Editor's Note: If you're just finding us now, wonderful! This is a great place to land, on one of our biweekly challenge response posts. Every other week, dozens or even hundreds of us write to a curated art prompt. Writers submit their best, mostly poems, but sometimes short stories or essays, and we publish a selection. It is always fascinating to see many different interpretations of an artwork, and to see where impressions and narratives overlap and diverge.
Some of our writers are Ivy League stars of academia with umpteen books and awards, and others are writing for their first time. Join us! You can find the current challenge by clicking here. The prompt changes every two weeks.
Here are the selected responses for the Toyen prompt. We had a record number of submissions for this fascinating artwork. Here are some creative takes on it.
Best wishes, Lorette
(for George, Nikolaos, Patsiaouras & Nabila)
It’s an age-old dictum:
it’s foolish to build sand-castles
at the seashores.
Unless temporary-pleasures are the obsessions.
(Well, that’s what the prophets of ephemerality
will have you believe anyway.)
Memory is the Akashic Register.*
Unlike many things,
it isn’t so evanescent, after all.
Provided the sand is not the scribe,
and its rooms are not made of wood.
Unless it is a burden
that you would rather
you didn’t laden the beast with.
Yes, life doesn’t abide
by the laws of stillness.
But not every caterpillar
eventually emerges with wings.
Unless the wings are merely
a matter of aesthetics.
Yes, to be able to swim
is perhaps an intriguing capacity.
But not all waters can be reached
without boats and oars.
Unless familiarity and not exploration
is only the mission.
To keep the face,
one ought to keep the word.
To keep a friend,
one ought not to be judgemental.
Unless hypocrisy is what the doctor ordered.
(And of late, this happens to be
everyone’s favourite prescription.)
Distances cannot be overcome
And not all journeys are to be embarked upon
without all the essential paraphernalia.
Unless merely wandering and not learning
is the sanctioned commission.
Yes, possessing perceptions is necessary
to fashion a/ny sense of self.
But disillusionment is not to be had
until the ‘I’ is constantly regulated.
Unless the window dressing with manikins
is the norm.
(And apparently, ‘I’ has been The Messiah
for who knows how long.)
Theatre is The Home to an/y artist.
Yes, a play without costumes is,
but a harp without melodies.
But not every script is capable
of metamorphosing into a play,
and not every performer in a costume is an artist.
Unless the idea is to only fill up the premises
with any audience.
*The word ‘akash’ is from the Sanskrit language, which means ‘sky’ or ‘ether’. The Akashic Register/Records, according to the ancient Hindu mythology, is a realm in space, which keeps a register of all (human) occurrences i.e. events—that have happened, are happening, and will be happening.
Saad Ali was born in Okara, Pakistan in 1980 C.E. He has been brought up in the UK and Pakistan. He holds a BSc and MSc in Management from the University of Leicester, UK. He is an existential philosopher-poet, and has published two books of poems (so far) i.e. Ephemeral Echoes (2018) and Metamorphoses: Poetic Discourses (2019). By profession, he is a lecturer, consultant and trainer/mentor. Some of his influences include: Vyasa, Homer, Ovid, Attar, Rumi, Nietzsche, and Tagore. He is fond of the Chinese, Greek and Arabic cuisine. He likes travelling by train and exploring cities on foot.
Drowning is a State of Mind
Only a clown would tolerate a
singular response to a watery grave.
Raise your eyebrow and your hat
in collusion consent and join the
moth, there’s no harm in hawking
your humanity, after all, everyone
does it. Puppetry is the new political
norm, so, trust the squall above the
sea, and eat your words, if you need
to keep your head above the water.
Susan Howard lives in a small community north of Auckland. She writes about what affects her and sometimes the world stage. She has been published in NZ most recently in Takahē Magazine and overseas in The Blue Nib Review, and the online Shot Glass Journal.
Embrace and Exit
My hands are dying
too far from home, from
everyone they would hold.
More specifically, drowning,
sinking with the rest of this
suddenly heavy, tired body.
More importantly, murdering
the characters they've created,
erasing laugh lines and tears.
The audience, silent, looks on,
waiting for the water to rise
and drop their own final curtain.
Lennart Lundh is a poet, short-fictionist, historian, and photographer. His work has appeared internationally since 1965.
Suspending the Surreal
Tickets are cheap at the Potato Theatre.
The stage, dark as a moonless midnight.
The plot, indecipherable as Linear B
(used to be). The actors as inscrutable
as Buddhas. A moth clings to a wooden pier,
rotting before my eyes, and I suspend
disbelief. A familiar dread conjures up
my dreamer’s dark tangle of personalities.
Am I caterpillar, dangling on the branch
of a sunken tree, or the transformed moth?
