Special Showcase: Ekphrastic Workshops with Bonnie Naradzay and the Ingleside Independent Living Retirement Community
Special Showcase: Ekphrastic Workshops with Bonnie Naradzay and the Ingleside Independent Living Retirement Community
Bonnie Naradzay started leading monthly poetry workshops at Ingleside Independent Retirement Center in Washington DC around 2015, shortly after the 98th birthday of her friend, Henry Morgenthau III, who was an Ingleside resident. They had become friends in 2012 when they took a community poetry class together that fall; it was taught by David Keplinger, a poet and mentor on the faculty of American University. The format of the workshop, which is an hour to an hour and a half long, remains the same. She prepares a handout of 12 - 15 pages for each participant. The handout features poems by a single poet, with information about that poet’s work, or poems that focus on a poetic technique or tradition. The handout includes “writing suggestions” based on the information in the handout and on the poems, which serve as examples. At the following session, some participants bring poems they’ve written in response to the “Writing suggestions” to share with the group for discussion, so that half the time is devoted to these poetic efforts; the rest of the time is for exploring the new handout and taking a look at the “writing responses.” Quite a few times over the years, the sessions have featured the many ways to write ekphrastic poetry and include examples of poems paired with the works of art that inspired the poems. It is a wonderful means to practice “art” in more than one way!
Ladder to the Moon
When researching the location of Ladder to the Moon,
hoping to find it nearby (it’s in the Whitney in New York),
I learned that a decrepit ladder leaned against O’Keeffe’s stable wall
at Ghost Ranch and that a ladder is a Navajo symbol of the connection
between those of us on earth and those in the realm of the gods.
Living in the same country, and sensitive to the air, the light, topography
of New Mexico – she began developing the sensitivity of a Navajo.
The Pedernal mountain (her view from her studio) provides a sturdy base
for the image. Most of the picture is of the sky – from light to dark turquoise.
For Navajos, the stone symbolizes spirituality, good health, and creativity.
The reproduction I have shows me that the square spaces between rungs
are lighter than the sky behind them. Was this due to her poor vision
or does it emphasize that the ladder is floating in space?
Was the ladder really pink or did she choose the colour
to complement the sky? It does seem to be floating upwards.
She painted it in 1958 when she was 72 and beginning to go blind.
Perhaps she realized that she was on her way up the ladder, as well.
How better to express the imminence of the Final Journey?
The peaceful certainty of the floating ladder,
The comfort of the blue-green sky, the promise of the glowing half-moon
All combine to assure us of the gentleness of death.
Her early paintings show her intense observation of the details of life.
Here did she want to show us the beauty of the infinite?
Sarah Yerkes published her first book of poems this year at the age of 101. Her interest in writing poetry began in her mid-nineties after she joined the monthly Ingleside Poetry Workshop. In her professional life she was a practicing architect for many years; then she became interested in creating sculptures. Now she finds joy in sculpting imagery, memories, musings – through words on the page. Her ekphrastic poem “Pygmalion and Galatea” was read at the Burning Man Festival this year.
Ladder to the Moon
I’m gazing at the startling turquoise sky.
Thoughts take flight on the untethered ladder.
Across the horizon lies a dark line
Hiding peaks and valleys, rocks and trees,
Like a complex person I do not know.
All is dwarfed in endless possibilities.
I wonder what was on O’Keeffe’s mind.
As always, she articulates no message.
Pallid words, themselves lost in the sky.
After toiling up, our awe is speechless.
The moon is small, a distant reminder
Of whole galaxies beyond our endless space.
As I ponder, my feelings of awe are intense,
Words lost in that startling turquoise sky,
Untethered as the hand hewn ladder
And free to wander in my inner world.
As I gaze, relaxing into memories,
I stand on a mountain top with my Dad.
Our horses had toiled up a steep, rocky trail,
And, finally, exhausted satisfaction.
Molly Quinn, soon to be 80, has lived at the Ingleside Independent Retirement Center for three years. The Poetry Workshop is the high point of her month. Words have always been important tools for her as a parent, a writer, a teacher, and a psychoanalyst. She has twice received the Plumsock Prize for psychoanalytic writing; she finds poetry a delightful new challenge.
Meditation on O’Keeffe’s Ladder to the Moon
Ladder suspended in blue sky
Moon in its first quarter above
Hints of desolation below
Separated by wisps of clouds
Perhaps, a message of despair
Atmospheric trapping more warmth
Too much and too little water
Famine and distress on our sphere
Perhaps, promising future hope
The moon’s coruscating climax
Bathes earth in gilded brilliance
Bringing focus to the ladder
Up and down, sky and ground
Will despair turn to hope in time?
