Ekphrastic, Fantastic!

I have to share about an exciting event I did on Sunday: an ekphrastic event paired with the exhibit Portraits of Life, at the Baltimore County Arts Guild Clubhouse. The exhibit featured the work of Elaine Weiner-Reed and April M Rimpo.

Selfie with artist Elaine Weiner-Reed in front of Stop Injustice, the painting I chose

First off: What is ekphrastic poetry? Ekphrastic is “a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art.” (I didn’t know there was a word for this before this opportunity came up, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t either!)

Back to the story:

Soon after Patti Ross invited me into the collective that she and Terri Simon were forming, EC Poetry & Prose, Patti invited me to check out some paintings from the art show to see if anything inspired me. 

I met the two artists briefly when I was reading at the Write Women Book Fest. At that point, I’d seen their art images and there was a lot of beautiful work by both Elaine and April, MANY of which I connected with; but none had sparked a poem yet. I checked the images out again after the book fest. Eventually, I chose Elaine Weiner-Reed’s Stop Injustice, based mainly on the title at the time I chose it.

As I initially thought about the painting, I assumed I would write a poem about racial injustice, since I most often do. Nothing was coming to me organically, though. Then, in the true spirit of ekphrastic poetry, the image evoked its own poem about refugees. 

And so, I wrote No Room at the Inn. 

Meanwhile, I was at the Clubhouse the week before the event, for Terri Simon’s Book Talk, and saw the painting for the first time. IT WAS HUGE. 

Elaine talking to me about her work

On my computer screen, I hadn’t been able to tell that it wasn’t another one of the paintings on the wall, which were more the size I had expected. Nope—I had to go and choose the giant one. And it was the only one up on stage! Ack!

The artist was present and we started talking. I quickly recognized her Philly accent and we instantly connected. I was so excited to talk to her and to see her work in person! 

I was nervous about the reading but ready.

Then, Friday came around and Kyle Rittenhouse walked free.

On Saturday, I woke up with a poem coming to me, so I wrote. All day, I wrote, and revised, and revised, and then revised some more. I cried. Several times. I don’t recall ever crying during the process of writing a poem (though I’d cried reading some of them after they were complete, including No Room at the Inn and The List). 

This poem was different. 

I emailed the fabulous Patti and said I’d really like it if this poem, which also matched Stop Injustice (I titled the poem Stop the Injustice: A Thanksgiving Message), could be squeezed in–i.e. could I read both. (Okay so maybe the exact words I used were, “Every fucking white person in the room needs to hear it.”)

I was prepared to read both pieces, but on Sunday, after I assured Patti that the poem was finished and was a more important poem in the moment, Patti asked if I’d do just the fresh poem–as the first reading to start the event. (Gulp!)

(Can I just say, to have Patti trust me to read a poem, sight-unseen, at a public event was such an incredible honor…)

And suddenly, there I was, standing by the only painting up on the stage, with a poem I’d just written the day before, with a camera in my face. (The artist, Elaine, had a videographer at the event, so a professional video of my reading is coming soon!)

It went well, though! First of all, I met the goal of not throwing up on stage. 

Reading Stop the Injustice: A Thanksgiving Message, in front of Elaine Weiner-Reed’s painting, Stop Injustice

I had been extra-nervous because it was the first time my husband was present at an event. He hadn’t seen the poem, either. He later commented about the “vocal crowd,” with their snaps and verbal affirmations. I think what Patti said as she reclaimed the stage was, “Y’all didn’t know you were getting taken to church, did you?” lol

I will say, despite my being nervous, it was nice to have my husband there to see what my shift into the spoken word genre has been about–what I’m writing while he’s at work all day, how it resonates with people, etc.

Another cool thing is, the artist has invited me to read No Room at the Inn at the closing reception, so I will still get to share that one alongside the painting that inspired it. On December 17th, that’s where I’ll be!

Elaine and I have talked about partnering again in the future, which would be amazing! Also, she gifted me a print of Stop Injustice, which I’ll treasure. Just gotta find the perfect frame for it!

Anyway…I’ll post video of this reading when it’s availabe from the videographer.  I used to be afraid to put anything online because then a journal won’t publish it, but some of my stuff is way too timely to wait for a journal’s 6-month-later response and I furthermore am now confident that I will continue to produce–i.e. I’m not a one-poem pony–so I’ll just submit things that I don’t post online.

Anyway…that’s it for now!

More pics from the event…

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