Ekphrastic Tanka

Edited by Patricia Prime
Ekphrasis is the art of describing works of art, the verbal representation of visual representation. The word “ekphrasis” comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. One of the earliest known examples in western literature is the description of Achilles’ shield in Homer’s Iliad. Thus it is fair to say that ekphrasis has been with us for nearly three thousand years. Many poets, such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Auden, Carlos Williams and Ashbery, have used it in their poetry.

Ekphrasis is a conversation between two pieces of art. The writer interprets a work of visual art and creates a narrative form that represents his or her reaction to a painting, sculpture, architecture, Keats’s famous urn, or any other type of artwork.

I received over 270 submissions of tanka from eight countries, so it was a difficult task to whittle these down to the required 25. It is regretful that some exceptional tanka have had to be omitted, but I hope readers will enjoy those tanka I have chosen.

Special Note: Links were valid at the time the Special Feature was edited. We have attempted to find stable links for the art, but alas, the links are decaying faster than we can update. Therefore, we will not be making any further corrections to the links.

1) Jenny Ward Angyal

an eggplant
squats on the counter
fecund and faceless
as the Venus of Willendorf—
my knife in midair

Artist unknown, “Venus of Willendorf” (between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE)” [http://www.pbs.org/howartmadetheworld/episodes/human/venus/]

2) GaryLeBel

across the Theran wall
on the heels of a naked Cretan
carrying fish,
sneakered and empty-handed,
I leave my century

“Minoan Fishermen at Akrotiri, Greece” (c. 1200 BCE)” [http://www.historywiz.com/minoanart.htm]

3) Amelia Fielden

sculpted in bronze
seven giant pears, unchanged
the vanished children
I photographed there

Sculpture in the grounds of the Australian National Gallery, Canberra [http://www.flickr.com/photos/roseholley/6880351216/]

4) Naomi Beth Wakan

a child’s smudges with
the sophistication of placement
that only comes
with years of careful looking
years of slowly removing the subject

Wassily Kandinsky, “The First Abstract” [http://www.abcgallery.com/kandinsky/kandinsky20.html]

5) Tracy Davidson

what secrets hide
behind those hooded eyes
that pale countenance
did you dare dream your fame
would last for centuries

Leonardo da Vinci, “Mona Lisa” [http://www.parisdigest.com/museums/joconde.htm]

6) Grant Savage

waiting room
the thousand sporting naiads
of my schizophrenia
as if by magic
from Monet’s Water Lilies

Claude Monet, “Water Lilies” [http://www.claude-monet.com/waterlilies.jsp]

7) Joy McCall

the last cries
of drowned crewmen
haunt his mind—
in his nightmares,
he speaks their names

William Entrekin, “Odysseus Journey” [http://williamentrekinartist.com/]

8) Rodney A. Williams

the half-caste bride
her gown’s train caught underfoot
spies a flush of clubs
as this full-blooded threesome
lays bets to take her hand

Arthur Boyd, The “Half-Caste Bride” series (Australia, 1957-59) [http://www.artline.ro/files/mItems/image/5/999139458592603.jpg]

9) Chen-ou Liu

alone at twilight
doing tonglen practice
I see the face
in The Scream
. . . and mine overlapping

Edvard Munch, “The Scream” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scream]

10) Autumn Noelle Hall

tears in Miró’s
unblinking eyes— can one flee
a world at war . . . ?
respite from that bourgeois sphere
in a line of cobweb shade

Joan Miró i Ferrà, “A Drop of Dew Falling from the Wing of a Bird Awakens Rosalie Asleep in the Shade of a Cobweb” [http://uima.uiowa.edu/joan-mir/]

11) Gerry Jacobson

it’s dark
in the 1860s forest . . .
time closes in
on black figures
in the foreground

Eugene von Guerard, “View of the Snowy Bluff on the Wonnangatta River,” 1864 [http://www.artistsfootsteps.com/html/vonGuerard_SnowyBluff.htm]

12) Pamela A. Babusci

who stole
that forbidden kiss
Mr. Klimt
surrendering not just her flesh
but her fragile soul?

