My Ekphrasis Was A Fraud: Or Was It?

Which came first, the picture or the poem?  In the case of a short verse I recently wrote, it was the poem. (A rather bleak one, which I paired with this picture by Scottish artist Thomas Faed, entitled ‘Faults on Both Sides’).  No dissimulation was intended and yet, when readers mistakenly assumed I had written an ekphrasis, I did not immediately disabuse them – after all, my mother-in-law may have been reading (!) and the poem as ekphrasis afforded me a level of emotional anonymity I suddenly felt I needed.

In any case, I reasoned,  ekphrasis, (Greek for ‘description’, usually of a work of art), has its roots so deeply embedded in reinterpretation,  that perhaps it is by nature a sham. Less a response to an artwork than a projection of the writer’s preoccupations onto one; a veil in the flirtatious dance of disguise and reveal, which we perform to conceal ourselves in the reader’s sights.

And yet, despite these justifications, it was clear I had crossed at least one literary boundary, and my conscience was now hitting uncomfortably up against it: Which came first, the picture or the poem?  Here, I confess, and in the process come close to writing a genuine ekphrasis.  

(P.S. Apologies to the long suffering husband. We all have our moments, and this expresses but one of ours!)

Faults on Both Sides 1861 Thomas Faed

My Ekphrasis Is A Fraud

on the head of the stick
shoved into his mouth
to choke violent eruptions

crazed horses
restrained beneath
brows of extreme malcontent

with her handkerchief
twisting and twisting
a noose around the wrist
of despair’s swollen neck

This is the way I disguised our spent love’s lament

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  2. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Michele. The expressions on the couple are so universal that we all probably have this image in our mind’s eye, in one way or another. Your words were just interpreting a painting you hadn’t brought into focus yet:) Both the poem and image are quite powerful and moving.

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  3. History shares many moments like these, for a visual depiction of life in such ways is not unique to the art, but rather the brush strokes, colours, and style. Just as words can create brush strokes with their lines, phrasing for colour, and style through form. Each depiction, choice to pursue, carry their own interpretation upon many similar moments captured in histories passing annuals as time continues to transit. Great poem, Michele…

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  4. This is the second time today I’ve been embarrassed not to know something everyone else seems to. I had to look up the word ‘Ekphrasis’ so thank you for teaching me something new. However, unlike your other commentators I find it remarkable that you found a painting that so closely matched your excellent poem unless you this was a painting you had seen before and perhaps forgotten (although, in my opinion this is a quite unforgettable painting). All in all, a fascinating post and kudos to you and your husband for sharing it with us.

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      Hi Malcolm! Thanks so much for your comment, and don’t worry, ekphrasis is a relatively new word for me also – I didn’t know it until everyone started assuming I had written one! And yes, I had to run this one past the hubby before releasing it into the ether – luckily he is fairly unflappable about such things. That helps when you’re living with a writer who keeps turning your lives into poems! Thanks again 🙂

      > Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2013 00:09:06 +0000 > To: >

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