I love reading ekphrastic poems. One of my favorites is X.J. Kennedy's Nude Descending a Staircase, which begins:
Toe after toe, a snowing flesh,
a gold of lemon, root and rind,
she sifts in sunlight down the stairs
with nothing on. Nor on her mind.
Click here to read the rest of the poem.
Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp
I was thrilled a couple of years ago when Lee Bennett Hopkins asked if I'd like to contribute to an anthology of ekphrastic poetry he was editing for The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I was a bit taken aback, however, when Lee sent me an image of the painting that I was to write a poem about. It wasn't what I had expected. It was an ancient Chinese painting of a horse titled Night-Shining White done by Han Gan. I looked at the painting for a while. Panic set in. I didn't feel any kind of inspiration at all. I feared I might have to tell Lee I wasn't up to the assignment.
Then I went to the museum's website. I read the blurb about the painting. It said that this charger epitomized Chinese myths about Central Asian "celestial steeds" that "sweated blood" and were actually dragons in disguise. That started my poetic juices flowing! I did a little more reading about celestial steeds--and I was off to the races. A mask poem poured out in the voice of Night-Shining White. It seemed the best way for me to tell about the painting. I wrote the poem in less than a day. Lee loved it. He asked me to make just a few minor changes. Boy, was I ever relieved!
With its burning eye, flaring nostrils, and dancing hoofs, the fiery-tempered horse epitomizes Chinese myths about Central Asian "celestial steeds" that "sweated blood" and were actually dragons in disguise. The seals and inscriptions added to the painting and its borders by later owners and appreciators are a distinctive feature of Chinese collecting and connoisseurship. The addition of more than one thousand years of seals and comments offers a vivid testimony of the work's transmission and its impact on later gene
I am a charger,
a heavenly steed—
best of my breed.
I am a dragon
in horsey disguise,
flashing fire through my eyes.
My sweat is blood-red.
The mane on my head
stands stiff as a crown.
I prance through a town,
my emperor astride me.
How he loves to ride me—
parade me around
as my hooves stomp the ground.
I am a charger,
a stout-hearted steed.
I race into battle—
taking the lead.
The emperor’s favorite,
I don’t fear a fight.
I am daring and brave.
From Publishers Weekly (April 24, 2018):
I'll be giving away a copy of GREAT MORNING!: Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Janet autographed the book for me. It's a poetry book every teacher and school librarian should have.
To be entered into the drawing for the book, all you have to do is to comment on any of my Wild Rose Reader posts that I publish from April 8th through April 13th. I'll announce the winner on Sunday, April 14th.