Gustav Klimt, “The Kiss” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kiss_(Klimt)]

13) William Cullen Jr.

she holds her dead son
and remembers how quickly
thirty years rush by
like wind passing through lilies
all the way to Rome and beyond

Michelangelo, “Pietà” [http://www.public-domain-photos.org/michelangelo-pieta-marble-sculpture-in-st-peters-basilica.html]

14) Barbara Robidoux

delicate watercolors
on torn envelopes
letters from father to son
Issei interned
but not silenced

The Art of Gaman Arts and Crafts from the Japanese Internment Camps 1942-46 [http://www.smithsonianmag.com/]

15) Janet Lynn Davis

break, break, break,
a cold sea’s crashing waves . . .
the grief
painted into
these rocks at Belle Île

Allusion to Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “Break, Break, Break”, 1842
Claude Monet, “Rocks at Belle Île (The Pyramids of Port Coton)”, 1886 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Claude_Monet_Pyramides_Port_Coton.jpg]

16) Claire Everett

how like love
barefoot through the open door
too much perfume
for one heart to hold
lilacs in full bloom

Edouard Manet, “Lilac in a Glass” [http://www.book530.com/painting/76947/Edouard-Manet-Lilac-in-a-Glass.html]

17) Guy Simser

I said to dali
you’re taking more time
at the mirror
than at your canvas
what’s the difference? He said

Salvador Dali, (1938) “Apparition of a Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach” [http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apparition_of_Face_and_Fruit_Dish_on_a_Beach]

18) Anne Curran

an artist
in the little Red Gallery
paints the rapids . . .
that ruby roar
of the Waikato River

Christine Kornman, “Wild Waters” [http://www.thelittleredgallery.co.nz/] Under the artist’s name at the Little Red Gallery Site

19) Geoffrey Winch

the winner waits
to play his winning hand
the bottle waits,
for the loser

Paul Cézanne, “The Card Players” [http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Card_Players]

20) Susan Constable

heading home
this autumn evening
through a bedroom window—
you, in the corner of my mind

Claude Monet, “Lane in Normandy” [http://www.claudemonetgallery.org/Lane-in-Normandy.html]

21) M. Kei

only December
and already
I am restless
for blue water
and bright gales

Kelly McConnell Cox, “Power” [http://www.annapolismarineart.com/KellyMcConnellCox.html]

22) Barbara A. Taylor

he yearns for big skies,
glittering stars, the smells
of rain on gum trees . . .
this drover’s stumped, left to dream
on the sounds of cattle

Robert Hannaford, “Bill” [http://www.roberthannaford.com.au/archibald.html]

23) Carole MacRury

she sits in repose,
slender fingers pinching
a pink carnation—
does she wait for life
to begin or be over?

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Woman with a Pink” [http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/110001852]

24) André Surridge

day at the races
we are so close to the horses . . .
out the corner
of my eye I imagine
Degas & his sketchbook

Edgar Degas, “The Parade” [http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search/commentaire/commentaire_id/le-defile-7101.html?no_cache+1&cHash+3de17b3d12]

25) Beverley George

Millet’s “Gleaners”
in a sturdy wooden frame
silently passed on
grandpa’s home to mum’s then mine—
a note to my kids on the back

Jean-François Millet, “Gleaners” [http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/search.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=2110]


Jenny Ward Angyal lives with her husband and one Abyssinian cat on a small organic farm in Gibsonville, NC, USA. She has written poetry since the age of five and tanka since 2008. Her tanka and other poems have appeared in various journals and may also be found online at http://grassminstrel.blogspot.com/

Pamela A. Babusci is an internationally award winning haiku and tanka poet. Some awards are: First Place Kokako Tanka Contest (NZ), First Place Yellow Moon Tanka Contest (Aust) and First Place Saiygo Tanka Awards (US). She is the Founder and Tanka Editor of Moonbathing: a journal of women’s tanka.

