Dear Readers and Writers,
Thank you to everyone who participated in this ekphrastic writing challenge, and any of our challenges. Every artwork selected is intended as an invitation into art appreciation and a richer writing practice. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my passion for art history and inspire fiction and poetry.
Choosing a few works to post from so many is always an excruciating task! In both the main pages of the journal and our bimonthly challenge response posts, I aim to post as many works as possible. I love to share your work and showcase your creativity! But for every great piece I can post, many are left out. It is my intention to build a community and family, and that is one reason why we encourage and share work by regular contributors, when many journals refuse submissions by authors they have published for varying time frames. We also want to invite new friends to the ekphrastic table and share their voices. It is also important to me to feature a range of perspectives on an artwork and a diverse selection of ideas, opinions, and backgrounds. In other words, we want the impossible. We want it all.
If you share my objective of spreading the wealth of stories, insights, and enchantment in art and literature, please share this or any of our posts on behalf of the writers and artists we feature. Thank you so very much.
Finally, just a heads up, we now have an archive feature for past challenge responses. It is long overdue! You can browse that archive by clicking here. As our challenges went through various incarnations, we are unable, unfortunately, to list all of them. We are working to collect, in order, those in this format- one artwork, with your responses. Do browse the archives by month in the sidebar as well. We have nearly six years worth of incredible writing inspired by art.
Jim Crow Sun Set
In the long shadows
of a Jim Crow sunset,
the long work-a-day
lives of a Mississippi,
South Carolina cotton field,
they stand or crouch or kneel
with determined exhaustion.
Bare foot and muscular
shoulders, they look to
the future, the young girl’s
American Dream resting on
the horizon line of all tomorrow’s
cotton bales. Will she
leave the fields and migrate
north? Will she find the
streets of Harlem, Cleveland,
Detroit as welcoming as the
warm embrace of her mother
and father? When Earle Wilton
Richardson flew from his fourth
story window, when his love
and Negro Achievement
crumbled to red-dust fields
and red-dust yesterdays, did
she understand his pain?
Did the daughter of those
who drove the mules and
dammed the Saluda
see into tomorrow’s
Andre F. Peltier
Andre F. Peltier is a Lecturer III at Eastern Michigan University where he has taught African American Literature, Afrofuturism, Science Fiction, Poetry, and Freshman Composition since 1998. He lives in Ypsilanti, MI with his wife, children, turtles, dog and cat. In his free time he obsesses about soccer and comic books. His poetry is forthcoming in The Great Lakes Review, Big Whoopie Deal, La Piccioletta Barca, and an anthology about mental illness from Quillkeepers.
The Cotton Pickers
A tangle of legs
Endless lines of cotton
A bowl of cotton picked
A Queen from far away
What a jumble of a family
The artist has spoken of
Demeaning work hard work
Old work and young work
As the Queen oversees blesses
The bounty of rough hands
Calloused soles misplaced souls
Her family portrait portrayed
A unit complex as life
Endless as life as well
Mark Wholey is an artist and sculptor at www.markwholeyart.com.
They will not bend for a nation without mercy.
They are human in a land lacking humanity.
They will not break. They will stand tall.
From dusk to dawn, six days a week,
in sun-scorched fields, they will seed
and weed, plant and plow, pick, sack
and haul cotton bolls in ten-pound sacks,
ten acres per day. For less, they will be beaten,
branded, lashed, hanged, raped. They must obey.
No shoes to shield their feet from heat as they labor.
Ten minutes to dine on dried rice and beans, but they
have each other. They are family. And they stand tall.
They carry names given by their owners, but will
be buried in unmarked graves on the edge of property
they tended. Whites will never know them.
They remain the nameless force behind a thriving
nation, while their wealthy, wigged captors become
legend of film, plays, songs, and history books.
But they stand tall.
Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland with her husband, Jon, three cats and a dog. They are quarantined from their two sons: Richard of New York, NY, and Joshua of San Antonio, TX. Shelly is author of Pumpkinhead, a collection of her poetry, published by Richard and Joshua as a surprise to her. Her work has also appeared in various publications, including Verse-Virtual, Silver Birch Press, and Halfway Down the Stairs. Her hobbies include making greeting cards and memory books as well as refereeing animals.
