POEM OF THE WEEK: Ekphrastic Poetry

For your next unit, consider incorporating a Ekphrastic Poem!

Ekphrasis: writing that comments upon another art form, for instance a poem about a photograph or a novel about a film.  Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a prime example of this type of writing, since the entire poem concerns the appearance and meaning of an ancient piece of pottery.

  • Here is a sample lesson from the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  • Here are bunches of examples:

“The Starry Night” Anne Sexton (1961)

vangogh

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive. Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

“Nude Descending a Staircase” Marcel Duchamp (1912), X.J. Kennedy (1961)

duchamp

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,

A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind. 

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh–
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by. 

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape. 

“To Brooklyn Bridge/ photograph  Hart Crane (1930)

bbridge

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty–

Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
–Till elevators drop us from our day . . .

I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;

And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,–
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!

Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.

Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky’s acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.

And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.

O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet’s pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover’s cry,–

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path–condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City’s fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

One response to “POEM OF THE WEEK: Ekphrastic Poetry

  1. Hey guys!

    1. I love Chicago, but I still miss the Delta terribly.
    2. Ekphrastic was my kids’ favorite type of poetry by a mile. We used Sherman Alexie’s “At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School” for our baseline (we were reading Part Time Indian at the time). The kids had fun ripping it apart (and that poem is DEEP). Afterwards, I went on Flickr and clicked random, and came up with 9 different, totally random images for the students to use. They absolutely ate it up, and they produced some of their best work for me during that unit. Awesome stuff.
    Link to the Alexie Poem: http://www.hanksville.org/voyage/poems/NavajoSchool.html

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