What a lovely surprise: I won first place, for the second year in a row, of Semiahmoo Arts' Double Exposure Ekphrastic Poetry Challenge! I'll share a bit about the writing process here.
This contest involves being inspired by photography, a medium I also love. I didn't know much about ekphrastic poetry, except that it involves the intersection of different art forms complementing and expanding on each other. We were also provided this partial definition by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation: "An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the 'action' of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning."
So vivid was important, which was new to me. I wrote one free-form poem, then several haiku. Two of my haiku won first prize. The first was inspired by a gorgeous photo of a vulnerable-looking owl peeking from behind a tree trunk:
saw your owly eyes
peeking from behind the pines
before the clearcut
The judge, Surrey's Poet Laureate Renée Sarojini Saklikar, said the ending was devastating. In an early draft, I softened the last line to "saved the trees for you." I loved the meaning, but it didn't have the same impact. At last month's Zero to 360 open mic, local author and poet Cristy Watson said that poetry is a great medium to address negative emotions, so I was primed to forge ahead with the sad ending. Apparently a good choice!
The second photo is pretty much described by the poem:
bursts through crusty cobbled clay
An early draft had a different last line: "winter's over now." It had my intended meaning, but fell flat. Why was that? I found my answer in a wonderful article by Robert Lee Brewer, "7 Revision Filters For Poets," from a Writer's Digest magazine. I was telling instead of showing. Another great tip in the article suggested to "verb your nouns." That's how the new word "unwintering" arose, and gave the perfect feeling for what the crocus meant to the observer.
I wrote other haiku too. Someone at the event last night wanted a photo with me. I obliged, and he showed me a copy of my poem, "The Viewpoint," paired with the wrong photo! The lapse may have been my error, but it should have been a photo of a lakeside view in the distance with a wooden fence and trees in the foreground. I thought of road trips where viewpoints are sometimes bounded by fence to keep onlookers from hazardous cliff edges. Fences that are often scaled. And sometimes the company on the trip can add to the drama.
stopped at the viewpoint
could have scaled the safety fence
but he was waiting
Another road trip poem had a lot of appeal for me. The photo was of an ancient building with a neon sign that boasted the best burgers in the world. I thought of Cache Creek, often a halfway stop on a road trip to northern British Columbia. When living in the north, residents often joked about being "beyond Hope and proud of it." Hope is a community in the Fraser canyon, after which communities become more sparsely situated.
we stopped at Cache Creek
beyond Hope and miles from Hell
best burgers ever
I'll leave you with that sampling for Poetry Month!
- Irene Plett
Topics: Poetry, Haiku, Ekphrastic Poetry, Semiahmoo Arts, Poetry Foundation, Writer's Digest, Robert Lee Brewer, Surrey's Poet Laureate, Renée Sarojini Saklikar, Cristy Watson