Susan Constable’s tanka have appeared in numerous journals in the US, Canada, and Australia, as well as in the Take Five anthologies. One of her poems was placed third in the 2010 Tanka Society of America Contest, and she’s currently the tanka editor for A Hundred Gourds. Susan lives with her husband on Canada’s beautiful west coast.

William Cullen, Jr., is a veteran and works at a non-profit in Brooklyn, NY. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Camroc Press Review, Christian Science Monitor, Gulf Stream, Pirene’s Fountain, Red Poppy Review, Red River Review, Spillway, Wild Goose Poetry Review and Word Riot.

Anne Curran resides in Hamilton, New Zealand and is a member of a family of seven brothers and sisters. She is passionate about New Zealand literature and arts, and has taken an active interest in the work of local artists at recent exhibitions. Recent work responsibilities have included teaching, home help and professional writing.

Tracy Davidson lives in Warwickshire, England and enjoys writing poetry and flash fiction. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Mslexia, Simply Haiku, Modern Haiku, Moonbathing, Ribbons, Prune Juice, Frogpond, A Hundred Gourds and Notes from the Gean. Apart from writing, Tracy enjoys reading crime fiction, photography, music and travelling.

Janet Lynn Davis lives in Texas (USA). Her tanka and other poems have appeared in numerous print and online venues over the past several years. Some of her work can be found at her blog: http://twigsandstones-poems.blogspot.com/

Claire Everett’s haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose are published in journals worldwide. She was on the editorial team for Take Five, Best Contemporary Tanka, Vol. 4 (2011) and is the tanka prose editor at Haibun Today. She lives in North Yorkshire with her husband and five children.

Amelia Fielden is an Australian professional translator and an internationally awarded and published tanka poet. Seventeen books of her translations of modern and contemporary Japanese tanka have appeared over the last 11 years. Amelia has also had published six collections of her own tanka, the most recent being Light On Water (2010), and has collaborated with other Australian poets to produce four books of responsive tanka, including Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow (2011) with Kathy Kituai, and the bilingual Words Flower (2011) with Saeko Ogi.

Beverley George is the editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal and the past editor of Yellow Moon. She was president of the Australian Haiku Society 2006-2010 and in September 2009 convened the 4th Haiku Pacific Rim Conference in Terrigal, New South Wales. Her awards include 1st prizes in the Tanka Society of America International Taka Contest 2006 and in the Saigyo Awards 2010.

Autumn Noelle Hall lives in Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, shadowed by black bears, mountain lions, ravens and a predatory urge to write. Stops along the path that brought her here include service as a Chinese Linguist in the USAF, Lead Coordinator for the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots Youth Partnership at Quest Academy, and Curator for the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Conflict/Resolution poetry exhibit. Among her published writings are Top Secret reports, campaign brochures, preschool song lyrics, and various forms of poetry.

Gerry Jacobson lives in Canberra now but spent many years at university and working in Victoria. He has walked the Wonnangatta valley (painted earlier by von Guerard). Gerry’s tanka have been published in Eucalypt, Ribbons, Atlas Poetica and Haibun Today.

M. Kei is the editor-in-chief of Take Five: Best Contemporary Tanka, and the author of Slow Motion: The Log of a Chesapeake Bay Skipjack (Recommended Reading by the Chesapeake Bay Project). He is the editor of Atlas Poetica: A Journal of Poetry of Place in Contemporary Tanka and compiler of the Bibliography of English-Language Tanka. He also wrote a gay Age of Sail series of novels, Pirates of the Narrow Seas.

Gary LeBel is an artist/poet living in the Atlanta, Georgia area. In the visual realm, he works primarily in collage, montage and assemblage; his poetical and prose works have appeared in various journals and anthologies here and abroad. He writes tanka prose and haibun as well as longer poetry forms and short stories. His book of prose poems, short poems and haibun, Abacus, appeared in 2008.

