William Carlos Williams has been one of my source (as in source of water for the well) poets since I was a teenager.
He’s a fellow northern New Jerseyan who, as a working doctor, was on the outskirts of the artistic clique that included Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse.
At an NYU freshman comp class, we were required to bring in a poem & write an essay explaining why we liked it. I shared WCW’s wonderful found poem, “This is Just to Say.” The boy who brought Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” was furious. “That’s not poetry!” he told me (and the rest of the class, loudly.) “Papa Don’t Preach” vs. “This is Just to Say?” No contest!
I love Williams’ fascination with imagery. You can almost feel the grass growing in his poetic response to Brueghel’s painting, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (see below). His poem, “The Great Figure Five” is a multi-media work of art in words.
There’s a long tradition of poetry written in response to art. The fancy word for it is ekphrastic poetry. If you’ve never encountered the concept before, take a look at Brueghel’s painting, then read the poem and let WCW lead the way.
Ekphrastic poetry is on my mind lately.
The Maryland Humanities Council has invited me and five other MD poets to create a series of school workshops called “Totally Ekphrastic.” You can read about the program here.
We’re each choosing several images from the National Endowment for the Humanities “Picturing America” program. The images are works of American Art -- Hopper, O’Keefe, the Brooklyn Bridge, a series of Native American baskets, a portrait of Paul Revere. You can check out the gallery website.
531 schools in Maryland have requested the images and related curriculum. We’ll see how many of them are interested in the free poetry workshops. I’m excited!
One of my choices is an Audubon painting of a big, pink flamingo. Perfect for elementary schoolers! I’m thinking about having kids pose like a flamingo to get into the spirit.Here's your ekphrastic poem...
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
William Carlos Williams
According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
the whole pageantry
of the year was
sweating in the sun
the wings' wax
off the coast
a splash quite unnoticed
Our host for this week’s Poetry Friday is Check It Out -- that's a command, not a request, so go check out all of this week's poetry!