for art, for the concrete actualization of the archetypes.
What other poets are you reading right now?
I always go back to T.S. Eliot and Hilda Doolittle (HD). But I especially enjoy reading contemporary poetry such as the works of Ruth Padel, Nick Laird, Anthony Anaxagorou, and the wonderful contributors to Indelible: Hedy Habra, Steve Pottinger, Christine Murray, and my friend and fellow poet, Omar Sabbagh.
Chiron Publications, 2021
Get your copy through Amazon, here.
Get your copy through Chiron, here.
Dr. Roula-Maria Dib has a PhD from the University of Leeds in the UK. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the American University in Dubai, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Indelible, a literary journal. She is the organizer of the university’s Poetry and Spoken Word Open Mic series.
Dr. Dib is a creative writer and literary researcher. Her research interests lie at the interstices of psychoanalysis, mythology, modernism, and gender studies, which involve frequent forays into Jungian psychology, interdisciplinary works on the literary and visual arts, and the bridge between modernist literature and science.
Her poems, essays, and articles have appeared in numerous journals. She has authored a book, Jungian Metaphor in Modernist Literature (Routledge, 2020). Her hobbies include reading, traveling, photography, writing, and cooking.
Click here to read Roula-Maria's poetry and prose in the archives of The Ekphrastic Review.
Peeking through the frame of my front bedroom window, I watch as he tenderly unloads plastic grocery satchels like precious cargo from the hatchback of his camel-coloured Prius. The pale young man’s bushy ginger moustache and beard push against the pleats of his blue surgical mask. He could pass for the middle king in Gerard David’s imagining of Matthew’s gospel. He deposits the sacks carefully at the front door’s threshold like gifts from the three kings - - - my front porch sort of sanctified by Instacart groceries. I accept the provisions with a full heart. The blessings in the sacks are not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but just as exquisite after nine months of lockdown. Goldfish crackers! Frankfurters! Merlot!
Jude Bradley’s prose has aired on National Public Radio and has been published in Teaching in the Two-Year College journal, and Momentum magazine. Her poetry has been published by literary journals including Tupelo Press and Thimble. Her poetry and flash fiction re-envision classical literature and art and reflect on urban life in an ever-shrinking, ever-expanding world. Her poem “Argos” was nominated for the 2019 Pushcart Prize. She is lifelong writing teacher who loves to sing, dance, and garden. She is the Reverend Al Green’s biggest fan.
Amid the autumn’s regal masterpiece,
Shielding the cyan river from the cold,
Dark ‘gainst the background of the sandy fleece,
Framing its banks, they stand—folks say—of old.
Ginger and golden strokes of changing leaves
Hover around their bark — the giants smile
Jovially, nodding at the quick time-thieves,
Knowing that all time is a short while.
Lean silhouettes project a quiet grace,
Zestful I would not call them, but content,
Xenia’s spirit fills their form, her face
Can be discerned among the hours spent.
Venture then into the awaiting realm,
Blend with the undergrowth, you weary soul,
Neath ancient trees take refuge, let them whelm,
Mend you and rule you, make you small and whole.
Sasha A. Palmer
Sasha A. Palmer is a Russian-born award-winning poet and translator, who currently lives in Baltimore, MD. Sasha’s poetry, translations and essays appeared in Writer’s Digest, Slovo/Word, Cardinal Points and elsewhere. Sasha has a thing for the word “amateur” and tries to follow the motto she has created: Live for the Love of it. Visit Sasha at www.sashaapalmer.com
Ryan Sleeps Rough
The painter knows sleep can free us, lift us
from this bitter earth. O
flight and fancy. Art
in just two dimensions
can trick us into hope,
prank a wall apart
though it still stands--
concrete or mortared brick.
And so by paint and wish,
this bench takes flight
leaving below the slow
night traffic, the last sip
and all his belongings
plumped beneath his head--
good night. It rises, rides
above the windy leaves,
glides over slanted roofs
and windows dark and lit.
Notice how unknowable
and starless the sky is here.
When I was little I believed
if I stayed up all night
on Christmas Eve, I’d see him
and his magic deer, but sleep
always got the best of me.
And this illusion, though sweet,
cannot cheat so well. Draw
near and see how hard
the surface beneath it really is.
Matthew Murrey: "My poems have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, and Split Rock Review. I am a NEA Fellowship recipient, and my debut poetry collection, Bulletproof, was published in February 2019 by Jacar Press. I am a high school librarian in Urbana, Illinois. My website is at https://www.matthewmurrey.net/"
Late Painting: Path Under the Rose Arches
"Monet is only an eye—yet what an eye." Paul Cézanne
And now, the flowering arches become a child’s scribbles,
broad scrawls, sprawls of colour you can’t quite see:
braided ribbons of burgundy, navy, sienna, ochre, umber.
