Ekphrasticon, by Ekaterina Dukas: a Review by Colin Pink
Ekphrasticon, by Ekaterina Dukas (Europa Ediciones, 2021) (Amazon link)
Europe: Europa Ediciones
Ekphrasticon is a complete book of ekphrastic poems by the Bulgarian poet Ekaterina Dukas, written in English. Readers of The Ekphrastic Review might be familiar with her work, since several of the poems were first published in the magazine. In common with The Ekphrastic Review, each of the poems in the book is beautifully illustrated with a photograph of the art work in question so that the reader can pick up resonances from the interaction of image and text and see how the one sparks off the other.
Dukas is a linguist by training and has a deep knowledge of how different languages function. In her poetry Dukas explores the musicality she finds in the English language in her own distinctive voice.
The choice of subjects for the poems is very wide, ranging from the familiar masterpieces of western art such as Manet’s Olympia, Michelangelo’s Holy Family and Van Gogh Starry Night, to Palaeolithic cave art, ancient Thracian artefacts and poems inspired by music. But whatever the subject Dukas approaches it with a passionate engagement with the source material and explores the various resonances that it conjures up in the imagination. In Van Gogh’s Starry Night:
His brush swirls in the thick of night
a thief’s key in a prison lock
to unchain the celestial sea.
Blazing blue and liquid gold
sea gods lunging headlong
In Botticelli’s Primavera Dukas observes that:
The three graces have arrived
to adorn the soul of rebirth
with Joy, Chastity and Beauty
clasping hands with sacred grace
along the bonding string of all beings,
here wiring in their little palms.
This image contrasts strongly with a much more earthy image of the same subject in a poem based on an ancient Thracian stone relief of the three graces. Here we have a much more authentically pagan vision:
We bathed in the nymph’s spring,
scented our skin with wild rose petals,
draped our scarves over the shoulders
and came to the forest for the dance…
Here we get a sense of a pagan ritual actually taking place, instead of the balletic tone of Botticelli’s painting, and the urgency and important of this ritual dance, as the poem ends on the lines:
You fare well along the weaving trail!
We have to move heaven
without budging the sky!
The sky can also, of course, be the source of menace. In ‘Picasso’s Scream’ Dukas reflects on the enduring power and relevance of Picasso’s famous painting Guernica, with its ferocious condemnation of the violence of aerial warfare tearing innocence civilians limb from limb. At first the poet is reminded of Picasso personal violence in his relationships:
“Nobody leaves Picasso”
he shouted after his last lover,
when she went away forever.
Dukas contemplates the painting in the context of a group of school children, their reactions to the violent scene and their attempts to respond to it in their own drawings. Thus the message of violence is passed down through the generations.:
…the pain so close, children
are multiplying the loss.
Some were trying to put on paper
what they could see through tears
and trembling fingers.
One girl pencilled only a cross.
Everyone remains with a piece of soul –
a candle to Picasso’s Guernica of the world.
Many of the poems in this book are profoundly meditative, reflecting vividly on our place in an uncertain universe and evoking a spiritual dimension that dwells behind the variety of imagery. This is a thought provoking book with a cornucopia of ekphrastic poetry.
Colin Pink’s poems have appeared in a wide range of literary magazines and often in the The Ekphrastic Review. He has published several poetry collections: Acrobats of Sound, 2016 from Poetry Salzburg Press and The Ventriloquist Dummy’s Lament, 2019 from Against the Grain Press, and Typicity, from Dempsey and Windle, 2021.
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