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Ekphrasis: The Parlor Game That Ensures Long Life

Ten Bloomington poets took a cue from ten paintings by local artists to create new poems "just loosely tied to the original, that take on a life of their own."

Ray Perigo, Die Sonne Scheint Mir aus den Augen, detail

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 presence–the 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 performing–ekphrastic 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

Event Information

Ekphrasis, Phase 2

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 Venue Fine Art and Gifts, 114 South Grant, Bloomington, IN 47408

Saturday, May 23, 6 pm

free

The Venue Fine Art and Gifts

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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