What Do Poems Want? The Ekphrastic Moment

Why are there so many poems about pictures, other art objects, and things–including human things–viewed not as occasions for narrative or mimetic representation but for seemingly unmotivated description or sheer ostensive pointing-toward? To be sure, there are more such poems in some periods than in others (e. g., the later 19th century and much of the 20th), and that in itself will arouse historical reflection, but every period harbors an ekphrastic moment, so our trajectory will carry us from Homer to the present looking for an answer to our question. Foundational and intermittent topics will include: Picture and poem in Plato and Aristotle; Notional ekphrasis and illusionism in ancient literature and anecdote; Pygmalion stories; Two Sister Arts, Leonardo to Lessing; Where mimesis seems to lose motivating force (representation becomes description); Where form seems to lose motivating force (composition becomes ostension); Ekphrasis as picture envy; Ekphrasis as thing envy; What’s in an Urn (or pot, or jar)? Special attention will be given to women’s ekphrasis (brief focus on Gjertrud Schnackenberg) and to picture-poems by persons of color (Hayden, Tretheway, Dove).

Graduate Course #: 
Th 10:30am-12:20pm