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Ekphrasis and the Role of Visual Art in Contemporary American Poetry

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posted on 08.02.2011, 09:42 by Emma Kimberley
This thesis engages with three US poets – Jorie Graham, Charles Wright and Mark Doty – as well as using other writing, from the Modernists to the ekphrastic collection, to engage with the context of ekphrasis, ‘the verbal representation of visual representation’, in the US. After an introduction that evaluates previous work on ekphrasis and studies the forms of engagement between visual and verbal art, a section of three chapters is devoted to each poet. The first explores Jorie Graham’s work on abstract painting, photography and film, analyzing how she uses the different temporal conventions of each genre to write about the past. The second section looks at the links between memory and present perception in the work of Charles Wright and his struggle with how to represent as he follows the path to abstraction before returning to the more simple desire to say what he sees, accepting the sleight of hand that is necessarily a part of this. The third section goes on to explore the work of Mark Doty, a poet who embraces illusion in representation, arguing that the process of creating and deconstructing illusions is a fundamental part of how we define our own identity as well as how we make space for ourselves within the community. Refuting accusations that ekphrastic writing often depends too heavily on the visual artwork for its credibility, this section considers how it can be used positively as a tool for legitimation by writers who come from a minority perspective, analysing the visual aspect of poems on cruising, drag and public sex performances. A final section uses the relatively new phenomenon of the ekphrastic collection – with work by Cole Swensen, Debora Greger and Claudia Rankine– to examine how ekphrasis deals with issues of gender and iconic cultural images.



Everett, Nick; Halliwell, Martin

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University of Leicester

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