9 Ekphrastic Poems
©MMXVII Alison Ross
All Rights Reserved
Published by Fowlpox Press
Artwork by Paris Paté
Paintings are poetry rendered in visual form. As such, an ekphrastic poem
can be construed as a painting's "versified kin." Instead of offering a mere
interpretation, which is a surface rendering, an ekphrastic poem gets inside
the skin of the painting's language, and evinces its visual idiom in word
form. Ekphrastic poems do not "narrate" what is occurring in a given
painting, or "describe" what the painting is about. Ekphrastic poetry actually
BECOMES the painting, dives into its interior and merges with the piece,
and then splays the contents into poetry. Or, in some cases, ekphrastic
poetry becomes the actual artist.
Joan Miró is a visual poet whose wildly whimsical pieces eagerly lend
themselves to complex and quirky wordplay. His pieces exhibit childlike
frivolity and yet are laden with convoluted symbolism. His sense is both
demonic and playful; he ambivalently celebrates life's buoyant joys and
Jean-Michel Basquiat is an artist whose pieces aggressively plead for
poetic transcription. He deftly weaves urban hieroglyphics among post-
modern iconographic creatures who evoke a dual sense of introverted
isolation and a quiet seething toward communal belonging. Basquiat was
known to import content from history, science, music, sports, even cartoons,
into his paintings, and as such, located unexpected connections that
brought a dynamic idiom to his oeuvre.
Bosch, Kahlo, and Dali each have their own arcane dialects that
communicate vividly to those who are privileged enough to ascertain the
secret language displayed in their pieces. These artists' pieces cannot be
transcribed into prosaic language; the extreme idiosyncrasies of their art
actively rebel against commonplace linguistic expressions. Instead, the
otherworldly creatures and scenarios that populate a Bosch, the explicit
introversion exhibited in a Kahlo piece, and the hedonistic surrealism of a
Dali painting find easy kinship in the tenets of verse.
Elsewhere, Klimt, Escher, Rodin, Surrealism, and Pop Art are vigorous
artistic forces to be reckoned with, but not through the domesticated
sensibilities of prose, which would only tame and dilute the art, but rather
via the feral medium of poetry, which wrangles with the pieces just enough
to become attuned to the peculiar anarchy within each.
Nine ekphrastic poems comprise this; each piece sculpts its own universe
out of the artists and artistic movements under consideration, and lends
unique dimensions to the ideals of ekphrastic poetry.
When Basquiat Met Bosch
When Basquiat met Bosch, the two smeared castle walls with graffiti of sci-
fi monsters fornicating in the Garden of Street Art Delights.
When Basquiat met Bosch, the two decorated the fortresses of hell with
triptychs of crayola hieroglyphics. Tiny chimeras emerged from broken
shells as the pair worked into a cloudless night reeling with tag-laden
When Basquiat met Bosch, they played medieval jazz in cozy cafes where
poets spouted rhymes about a vindictive god and the seven deadly sins.
The revelers suppressed their carnal appetites and went home to their
Brueghel towers underground.
When Basquiat met Bosch, Bosch spray-painted stick figures and skulls
playing saxophones onto Brooklyn bridges while Basquiat scrawled Charlie
Parker musical notes into parchment Bibles.
Basquiat died from an overdose of Hieronymous, and Bosch proclaimed,
“SAMO is dead.”
I want to be a surrealist painting
I want to be a surrealist painting.
I want to have flowers for fangs.
I want to exist only as the aborted shadow of your shrieking eyes.
I want to be a pop art painting.
I want to be replicated for 15 minutes
in the form of a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can
I want to lick ten steins.
I want to be a Rodin sculpture.
I want to be eternally kissed
under the gates of hell.
I want to exist
as the shadow of a kiss
for the first 15 minutes
of a replicated eternity.
Miró’s ennui shook the foundations of time.
It isolated lethargy in a continuum of shadows.
Miró’s ennui shocked the universe sublime.
It isolated apathy in a spectrum of windows.
created a hierarchy of shadows
that shocked a spectrum of apathy
into a lethargy of windows
Your Klimt-kissed skies,
Your crooked geometry of streets,
stealing refuge in Baroque shadows.
Mozart moans through your veins:
violins breathe fire,
inflaming your cathedrals
with sun-kissed jewels.
Frida gave birth to the sky. It was stained with the memories of Diego and
Trotsky and Communist ideals. The sky reverberated with chants of “Viva
La Revolución” and dripped the blood of dead peasants.
Diego painted a mural onto Frida’s forehead. In it the sky swirled with
images of Rockefeller, Detroit car factories, and Aztec symbology.
Frida swallowed the mural and gave birth to herself. She grew into a sky
that dripped images of symbolic communists onto cars made of peasants.
At Frida’s funeral, Trostky made love to Rockefeller, and Diego swooned
into the Aztec sky.
Salvador Dalai Lama
Salvador Dalai Lama paints mandalas of melting clocks. The clock hands
meditate, in lotus position, on the idea of temporal ephemerality, then burst
into flames of "o mani padme om," a chant that mimics the humming of an
Salvador Dalai Lama dreams he was a mustache in a previous life. As a
mustache, he abused the faces of men and accrued negative karma,
causing him to morph into an elephant with spindly legs.
Salvador Dalai Lama always hated being an elephant, so he shaves his
head in rebellion. His head is as shiny as an eternity of funhouse mirrors
that reflect reality as it truly is: a mustachioed monk who paints melting
mandalas on a landscape of reincarnated alarm clocks that meditate on the
idea of temporal frivolity, then burst into sparks of sun that only imagine
Miró’s Nightmare is coming to get you.
It crawls into your mouth
to lay eggs
that hatch into dreams
of murderous blue.
Miró’s Nightmare bleeds cats onto your eyes
and whispers fangs into your ears.
Miró’s Nighmare is an upside-down clock
and an inside-out heart.
It is in love with death
the scent of blood-streaked mirrors,
and with the color yellow
when it used to be black.
Miró’s Nightmare is coming to get you.
It lays clocks inside your heart:
they hatch into cats
with upside-down eyes.
Miró’s scream became a new color of crayon.
His scream unfurled across the middle of eternity,
spattering the sky
with colors the shape of centuries,
and shapes the color of oblivion.
His scream cast a shadow onto the pavement of the sun,
climbed up the staircase of the moon,
and erased every star.
Miró’s scream ripped open like a red yawn,
and lullabies fluttered out like blue bats.
Miró’s scream became locked inside itself:
Miró’ had swallowed the key to eternity,
and oblivion unfurled like a new color of crayon
Miró’s mirror reflected the skeleton of chaos.
It deconstructed time and made a maze through space.
Miró’s mirror wept suns at Rimbaud’s funeral
and wrote cumming’s epitaph with the blood of commas.
Miró’s mirror gouged out Shakespeare’s eyes.
It pre-saged the death of poetry
and fought World War II in reverse.
Miró’s mirror cracked in half.
The left half reflected "Spring Song" played by Dr. Seuss.
The right half showed the Buddha in the throes of cacophony.
Miró’s mirror deconstructed chaos and made a maze through Rimbaud's