Friday, March 28, 2008

Trainer poems

Kay Ryan calls ekphrastic poems "trainer poems" here (scroll down a bit):

I should start by admitting that I have a certain prejudice. I am inclined to see poems-about-paintings as easy poems, or exercises, or trainer poems. The writer is playing tennis against a nice, solid backboard. The artwork is already there; all the poet has to do is dance around in front of something both fixed and culturally valuable. One feels a sense of pre-approval if one writes about Great Art.

But then, later, after exploring some of her own ekphrastic impulses, Ryan writes:

But enough complaining. An artist I’ve returned to over and over in poems is not a painter but the French composer, Eric Satie. In contrast to the thoroughly not-Cassatt poem above, the Satie poem that follows IS, I think, very Satie—and ekphrastic—even though it’s a pure fabrication. Because I’m going to define an ekphrastic poem as one that invokes the spirit of the artist (without having to describe features of any actual work.) Call me a cheater.

"Invoking the spirit of the artist"--how does that strike as a definition of ekphrasis?

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