Masks, or, the Art of Poetry/Ekphrastic Poetry Take Two

“The Venue held its first Ekphrasis, defined as a written poem inspired by a work of art.  5 local poets were invited to choose one painting from a selection of paintings submitted by 5 artists to write an ekphrastic poem.  Each poet explained what about the painting inspired them, followed by the artist’s explanation of inspiration.  Round two with 5 fresh paintings and poets will be held this Saturday, May 23rd at 6pm.  Join us!”  Thus the reading/showing last Saturday (as posted here the next day, cf. May 17) from local gallery The Venue’s report on Facebook.  So this evening the second part came about, though missing one poet who was unable to appear.

Those of us here, in the order of reading, were Eric Rensberger, me, Tom Hastings, and Timothy Reed, on hand with the artists who followed each poet with their own story of how the art came about.  An interesting part was that the readings varied not just in the poems themselves but in style of reading, more so than they had last week (though poet and Writers Guild founding member Patsy Rahn did involve the audience then with a sort of background, building song-chant as her poem progressed), with Eric and me giving fairly straight up readings (in both cases reading three “warm up” poems before the explanation and fourth, “inspired” poem, I adding a little more about how all four of mine related to one another and to the art); Tom adding a bit of drama, including chanting in the introduction to his; and Timothy miming to the drama of his reading, adding a second poem afterwards that included both reading and singing.

The artwork I had selected was a black and white still life of two theatrical masks, by Ray Perigo, titled “Hanging On” and my three opening poems, all of which also are in my collection VAMPS (A RETROSPECTIVE), were “La Méduse” (also the poem that opens my prose fiction collection THE TEARS OF ISIS), to establish the idea of art; “Night Child,” originally published in TOMORROW SF and with a sequence on music and dance for, specifically, the performing arts; and “Émile’s Ghosts,” itself an ekphrastic poem based on a painting by Marge Simon, with a theme of times past and possible regrets.  I pointed out also that the first and third contained references to France, to thus introduce my theatrical poem, “Animal Eyes,” on an actual theatre in Paris that is no more, the Grand Guignol,* suggesting that its horrific illusions — “masks” — could no longer compete with “the horrors of real life;/ the players in masks now of human flesh,/ . . . / but, beneath, what thoughts hoarding?”

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*For a bit of background on which, see December 9 2014.  The poem’s title, “Animal Eyes,” comes from the factoid that actual animal eyes were used for simulated eye-gougings because they could be counted on to bounce realistically on the stage.

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  1. Wish I’d been there! Well do I recall “Emile’s Ghosts!” Also,That song chant w/audience involvement sounds interesting — I believe that ekphrasis can also involve music or even dance as interpretations and art doesn’t have to figure in the equation. Each can be a visual or musical response to the other, etc. Good show, I’m sure!




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