There’s ekphrasis, of course, the writing of poetry in response to works of art—paintings, sculptures, and more—to amplify and expand the possibilities of both.
And, there’s found poetry, the writing of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning. (See the recent work of poet J.R. Solonche, for example).
But, is there “found” ekphrasis?
The other week, I was looking online through the new paintings of Anne Siems whose “Bear Girl” graces the cover of my book ALL KINDS OF FUR: Erasure Poems & New Translation of a Tale by the Brothers Grimm. And I saw “Courage”:
I knew right away that “Courage” was my erasure poem “all is red” on page 15/16 of ALL KINDS OF FUR:
Anne Siems didn’t paint “Courage” in response to my poem, and I did not write my poem in response to her painting, but—there they are. Together, poem and painting grant to each other visions and possibilities that, separately, they could not have had.
In 2008, when I wrote some of the first erasure poems for ALL KINDS OF FUR, I searched for an image in red that could be placed by the poems “man piece” (now “the night herder’s maw,” page 9/10) or “all is red” (now page 15/16). I wanted to put into visual language the anger that All Kinds Of Fur, the heroine of this fairy tale, would have felt as she tried to dissuade her widowed father, the king, from his intent to marry her against her will—to rape her, really, on the wedding night.
This photo, below, of my poems from the May 6, 2008 visual poetry exhibit—the culmination of Prof. Susan Tichy’s MFA poetry seminar at George Mason University—shows the red image I paired with my poems, then:
What so startles me about Anne’s painting “Courage” is that it puts into the language of oils just how I imagine All Kinds Of Fur felt when she faced a terrible truth: the true cost of her mantle of furs.
To try to save herself from incest and rape, she required of her father a mantle made from a piece of fur from every animal in his kingdom. Surely, she reasoned, he could not do this, and she would be safe. Did she consider the enormity of her request—what would happen if her father could do this, would do this? How far would any of us go to save ourselves?
Alas, her father did accomplish this “impossible” task—or he found someone, somewhere who did. A legion of hunters unleashed upon the woods? How did she feel as her father placed the mantle in her arms and the rough furs brushed against her skin? Did she think of the animals whose skins had been pierced? Of the blood?
Summary of the Grimms’ version of the tale “All Kinds Of Fur” (“Allerleirauh”):
“All Kinds Of Fur” tells of a princess whose widowed father develops a strong, carnal desire for her. She looks just like her dead mother, he explains, and, after all, her mother forbade him to marry unless he found someone who looked exactly like her. The princess gives her father four impossible tasks: bring three gowns and a mantle stitched of a piece of fur from each animal in their kingdom. These tasks, alas, prove only too possible. When her father announces their wedding is the next day, she wraps herself in the mantle, covers her face and hands with ashes, places her gowns and three tiny gold treasures in a nutshell, and escapes into the forest. The neighboring king’s huntsmen find her sleeping in the hollow trunk of a tree, call her “All Kinds Of Fur,” and take her to the castle kitchen where she labors for years with the cook, until the king, in search of a wife, holds three balls. She disguises herself as a beautiful woman, dances with the king at the balls, and then disappears into the kitchen to make the king’s midnight soup. She drops one of her gold treasures in his soup bowl each night. During the last ball, he slips a ring on her finger, follows her, removes her fur mantle, and realizes who she is. They marry.