Examining a wide range of ekphrastic poems, David Kennedy argues that contemporary British poets writing out of both mainstream and avant-garde traditions challenge established critical models of ekphrasis with work that is more complex than representational or counter-representational responses to paintings in museums and galleries. Even when the poem appears to be straightforwardly representational, it is often selectively so, producing a 'virtual' work that doesn't exist in actuality. Poets such as Kelvin Corcoran, Peter Hughes, and Gillian Clarke, Kennedy suggests, relish the ekphrastic encounter as one in which word and image become mutually destabilizing. Similarly, other poets engage with the source artwork as a performance that participates in the ethical realm. Showing that the ethical turn in ekphrastic poetry is often powerfully gendered, Kennedy also surveys a range of ekphrastic poets from the Renaissance and nineteenth century to trace a tradition of female ekphrastic poetry that includes Pauline Stainer and Frances Presley. Kennedy concludes with a critique of ekphrastic exercises in creative writing teaching, proposing that ekphrastic writing that takes greater account of performance spectatorship may offer more fruitful models for the classroom than the narrativizing of images.
David Kennedy is Senior Lecturer in English & Creative Writing at the University of Hull. He is the author of Elegy; Douglas Dunn; and co-author of a forthcoming study of British women's experimental poetry 1970-2010.
'Offering authoritative and trenchant readings of theoretical and poetic texts, David Kennedy provides a new way of understanding the stakes of ekphrasis.' Jane Hedley, Bryn Mawr College, USA, co-editor of In the Frame: Women's Ekphrastic Poetry from Marianne Moore to Susan Wheeler 'The Ekphrastic Encounter is a story of urgent yet rejuvenating meetings between poets and visual artists. This perceptive and cogent appraisal is a distinguished addition to the literature of ekphrasis. It will contribute greatly to our awareness, understanding and appreciation of how poets continue to breathe contemporary life into this most ancient of traditions.' Stride Magazine