Ted Truman (78) is an international economist who worked at the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury; he moved to Ingleside seven years ago, and in 2015 he joined the Ingleside Poetry Salon. Here he has tried his hand at poetry and has applied himself with diligence to this art ever since. His abiding interest is in writing about nature.
A Dog’s Life at Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party
On a bright spring day
My person gave me a bath
Put me in a basket
Took me for a ride
Men were on the water
Sitting on a plank
Waving funny sticks
Not my kind of paddle
Moved from sun to shade
Table spread with food
They gave me some, of course
We were in France you know
Ladies smelled sweet
Flowers in a garden
Each gave me a cuddle
I’d rather chase squirrels
A Riff on Renoir’s Boating Party
Whoever has a “luncheon” today?
Nobody. Now it’s grab and go:
“Hey fella, you want fries with that?
Sit over there-- room to spare.”
Renoir’s impression of our past
Depicts the peak of civilization
When people had their values straight,
When doggies could be kissed at table,
And guys didn’t have to wear shirts.
Time itself lingering on
As alcoholic haze spreads
By breath that carries the soothing words
Of love and peace and je ne sais quoi
In an afternoon that lasts as long
As boundless beauty, wit and charm
continues to fill this natural space.
I love the hats. What’s up with hats
Today? Advertising egos
and heroes-- politics and sports.
And finally, again, the food and drink:
Why, who of us would ever think
We have it good today? No way.
Paul Armington (79) is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. He moved to Ingleside three years ago and joined the monthly poetry workshop. He is enjoying learning about poets and their writing styles through the ages, and he happily crafts poems now rather than economics position papers.
Still Life, Geranium, 1939
Two perfect apples, stem side down,
poised on a cloth like a prayer shawl, its blue
repeated in the furled border of a curtain that screens
all but a hint of sunlight. One more lone apple teeters
at the opposite table-corner.
Of the geranium: one does not see its strangled roots,
but how could they not be, the plant heavy with leaves
too large for its stunted blooms, bursting
from its too-tight clay pot? The leaves throw shadows
onto grimy diamond-patterned wallpaper, and the whole
of the arrangement rests on a small square table.
The tabletop, for the sake of perspective, appears
to slant downward, atop three too-short legs resting on a corner
of worn Persian or copycat Linoleum. Surely in real life
the whole of it--scarf, apples, dirt--
would have slid in a mess to the floor.
The shawl, the curtain, same table, different fruit:
he uses them, in endless re-groupings, on other canvases.
Little do we know of Remlinger: shy man, pauper,
sometime draftsman. The Pennsylvania Academy
said No to his offered bequest: No we cannot
give you wall space though your honours
in life have been numerous. And so did others
say No. Years later, in an attic,
a dealer said Yes: Yes I can move these.
Joseph Remlinger, with little hope in his life,
after death became part of "The New Hope School."
Like the precarious arrangement on the tabletop,
a reminder of the shiftiness of fame.
Look at it--on the white sun-shot wall
of a suburban kitchen,
the geranium is ablaze.
Elizabeth Stoessl lives in Portland, Oregon, after a long career as a public librarian in Arlington, Virginia. She is the owner of this painting, acquired from an art dealer in Pennsylvania. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Measure, Poetica, VoiceCatcher, Sow's Ear Poetry Review, and the anthology Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.
The Exodus to the Ark
A sightless fair-ground barker, so tall He’s surely stilted, beckons to the crowd;
Roll up! Roll up! He seems to call, for God’s Waterborne Salvation Show,
and points them towards the big brown tent whose ship-shaped form,
short wooden planks pointed like the brickwork of Albi cathedral,
juts out from the hill-top to their right – a creaky deus ex machina
creaking and moaning in the wind.
This is the primal dark and windy night, the start of every spooky tale;
grim swollen clouds scuttle overhead closing down the sky –
even the ground is grey and agitated beneath their feet. Turbulence
swirls about them, the rush of the wind the groan of the rising waters.
But they and the animals are unnervingly still in the eye of this storm;
only Noah, one arm about his wife’s shoulders,
seems to know what will happen. We must go up, he whispers.
Naamah his wife stares at the ground, God too majestic to contemplate;
she hasn’t understood her man for some time now – his relentless
compulsion to build this boat, his obdurate insistence
that their sons drop everything else and help him –
but has played the bridge between father and progeny, as she does still,
one caring arm on Noah’s waist, the other enfolding Japheth.
All her men have blood-red cloaks over ancestral camouflage kit; her
olive-green robe alone speaks of fecundity, past and perhaps still to come.
