Ekphrasis is writing that comments on works of art; it began as a Greek rhetorical term referring to a passage that described an object in either prose or poetry. Horace first connected visual and verbal art in his Epistles with the words, ut pictura poesis, meaning “as painting, so poetry.”
In this class, we read read classic and contemporary examples of the form, and then embarked on a field trip to The Walters Art Museum in search of three art works (painting, sculpture, object) to write about in subsequent classes.
Encounters with works of art are a form of contemplative and creative exercise. Our seeing may be both sacred and profane. Something catches our eye--whether it's an image, color, symbol, shadow, brushstroke--through which we can explore the whole work and its meaning—in the moment, for the world, or just for us.
I've asked the students to use another exercise besides The Hermeutical Circle exercise I created (see my article at JMWW: The Art of Ekphrastic Poetry), using the ancient practice of Lectio Divina.
The Latin words lectio divina, which mean "divine reading" or "spiritual reading," refer to the slow, meditative reading of a passage from Scripture. It is a form of prayer that focuses on listening and responding. Lectio divina is traditionally characterized by four movements: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation).
This exercise is useful for reading through the notes you've written after doing The Hermeneutical Circle, but it can also be an exciting way to engage with any poem you're reading and want to understand in a deeper way.
If you read the above article and decide to give this form a try, use Lectio Divina to process your notes on each type of art work post-museum visit.
1) Read (Lectio): Read your notes. Does a particular word or phrase speak to you? “Shimmer” in your mind?
2) Reflect (Meditatio): Read your notes again. Reflect on the word or phrase that shimmered for you. What is being conveyed by that word or phrase? Perhaps list multiple meanings idea that come to you.
3) Respond (Oratio): Read your notes again and then this list in response to the word/phrase – “dialogue” with it, dig in. Express, engage, connect with the poem personally, socially, philosophically, metaphorically, etc. Where can this word/phrase take you?
4) Rest (Contemplatio*): Read your notes again and the dialogue/digging in #3. What came out of this analysis and dialogue that compels you? Start there, either with the idea, or the word/phrase that shimmered or something from the list in #2. The contemplation is the poem.
Writing a poem means you keep finding layers to what you wanted to say, what you thought you wanted to say, and what the poem is really saying. By moving through The Hermeneutical Circle exercise, and the stages of this Lectio Divina exercise, you have already peeled back several layers that should give you a more three dimensional approach to your poem.
If you're just reading a poem, why not do this exercise and take it a step further--write a poem starting from whatever shimmered for you?