Each arch opens a passage, a tunnel, a path that leads on.
No more working en plein air, no more striving for the elusive
moment. No more series: stacks of wheat, a cathedral
in sunlight, trains at the station; no more smoke, fog,
the sun lying down on the sheaves. So many ways
to say good-bye. The short flicked brush strokes
that tried to catalog light’s changes now become gestures,
swoops and swirls. Monet said My poor eyesight makes
me see everything in a complete fog, and I’m feeling this, too--
something not yet diagnosed, needing more light to read.
Typos flit on the screen, escape my scrutiny. Lines fly off
the page during a reading. But I’m not ready to quit,
and neither was he. Despite his growing cataracts,
he picked up a brush, having memorized the placement
of pigments on his palette, and started in on the water lilies,
les Grandes Decorations, from the garden of his memory,
removing the horizon, letting the flowers float
on the deep blue waterfall of radiant light.
This poem was first published in The Valparaiso Poetry Review.
Barbara Crooker is the author of many books of poetry; The Book of Kells and Some Glad Morning are recent. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Bedford Introduction to Literature, Commonwealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania, The Poetry of Presence and Nasty Women: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse. www.barbaracrooker.com
Figure of a Farmer Holding a Goose
I could go for a man like this. His skin
literally porcelain. Diminutive, he fits
in a pocket. And he’s Danish!
He courts me with live poultry
and a backpack full of items I imagine:
summer beer (the same Ditley Hansen’s
brew he spoon-feeds his wounded horse),
black bread, salted herring, a sweet hunk
of butter. Even cutlery and a rustic
blue cloth! Perhaps a flute or lute. So what
if he’s out of fashion, if his short pants
and white stockings scream 1780.
He looks sturdy, has survived centuries.
His white shirt shines pristine, his brass
buttons wink, his waistcoat glows a grassy
green. He keeps his beard and mustache neat.
Though he’s likely not a delightful
conversationalist, nor one for inventive
recreation, he’s honest and solid.
The type I should have married.
He grows potatoes and cucumbers, owns
a goose. Maybe geese! He understands
what’s of use. Young women will look
right past him. Once I would have, too.
Jody Winer's poems have appeared in Epoch, The Massachusetts Review, Open City, phoebe, Poet Lore, The Saint Ann’s Review, South Carolina Review, The Spoon River Poetry Review, The Atlanta Review, The Harvard Crimson, Mudfish, and elsewhere. Winner of the 2019 Finishing Line Press Competition, her chapbook Welcome to Guardian Angel School was published in 2020. She is a fellow of MacDowell and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Raised in Florida, she lives in New York and has worked as a librarian, writer, and dog wrangler.
Let’s go into Exhibition Room 2. Here we’ve got our own collection. It’s not so spacious, so you can look around and get the whole picture. In the left corner, a middle-aged woman is seated on a chair. With a name tag pinned to her breast, she wears a white blouse and a black skirt. That’s me. Seated between Kandinsky’s Blue Rider and Yoshitomo Nara’s Broken Treasures, she pulls up her stockings.
Opening her mouth wide, she yawns, closes her eyes, and nods off. The whisky she’s brought with her in her water bottle begins to work on her. With her eyes shut, she makes a terrible museum security guard. But on a rainy day like this, we get only a few visitors.
“Hey!” a female voice says, and somebody shakes my shoulders. “Mumbling to yourself? You give me the creeps.”
I was so focused on giving myself a play-by-play description that I didn’t realize somebody came in.
I open my eyes and find an elderly woman with dark sunglasses in front of me.
“How many times do I have to ask? I need a guide.”
“I’m so sorry,” I apologize.
I bow and fall silent. Raindrops whip and lash noisily against the ground outside. In my mind’s eyes, rain pours like a waterfall. Water drips from the tip of the woman’s umbrella. Chilly raindrops streak down my stockings and wet my shins.
“Excuse me. You’re not allowed to bring an umbrella inside. Please place it in the rack outside the entrance door.”
“What an easy job you’ve got,” the woman says. “You just sit there like that and get paid.”
“Excuse me? I’m a bit hard of hearing.”
I brush hair out from behind my ear and reveal a hearing aid. She brings her face closer to me.
“Sorry. I can’t see too well,” she says slowly. “I didn’t notice your hearing loss wristband until now.”
“Excuse me. I shouldn’t be thinking aloud. No one had pointed out this habit to me before. Let me keep your umbrella.”
“Thank you. Say, I have a favour to ask. I want to see the paintings up close. I asked someone else before, but she said no.”
Of course, that’s a no-no. We’ve got to keep visitors away from the paintings. That’s our job.
“Only from the dead angle from the security cameras,” I say in spite of myself.
