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Ekphrasis: The Parlor Game That Ensures Long Life

painting of skull on grass

Ars longa, vita brevis. As the saying goes, you're not around for that long, so while you're here, make something that will outlive you. It's the conceit behind a whole lot of art, literature, buildings and music. But if we're talking immortality, why not take the conceit one step further? The Greeks created the ekphrastic poem to describe a work of art so that a reader, or listener can recreate the artwork in her imagination. Once the essence of a work of art is liberated from its physical presencethe ekphrastic tradition suggests-its legacy is golden. The tradition has persisted in literature (John Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn) and music (Ottorino Resphigi's Botticelli Triptych) among other art forms. At the prompting of the proprietors of a Bloomington art gallery, ten local poets wrote-–and have been performingekphrastic poems about ten works of visual art by local artists.  The readings take place in the gallery where the the paintings are hung at The Venue Fine Art and Gifts.

Poet Patsy Rahn chose to write about a painting by Ray Perigo, Die Sonne Scheint Mir aus den Augen (above). For the performance of her poem, The ten teeth of death (transcript below), at the Venue Saturday evening, May 16, Rahn incorporated the voices of the audience members. Excerpts from that performance are interspersed in the conversation between Rahn and Perigo, that can be heard above.

Rahn was joined by fellow poets Shanna Ritter, Tonia Matthew, Tony Brewer and Joe Kerschbaum for Saturday's reading. Along with Perigo, the painters who provided inspiration include Dawn Adams, Juliet Shapiro, Susie Gregory, and Monique Cagle. Saturday, May 23, poets Eric Rensberger, Jenni Kander, James Dorr, Tom Hastings and Timothy Reed read poems inspired by works of art from Martina Celerin, Patricia Rhoden Bartels, Mark Blaney, and Don Geyra.

The ten teeth of death

The skull sits upright in the field of grass

its smooth cap shining warm in the afternoon sun

ten teeth rest in its gaping mouth

five above and five below,

almost enough to chew a meal with.

one tooth one, sings the song: te te te te te te te te te te

a song to love and the touch of flesh

two tooth two, sings the song: pah pah pah pah pah pah pah pah pah

a song to pain, its enduring and healing

three tooth three, sings the song: sah sah sah sah sah sah sah sah

a song to regret, the loss and the sadness

four tooth four, sings the song: rrrr,rrrrr,rrrrr, rrrrr, rrrrr, rrrrr, rrrrrr, rrrr

a song to gentle happiness and contentment

five tooth five, sings the song: yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip

a song to riotous energy and ecstatic joy

six tooth six, sings the song: ka ka ka ka ka ka ka ka

a song to human cruelty that has never changed

seven tooth seven, sings the song: whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa

a song to hope and transformation

eigth tooth eight, sings the song: lop lop lop lop lop lop lop lop

a song to food and nourishment

nine tooth nine, sings the song: mo mo mo mo mo mo mo mo

a song of communication and understanding

ten tooth ten, sings the song: ni ni ni ni ni ni ni ni

a song of letting go

Patsy Rahn

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