Kathryn Kerr’s “Ecphratic Ecphrasis”

1 05 2020

Ecphratic Ecphrasis
by Kathryn Kerr

I get impatient listening
to a review of poems
about paintings,
fruit in footed bowls,
unbalanced, unfocused,
luminous, shimmer
on a white table cloth.

But then a poem follows
where a green glass
Rolling Rock beer bottle
gleaming in sunshine
arcs from a car window
into pink poverty grass
in the roadside ditch.

I’m there.

*

Before U.S. efforts to coordinate the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was fortunate to attend a poetry reading by my friend, poet Kathryn Kerr. KK (as many of her good friends call her) read a bunch of terrific poems, including many from her collection Turtles All the Way Down.

However, “Ecphratic Ephrasis”–not in the collection, so signalling some particularly strong, new work–really caught my attention. Perhaps this is because I love ekphrastic poetry–poems that employ the visual arts as their subject matter and/or inspiration. Sure. But there’s no denying, as well, the poem’s strong turn pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the thing: Ekphrastic poems that are otherworldly and effete? nah. But give me a vital representation of the strange, real world, and I’m there!

I love it! Of course, I love the rush, the suddenness, of such turning, but I also can’t help but think about the dynamics of such a maneuver. On the one hand, I love the bold, assertive either-or of this poem, the kind of turning one finds in the poetry of negative dialectics (scroll down to the first asterisk), poetry that offers a thesis and an antithesis, but no unifying synthesis. Stephen Dunn notes (here) that “[d]rift and counterdrift seem central to the way many of my poems behave.” This certainly (and literally centrally!) is the case with KK’s poem.

But I think it’s also possible to consider the turn in “Ecphratic Ecphrasis” to be the type that generates the concessional structure. If this poem, as its title suggests, is an ekphrastic poem about ekphrasis, then it seems to say: “Ekphrasis? Meh. AND YET…!”

Glorious! If you want more, do check out KK’s Turtles All the Way Down–those turtles can turn!

(“Ecphratic Ecphrasis” was printed with the permission of the author.)


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