Chen-ou Liu is the author of Ripples from a Splash, Broken/Breaking English: Selected Short Poems, and Following the Moon to the Maple Land (First Prize Winner of the 2011 Haiku Pix Chapbook Contest). His tanka and haiku have been honoured with many awards. To read more of his poems, please go to Poetry in the Moment, http://chenouliu.blogspot.com/

Carole MacRury is a Canadian poet and photographer residing in Point Roberts, Washington. Her poetry has been widely published in North American and International journals and anthologies. Her winning collection of tanka, The Tang of Nasturtiums was published as an e-chapbook by Snapshot Press in August, 2012.

Joy McCall retired from a nursing career following a motorcycle crash which left her a paraplegic amputee. She lives with her husband in the old city of Norwich, UK ‘the most literary city in Britain’. She has written tanka for almost 50 years.

Barbara Robidoux has been published widely in journals and anthologies worldwide as well as in two volumes of poetry Waiting for Rain (2007) and Migrant Moon (2012). She lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico where she has taught writing to students at Santa Fe Indian school and poetry to adults. She is currently working on a collection of interrelated short stories set on a reservation in northern Maine where she lived before relocating to New Mexico.

Grant Savage lives in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. He enjoys nature photography, and writing in a variety of poetic forms and genres. That and simply staring at his otherwise much neglected garden.

Guy Simser has been tagged “imagist/humorist” by lyric poet Marianne Bluger. Guy has written English and Japanese verse forms since 1978, including his 1989-94 diplomatic service in Japan. His work has appeared in anthologies/journals in USA, Canada, Japan, England, Australia and Romania. Co-chair 2009 HNA Conference and Selection Committee member of Gusts, Canada’s first tanka journal. Awards: Diane Brebner Poetry Prize; Carleton University Poetry Prize; AHA Tanka Sequence Splendor Prize (USA); Special Prize, Hekinan International Haiku (Japan).

Andre Surridge was born in Hull, England. He lives in Hamilton, New Zealand. He has won several awards for haiku and tanka. His poems have been published in many venues including all four volumes of Take Five – Best Contemporary Tanka.

Barbara Taylor’s Japanese short form poetry appears in international journals and anthologies online and in print, including Haigaonline, Eucalypt, A Hundred Gourds, Atlas Poetica, Kokako, Simply Haiku, and others. She lives in the Rainbow Region, Northern NSW, Australia. Diverse poems with audio are at http://batsword/tripod.com/ “Each day demands that I write and that my fingers touch and feel the earth.”

Naomi Beth Wakan has published over forty books including A Roller-coaster Ride: thoughts on Aging, Book Ends: a year between the covers and The Way of Haiku. She is a member of the League of Canadian Poets and Tanka Canada. www.naomiwakan.com/

Rodney A. Williams’ haiku and tanka have been widely published at home in Australia, while also appearing in a range of other countries. Such work in Japanese short-forms has been included in representative anthologies in his country or origin, as well as in Britain and the United States. Rodney’s longer poems have likewise found publication in major journals in Australia, America and New Zealand. In 2008, he collaborated with the artist Otto Boron to produce the book Rural Dwellings – Gippsland and Beyond. Early in 2012 he edited the Atlas Poetica Special Feature, Snipe Rising From a Marsh – Birds in Tanka. Across the southern summer of 2012-2013, Rodney will have a selection of his haiku and tanka – entitled A bird-loving man – published by Ginninderra Press.

Geoffrey Winch’s poetry has been published in a wide range of UK journals over the last two decades, and more recently his short form poetry has also appeared in a number of US based journals and various web magazines. His most recent collection is Letting the Road-Dust Settle (2009) from Indigo Dreams Publishing which, in the main, features ‘journey’ poems. He is currently working towards his new collection Alchemy of Vision in which the poems will resonate with the visual and performing arts.

© 2012