She then proceeds to see the paintings with her nose almost touching them. Nobody else comes.
She takes out her phone and brings it close to a painting. I clear my throat noisily.
“Thank you,” she says after one hour. “I had a great time. But I believe if you don’t lose your perception, you can see the blue in the Kandinsky with your heart instead of your eyes.”
“That’s great. When I saw you with your phone out, I thought you’d take a photo.”
“I didn’t do it. I didn’t touch anything either.”
“That’s because I breathed through my nose until you were done. That was my mission.”
“Oh, it’s just my good luck charm, so to speak. I didn’t trust you. So I challenged myself to breathe through my nose while I prayed.”
“Hey, are you Midori-chan, by any chance?”
“That’s me. Long time no see, Sakurako-san.”
“Oh, why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“You look so old, so I wasn’t sure if it was you. Eyesight can be cruel sometimes. I can see all your wrinkles. I’m glad you recognized me. If you didn’t, dynamites in this museum would have gone off.” I chuckle.
“Oh, you haven’t changed since middle school. Pulling my leg like that. Forgive me for being so blunt, but are you really hard of hearing? You seem to hear me all right.”
“Gee, what a shame. I hate you, after all. When I lost my hearing, I learned to read lips. Do you think I’m making stuff up? You always lacked imagination, Sakurako-san. You haven’t changed. You said you could see colours with your heart. That applies to others. As your situation changes, your perspective naturally alters. Everybody makes adjustments in order to survive. You were always self-centered back then, so this doesn’t surprise me.”
“Do you still hold a grudge against me?”
“What? Don’t you realize what you did? How your deeds made me suffer? If I managed to hold my breath from the vending machines to my house door, peace would have reigned over the world. But that day you got in my way. As I dashed toward home, you grabbed me and pulled my arm. I fell and released my breath. You were laughing at me. Then the TV showed horrific scenes of devastation after the earthquake. The jet-black world will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
“Are you crazy? You don’t make sense at all.”
“You just don’t get it, do you? My only wish is to complete my mission. Please go home, Sakurako-san.”
I sneak out before an employee comes to lock up the museum. I get on a bus and head home. I feel tired working all day. But I saved The Blue Rider. Once I’m home, I empty my whisky in the bottle. I gaze toward the calendar to check tomorrow’s schedule. Another mission awaits me at the zoo.
translated by Toshiya Kamei
Ayumi Nakamura is a part-time radio announcer based in Tokushima. In 2020, her short story “Ori” won the Tokushima Shinbun Award in the third Awa Shirasagi Literary Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Tokushima Bungaku.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.
This memory's sky is wider than high.
Ants never suffer regret.
When memories die, they don't ask why.
A lump with long lashes, an unseen eye.
Ants, in time, forget.
This memory's sky is wider than high.
This high desert wind sounds like a sigh.
Nothing ever gets wet.
When memories die, they don't ask why.
Time lies in pieces, it will not fly.
There is no safety net.
This memory's sky is wider than high.
The landscape listens, but does not cry
Over this warehouse of old debt.
When memories die, they don't ask why.
These watches are watches no one will buy.
This flesh lump's a mask we might have met.
This memory's sky is wider than high.
When memories die, they don't ask why.
Peggy Landsman is the author of a poetry chapbook, To-wit To-woo (Foothills Publishing). Her work has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including The Muse Strikes Back (Story Line Press), Breathe: 101 Contemporary Odes (C&R Press), Nasty Women Poets (Lost Horse Press), SWWIM Every Day, and Mezzo Cammin. This is her third poem in The Ekphrastic Review. She lives in South Florida where she swims in the warm Atlantic Ocean every chance she gets. https://peggylandsman.wordpress.com/
Exploring the Picture
Grope through fog,
stumbling over red
a floating in
and out of shape...
Now I walk
on plate glass
above brown water,
and pond grass,
cross a big depth
of dry yellow crust...
a football helmet
lined with red plush:
I curl up in it, awake
and find crayons,
on the sky.
I see a sun skewered
on a cock's comb
and a house,
maybe a friend's,
tilted on the horizon's mound--
in that house
I'd like to live.
This poem first appeared in Beauty/Truth.
Henry Stimpson’s poems, essays, humor, and articles have appeared in Cream City Review, Lighten Up Online, Rolling Stone, Muddy River Poetry Review, The Auroean, Common Ground Review, Vol1Brooklyn, Poets & Writers, The Boston Globe, Yankee, New England Ancestors, New England Monthly, Bostonia, Boston Phoenix, Beauty/Truth, Embodied Effigies, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Ovunque Siamo. He’s been a public relations consultant and freelance writer for many years. Before that, he was a reference librarian, the librarian of a maximum-security prison and a cabdriver. He lives in Massachusetts.
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