It’s arduous planting corn seeds for hours. My arms ache, my legs are stiff, and my skin burns from the beaming sun. My bare feet bake in the heat, yet I continue to till because my family depends on this field. We live poorly, in a small hut, with one room, and insects crawling all over our bodies, but we manage. I work so my children can go to school and have better lives. It hasn’t been easy since my wife passed, but I work every day.
I long for an easier life for my son and daughter and will work until I know they are able to live on their own. At that time, they will be educated and living in America, with a house and yard full of flowers and vegetable plants.
Fantasizing about my children’s future, I continue tilling.
Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher
Lisa M. Scuderi-Burkimsher has been writing since 2010 and has had many micro-flash fiction stories published. In 2018 her book Shorts for the Short Story Enthusiasts, was published and The Importance of Being Short, in 2019. She currently resides on Long Island, New York with her husband Richard and dogs Lucy and Breanna.
Two Tanka in Ode to African Americans
They built this country
With cotton and tobacco
Just row after row
Stooped and bending and aching
So, this is an ode
To the great perseverance
To the fortitude
To the tremendous patience
They still use in modern day
Rose Menyon Heflin
Rose Menyon Heflin is an emerging poet and artist from Wisconsin who loves nature and travel. Among other venues, her work has recently been published or is forthcoming in Ariel Chart, Asahi Haikuist Network, Bramble, The Closed Eye Open, The Daily Drunk, Deep South Magazine, Dreich Magazine, Eastern Structures, The Ekphrastic Review, Haikuniverse, The Light Ekphrastic, Littoral Magazine, Please See Me, Plum Tree Tavern, Red Alder Review, Red Eft Review, Sparked Literary Magazine, Three Line Poetry, Trouvaille Review, Visual Verse, and The Writers Club.
Every year the beginning of harvest season is the saddest day of the year for me. It is a day of nothing but pain.
It is the one time I allow myself to remember my home from so long ago, and remember my father and brothers harvesting our own cotton from our family’s field, the bushes planted in the red soil of my country. Then, when there was enough, my mother and sisters would card and dye the thread many colors made from the different berries growing in the wild areas. We had several looms, and all of us would take turns weaving the threads into beautiful patterns that we sold in the village.
Everyone knew us for miles around, as my family had been weavers for generations.
But then I also remember the Arab traders who came and took away my brothers and sisters and other young people from the village, in exchange for many foreign presents for the local headman. My parents wept but could do nothing as these strangers had guns.
It is the day I remember the terrible voyage, the terrible smells, and the terrible deaths. We arrived at a strange city where a strange white man inspected me like I was a goat and then took me home to work for him, alongside others from my country and elsewhere, who were all strangers.
It is the day when I remember arriving at his farm and understanding that I was now an orphan, and would never see any of my family again. All of us on this farm grieve silently like me, and all of us work to forget our pain, but on this one day a year it comes back into my heart like a hungry panther emerging from the jungle, and I am devoured.
Karen Petersen has traveled the world extensively, publishing poetry, short stories, and flash in national and international publications. She has been nominated for numerous prizes and more information can be found here: https://karenpetersenwriter.com
Beneath a hot prairie sun
knelt a dying man,
sowing and picking seeds - chains of liberty.
When he closes his eyes,
he hears one of the seeds speaking.
Asking do you rest in sleep like me?
Does your heart wake in fatigue?
Are your roots too—wormy?
Yes, it's the source of all life?
Ah-old-man lay here beside me.
Tell me about all those flowers in the world.
Tell me of all that glorifies.
Ah-old-man, when will you water me?
Cut all that binds and carry my harvest home.
Dear little-seed your green blade
it cuts to me the core; it cuts a hole in me.
For me, it is already midnights-hour.
But soon you'll stretch to the full moon,
and bloom my little disburse flower seed.
And find your solace and freedom,
like my own, a little cottonseed bloom.