Perhaps the white-faced Pierrot
with androgynous expression--
sad, soft, almost tender—for the blue and green
bodies, each rising on a leg as sturdy
as a telephone pole. Or are we a three-handed,
two-legged chimera, shape-shifted,
commanding stage left. Behind us,
whitewashed buildings call out Home. Home.
How tempted I am to swim out to them
before they sink into the theatre’s darkness
where the sole member of the audience,
I am trapped in inescapable images.
Sandi Stromberg continues to thrive on The Ekphrastic Review challenges, coupling her love of poetry and art. She has published in many small journals and anthologies and edited two poetry anthologies. For ten years, she served on the board of Mutabilis Press (a poetry press in Houston, Texas). She has been a juried poet in the Houston Poetry Fest eleven times and published translations of Dutch poetry in The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the United States.
I open my mind like a bound of pages.
My eyes enter the gray flow, water’s
insistence of shades. I pick up yesterday’s
discussion with absence, dual as as today’s
lucid light. It isn’t strange for harmony
to background, story’s artificial time
itself the measure that prevents everything
from happening at the same time. I’m not
writing so much as living as I write,
scenes not so much spaces as places.
I interrogate myself like the distant house,
transfer the conversation to the clowns
after the moth refuses the caterpillar.
Jonel Abellanosa lives in Cebu City, the Philippines. He is a nature lover, an environmental advocate, and loves all animals particularly dogs. His poetry collections include, Meditations (Alien Buddha Press), Songs from My Mind’s Tree and Multiverse (Clare Songbirds Publishing House), 50 Acrostic Poems, (Cyberwit, India), In the Donald’s Time (Poetic Justice Books and Art), and his speculative poetry collection, Pan’s Saxophone (Weasel Press). He loves to self-study the sciences. Previously published in The Ekphrastic Review, he has consistently interrogated ekphrasis as a important form in his poetic writings.
On Potato Theatre, by Toyen
Do not define me by the waters that surround us,
nor the hidden face behind folded wings.
I dance with my liquid self, ever
becoming, ever sinking,
Free to bend my knees beneath your weight,
to sigh, to moan the world’s undoing,
I navigate desire and sail through your illusions
In the manner of my choosing.
K. M. Huber
K. M. Huber’s work is colored by growing up in the USA’s Pacific Northwest, a decade in NYC, and many years living in South America. A Pushcart nominee, her work has appeared in Earth Island Journal, Diner, McGuffin, Post Road, and ViceVersa among others. She has recently moved to Tennessee with her Peruvian husband and her novel of sixth-century Nazca is looking for a home.
The tide moves out on loss and this is what
remains of our inconceivable lot:
two grey incomplete silhouettes
dancing face-to-face with a pompous uncouth truth.
Puppets to love’s charade, masks magnanimous
on phantom selves; souls, sold.
The present a fated farce, cringe-told,
future a sinking, sunken house.
While a moth hibernates in the wreck of a story
and a worm turns in the dirt
and a caterpillar of a dream hangs precariously on
for dear, doggerel life
and somewhere a turntable of despair
chimes a tune of nonchalance
and dancing, we flit upon the ennui of it all -
dancing into the grey oblivion disengage from
sweet irreverence, days ebbing and drifting,
reality a hop and a skip and a dirge…
getting further and further
Siobhán Mc Laughlin
Siobhán Mc Laughlin is an avid poetry lover. Her work has been published on Poetry 24. Siobhán shares her love of poetry on www.a-poem-a-day-project.blogspot.com and Twitter @siobhan347
When You Lose Your Mooring
What remains is the concrete ship at Sunset Beach
stranded at low tide, left as dock when it went aground.
You dream of staterooms in the hull where you can live
and swim out of the hole in its side
surface at night when the ferry departs bound for Lewes
and a reef that protects what the harbour does not.
Tops of water skis are draped in colors of the bay
faded in an August sun. Keep the tips upright
so when the outboard roars away you will not pitch
headfirst into the debris of whalers’ shacks
everyone thinks long gone except porpoises
that follow in your wake as you glide over the top
of each wave building its curl scattered with diamonds.
The only other way out of town exists in memory
because the sweep of lighthouse brings you home
every time you’ve drifted too far.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With eight nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
Potato Theatre Waltz
Beaten sailor’s posture –
frozen jelly-baby, tempus stuck
charmless strangers dance –
Hop – Skip – Hop – and Hold…
frenzied behind bland masks –
eyes glassy, pupils hidden
lifeless, exuberant screams
dive into the water and smile
and beneath dead sailors wait,
like broken china pots, given
as gifts as slithers of icy
foam-covered plankton, we hear
the finger-puppets sway
above the grime watered cloth,
a deaths mask, take a paddle
in the Styx, waltz into Hades
and beyond – hop – skip – hop – and hold.
