Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Ekphrastic Problem: A Sample

How does one know when one has written enough—and well enough—about a work of art?
Consider the case of Cathy Song’s poem “Girl Powdering Her Neck,” which is addressed to Utamaro’s wonderful ukiyo-e print from the late nineteenth century, reproduced below:
           Utamaro Kitigawa (1752-1806), Musee Guimet, Paris

Song’s ekphrastic poem “Girl Powdering Her Neck,” closes with an understated and moving metaphor.  These three lines handle Japanese motifs (the chrysanthemum and the poetic form, for example) lightly.  Their account of Utamaro’s work is conveyed by evocation of an imaginary scene parallel to, but not depicted in the print. This use of indirection makes the lines especially strong with regard to the likeness and difference we perceive between the girl and her reflection, and charges the poem with mystery:  

Two chrysanthemums

touch in the middle of the lake

and drift apart.
(ll. 50-52)

Isn’t this almost-haiku an almost perfect poem?  But what, then, are we to make of the other forty-nine lines Song has written?
Welcome to the ekphrastic problem! A poetry workshop framed around such inquiries will commence in mid-September.  

1 comment:

  1. Certainly appears that this will be a fascinating discussion.