Last night, we talked about ekphrasis.
Then we looked at this painting:
And then I read William Carlos Williams’ ekphrastic response to the above (from a book available in the CSH library):
II. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
the edge of the sea
sweating in the sun
the wings’ wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
After which, I asked the group to go out into the hall, find a photograph in the Carl-Schurz-Haus’ current exhibition of photographs by Erich Hartmann which spoke to them, and spend several minutes writing in response. I asked the group to consider several possibilities:
- what story is the photograph trying to tell?
- what thoughts does the photograph elicit?
- what emotions does the photograph evoke?
- how does the photograph work as an abstract composition?
After writing, we talked about which photographs we had each chosen, and how we had responded.
I responded to the following photograph, Billboard, USA; 1976:
I was waiting to close my mouth, but the noise would not stop. Too much air. Lungs never deflating. The clock ticking. The birds chittering. The grass swaying in the artificial gloaming as my mouth refuses to close, waiting, waiting for a message.
The year is 1976, Ford is in the White House, overseeing (if you will) the Bicentennial celebrations, the words “long national nightmare” having, relatively, just left his lips, and I’m trying to exhale something.
A rectangular hole in the landscape, maybe all teeth, definitely a pall. Electricity being taken to the neighbors seven miles away who can hear me but think it’s the wind, though the grass is only swaying in some silent breeze. Maybe one of the higher gales. The atmosphere being made of several layers: cirrus, stratus, cumulus.
Years ago, I wanted to be able to inhale indefinitely, and now I have its opposite. This despite the fact that I was only two years old in 1976. Even then, we required a new Declaration of Independence and this rush of white, here at the beginning of a longer national nightmare starring first a man who once took second billing to a chimpanzee, seems to fit the bill.
I’m beginning to lose sight of the grass, the fence posts, the electrical wire. The meadowlarks have perhaps gone to bed, are perhaps not yet awake.
This is not a Münchean scream. This is what happens every night after the National Anthem has played. The sound of a nation begging for more input, more meaning. Or no meaning at all. We’ve grown tired of it.
The dirt track running by me is hardly used, so why here? Is there something necessary about this isolation? But fuzz is just fuzz no matter where it’s loosed. Eight vertical lines. Two periods and a comma. If I don’t inhale soon, I may crumple into one of those periods, become a black hole, wink out of existence. But I don’t feel like stopping. Must cast my pall over this landscape. Remind this crepuscular world that, even in its seeming barrenness, it is too much and could use some erasure.
Finally, I asked those in attendance to revise, type up, and send their ekphrastic writing to me so that I could make a little pamphlet out of it and put it in the CSH Guest Book. If you would like to participate, please come by the CSH, pick a photo, spend some time with it, write a response to it, and send me that response before the 10th of July!