‘LS06’, 2011, by Michael Zavros. One of five images in this year’s QPF Ekphrasis Award.
I’m thrilled to have been asked (along with Queensland poet, Nathan Shepherdson) to co-judge this year’s Queensland Poetry Festival Philip Bacon Ekphrasis Award.
This award, now in its third year, is named after one of Australia’s premier art dealers, Philip Bacon. The word ekphrasis comes from the Greek ek (out) & phrasis (speak), and is a rhetorical device in which a visual object, usually a work of art, is described by another artistic medium – in this case, a poem under 12 lines in length.
Open to all Australian residents, the award is now accepting entries, and will close at 5pm July 10th 2017. The overall winner will receive $500 in prize money, the runner-up will get $250, and the top 3 poems will be published online at Verity La.
Philip Bacon has selected five paintings from his own collection to which poets can respond. You can download the guidelines, submissions form and images here.
I love reading – and writing – ekphrasis, and look forward to seeing how poets respond to these exciting images. Please consider entering, and don’t forget to check out the website for QPF 2017. The festival, themed Distant Voices, will take place August 24 – 27, and will include 80+ sessions, 120+ artists, and poetry in all its forms. The full program won’t be launched until 21 July, but the website already contains loads of information, and many other QPF 2017 Poetry Awards are already up and running, so check it out!
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