Zac Thraves is a writer and performer in Kent; poems have been published with various magazines and stories have been performed throughout the county. You can find some work on Instagram and join him on Twitter.
A Meeting Of Artificialism
in this purple haze of artificialism
no sea horses or tidal wash
we citizens face to face each other
arms above water
embracing as faux friends
haven’t done so since early days
in vaudeville, the memories
of mystic music
contriving rampant surrealism
without moving slender lips
we dialogue with duplicity
drawing power from the abstract
inherent in our elicit past
through circus green smocks
when close by a white worm
from a dead root escapes capture
as a metaphor for Miró’s
always alert to ambiguity
far from blighted potato fields
with enduring properties of transience
fixate on a mirage
of abject tranquility
in this oasis of culture
yet in a moment, we’ll be gone
drenched from the trauma
engrossed by the spirit
in the purple haze of artificialism
Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse. Of late, he has achieved success in poetry competitions and featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He particularly enjoys ekphrastic challenges. In 2019, he was a Featured Writer of the Federation of Writers Scotland.
Hail and Farewell
We greet each other, hailing without hug
rising up through the murky gray
mire of ourselves.
Am I the green?
Are you the blue?
Clowning about, true hands covered.
Rocks watch us, cracking,
open mouths laughing at our antics.
Only the moth, resting on
a jetty’s stone remains and the
naked inchworm slinging to
the floating branch
dare to bare true colours.
The rest of us wear masks
propelled and puppeted
through these murky waters.
We hail one another, hoping
that by recognizing
our essence, beneath the clown masks,
we will, indeed,
Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. Her work has appeared often in The Ekphrastic Review. She loves interpreting art with other forms of art. Other journals that have given home to her poems include When Women Write, Peacock Review, Silver Birch, anti-Heroin chic, Hobocamp Review and others. Her essays and articles are also widely published. On stage she tells folk and personal tales of food, family, and strong women. Walking the beach, cooking, and spending time with her daughter and husband are among her favourite things to do.
The Erotica Inside Me Does Not Quiet
like an alarm clock that keeps melting
but never stops. The sea is gentle enough
to dance with you even though
hair on my only leg does not find
much tide, or is it the calm before
we are assassinated by war?
We did not deserve this pleasure as if
we found both halves of unmated wolves.
Yet I am not a predator. Behind this suit
I masquerade more like a clown.
When your wet hip invades my hip,
we begin to wade in the sound of a saxophone.
Hands float across a piano, and then the wind
begins its tender assault. I smell
the sex of you. Underneath your hat
is vanilla followed by salt, which is somehow
dusted off at your neck by cinnamon. No,
not wolves. Instead my body is a funny potato
with less skin, and you blossom like a grapefruit
split open. I want to sip a little bit of your juice
maybe commit enough sin to curl your toes.
Love is the only thing to be killed by.
We are pawns of this light that melts us,
and the theatre must go on and on....
John Milkereit is a mechanical engineer working in the oil & gas industry who lives in Houston, TX. His poems have appeared in various literary journals including The Ekphrastic Review, San Pedro River Review, and The Ocotillo Review. He completed a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, WA in 2016. His most recent collection of poems, Drive the World in a Taxicab, was published by Lamar University Press.
At the outset, we say
we’ll be brave, We say
we’ll survive. We promise
ourselves quick victory
like we’re playing at the World Cup.
But it’s never Us vs. Them.
Fear, grief, hatred, and hunger
attack from within. In a few
months, I’ll do anything.
for a bowl of soup,
loaf of bread, safe bed.
Every day I hear boots on the stair,
bombs whistling overhead –
hallucinations. I’m drowning
in my imagination.
I’m afraid to look in the mirror,
suspect I’ll see both body and soul
already split apart and waving
Alarie Tennille graduated from the University of Virginia in the first class admitting women. She’s now lived more than half her life in Kansas City, where she serves on the Emeritus Board of The Writers Place. Her latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
The Romance of Pomme de Terre and Patates Douces
I can't explain myself, because I'm not my self you see.
Alice, "Alice In Wonderland"
Before we met, I was the caterpillar who could not spin its chrysalis,
the Blue-Wing moth that clings to wood that's turning into driftwood --
a poem made of driftwood words that wears a sea-net like a bridal veil.
Something in you made me child-like; perhaps it was your innocence,
sleeping in the bathtub, in darkness, so our lives became a dream, surreal.
Hiding from the Nazis, we were hidden within one another.... The bathtub
held the ocean; and sometime in the night, the potato field outside a village
was flooded. I was the womb for all my painted characters, my theatre absurd.
