So, what IS ekphrastic writing or art?
As many of you know, I love art. I love going to art museums, galleries and art shows. Art history has always been one of my passions, so it’s natural enough that ekphrastic art and writing has captured my interest. A very simple definition of ekphrastic poetry is writing a poem in response to a work of art. It can be descriptive or it can be a response of any sort to the piece. There are no restrictions, no limits, and that by itself is something that has great appeal. The same goes in reverse–an artist might create a piece in response to a written work. My own blog has poems written about ancient Greek mythology, and in each posting I’ve included beautiful works of art that are ekphrastic responses to the myths.
This particular poem was a response to a show of the artwork of Ronna S. Harris that was held at the Turchin Art Center at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. My husband and I fell in love with her work and this particular painting has haunted me for nine years. This poem is my response to it. My thanks to the artist for her permission to use this painting here and in the journal it was recently published in. I hope some of you will wander over to her own website to look at the gallery of paintings she has there. I still dream of owning one of her works of art. Her website: http://www.ronnaharris.com
Note: My thanks to editor Lorette C. Luzajic for publishing this poem on September 13, 2015 in Ekphrastic: writing and art on art and writing:
Painting: Almost Surrendered, by Rhonna S. Harris, 1992.
Picture used with permission of the artist.
Click the link below if you’d like to hear me read this poem. It takes a few seconds to load.
Almost Surrendered: On Being and Nothingness
The gallery was empty, the artist unknown to us.
Strangers to her work, we walked in quietly,
speaking in whispers about the way she painted
a rich purple aubergine or the clear, shimmering water
in blown-glass bottles. Illusion so real it was perfect.
Her paintings seemed direct but insinuated that
something might be hidden just beyond our view.
From fruits and windows, vegetables and doorways,
suddenly there was a room full of large paintings of figures,
mostly nudes with evocative names like “Pieta” or
“Architecture of the Perfect Man.”
We stopped in front of one called “The Marriage.”
It showed two figures lost in thought, in separate worlds.
It reminded me of what marriage is like for some after
so many years together. Still, silence doesn’t always speak
of distance but of an understanding of hearts.
And there, on the left wall, was “Almost Surrendered.”
A pale naked woman with arms by her side, palms stretched up
in prayer or supplication. She was translucent, existing half here,
half there. Behind her was a closed window. She wore a gold chain.
Was she a memory, a body giving way to death or being reborn?
Or was this ghostly surrender all illusion, a message
to women who have given too much of themselves?
A woman who had lost herself in trying to be everything.
Could she be a dream?
You moved on to the next picture and then the next,
but I stood there staring at this vanishing woman and
wondered who it was who really had surrendered.
Was she any woman?
Could she be me?
You reappeared, and together we moved on.
This time round, I found myself thinking about windows
in pictures, of what lay beyond the glass the artist
drew, surrendering myself to what she didn’t show,
what she concealed in her mind like a stage curtain pulled back
just enough to hint that maybe others stood on the other
side, looking back at us from a completely different angle.
Would they study us closely, marveling at our verisimilitude?
the lovely glazes of color so skillfully applied, built up so
carefully to a level of opacity that suggested real inner depth?
Would they compare us to the other figures in the gallery
and wonder why we were not painted as a man and a woman
fading from view, surrendering to a love spoken in silence?