Mark Andrew Heathcote
Mark Andrew Heathcote is adult learning difficulties support worker, his poetry has been published in many journals, magazines and anthologies, he resides in the UK, from Manchester, he is the author of In Perpetuity and Back on Earth two books of poems published by a CTU publishing group ~ Creative Talents Unleashed. https://www.facebook.com/mark.heathcote.18
for All African-Americans & Their Histories
after Employment of African-Americans in Agriculture by Earle Richardson (USA), 1934 C.E.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody”
Saad Ali (b. 1980 C.E. in Okara, Pakistan) has been brought up in the UK and Pakistan. He holds a BSc and an MSc in Management from the University of Leicester, UK. He is an existential philosopher-poet. Ali has authored four books of poetry i.e. Ephemeral Echoes (AuthorHouse, 2018), Metamorphoses: Poetic Discourses (AuthorHouse, 2019), Ekphrases: Book One (AuthorHouse, 2020), and Prose Poems: Βιβλίο Άλφα (AuthorHouse, 2020). He is a regular contributor to The Ekphrastic Review. 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 Persian, Chinese, and Greek cuisines. He likes learning different languages, travelling by train, and exploring cities on foot. To learn more about his work, please visit www.saadalipoetry.com.
Our Day Will Come
Our day will come, if only years from now:
United, we are destined to prevail—--
Released from toil behind the mule-drawn plough,
Discharged from bondage to the cotton bale.
A day will come when we are truly free.
Yet till that long-awaited day arrives,
We labor in de facto slavery—--
Imagining our liberated lives ...
Long years of subjugation nullified
Lincolnian pronouncements made in vain:
Crow's Law saw all our freedom brushed aside,
Our loss in dignity made landlords' gain ...
May we yet see oppression swept away?
Emancipation will arrive that day!
Mike Mesterton-Gibbons is a Professor Emeritus at Florida State University who builds game-theoretic models of animal behavior. His acrostic sonnets have appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, the Creativity Webzine, Current Conservation, the Ekphrastic Review, Grand Little Things, Light, Lighten Up Online, Oddball Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, the Satirist and the Tallahassee Democrat. His limericks have appeared in Britain’s Daily Mail.
Dawn to Dusk
Dawn to dusk, it is cotton for us
New year or Christmas
In freezing cold we work
Evicting us from home
Out in open we toil, our family and all of us.
The faces covered in mist
That hangs around
And cuts through the skin
Speechless and without an answer
To why are we here-
The humanity is dragged and numbed
Over and over a shame writ
Free spirit is with fire lit
The dignity awakened and out
Opposite the mighty and in power
Wailed and shut in quick succession
The fields continue to burn
And the moon turns crimson
May we rise comes the voice
On this earth for its lives-
As the galaxy of stars speak, dawn to dusk.
Abha Das Sarma
Abha Das Sarma: "An engineer and management consultant by profession, I enjoy the writing most. Besides having a blog of over 200 poems (http://dassarmafamily.blogspot.com), my poems have appeared in Muddy River Poetry Review, Spillwords, Verse-Virtual, Sparks of Calliope, here and elsewhere. Having spent my growing up years in small towns of northern India, I currently live in Bengaluru."
Rows in my hair…
rows in my clothes…
rows on my cheeks and under my eyes.
And the rows stretch on…..
on to the shadows…
red dirt on my toes as I pick the bolls
in the rows.
Walking those rows
not looking back….
tossing my basket…
dropping my hoe.
Treading those rows
swirling red dust
I’m coming home!”
Pounding those rows
just want to go home
Lord, just want to go home
And the darkness gathers
rows fade and dissolve.
And I’m tired, Mama
Staring at rows.
Just want to go home.
Away from the rows.
