Another Poetry First: “Remembering Etaples”

Rainy Night at Etaples, by William Edouard Scott (USA). 1912

My first ekphrastic poem, “Remembering Etaples,” appears in the December 21st edition of  The Ekphrastic Review: http://www.ekphrastic.net/the-ekphrastic-review/previous/2. What is an ekphrastic poem, you say? According to the Poetry Foundation:

An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the ‘action’ of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.1

The editor of The Ekphrastic Review takes a more liberal view:

The piece can be an in-depth experience of the art work, or it can use the art as a starting point for expression. The connection to the artwork or artist can be subtle, a flight of fancy triggered by another work of creative imagination. Or it can be the backbone of the piece, central in every way.2

Oddly enough, with a BA and an MA in English, I was unaware of ekphrastic poetry until I was long out of graduate school. However, I just learned from the Poetry Foundation that I did in fact study at least one ekphrastic poem, John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Who knew? I can’t help but think that my professors’ being of the old guard trained in New Criticism might have had something to do with the lack of attention to this type of poetry in their curriculum. New Criticism didn’t hold any truck with needing to leave the poem to find its meaning.

Be that as it may, when I discovered The Ekphrastic Review through a call for submissions newsletter a while back, I was intrigued with the thought of trying something new.  None of the artwork challenges prompted lines and images of my own, however. Then “Rainy Night at Etaples” dropped into my e-mail, and I had my poem: a naked man stands at the window looking down into the street, his lover in the bed behind him.


1“Glossary of Poetic Terms,” Poetry Foundation, accessed December 30, 2018, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-terms/ekphrasis.

40 thoughts on “Another Poetry First: “Remembering Etaples”

  1. What is a painting about a poem called? I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, for example, is a painting inspired by “The Great Figure” by Carlos Williams . In addition ,Cummings made companion paintings and poems. I think “Noise 13” was one such experiment .

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Thank you for reminding me of Williams’ poem. I wasn’t familiar with the Brueghel painting, so I took a look at it online, on a much smaller scale than it was intended for, I’m sure. I had to hunt for Icarus. I find it fascinating that as a landscape, the painting communicates a message of a certain place and time–but with the addition of the title it tells the story of humankind. What I love about the Williams poem is that the imagery is so clear and direct that the poem tells the same story of humankind as the painting without my needing to see the painting itself.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I remember the moment the relevance of this painting hit home to me. I was preparing to teach about medical art and found a documentary where the depth of this painting was explained. It is so relevant for today. It has relevance to across time. I see it in my ancestors lives and I see it in my own. So many world events vying for our attention, but, ultimately, our concerns are far more local.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Namaste Liz 🙂

    Congratulations – another tick in the box marked successes 🙂 You must be pleased?

    I’ve sat with the poem open on my browser for a while whilst reflecting on it. It’s very well written and achieves a wonderful balance in several ways, all of which are entirely complementary and associative. I enjoy the nostalgic undertone – the melancholy – the excitement – the shame – her abandonment and nonchalance is ever-present and she ever-giving but yet she seems always to question or remain detached. Perhaps she is adored, and idolised as would be a muse – a poet’s afflatus – yet she suffers for that – she can never be reached or comforted by Love else the fantasy that is she would cease to be: an object of lust, forever flattered, she can neither be owned nor lessened as an ideal. Her view from the window is also multi-faceted: I interpret it as desire, as escape, as longing for simplicity – as if the falling rain would wash away her fantastical aspect to reveal her ordinariness, her plainness, the truth that is her lying beneath her painted visage. She is a tragic figure, perhaps once happy to be so but now questioning the depth of that naïve choice. Perhaps now she longs for normalcy, certainty, and to know of Love not adoration or lust. I think of her as a complex character – as are all muses perhaps? – and the poem her quiet thoughts whilst looking back on a period in her life.

    Great poem Liz. I hope you’ll be encouraged to pen more and more often?

    Thank you for also including additional detail in your preamble and introduction. I must say I am very surprised that Keats’s work was not included or highlighted in some way as an ekphrastic poem. It is a very well known and highly regarded poem, and he a bright-star amongst poets! I also enjoy the irony of the ‘old guard’ teaching ‘new criticism’ 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your success. Enjoy a pleasant evening. Until next time…

    Namaste 🙂

    DN

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Dewin! I’m glad you enjoyed “Remembering Etaples.” What I’m most pleased about is how easily the inspiration came. I usually have to work harder at it. There was just something about that painting . . .

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Namaste Liz 🙂

        My pleasure, the poem was very much enjoyed. Great writing LIz.

        Could it be that you have now found a possible working method to inspire you further and compel you to set pen to paper?

        There are so many impressionistic paintings to choose from that I’m certain you’d have an anthology of ekphrastic poems in no time! 🙂

        I understand entirely how some images speak to us in a manner not readily defined but powerfully stirring: it’s almost as though we leave intellect, reason and rationale at the door so as to be consumed.

        Namaste 🙂

        DN

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Namaste Liz 🙂

            I hope your feather is set-a-quiver –
            And the inky-well bled dry,
            I hope your words flow as a river,
            Inspired by stimuli.
            ~

            Press-on whilst the writing-iron is hot! 🙂

            Good luck! Namaste 🙂

            DN

            Liked by 1 person

  3. “When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

    I vividly remember studying that poem in high school and thinking that I would not fully understand the poem until I was old. Well, here I am…

    I am looking forward to following your posts – poetry is communicating beyond ourselves. Thank you for creating a space to dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I studied “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in high school and college as well. I skipped right over the old age part. At that age, I truly believed that beauty was the only truth I needed to know (having not yet experienced any other).

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I am delighted ro read about this poem form – must gry some of them myself. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving me a LIKE – how nice of YOU do this and much appreciated. LOVE the art work you have posted here. I have MA in English; and BFA and MFA in painting – so I do appreciate your commentary as well.

    Like

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