The Ekphrastic Review is delighted to hold a special ekphrastic showcase with selected works by Arrowhead Union High School students. You'll learn more about the ekphrastic project from the teachers and facilitators, below. The Review's task to select works to publish was a difficult one. We read carefully through each poem to get a sense of the author, to feel the engagement with the art they contemplated, and absorb the craft and creativity of the poem. Every single poem was astonishing. We congratulate every participant as well as every student whose poetry was chosen. We are most grateful to the team, including Liz Jorgensen & Terri Carnell, for reaching out to make this happen.
The Ekphrastic Review
A Note About the Arrowhead Union Ekphrastic Project, from Liz Jorgensen & Terri Carnell
We teach creative writing to juniors and seniors at Arrowhead Union High School in Hartland, Wisconsin. To introduce our students to ekphrastic poetry, we played a short clip from Oregon State University. Students then listened to and discussed ekphrastic poems from the Katonah Museum of Art’s YouTube channel. Students noticed how ekphrastic poetry can be emotional, relatable, and subjective; how colour and texture can inspire writing; how a painting can add layers to poems; and how a story can be built from an image.
The following class period, students listened to Edward Hopper Study: Hotel Room by Victoria Chang; The Dream of the Anti-Ekphrasis by Fargo Nissim Tbakhi; and The Kiss by Sasha Pimentel. Students considered the perspectives in writing ekphrastic poetry.
In the subsequent class, students studied and discussed the following pieces of art, using prompts we provided: Enchanted Island, The Saints at Hampstead Heath, and House at Port Clyde. Students drafted poems based on one of those pieces and, throughout the next few classes, shared drafts with partners and small groups, before finalizing and submitting poems to writers’ markets, including The Ekphrastic Review and The Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.
We hope our study of ekphrastic poetry encouraged students to develop an appreciation for art and exposed students to another way to gain inspiration, begin a piece, or craft a poem. To see what is possible when art inspires writing. We hope you enjoy their poems as much as we do!
Liz and Terri
Jeff Anderson, student contest coordinator for the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets said,
The 2023 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets / Woodson Art Museum Ekphrastic Poetry Contest is a collaboration between two Wisconsin artistic organizations, each understanding how poetic compositions may inspire artists and how art can serve as a catalyst for poetry. By challenging Wisconsin High School students to focus their literary talents on three featured art works from the Woodson collection, the WFOP and the Woodson each hope that students might begin a life-long excursion into using artistic media and poetry to further understand themselves and the world around them.
Depression Like a Storm
As the depression looms over all the land,
Like the clouds loom over Port Clyde,
Life gets tougher for Americans.
As the depression blows away dreams,
Like the wind blows down trees at Port Clyde,
Life gets worse for Americans.
As the depression rips away people’s way of life,
Like the storm rips shingles off the house at Port Clyde,
Life gets difficult for Americans.
Great Depression continued on for
One-hundred twenty months.
Not comparable to a quick storm like at Port Clyde.
Eventually Americans' hope was ALL GONE.
An alert on my phone:
“A big storm is coming to the port. Evacuate the area asap.”
Scurrying, I pack up all of the essentials before leaving.
When I’m walking out of my driveway I think to myself,
this might be the last time I see the house my father made.
Driving out of the area with no destination in mind,
I wonder what will be left when I get back home.
If I still have a place to call home.
Another alert on my phone:
“The storm has passed. You are allowed to return back.”
Getting in my car visualizing, what will my home look like?
I finally arrive back to where I grew up
“WOW! It’s still here. I just have to do some organizing.”
The rope we used to tie our boat is scattered in the grass,
some wooden shingles on the house were disarranged,
the crab traps are in the grass and some are broken.
It needs a little fixing but grateful it is still standing
The House at the End of the Street
The house looks dark, light a night without a moon.
The red bricks on the chimney faded from years of sunlight.
Telling us the story of the abandoned home,
once a place where a family lived happily
Now home to racoons, rodents, and mother nature.
Driving by the house people on the see the surface,
the dark, scary, abandoned home.
But taking a deeper look you see what the family left behind.
Photos from family vacations, furniture, an empty dog bed.
A glimpse of the past: an idea of what the home was.
monotonous winds float the cape.
overcast weather rained down.
off color home fades away in the wind.
nothingness spreads around the house.
lobster nets destroyed.
inky wood panels ripped off the house.
grimy sky turns completely dark.
heartstick sadness as things blow away.
tragic darkness until the sky illuminates once again.
Walking Past Port Clyde
Walking down near Port Clyde
I see the rotting house, it stands in the same spot.
Ropes, lobster traps and buckles sink into the sand.
Boards, shingles, and glass crack and warp with its age.
Shadows lurk through the windows
and ghostly noises haunt the house.
I walk faster past the house,
as if to run from what might be hiding inside.
The storm has finally gone,
taking with it the crash of the thunder,
and the scream of rain.
The storm left only the eerie song of the wind,
lingering like a ghost of the past.
