Which came first, the picture or the poem? In the case of a short verse I recently wrote, it was the poem. (A rather bleak one, which I paired with this picture by Scottish artist Thomas Faed, entitled ‘Faults on Both Sides’). No dissimulation was intended and yet, when readers mistakenly assumed I had written an ekphrasis, I did not immediately disabuse them – after all, my mother-in-law may have been reading (!) and the poem as ekphrasis afforded me a level of emotional anonymity I suddenly felt I needed.
In any case, I reasoned, ekphrasis, (Greek for ‘description’, usually of a work of art), has its roots so deeply embedded in reinterpretation, that perhaps it is by nature a sham. Less a response to an artwork than a projection of the writer’s preoccupations onto one; a veil in the flirtatious dance of disguise and reveal, which we perform to conceal ourselves in the reader’s sights.
And yet, despite these justifications, it was clear I had crossed at least one literary boundary, and my conscience was now hitting uncomfortably up against it: Which came first, the picture or the poem? Here, I confess, and in the process come close to writing a genuine ekphrasis.
(P.S. Apologies to the long suffering husband. We all have our moments, and this expresses but one of ours!)
My Ekphrasis Is A Fraud
on the head of the stick
shoved into his mouth
to choke violent eruptions
brows of extreme malcontent
with her handkerchief
twisting and twisting
a noose around the wrist
of despair’s swollen neck
This is the way I disguised our spent love’s lament