Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ekphrastic Poetry to Serve Larger Purpose


Ekphrasis is the graphic, and sometimes dramatic, description of a visual work of art. The word is derived from the Greek roots “ek,” meaning “out,” and “phrasis,” meaning “speak.” When combined, these roots originally referred to the calling of an inanimate object by name. Today, the term is most often used to refer to a work of art that is based on another work of art in a different media. For example, a poem about a painting would be called an ekphrastic poem. Similarly, a painting of a sculpture would be considered ekphrastic.

The practice of ekphrastic work is a common exercise in all arts today. Think of the number of films you’ve seen that are “based” on novels, or the number of paintings that refer to specific characters or scenes from literature. In the past year in Hickory, Lenoir Rhyne University, Full Circle Arts, and Poetry Hickory have all been involved in ekphrastic poetry projects, where poets have been invited to compose works based on painting and photography exhibits.

Now, for the second year, Aroma of Art (AOA) is including an ekphrastic poetry event as part of their 8th annual benefit art auction. Aroma of Art is an important annual fundraiser for AIDS Leadership Foothills area Alliance (ALFA), the Humane Society of Catawba County, and the Women’s Resource Center. Donated works of art will be displayed at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse during the month of February, and silent bids on the pieces will be accepted throughout the month. Winning bids will be announced at the AOA Grand Finale, February 28.

This year, poets are invited to view the works of art at Taste Full Beans, starting February 1, and write their own original pieces inspired by the work they see. Approximately 20-25 poems will be selected, framed, put on display with the work of art they were inspired by, read by the poet at a special pre-finale event on February 26, and finally, given to the person who places the highest bid on the subject work of art.

Poets interested in submitting their work can email their poems to me at or drop off their work at Taste Full Beans. Deadline for submission is noon, February 17. A panel of judges will determine the poems that will be included in the display and the reading. Submissions should include the poet’s name, the name of the work of art the poem is based on, and the name of the artist.

Printed below is one of the poems included in last year’s Poetry Hickory / Aroma of Art Ekphrastic Poetry Event. The poem has subsequently been published in the journal Pirene’s Fountain:

The Persistence of Field by Scott Owens

after Carl Moser’s photograph “Raking Hay”

This field goes on in time,
wrapping around mountain, years, generations.

What are two men against a mountain,
to plow it, sow it, lay it straight,
maintain fenceline and productivity?

He has worn this hat every summer
for thirty years, flattening fields
he claims as his own,
but even as he fights the horses
to keep them in line, knock down
a season’s worth of weeds,
even as he grips the reins
and guides the blade,
he can’t help but notice
white breath of queen-anne’s lace,
orange fire of asclepias tuberosa.
For more information on Aroma of Art please call Taste Full Beans staff at 325-0108.

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