Haunting me as it whistles in the windows.
My house is tired,
she fought for so long protecting us from the enemy.
With each gust of wind, she groans and creaks,
but she stands strong.
Despite her cuts, bruises, and broken pieces,
she doesn’t give up.
An image of beauty,
and of pain.
A reflection of human life;
the battles our neighbors are fighting,
unknown to us.
The cracks in the foundation,
Hidden by flowers and smiles.
The truth that strength comes from battling the storm.
Summers in Port Clyde: Memories for My Grandchildren
Surrounded by smokey pine,
our wooden-shingled Port Clyde Cabin
couldn’t have been a more beautiful place to
relax in the hazy summer sun.
Days spent splashing with the whales
and sculpting sandcastles on Pemaquid Beach
just couldn’t be beat--
especially when the day ended
with a treat from the ice cream truck.
My brothers and I would rush home,
sand wedged between our toes,
to meet our father after his hard days
of crab, lobster, and oyster harvesting.
We understood that he was done for the day,
when his homemade traps were dumped
like a pile of soggy rubbish
outside the front door.
I feel so free as I fly around during this pink hour.
The pink is dull.
I feel so alive and notice two beautiful bone white logs.
The logs from dead trees.
A beautiful landscape on the horizon.
No life in sight.
An open sky with infinite possibility.
A place where two lonely clouds reside.
As people look at this art,
They see what they want to see.
They see what they feel.
As one might see freedom, the other sees loneliness.
Something so definite as an image.
An acrylic painting on a blank canvas.
Can be seen as anything to anyone.
Art is truly enchanted.
I don’t really care.
I drift through my life like I drift away to sleep,
just like the driftwood on Enchanted Island.
I try to smile and be nice but life is flying by fast,
just like the seagulls over Enchanted Island.
I chase a shiny nickel while opportunities flow by me,
just like the sea surrounding Enchanted Island.
I don’t really care.
The Edge of Magic
The age of majesty and mystery has ended.
Long ceased are the adventures of woe,
the grand voyages and inspiring discoveries.
Gone are the monsters, the magic,
replaced with the ordinary;
The seagull, the lowly bluffs.
Monsters replaced with the
regular, a different monster
hiding in each one of our communities.
Late Early Morning
The elegance and the bliss of the flat calm water,
reveals images of the outcroppings of the island.
The salty water cascades the fog just below the skyline,
filled with the fading oranges remembering the sunset.
The tide rises bringing in the baitfish,
the seagulls and waterfowl circle.
The sandbar is covered with water,
the tide washes away what was left of yesterday.
The clouds drift away in the distance pushing in front,
the waves crash against the faces eroding away the past.
Something brews, coming closer and closer.
The sky darkens and the birds flee.
The peace creeps away, the waves pick up.
The late early morning fades away.
The Island’s Mystery
Cold to the touch, my feet dip calmly into the water.
Dawn lay peacefully over the enchanted landscape.
Gentle rays of the weak morning sun shone down,
covering the rolling landscape,
Dancing like a child on the water’s surface.
Ankle deep, I see little movement, hear little sound.
The lapping against jagged shores lull the birds passing by.
I have joined them this morning, they don’t seem to mind;
They swiftly fly past without sparing a final glance at me.
I cannot know where they are off to.
The wind bestows a stinging kiss on my cheek,
I don’t have to look to see rosie tips of my ears and nose.
Ahead, a serpentine branch weaves through the fine sand.
Perfectly placed, imitates a skull, perhaps signifying more.
Mystery encases this island, it surely knows more than I.
The Meaning of Three
Three seagulls frolick above the sea.
The sea blazes with beguiling blue flames.
The flames bewitch the harmonious, hypnotizing heavens.
The heavens produce nothing but three.
Three seagulls perfect the enchanting islands.
The islands paint a radiant, reflective sky.
The sky gives its angels enthralling, celestial wings.
The wings seek out the essence of three.
Three seagulls gaze at the depth of the water.
The water sings intoxicatingly to the jagged cliffs.
The cliffs remind the birds of their unique features.
The features form into clusters of three.
Harmony of the numbers--
Wisdom of the significant--
Understanding the meaning--
The meaning of three.
The World Of Tomorrow
My wings glide across the mirror reflective water.
Complete, bitter silence. My crows echo their scream.
The cotton candy sky deprives me of hunger.
My claws dig into the rotted, isolated logs showered by nature's anger.
My friends follow my tracks. Lost in the world of tomorrow.
The canyons catch my incoming glide.
All of this never ending space, just for us.
An ongoing fantasy for endless miles.
What is this place here for?
It reminds me of a place I once knew.
The sun rays beam on my white angelic feathers.
My beak dips into the salty sea, with a bitter sensation.
Cycle of All Those That Live and Breathe
A colossal crow stands on the man's left.
Its feathers, as dark as the night sky.
It stands tall, far taller than anything else.
Its eye bore into the man,
as if looking for the reason behind its existence.
The man's skin is of a similar shade to the crow.
