the making of an ekphrastic poem

I’m excited to share that I’m one of 10 poets who will read as part of Poetry on Demand at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on April 6. I’m participating in part because I didn’t take enough time to talk myself out of it — I’ve wanted a challenge to put myself out there more with my poetry, and this opportunity fits in many ways. 

The event itself is unique and more intimate than a typical poetry reading. Each poet will write a new poem that engages with a piece in the GRAM’s new Rauschenberg exhibit (hence an ekphrastic poem, for those who don’t know, is a poem that responds to art). At the event, the poet will stand near the piece they chose, and attendees will approach and ask to hear the poem. So, the event format alone is a good challenge — it’s humbling when people take time out for a poetry reading, but to share poetry in such a direct way will be especially meaningful (hopefully for everyone involved, not just the poets).

And then of course there is the issue of creating a new poem, in response to someone else’s inspired piece of work, and revealing that poem within a matter of weeks. The challenge here does not need much explanation. Especially if you know that I am a happily patient and intentional editor. This will be good practice for me in just “shipping” a poem (a concept worth borrowing from my entrepreneur side). 

The piece I chose is Blue Line Swinger. I have a longstanding attraction to dichotomy (it was the bread and butter of my English degree) and curiosity about the relationship between parallel or seemingly disconnected things, so the line running through the piece was pretty seductive to me. I want to know why it’s there, what it means, how it creates worlds on either side, and so on. And with the reading I’ve done on Rauschenberg, I’ve gathered that he had a thing for chance and serendipity, which only further spurs my interest in the line. 

I don’t want to say much more than that, because over-explaining poems is bad juju — especially when they aren’t even fully written. 

So far a handful of lines have come to me. I thought I’d take cues from Rauschenberg and separate them onto individual index cards to mix them up, similar to his Synapsis Shuffle. The only thing this has shown me so far is that I’m stuck on certain lines going a certain way — to the detriment to the flow of the rest of the poem.

So I’m backing off for today. The poem is still at work in the back of my brain, but the more my conscious hands touch it, the more stubborn I become about certain parts. Here’s to chance and the possibility of more lines presenting themselves as the poem rolls around.