The next WordPlay event on 4/14 at Papyri Books is concentrating on Ekphrastic Poetry, in response to the “The Moon is Broken” exhibit at WCMA. Poet Paula Orlando writes about her ekphrastic experience.
I’ve been writing poetry since I was eight years old, but didn’t get serious about it until I moved to San Francisco and became involved with the Poetics Program at New College of California, where I studied with Tom Clark and was one of the founding editors of the college’s literary journal Prosodia. I received my MFA in English/Creative Writing at Mills College in Oakland and then moved to upstate New York to join the graduate program in English at SUNY Albany. Currently, I am a grant project manager at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and live at the Eclipse Mill Artist Lofts, where I am enjoying my involvement with the local arts community. The Inkberry Thursday night writer’s group has inspired me to begin working on a series of short stories.
At Inkberry’s Thursday night writer’s group, Jill suggested that we visit the Williams College Museum of Art and compose an “ekphrastic” poem in response to one of the photos in The Moon is Broken exhibit. I felt a bit apprehensive about this exercise because much of the imagery is abstract, and a lot of my past writing has tended toward the abstract and has been received as inaccessible. But when I saw the surreal Robert D’Alessandro photo of an elephant walking among the clouds I was quite taken with it because elephants are such ponderous, earthbound creatures. I immediately thought of the elephant in the photo as a kind of sky god, oddly light and airy. And then I thought of the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha, widely popular in India as a benevolent god of good fortune. So, instead of writing a poem, I wrote a one-page “fable” about Ganesha, in which I drew upon some of the traditional stories and tweaked or reversed them, so that Ganesha, rather than staying with the people on earth and helping them out with their daily woes, rather selfishly returns to his mother in paradise. It is we, not this elephant, who are bound to the earth. This piece is consistent with much of my recent writing, which has focused on deconstructing religious motifs and symbols in an effort to problematize them or get closer to the spiritual “truths” that they sometimes obscure or distort. I also like experimenting with different “voices,” and, for this piece, I adopted the tone and stylistic mannerisms of the traditional fable. The ekphrastic poetry exercise turned out to be a lot of fun, and I am pleased with the piece that it inspired. Here’s an excerpt from my poem:
“In what dream,” he asked “would you hope to walk securely with two faces, one in front and one in back, like those who wear papier-mâché masks to confuse my cousin tiger? The tiger is the mind, and he is always following you.
“I cannot return,” he said, “to a place I never really was.”