Welcome to the fifth installment of the Ekphrastic Writer’s column. As the author of the first comprehensive guidebook on multi-genre ekphrasis, The Ekphrastic Writer, I’ll be posting monthly musings, fielding your questions on ekphrasis (and beyond), and fostering a conversation on contemporary practices in visual-art-influenced creative writing.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending a virtual generative workshop facilitated by the American poet, Dana Levin. During the class, we not only wrote both individual and collective poems, but we learned certain intimate nuances pertaining to Levin’s own creative process. One question she posed was, “is clarity the measurement of success?”
In other words, in the workshop, do we downgrade a piece of creative writing if we as readers cannot soberly track the writer’s meaning? As a self-proclaimed Carl Jung fanatic, she asked us to write associatively, from where we dream, for it’s from that dreaming place that creative writing is best served—both in terms of creation and consumption.
“Poems that move beyond the first circle of revelation” are poems that Levin encouraged us to write. I wondered: is negative capability the cornerstone of contemporary literary creative writing? In my guidebook on ekphrasis, I wrote that, “Stimulating the eye by rooting around visual imagery in the spirit of playful investigation can lead to ‘negative capability.’
Poet John Keats wrote about this particular state of mind that creativity requires, in which a person ‘is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts; without any irritable reaching after facts and reason.’”
Unlike scholarly critics, creative writers who are drawn to ruminating on artwork are open to the creative possibilities of their gaze. Before an artwork, the experience might begin factual and reasonable, but it’s the creatives’ pleasure to then plumb the depths of uncertainties, exploring the mysteries of sight, mind, and context.
What type of ekphrasist are you? Do you utilize the visual arts as a type of kaleidoscopic lens through which to structure your writing? Are you like an alchemist who uses specific material in order to yield your own gold? Does writing ekphrastically usher your writing to realms that exist beyond the first circle of revelation?
Or, are you like me in that a visual interlude with a piece of art allows you a type of dreaming from which lyricism and associations can flower? I’d love to know: where exactly does ekphrasis get you?
Join the conversation by sending your letters to E.W. at ekphrasticwriter(at)gmail.com.
Post Script—Biographical Note: E.W. (Janée J. Baugher) is the author of The Ekphrastic Writer: Creating Art-Influence Poetry, Fiction and Nonfiction, as well as the poetry collections, The Body’s Physics and Coördinates of Yes. Recent work has appeared in Saturday Evening Post, Tin House, The Southern Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and Nimrod. Her writing has been adapted for the stage and set to music at venues such as University of Cincinnati, Interlochen Center for the Arts, Dance Now! Ensemble in Florida, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, and Otterbein University, and she’s performed at the Library of Congress. Currently, she teaches in Seattle and is an assistant editor at Boulevard magazine. www.JaneeBaugher.com. Follow her on Instagram: @ekphrastic_writer.
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