Ekphrastic Writing


Better known as “writing about art”, Ekphrastic writing dates back to ancient Greece yet the form we know today took hold in the late 18th century. Think of Keats’ 1819, Ode on a Grecian Urn and you get the picture… literally. Ekphrastic writing as an art form continues of course today, thanks in part to writers like Greensboro’s own Val Nieman who led a workshop on the genre at WAM last month. Here are a few examples of the poems and prose created that evening…Weatherspoon Art Museum

  • Paint, just paint

  • Bound, adhered, aligned
  • only to itself;
  • fretted hanging pigments
  • unsupported by
  • canvas, paper or panel

  • Like runes of pre-syllabic words,
  • inchoate prescience –
  • magical in anticipation, and

  • Bound toward meaning.

by Connie Ralston, based on the work, Fold #8: Baroquesy, by Linda Besemer, 1999.

“Momma!” Cynthia tugged at her mother’s jacket. “The bank’s on fire again.” Cynthia’s mother looked up to find a sky billowing in smoky cumuli. Sighing, her eyes dropped back to her child.
“It’s nothing, now come on, we’re late.” Cynthia kept her eyes on the greying sky as her mother dragged her into the sea of oblivious pedestrians. There were cracks within the smoke in which the sky peeked through. The fiery red glow began to swallow whatever blue was left in the atmosphere. Below it all, men, women and children continued past one another, only keeping clear of the occasional traffic cop. From a distance, the whirring whines of fire engines battered their way through the streets. Crowds made a path as if an invisible force pushed them by.
Just above from the second floor window,  Cynthia pressed her face against the glass as far as she could for a good look. She could almost feel the heat from outside. She giggled at the ant-sized figures, scattering from the roaring red beasts below. If only she had her watering can from home, she thought, would the ants below drown like the ones in Momma’s garden?
“Cynthia!”, a voice called from the clothing counters. Cynthia turned toward the direction of the voice, the flickering flames from outside remained imprinted in her eyes. The blue shapes of the store counters  and shoppers slowly reformed in her light-weary corneas.
“Try this on please.” Cynthia’s mother called from outside a dressing room door. Next to her, another woman in a stiff white waist-shirt and indigo skirt. In that lady’s hands was a baby blue dress.
“Yes, Momma” Cynthia slumped from the window, bidding farewell to her urban ants for now.  With every back glimpse, the window shrank with distance.  The fire’s glow continued to light up the sky, penetrating the windows, finally warming the cooled department floor. As Cynthia stepped out of the dressing room, she looked up to find the sales woman’s waistcoat flickering with rhododendrons. Cynthia approached her mother at the counter, taking one last look at her new baby blue dress now flickered with lilacs.
  • By Karla Holland, based on the work, Chicago, by B.J.O. Nordfeldt, 1912.

  • Channeling Picasso, Miro, the sun god, Ra!
  • Masculinity tightly wound.
  • Bound.
  • Contained.

  • Can’t get it out! Can’t get it out! Can’t get it out!

  • Two drops of blue from a tiny phallus,
  • Foretell Pollock’s coming canvas.

  • Anonymous, based on the work, Untitled, by Jackson Pollock, 1939-40.

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3 Responses to “Ekphrastic Writing”

  1. Valerie Nieman said:

    Thank you for posting these wonderful pieces! Congratulations to the writers.

  2. Sydney Workman said:
  3. This is the text pasted on to Elliott Hundley’s “The Body of Polydoros”:
  4. A sea thrashed thing.
    And look how he hacked up the flesh.
    Then didn’t even think the body worthy of a grave!
    Call this shameful!
    Respect me!
    And take pity or else
    stand back like a painter and contemplate me
    the evils I suffer do not exist.
    There is nothing left.
    Not even evils.
  5. My own response to Elliott Hundley’s “The Body of Polydoros”:
  6. And when he fell
    I broke.
    My knees, bare
    and buried
    in the sand
    I threw it all
    thrashed my own
    body there and
    in my skin
    pressing, pushing
    was the sand, the coral
    hard and true
    because of my being there,
    my flesh raw,
    like his.

  7. I threw it all
    out to sea.
    If I could not have my own
    there would be no need.
    I separated the vessel completely.
    Ripped the nose from it’s body
    and left it there.
    Like me, without it’s core
    it could not float.
    I tore the green and the bark,
    clean from the trees.
    With it, the scales of the fish
    that took the nails from my fingers,
    the ocean floor away from the earth.
  8. There is only one thread.
    If only the sky could come down with it
    my body could sink
    instead of Polydoros.
    The last thing to go was my dress,
    blood-stained and soiled
    with his presence.
    I let it unravel and gather
    in my throat.
  9. When there is no one to pay attention
    the world stops it’s spinning.
    On the other side of my world
    he sits
    in this mess, contented.
    I am sick of these customary associations.
    it is not a myth,
    he is mine.

  • Valerie Nieman said:

    What great poems!


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