Time was Dali's clock face, and when you were Heisler, the world was sometimes
kitsch. Your dioramas came to life when I was Toyen. We were Two
when everything was Two's: Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Romeo and Juliet,
Pierrot and Columbine, Pomme de Terre and Patates Douces. Now, without you,
the curtain in the Potato Theatre opens to a plant pathologist, a widower,
and his daughter, Columbina, who has just opened a birthday box from Potato Pals
and found, nestled in royal purple paper like Valentine chocolates, six seed potatoes.
It is not by accident that I have given Columbina the same name as one of the seeds.
Do you see now we are meant to be in the scheme of things, living, dying, living again?
Columbina rushes to get a glass container recommended by Mr. Wizard on her retro black
and white 1950s kitsch television encased in lime-green to remind her of the earth --
new leaves and potato flowers like blue stars, filling the field, sweet potatoes with flowers
like morning glories. Columbina has worn a potato flower crown onstage in a revolutionary
play. Her father, watching, had to take off his glasses and wipe his eyes, thinking of
Columbina's mother, their last trip before the fields flooded; a trip to discover the origins
of potatoes in Peru. Columbina puts Pierrot in water, in the clear glass jar so she can watch
his roots grow. She counts his eyes -- so many, like the eyes of Argus watching Io,
a Blue-Wing. Mr. Wizard never mentioned ears, but Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head have ears,
so she settles herself in her bedroom with her potato-faced dog stuffed with potato skins
dried in sunlight so he crunches like potato chips as she begins to tell Pierrot, his seed
in glass, the Romance of Pomme de Terre and Patates Douces. Pomme de Terre was your
nom de plume, Heisler, the way you signed love letters to your Patates Douces, such erotica!
and I was exotic, imported, your mail order bride. Our world was shaped
like a potato, so everything was lopsided except the way we loved each other in darkness,
hidden in one another, insulating one another from the haunting danger we could not change
in any way other than to find the light within ourselves, within our art, laughing
at ourselves when we were as ridiculous as Columbina telling Pierrot a bedtime story
to make him grow. In our Potato Theatre, we had many disguises so we'd be unrecognized:
Pierrot was once the son of a poor potato farmer. He went to the Baker's Shop
because you were brave and I was hungry. You carried two of Columbina's seeds
to exchange for a baguette. The baker, a giant, scoffed at you and the potato seeds --
"2 reichsmarks or I'll put you on the loaf paddle and tan your hide in the oven!" Fire
was rushing from the oven, but you stepped forward and set one of the seeds on the dirty
floor, pressed it with your foot as your father had told you to do, and said the magic words
Columbina learned from Mr. Wizard: "Pierrot loves Columbina. Pierrot loves
Columbina." And like a surrealistic fairy tale we invented to save our lives, a potato stalk
began to grow in the baker's shop, growing up and up until it burst through the roof, up and
up until it reached the sky and exploded a black cloud so it began to rain. It rained
and rained until the village flooded, and the potato field outside the village flooded, and all
the shops -- the butcher's, the baker's and the candlestick maker's -- all floated, carried away
by high water into the Potato Theatre...
Columbina paused in the story she was telling
Pierrot, who was growing quietly in the jar as his eyes grew little shoots that looked like tears.
She could hear her father on the telephone in his laboratory, walls covered with plant pictures,
leaves spotted and wilted; and a picture of her mother, gathering potato specimens
in the sunlight before she was drowned in a flash flood. Her father is upset, talking to
the head of pathology -- "Once it starts flooding, we'll have to do all of it -- all of it! -- all
over again!" Columbina sighed -- the boy was still saying "Columbina
loves Pierrot! Columbina loves Pierrot!" as he floated into the field.
And do you remember
how it all ends? Potato roots tangled with seaweed, my legs, two stalks growing from the mud
in the potato field, my hands holding Pierrot and Columbina above the water, Pomme de
Terre taking me in his arms, waking me in high water so I dropped my paint brush. Pierrot's
hands were reaching for Columbina/Columbina reached upward; and it seemed, in a moment,
that they were dancing in dark water,
reaching for the sky,
the way that I loved living with you
when the Blue-Wing
learned to fly
Laurie Newendorp's new book, When Dreams Were Poems, includes poems published
by The Ekphrastic Review; and "Entering," a poem that won second place in the Ekphrastic
Contest, Houston Poetry Fest, 2018. She is forever romantic, and could imagine the weight
of anti-semitism for the Czech Surrealists, Toyen and her Jewish lover, Heisler, living in
Prague during the Occupation. Her recent work, for Words & Art, "Black Rhapsody 2020,"
celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King.
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