Diana Newquist Parson
Diana Newquist Parson is a retired teacher, who enjoys sleeping late, blogging sporadically at https://glorybug.wordpress.com/, and traveling with her husband. She is mother of one, grandmother of three, and has no living pets. She sometimes walks around, talking to herself as she tries out the sound of words, and she has been published a few times. Diana doesn’t know know how to swim, is a mediocre cook, and hates to dust. Otherwise she is fairly normal.
nobody's innocent it's karma judgment is not truth
She was black,
and the cotton was white,
a contrast so deliberate
it was ink-print, but illegible
on a 19th century page
of family history
because some said
she was a lie; some said
truth, a story buried in a field
outside New Orleans
where slaves picked cotton,
some leased, maybe some conscripted,
some runaways, and if caught, liable
to be convicted like Glenn Ligon,
who must have got some money,
somehow, or been an artist,
showing at the CAMH,
shackled by a really cool, big ole' silver Timex
on a silver band, way ahead of his time,
talkin' out the side of his mouth,
described six different ways
like my great-grandmother's mother,
not bought in town, bidding prices
high when it was time to plant, to sow,
and time to reap when white-topped cotton
crops filled the fields like snow,
one shade of white like winter; another,
fallen clouds, dirty white, sometimes,
with rain; or the moon, already shrinking
backward from full, the crop threatened
by storm, mold and differences of opinion,
prejudice likened to the open-mouth
insect hunger of boll weevils.
To the man on the horse who owned her --
nobody's innocent -- it's karma -- judgment is not truth --
she must have looked as solid -- yet ethereal --
as the earth on his plantation,
ready to sow with future generations,
a woman who wouldn't erase her young
with the denial of resources; his land
chased by phantoms of moonlight,
that turned out to be a bridal veil.
There is no record
of a birth, easy
or hard, only a hand-
of my great-grandmother,
was the heart of the family.
I've imagined her
holding my grandfather,
newborn, the last of her children
born in New Orleans; and
her husband, my great-grandfather,
reporting the weather
in his leather-bound journals;
who wrote, in September,
that the midwife was late,
but he was home early.
There are no other details --
sunlight or rain -- or who boiled the water
(someone usually boils water)
or who delivered the child,
was close by the bedside --
only his script, a note in the margin --
An extraordinary day!
There's nothing else like it
in his journals, that note
in the margin -- no notes
on the birth dates
of my grandfather's siblings
(and there were many!)
as his pen reported events
with Victorian discretion
without revealing who delivered
the child, when the date didn't lie...
It was near the fall equinox,
20 September, when the harvest
is blessed with a full, autumn moon;
and the moon could have added
an air of excitement -- an exclamation --
details blurry as bloodlines
in family stories
when all that seems real
is the girl in a cotton field.
Laurie Newendorp lives and writes in Houston, Texas. Her recent book, When Dreams Were Poems, compares the similarities of poetry to art. "The title of the poem, nobody's Innocent it's karma judgment is not truth is a line taken from one of the art works at the CAMH (Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston) where I presented the poem for Words & Art, an evening with poems based on an exhibit centered around African Americans. My poem, dedicated to my great-grandmother, came to mind when I saw the challenge picture, Earle Richardson's Employment of African-Americans in Agriculture. The CAMH exhibit, far more modern than Richardson's 1934 painting, was reality-based and emphasized enslavement, imprisonment and abuse by inequality. Glenn Ligon, an African American artist, mentioned in the poem, was one of the artists included in the exhibit; and my "family story" in the poem is true: my ancestor was the daughter of a French plantation owner by an African American "employee," and my great-grandmother was "mulatto," a "woman of colour" who married my great-grandfather, a German immigrant (also with Jewish blood) in New Orleans."
Chasing Rhythm & Blues
bronzed in sun
in the tap of time
along wih song
etched in rutted
run of furrow
chasing pulse of Rhythm & Blues
Kate Young lives in England and has been passionate about poetry since childhood. She generally writes free verse and loves responding to Art through Ekphrastic poems. Her poems have appeared in Ninemuses, Ekphrastic Review, Nitrogen House, Words for the Wild, Poetry on the Lake, and a Scottish Writers Centre chapbook. Her work has also featured in the anthologies Places of Poetry and Write Out Loud. Her pamphlet A Spark in the Darkness recently won The Baker’s Dozen competition with Hedgehog Press and is due to be published. Find her on Twitter @Kateyoung12poet.