Does her back, her downcast look, reflect Eve leaving Eden?
Shem, Ham and Japheth, homunculi manikin versions of their father
disturbing tiny adults, half their parents’ height, as if they’ve been prised
from a Diane Arbus exhibition or played supporting roles in Tod Browning’s Freaks;
Ham glances sideways, seeking his father’s approval, it seems,
the other two gaze up at God – but where are their wives?
A lion and a lioness two leopards and two sheep wait patiently in line
for the ramp to be dropped, that they might go aboard;
we must imagine an almost endless line of pairèd creatures waiting to enter
the picture from the left – perhaps the wives are chivvying them along,
unseen but indispensible.
The water has some way to rise before the Ark will float
but God the ring-master will ensure that it does. His plan
has been carefully thought out, and Noah’s work will pay off.
Alastair Llewellyn-Smith has published poems in Acumen and The London Magazine, and reviews in PN Review. This one is from a sequence called Eighteen Benedictions.
Girl with Death Mask, 1938
Oh, Frida, your obsession with death.
Your self-perceived ugliness
even as you portray this child,
sturdy arms and legs,
sunny coral dress, lace collar,
a bright black-eyed Susan
held lightly in her hands.
You paint her feet, bare
on arid ground, pose her
before harsh mountains,
in front of roiling clouds, hide
her child-face in skeleton skull.
Oh, Frida, you paint a leering mask
next to this innocent, as if foretelling
that death would be your constant,
that Diego would be your love, your
muse, your monster.
This poem was first published in City Works Journal.
Sylvia Levinson lives in San Diego. Her writing life began in the 1990s, when she worked as Sales Manager in the creative environment of the Old Globe Theatre, where her poetry muse appeared spontaneously one day. Publications include chapbooks: Spoon, (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and Gateways: Poems of Nature, Meditation and Renewal (Caernarvon Press, 2005), and poems in City Works Journal, Snowy Egret, SD Writers Ink, Magee Park, SD Poetry Annual, Ekphrasis, Blue Arc West, Serving House Journal, Waymark, Mamas and Papas, Hunger and Thirst, Sunshine Noir II, Poetic Matrix, The San Diego Reader, and others. A personal narrative, “The Poetry of Food,” was published online in The Christian Science Monitor. Awards include: Honorable Mention in the Steve Kowit Prize, 2017; Finalist, San Diego Book Awards, 2013 for Published Poetry; National Award Winner, City Works, 2007; Best Poem, San Diego African-American Writers and Artists, Inc. 2004 and 2006; Best Poem, City Works, 1997.
A smooth, soft drape
across a shoulder
across a brow
across a blade.
A strange and simple
on a cosmic scale,
whispered to Caravaggio
make David a Twink, you coward
and by God in Heaven, he listened.
It ends in lax unsight
at the end of a palm.
It begins in darkness.
In between the two—
Hunger verging on famine
a strain barely capable of
holding the burden in hand.
The blade is lighter
held lower, hidden away
like a secret sort of shame.
A tear shed in a fashion
Subtle enough to escape
attention to all but the keenest
and those that relate strongest.
The guilty know their own.
They say this was an admission
of the murder of a young boy.
He was accused
and he was absolved
But he did not absolve himself.
A portrait of his own self-flagellation.
A Goliath with his face
and David crafted from a boy
he stole the life from.
Regrets are often intimate.
This is no exception.
Ky Huddleston is an Oregonian reptile enthusiast, travelling up and down the West Coast looking for new snakes to hold. He moonlights as a poet and author, with work published in Main Squeeze and Essential Oils magazines.
Van Gogh's Crows
My son has been pacing, wringing his fingers,
flicking from news to weather channels,
as a hurricane moves up the coast.
His panic is palpable, lurks in the murky air
pushed up from the tropics ahead of the storm.
Nothing we say can calm him, as he wears a groove
in the rug. I think of Van Gogh, those wheat fields
under the pulsing sun, the scornful voices of the crows,
the writhing blue sky. Think how hard the simplest action
must be when those voices won't leave you alone,
when even the stars at night throb and gyrate.
My son says his skin crawls, his back is always itchy.
What would it be like to lift from this earth,
rise above a sea of molten gold, scratch
your name on the blue air, "caw caw caw,"
be nothing more than a black pulse beating,
rowing, your way back to God?
This poem first appeared in Barbara Crooker's book, Radiance (Word Press, 2005.)
