Ahead of the CHASE Creative Writing Residency in Norfolk, I thought I would present some initial thoughts on my current practice and the masterclass I intend to lead.
The focus of my PhD is ekphrasis in response to modernist paintings, especially those that are very dark or near-black. One example is a poem I wrote about Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (recently published in The Ekphrastic Review).
Most ekphrastic practice and theory tends to make reference to figurative or mimetic artworks, and I am interested in exploring different ways we might look at and write with paintings that might be regarded as formless or monochromatic.
Alongside this project, I am also working with my editor Todd Swift, at Eyewear, on my debut poetry collection. I have been tasked with revising and polishing 50-70 poems, adding to those already included in my pamphlet, Nullaby (Eyewear Publishing, 2017). I see the residency as an ideal opportunity to review this batch of poems, dissect them with other writers, and see them differently (working against the familiar ‘snow-blindnedness’ that many writers experience). To have my writing marked up and subject to critique is (to my relief) now easier than it once was. For others to give my poems close attention – as also occurs with my supervisor, Jane Yeh – is such a privilege, drawing upon expertise and technical awareness. If critique is now less painful, my guess is that the transition has something to do with now caring more about the poem than my ego. Where once there was defensiveness and insecurity, there is now gratitude, team-work, and collaboration.
At the residency I also plan to lead a masterclass. Modern definitions of ekphrasis tend to have actual artworks in mind. However, for the ancient Greeks ekphrasis did not have to be about a real art object; instead for them ekphrasis was about conveying energeia or the vividness of lived experience. This is consistent with Homer’s Shield of Achilles (the ‘shield’ does not really exist), where what becomes possible is ekphrasis not only in response to imaginary objects, but also in response to a scene, a memory or a dream. The binding characteristic is the skill of the writer to conjure up an image in the mind of the reader. I would like to discuss this broader definition in the group and examine how and when it might be useful to make use of imagery in our writing. If ekphrasis can be understood by way of the Greek definition, it then becomes more pertinent to fiction, script writing, even in an academic register. Finally, if we have time, I would also like to gauge responses to examples of modern art (with the distribution of postcard reproductions), especially in terms of how they might be looked at and transposed into words.
Above all else, though, I look forward to meeting other writers and hopefully developing some ongoing friendships or professional links.