Ekphrasis #sol16

Today I assigned my Creative Writing class to write an ekphrastic poem: one which responds to another work of art, literature, poetry, song, film, etc. We looked at a variety of examples, including the painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus by Brueghel and subsequent poems about it, such as the poem of the same name by William Carlos Williams and W.H. Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts”.

Tonight, I’m going to do the assignment I asked my students to do. In part, this is because at the end of our genre study, I’m going to ask them to revise poems and create a chapbook, and I need some of my own “shitty first drafts” to model this process. But also, I am really enjoying using my Slicing this month as the opportunity to actually get some writing done, when so much of my time at home is otherwise spent balancing chores vs. exercise vs. parenting vs. mindless relaxation.

So, my process (which I’m going to try to document here, if only to share it with the class):

First I had to seriously think about which piece I wanted to respond to. I flipped back through my notebook and came across a free-write I did with them in class, in which I wrote about my least favorite words. That led to a meditation about hate speech. Our culture and media is currently saturated with discussion of race, class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, in a way that I don’t think it’s ever been before. It’s quite thrilling, actually, and it directly connects to my own personal journey of becoming and being a teacher for social justice. At the end of this thinking process, I was led to this photograph:

“A photograph taken by Will Counts of Elizabeth Eckford attempting to enter Little Rock School on 4th September, 1957. The girl shouting is Hazel Massery.” (Original caption)

And here is my ekphrastic poem. Enjoy.

Words that Wound

One mouth frozen
twisted with such hate
it becomes obscene
like a snake about to reel
and devour itself again.

Her words have been forgotten
but they have no less power
to wound–the words thrown
like a dagger:

the words that prompt
the dagger itself.

How can one speak
with so much venom
without choking on the poison
and slowly dying from within?

We become what we say:
Fill us with blackened
charred words and we
eat ash, swallow fire,
and slowly burn
with hate
from the inside

But fill us with love and light
and let us shine so brightly
that our pores become stars,
a constellation of hope,

and we will file the sharp edges
off their words, pack them
in downy daisy fluff, create
a spoken font
so soft
until there are no words
left to speak except
in green and gold song.

slice of life

7 thoughts on “Ekphrasis #sol16

  1. Kim is right: y’all are masters! I loved following your process notes to the photo to ekphrastic poem you wrote. And what an image that lends itself to ekphrastic poetry. WOW!


  2. Wow! What a poignant poem! I found the following stanza inspiring,
    “But fill us with love and light
    and let us shine so brightly
    that our pores become stars,
    a constellation of hope,”
    Oprah had done a segment, where one of the Caucasian women yelling at the black students shared that she had over the years shed her bitter hatred. However, she noted that this picture of her would be in all history books. She would have to carry the burden of that past self captured in the picture even though she had found that “constellation of hope.” Thank you for your poem.


  3. I also loved that stanza: “But fill us with love and light
    and let us shine so brightly
    that our pores become stars,
    a constellation of hope…”

    I love learning about a writer’s process. This was a wonderful peek and the poem. OMG. Your kids better fall out of their chairs.


  4. Wow – this is beautiful. You make me want to go back to my original dream – a high school lit teacher. I am loving 5th grade but I really miss the opportunity to stretch myself as a writer/learner. Can I join your class?


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