I walk around the exhibit taking notes. Truth be told, any museum I go to, anywhere in the world, I’m a curator’s dream, I read the verbiage, I walk around taking notes. Notes on why this painting was so new in its time, what this artist said about Cubism, why this tool was used to skin an animal. Anything, everything, is material.
Recently I was asked to visit an exhibit on Mexico, to respond to it in poetry, for an upcoming poetry reading with other regional poets, at our local history museum. This process is called “ekphrasis,” which Merriam-Webster says comes from the Greek, “literally, description, from ekphrazein to recount, describe, from ex- out + phrazein to point out, explain,” and in literature it is “a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art.”
The poet Dr. Lucia Cordell Getsi, taught me about ekphrasis. I’ve spoken of Lucia in Transient before, because she was a teacher extraordinaire. She taught me how to see things differently, how to think differently.
Poetry got my attention when I was a very small child, and has held it ever since. Lines from poems inform my daily life, indelible pathways my neurons take when thinking about what is in front of me. At sunset, I think of Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come,”
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
When I think of someone loving someone, I think of lines from one of the first poems my grandmother, a retired school teacher, taught me from John Greenleaf Whittier’s “In School-Days,”
He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her,—because they love him.
Emily Dickinson and Rainer Maria Rilke inform my life daily too, with lines that give meaning, still.
In viewing the displays of Mexican artwork, artifacts, and household items, I took notes. I was thinking, “I can write this….or maybe this here would be good.” A sombrero from a person who worked in Willam Randolph Hurst’s copper mine, pottery for chocolate, tourism posters, all excellent fodder for poetry.
Maybe this is something of Advent? This ekphrasis thing. We’re people with pupils dilated from too much, and in Advent, our vision gradually returns, is restored, and the fuzziness fizzles in light of purpose and meaning. God reminds us that our focus may be cattywampus, “seeing, we may not be seeing, and hearing, we may not be hearing.”
Isaiah 29:18 says, “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”
When Jesus is asked, by the disciples, why he speaks in parables, he says that for some,
“…seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:13; 16-17)
Jesus is ekphrasis.
God’s love writ large.
God’s love writ: infant, tangible, here.
We remember God came in all God’s power in a baby in a manger, a stall, and if we can’t see God there, we’re going to be hard pressed to find God anywhere.
¡Fiesta, Forever! ¡A Celebration in Poetry! Poets read poems composed in response to the museum’s exhibit Fiesta! A Celebration of Mexican Popular Arts. Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 7:30-8:30 p.m with poets David Hirst , Jan Neileub, Kathleen Kirk, and moi in the McLean County History Museum courtroom. Join us!