Prairie Schooner is pleased to present this portfolio of ekphrastic poems, which explores the dynamic interplay between poetry and visual art. Ekphrasis, the Greek word for description, dates back to ancient rhetorical practices and has continued to be variously defined by twentieth-century writers from Gertrude Stein, the "literary cubist" who first published her prose poem portraits "Matisse" and "Picasso" in Alfred Stieglitz's Camera Work, to Frank O'Hara, poet and curator for The Museum of Modern Art, whose love poem "Sharing a Coke with You" ambitiously invokes paintings by Marcel Duchamp and Marino Marini, as well as two "schools" of art, Futurism and Impressionism. For Stein, O'Hara, and other writers, ekphrastic poetry was evidence of interart alliances, some of which developed into the wide-scale aesthetic movements of Dada, the Harlem Renaissance, New York School, San Francisco Renaissance, and the Black Arts Movement. In these post-post-modern times in which conventional categories in the arts continue to be challenged and revised, what is the current state of ekphrasis – an interdisciplinary mode of discourse that depicts in words the art of seeing informed by all of the senses?
In recent years a proliferation of books of poetry have been published that, in total or in part, negotiate the relationship between language and visual art, among them Mary Jo Bang's The Eye Like a Strange Balloon (2004), Mark Doty's School of the Arts (2005), Debora Greger's Western Art (2004), and Claudia Rankine's Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004). These writers join the poets included in this portfolio who not only challenge conventional categories in poetry but also in visual art as they respond to photographs, performance art, video art, and mixed media sculpture made of Styrofoam, burlap, and drywall. Current ekphrastic poetry continues to problematize and defy those categorical divides and hierarchical standards intended to limit poetic content and form and to circumscribe the imagination.
I imagined this ekphrastic portfolio as a celebratory feast with endless varieties of art to eat. Among the ekphrastic contributors, Timothy Liu summons Greek ruins, Dionisio Martínez investigates the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and Alicia Ostriker [End Page 22] takes us on a tour of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, while Stefi Weisburd draws inspiration from mesclun seed packages and Chad Davidson divines the X-Ray. Representing a broad range of approaches to content as well as form, Misty Harper enlists the prose poem, Braden Welborn uses the sonnet sequence, and Kevin Prufer experiments with the plus sign and jagged lineation. Even with the immense reach of the writers presented here, this portfolio represents only a taste of the ekphrastic poetry being written today.
Because ekphrasis inherently invites readers to experience a work of art that exists beyond the page, it reminds us that poetry can traverse centuries and continents, thereby bringing people into visceral and perhaps vital conversation with each other. On behalf of Prairie Schooner, I invite you to the table to engage with this community of artists who explore interdisciplinary aesthetics in infinite and surprising ways.