Employment of African-Americans in Agriculture, by Earle Richardson
It is 1934--the rows of cotton, deceptively beautiful,
are endless, the landscape warm and round,
the sun relentless. The workers rise up
straight with strength and grit, though surely
their backs must ache and hands cramp
after hours imprisoned by their labour.
Perhaps the artist sensed his title was a pleasing lie
for the Federal Art Project—"employment“ a fig leaf
for the new slavery of sharecropping.
Or perhaps, born in the North, the artist borrowed courage
from his unbreakable brothers and sisters
still toiling in the South..
And now it is 1935. Unseen in this painting, the painter,
Earle Richardson, only twenty-three, has been left alone
in a hard and angular universe by the death of his lover
and collaborator. He opens the window and steps into the frigid
New York December. The dirty pavement, four stories below,
rises up to meet him.
Eileen Ivey Sirota
Eileen Ivey Sirota is the author of Out of Order, a chapbook published in 2020 by Finishing Line Press. She is a psychotherapist, poet and potter who has come late—but enthusiastically—to the party which is poetry. Her poems have been published in Calyx, District Lines, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, Lighten Up, NewVerseNews and The Ekphrastic Review.
In The New Deal
my tailored lemon shirt
brother’s white double-stitched
young one’s orange t in pure cotton
regal sister’s red/white silk blouse
our brushed chinos in pastels
skirts floating below knees
with head dresses courtesy of
our kindly task master who
will not provide footwear, he says
to avoid blisters and bunions
or gloves for our hands
to avert hard calluses forming though
this is fabrication, pure fiction
for our garments are rags
for none have been washed
for facilities do not exist,
and the clothes on our backs
cover up welds and deep scars
while a voice loud in our ears
threatens retribution as
he lets us sleep late until
church bells ring five
but takes us off his land
just as day turns to night though
this is the New Deal
for peasants of the fields standing
in front of an endless landscape
of cotton and contradiction
sharing laughter and bon ami
having packed bolls into bales
for a pittance and little food
and a wooden hut to be shared yet
we seek palliation from poverty
seek deliverance from this Depression
while aspiring the liberties enjoyed
by free women and free men
Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical free verse. He has achieved success in poetry competitions across the British Isles and North America. His work has been published by many literary magazines, anthologies and webzines in the UK, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Kenya, USA and Canada. Since 2018, he has been part of The Ekphrastic Review community particularly enjoying the fortnightly challenges. He is a member of the Federation of Writers Scotland for whom he was a Featured Writer in 2019.
Curling mists rising from sloughs in a land table flat,
only a few thickets where the water stands full of cottonmouths;
bull frogs and mosquitoes rest from night serenade
and sun climbs to mid-day heat.
Folks troop to the fields frothed with white to the horizon--
Mississippi white gold mined with sweat on sticky afternoons--
waiting for the sun to kiss the River.
They pull cotton sacks down the rows
And pluck the fibre out of the bolls,
Sometimes pricking fingers.
Late in the afternoon,
The weigh in
And are paid a dime a pound.
The adults who have picked a hundred pounds
Make ten dollars
While the children
Who pick only twenty pounds
Make two dollars.
It’s the forever land undulating in black
beneath your feet that gives it soul,
flavors it with tears.
And the blue notes still rising from bottle neck slides
glide out into a night as rich as black earth
waiting for another sun.
Dr. Emory D. Jones is a retired English teacher who has taught in high school and in several community colleges. He has four hundred and fifty-five credits including publication in such journals as Writer’s Digest, Smokey Blue Literary and Arts Magazine, The Light Ekphrastic, Big Muddy; a Journal of the Mississippi River, Three Line Poetry, Auroras & Blossoms, Pegasus, Halcyon Days Magazine, Falling Star Magazine, The Cumberland River Review, The Delta Poetry Review, Calliope, Deep South Magazine, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, and Encore: Journal of the NFSPS. He lives in Iuka, Mississippi.
The cotton appears like candy spun in a metal tub
where a funnel is upended while the tub whirls
next to horses going round and round.
