Thursday, July 29, 2010


"Ballerina" by Paul Vincenti. Image used with permission.

Thanks to artist Paul Vincenti, who posted my poem "A Meeting of the Arts" to go with his painting "Ballerina."

Paul painted this portrait live, on the spot, in 90 minutes (with subsequent fine-tuning), before a crowd at a gallery opening -- his website has more details. After seeing the portrait, I challenged myself to write a sonnet about it, on the spot (though not before a crowd). I drafted the poem in about a half hour and e-mailed it to him. He included it on his webpage, below the painting.

Click here for Paul's online gallery and here for his fantasy art gallery. I had thrilled to his fantasy art first, meeting him and his work at science fiction conventions around Florida.

Here's the poem:

A Meeting of the Arts
(after Paul Vincenti's painting "Ballerina")

Her golden bodice whirls amidst the crowd,
A slice of dance within the gallery.
The music in our heads unfolds, out loud.
And, filling canvas for the room to see,

The artist dips his brush and sculpts a line,
Her supple arms, her leotard still wet,
Her arms demurely crossed, her gaze sublime,
Affixed in form for no one to forget.

Behind her, made ethereal and vast,
Orlando forms a soft kaleidoscope,
Her ballet company a sparkling cast,
Their colors turning pirouettes of hope.

She dances through the paint in fluid grace.
The artist's brushes hold and stroke her face.

This isn't the first time poetry's been written to one of Paul's paintings. In 2008 Marge Simon and I each wrote poems based on paintings we'd seen at the Necronomicon art show. While I'd written "First Contact in Appalachia" to Sandra SanTara's "Love Song," Marge had written "Land/Escape" to Paul's "Remnants of the Ancient Age". Both poems appeared in Space and Time #104.

Writing poetry to go with a painting (or, more broadly, a work of art) is not new; it is in fact quite old and is called ekphrasis. The term has its roots in the Greek ek (out) and phrazein (tell, declare, pronounce), and originally meant "speaking out." (Source: Chantal Fischbach and Christiane Hendel)

In "Conventions of Ekphrasis," Calamity Jane explains, "Frequently the poet will use the poem as a means of creating a voice for it, quite literally giving a voice to the mute art object. The artwork (usually painting or sculpture) speaks to the artist or the poem will speak to the mute visual artifact."

The earliest Western example usually given is Homer's description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad, which adds yet another layer to the form because the shield -- the artwork -- is itself imaginary. Technically, ekphrasis can apply to dance and music, but most of the time it references visual art.

Harry Rusche (English Department, Emory University) presents this linked list of ekphrastic poems. There's also a magazine called Ekphrasis dedicated to the form.

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