a grounded instance of seeing

I’ve just read this very interesting text on ekphrasis by Alfred Corn, the text can be found at poets.org; here are some passages on contemporary poetry

Notes on Ekphrasis

Perhaps the most effective contemporary poems dealing with visual art are those where the authors include themselves in the poem, recounting the background circumstances that led to a viewing of the painting or sculpture in question; or what memories or associations or emotions it stirs in them; or how they might wish the work to be different from what it is (a very interesting point I haven’t considered). The center of attention in this kind of poem isn’t solely the pre-existing work but instead is dual, sharing the autobiographical focus found in the majority of contemporary lyric poems written in English.

Poems like these unite ekphrasis with the autobiographical tradition, which is equally ancient and probably more important than ekphrasis alone. (…) Of course you can argue that an ekphrastic poem providing no information at all about the author may still convey autobiographical content indirectly, in the form of “voice,” tone, level of diction, and the kind and frequency of judgments made in the course of presentation. In “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” Rilke gives us no precise autobiographical facts about himself; nevertheless, we get a strong sense of the author’s character and prospects from his presentation of the subject, in particular, when he imagines the torso saying to him, “You must change your life.”


from Richard Mosse The Enclave (2013)

More directly autobiographical ekphrastic poems locate the act of viewing visual art in a particular place and time, giving it a personal and perhaps even an historical context. The result is then not merely a verbal “photocopy” of the original painting, sculpture, or photograph, but instead a grounded instance of seeing, shaped by forces outside the artwork. In such poems, description of the original work remains partial, but authors add to it aspects drawn from their own experience—the facts, reflections, and feelings that arise at the confluence of a work of visual art and the life of the poet.

Isn’t a grounded instance of seeing a great concept & wouldn’t it also present us with an extremely challenging position to write from – as if from within …

2 Comments Add yours

  1. V says:

    I learned something today!thanks

  2. Count on Mr. Corn to teach us a few things about poetry! He’s quite well respected here in the US though considered a bit formalist by some more deconstructive-minded types. I had totally forgotten about his definition/critique of ekphrasis, thank you for reminding me!

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