Barbara Crooker is the author of many books of poetry; The Book of Kells is the most 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
Join us for biweekly ekphrastic writing challenges. See why so many writers are hooked on ekphrastic! We feature some of the most accomplished influential poets writing today, and we also welcome emerging or first time writers and those who simply want to experience art in a deeper way or try something creative.
The prompt this time is Gogol's Dream, by Viktor Gontarov. Deadline is December 27, 2019.
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 artwork 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. Send only your best works or final draft, not everything. (Please note, experimental formats are difficult to publish online. We will consider them but they present technical difficulties with web software that may not be easily resolved.) Please copy and paste your submission into the body of the email, even if you include an attachment such as Word or PDF.
3. Have fun.
4. USE THIS EMAIL ONLY.
Send your work to firstname.lastname@example.org. Challenge submissions sent to the other inboxes will most likely be lost as those are read in chronological order of receipt, weeks or longer behind, and are not seen at all by guest editors. They will be discarded. Sorry.
5.Include GONTAROV WRITING CHALLENGE in the subject line in all caps please.
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. Guest editors may not be familiar with your bio or have access to archives. 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 midnight, December 27, 2019.
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!
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A Cheerful Goodbye
Understanding an abstract painting,
as well as attempting to interpret its message,
is a challenge indeed.
As a last painting, does this one make
a farewell statement?
The composition is based on a grid,
twenty-four inch by thirty-inch canvas
divided into six-inch squares.
Does being predominantly red indicate happiness?
(Red was his favorite colour.)
The background was mostly covered up
although pale orange and pink stripes
peek through here and there.
A strange, red, branched figure with three pods,
one high on the left and the other two
low on the right, is the dominant motif.
Behind this icon, an irregular purple area divides the canvas.
Uneven turquoise strokes
are applied over the purple.
Two white shapes outlined in turquoise appear,
lower left and upper right.
The grid does not criss-cross the purple:
it shows on the red figure and part of the background.
The six squares in the middle of the picture
look to be in front of the rest of the panel.
The square in the second row from the bottom
is the center of the composition;
forms solidify with study.
Could the red one be an abstract body?
Is the purple a tree trunk or a torso?
Is the turquoise a river or a waterfall?
Are the white areas uneven panes through which
to view the infinite?
After weeks of fretting
made it impossible to paint,
in a final burst of energy, he was finished.
Perhaps the picture describes the end.
The weak square in the middle is where the icon severs –
cut by the river of life.
The small left section is preparing to sail off
into the land of pink and orange stripes,
leaving the larger right hand section behind.
A few hours after the picture was finished,
The painter sailed off, too.
Sarah Yerkes is 101 years old, and didn't start writing poetry until she was in her mid-90s. This poem was first published in Days of Blue and Flame (2019, Passager Books) and written in response to her husband's last painting. Yerkes studied design at Harvard, worked as a landscape architect, and as a sculptor. At Ingleside, a retirement community, Yerkes began writing poetry with other residents at a monthly poetry salon. Bonnie Naradzay, an Ekphrastic Review contributor, facilitates these workshops. She led an ekphrastic salon that inspired Yerkes to write this poem. Days of Blue and Flame is Yerkes' first book.
Click here to read the Washington Post article about Sarah Yerkes and Bonnie Naradzay's creative writing work with Ingleside Independent Living.
Dark is the Night
If the Ancients could have seen their magical statues three thousand years on, broken and stripped, lips and fingers dissolving in the rain, shipped off to a place called civilized for safe storage, they might have thought Hephaestos the Halt should never have divorced Aphrodite the Hot. Without her, he went on building his robots, and those just went on building as they were built to do, long after the gods had died.
They built soot-stained industrial facilities backing up to toxic rivers, not unlike the glittering bath-houses of Crete. The ruined Acropolis lives on as a template for custom-houses. Even the old stories have gone flat: the gorgon is nothing but a serial killer, and Zeus no swan, no shower of gold, but a fat gray senator rumored to have a thing for interns.
The descendants of Hephaestos and Aphrodite go on hoping Zeus will make their parents get back together. They still imagine him showering them with his bitter light, in the form of a twister, scouring the made things down to ore. Her, they just blame.
Three thousand years on, Hephaestos’s robots are still building away. The seeds of Aphrodite and every living thing are now stored in Antarctic vaults. The place called civilized has sent a messenger deep into outer space, its tiny lights hoping to be noticed from Mount Olympus.
Katherine Williams has published four chap books and read at venues from the L.A. Poetry Festival to the College of Charleston. A Pushcart and Best of the Web nominee, she has poems in Spillway, Projector, South Carolina Review, Measure, and elsewhere. She is a retired biomedical research technician living on James Island, SC.
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