Ekphrastic Poetry: An Introduction

With Professor Paul Hetherington
Princeton University Press, forthcoming

Ekphrastic poetry, or poetry based on an artform, is currently undergoing a renaissance. Many contemporary poets have included ekphrastic works in their recent collections and there is a growing number of ekphrastic poetry competitions and prizes. Furthermore, ekphrastic poems have been strongly represented in international poetry anthologies in recent decades, and in museum and gallery exhibitions—particularly in an increased number of exhibitions featuring combined image and text. Ekphrastic poetry is also proliferating online. While ekphrasis dates back more than 2000 years to Ancient Greece (and beyond), including in the vivid descriptions of battles, the current renaissance in ekphrastic poetry focuses on a wide array of artworks in new and often electrifying ways, amplifying both the artwork and the poem. While many general readers might be unfamiliar with the word “ekphrasis”, they have most certainly read or even written—in its simplest definition—“poems about pictures” at some point in their lives.

In this book, we aim to give readers a deeper appreciation and understanding of ekphrastic poetry. Despite the increasing popularity of ekphrastic poetry, there continues to be a dearth of scholarship on contemporary ekphrastic poetry in English. In his monograph, Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (1991), James A.W. Heffernan highlights this relative scarcity of scholarship on ekphrastic poetry in English. However, in the 32 years since publication of this work, and also in light of criticisms of Heffernan’s closely delimited definition of ekphrasis as “the verbal representation of visual representation” (3), no books have remedied this scarcity by exploring the wide and fascinating range of contemporary ekphrastic poetry and the considerable array of art being used in twentieth and twenty-first century ekphrastic poetry. Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux states in Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts (2008) that “[i]f the record of ekphrastic production can be a measure, images are more urgent[ly connected to poetry] … than ever before” (2), demonstrating that this an important and timely study.

Our intention is for this book, Ekphrastic Poetry: An Introduction to be the definitive book about ekphrasis.

Dancing About Architecture and Other Ekphrastic Maneuvers

With Professor Paul Hardwick
MadHat Press, Cheshire, MA, USA, forthcoming

Dancing About Architecture will contain ekphrastic poems from international anglophone writers which respond to artworks in diverse media including, but not limited to, visual arts, dance, music, sculpture, photography, architecture, digital arts, TV and cinema. Each will be accompanied by a commentary by the poet on their process and practice. An introduction by the editors will locate the poems within broader cultural and artistic perspectives. 

Saving Face: The Atomic Bomb Maidens

This book is supported by an Australia Council Grant.

This book of prose poetry explores the plight of the Hiroshima Maidens with a secondary narrative exploring absence, brokenness, speechlessness and the atomic sublime.

Boston – A Fantasy

With Paul Hetherington

Tracing the life of Ziegfeld Follies dancer, Helen O’Shea, from archives held at Emerson College, Boston, this book of prose poetry and fragments reanimates her fantasies of Boston from insider and outsider points of view. It fuses ideas of Boston neighbourhoods with transformation and phantasmagoria in the shape of O’Shea’s Leda and the Swan dance.

Hiroshima’s Legacy

The book was sparked by the desire to explain and analyze the ways that the bomb has been remembered, and how the Japanese and the American people live with these memories. It will be divided into two sections. The first will comprise an exploration of politics and history—the way that the people of Hiroshima coped with and memorialized the bomb, and an analysis of attempts by historians and politicians to remember and explain the bomb. The second section will focus on literary and artistic responses to the bomb. This includes the way the bomb was written about in poetry and prose, first by bomb survivors (in Japanese, hibakusha), and then by newer writers who were not present or even born when the bomb was dropped.

Hibakusha Poets as Public Intellectuals

Noam Chomsky has argued that the most effective public intellectuals are dissident intellectuals who act from the margins. The US censorship of public discussion of the bombings during the Allied Occupation of Japan ensured that the public did not understand all that had occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This lack of discussion about the A-bomb and the scientific testing on hibakusha saw them stigmatised, however this marginalisation makes them powerful public intellectuals. Hibakusha poets such as Toge and Kurihara offer a kind of authentic ‘evidencing’ and recording of the horror of the events of the atomic bombing. The simplicity and accessibility of these poems are essential to the public dissemination of their message, however this has worked against their preservation in the literary canon. This is, in part, because the literary canon prioritises a greater sophistication of language and range of poetic techniques. This book examines the way in which hibakusha poets can be recognised as public intellectuals. It hinges on a number of considerations centred on public intellectualism, canonicity and use of language.