White veins circulate through his head,
pulling downward to attach to a set of feathers.
A darkened halo stands firm above the man.
He stares into the crow, pondering the same question.
The wrapped cadaver is pale and ghastly.
Only its face and feet are visible below the wrappings.
Life is born from the remains.
A plant reaching high into the sky,
in the hopes that it will live a long life.
The cycle of life, death, and rebirth is strange;
as two of the three rely on the other.
While the last pursues its own goals.
Without fail this is the cycle that all beings go through,
one cannot escape, nothing will prevent this fate.
I lay on the bed,
with barely a beating of my heart left.
Not sure if I will make it out alive.
Hearing the quietness of my name.
Hearing the muffled voices,
they sink down to my inner core.
They’re cold all the way down to the bone,
something about it doesn’t sit right.
The fight continues; a battle between good and evil.
The voices contradict each other's every thought.
I don’t see an end,
yet all I want is an outcome.
My mind is at battle with my body,
trying to save that little ounce of life.
Trying to hold on to something that used to thrive.
Can’t they see I still have a life to live?
A Last Breath At Hampstead Heath
A massive crow looks down at a man, who attempts to reason with it.
He wears the wings of some animal from his ears.
They form together to make a distinct face at the man’s knees.
There is a body on the ground, prepared for burial.
A plant springs forth from his stomach.
This plant is reborn from his death, new life abounding.
The dead man will possess none of it.
The crow, flocking to a body as usual, has likely come to collect its due.
As the personification of death, it must collect fresh souls.
He seems to be discussing the fate of the dead man with the one who remains.
The man bears a robe and symbols, guider of the souls.
He dresses importantly, with a solitary braid running down the back of his head.
The tattoos on his face hold a deeper story, though.
The colours paint a beautiful picture of the surrounding world.
The orange is vibrant, showing fall to any who happen by.
But the ground holds a person, all the more important.
Soon, the earth will hold him until he’s gone.
Life or Death
I lay, immobile, at the foot of two figures.
I cannot see them but I know they are there.
I hear faint exchanges of voices,
making decisions for me.
I lay, dormant, unable to wiggle a finger.
My freezing body waits for deliverance,
but I am impatient.
I lay, powerless, incapable of resistance.
The chatter grows loud, my thoughts louder,
my eyes open, to dark and light,
two large figures day and night.
The taller figure glares at me,
his eyes like an abyss of white.
When he sees me, a grin forms on his face.
The smile digs into me like a thousand daggers.
This can’t be real; I must be dreaming
“Oh it’s real all right,” claims the man.
Journey to Valhalla
As she looks at the lifeless body in the sand,
the shadow of a giant winged figure appears in the sky.
She turns around to see a giant bird in the sky,
the winged creature begins to dive in her direction.
As it landed close to her lifeless body filing sand around,
She stares at the bird for a minute, not taking her eyes away.
the bird examines the dead body in the sand seeing every detail,
then looks back at her with its menacing, white eyes not red.
The mysterious bird finally spoke to her with a familiar voice,
Its name was Muninn, one of the All-father’s ravens.
The woman asked if she has reached Valhalla,
The raven only shook its head and said no to the woman.
The raven said only Forseti can determine if she is worthy,
It pointed to its right then said his temple is in that direction.
Then the raven flew away leaving her to walk the desert alone,
After walking for miles, she sees a temple in the distance.
She is filled with joy to finally reach the temple of Forseti,
She was getting closer to the temple with every step.
But as she got closer and closer to the temple,
It revealed itself as just a mountain, at that point she lost hope.
A New Life
I lay quietly now, like the hush during a funeral.
Father stands lofty, towering over mother.
Her halo darkened with each passing second.
They talk; no, they argue. What happened?
I lay quietly now, they do not know I can hear.
Their words have led me to my fate.
Ombre tangerine orange into bloody crimson surrounds us.
They argue quietly now, as to not wake me.
Don’t they know I’m dead?
I will remain here for now. My ghostly skin,
pale complexion obstructed by the second.
My life may be gone now, but a new one appears.
Roots deep yet thin, emerald green emerging from within.
He is death, she an angel. But me? I am old, I am new,
I am dead, yet I am alive all at the same time.
I draw my final breath now,
this seedling needs to blossom so they know.
Onto The Next: The Life After Death
“I’m sorry to ask but how many?”
“All seven, I’m afraid.”
The world around him turns to the brown, red, and yellows,
A sense of dread but also expectancy hung in the air.
“I’m sorry, but it is time to go now.”
The crow of death spread its beautiful yet terrifying wings.
The man took a deep breath,
as he knew where he would be going.
He climbed onto his black and iridescent back.
The crow let out a screech-like caw and they took off.
The body of the man left behind in the dirt,
ready to return to the Earth.
Look closely and you will see a small sprout,
a new life is just beginning.
With one death another life begins.
The circle of life they call it,
being born into a new world,
growing up and growing old,
returning to the Earth from once you came.
The Ekphrastic Review
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