It is all a circle. Pondered while the cotton drips
down your chin into the cleft just beginning
to sprout. A year from now you will not
indulge in the pink, sometimes blue, sometimes
yellow. How it never burns to red or orange.
Anything that brings a tank with hose.
Bundled into burlap for market close to water
where we dream in bunks of stealing away
up the coast north of Mason-Dixon
M.D. as we call it and don’t mean any doctor
with stethoscope and white coat
only the man on the spotted horse.
Appaloosa in the bright sun while he calls
“How many bags today, Son?
“How many bags yesterday?”
Kyle Laws is based out of Steel City Art Works in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Uncorseted (Kung Fu Treachery Press, 2020), Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence coauthored 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 and one for Best of the Net, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. She is editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
As John Henry driving iron
These are the bodies of heroes
Bare feet on the earth
Limbs straight, backs unbowed
Every line speaks strength
Power in the broad stance
The counterbalance of the body
To the load carried
Majesty in the calm face
Of the tall woman
Carrying her burden like a crown-
They make the connection
Between earth and sky
Today and tomorrow
Their labor the alchemy
That brings seed to harvest
Life to life
Without the lash, at long last
They bend and stretch
Gather and lift
Bags that only weigh
What the scale can measure
Without the burden of bondage
The scar of force, the bitter twist
Of coffle, chain and whip
They stand solid in the field
No shoes, rough clothes
With nothing much more
Than their beauty
And their everlasting strength
Mary McCarthy is a retired RN with a life long love of literature and the visual arts. Ekphrastic writing brings both of these wonderfully together. Mary’s work has appeared in many journals and anthologies, most recently The Plague Papers, edited by Robbi Nester, The Ekphrastic World, edited by Lorette C. Luzajic, and Recasting Masculinity, edited by Rudolph, Taylor, and Ussia. Lately she has also been included in The Silver Birch Press series on “How To” and in the latest issues of Earth’s Daughters and Verse-Virtual.
Bloom of Dreams
It was -- for generations -- toil,
this cotton picked where sun would boil
the sweat by which the soul would learn
the cost of what it took to earn
respect that might not ever come
from labor to which minds were numb,
but would by fruit of labor found
in destiny of nation bound
to free the world from looming chains
of despots eyeing evil reigns.
Armed service would be sacrifice
sufficient to be seen as price
for dignity as seed well sown
that would by bloom of dreams be known.
Portly Bard: Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Not What History Tells Us
Here we stand together, a straight-backed family
of gatherers, as pristine as the snow-white bolls
we’ve just picked and coordinated like the rows
behind or the stripes on Mama’s dress.
The light we live in gleams a candy-floss dream,
our bales fill with promise, our future looms in bold.
We plant, reap and tote with clockwork symmetry.
Quotas balance. Burdens are light.
Here we stand as if we own that field, foot-loose,
not a scar in sight, wearing comfortable cottons,
as if nothing will ever separate us, as if that sun
will never scorch us, as if we’ll never know otherwise.
Helen Freeman has been published on several sites such as Ink, Sweat and Tears, Red River Review, Barren Magazine, The Drabble, Sukoon and The Ekphrastic Review. Her instagram page is @chemchemi.hf. She lives in Durham, England.
African-Americans in Acronyms
We knew this Deal didn’t mean
All of us.
What they wanted to see:
All of us happily
Picking cotton still today.
For all they promise to
Deliver for the people
Really did not mean all of us.
So I painted them barefoot
Showing that progress isn’t for
All of us.
Could they have
Cottoned to my meaning about
Castigating all of us?
All we see is black and red and beautiful;
All they see are white fields ripe for
All of us to work.
Fear will keep them from
All of us.
Benjamin Squires (BiCS) is a poet, photographer, and pastor in northern Illinois. His work is published from the pulpit every week, but that isn't what he dreamed about as a kid when he said he wanted to be a writer. So he slips in poetry into his sermons, inviting people to appreciate the power and beauty and imagery of words. His photography can be viewed at: www.bicspics.com
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