Ekphrasis: Poet to Painter to Poet

Suzanne Edminster, Poetry / Sally Baker, Painting

Yes, I practice Ekphrasis, and I’m proud of it. 

Now that I have your attention, I’ll put the definition of Ekphrasis is at the end of the post. I have a Master of Poetics from  New College of California in San Francisco.  I was lucky to study with  Robert Duncan and Diane di Prima, among others.  It wasn’t a creative writing course.  The poet-teachers had the vision of sharing their  vast source materials with students, not to coach them. Rather than giving us fishing poles to catch our own fish, they set us adrift on little paper rafts to encounter whales, and make of it what we could.

It was extreme:  Writers Write. Harsh.  Unlike most academic programs, the poets supported themselves primarily through writing, publishing, and performing, not teaching in the tenured shelter of a respectable university.  They lectured in old morgue rooms on Valencia Street  with smudgy green chalkboards and circular drains in the corners of the classroom floors, formerly used to collect embalming fluids. 

I remember being  terrified to expose my own beginner work to the mastery of the teachers.  In hindsight, I wasn’t that bad.  But many of us remained writing- paralyzed in the presence of genius, or perhaps it was just romantic depression endemic in the 80’s in the Mission District.

My poem was written in response to Sally Baker’s painting Persimmon with Attitude . My poem invokes Gary Snyder, another poet who wrote about persimmons.  Snyder references Mu Ch’i, a 12th century painter of pomegranates.  Poet to painter to poet to painter to….  Here is Mu Ch’i’s famous painting.

 Ekphrasis:Ekphrasis or ecphrasis is the graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name.

You can hear me read my persimmon poem at 3:30 on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at Graton Gallery in “A Picture is Worth 500 words [or less]” with Sally Baker, guest artists Taylor Gutermute, Sandra Speidel, and Martha Wade.  There will be a good group of writers as well:  the writing was curated by Toni L. Wilkes, GregoryW. Randall, and Colleen Craig. I’ll write publish the poem in a future post, but it really belongs with the painting.  Ekphrasis to you, too.