Pictorial Poetry / By: Lily Swarn

Pictorial Poetry


By: Lily Swarn

Pictorial poetry has an instant connect .As you hear it or read it ,it forms an image in front of your invisible mind screens .I am a sensuous being just as all the rest of humankind .Sights , sounds , smells touch all awaken my being .Out of all these sensory perceptions ,the visual is the one that wraps me around it’s little finger . I own up to being enslaved and besotted by the sight of a tree bursting into leaf in the first throes of spring .I can stand and gape hypnotically at the fire breathing colors of a sunset till it slips into the fading horizon . I am a fanatic and firm believer in the instant erotic effect of the female form,whether it is a temple sculpture or a painting by Reuben .Which man worth his salt will not stop and praise the creator of such masterpieces ?

Could poetry have ever been written merely by overpowering and strangulating emotions?What brings out that gurgling stream of words from the depths of one’s being? It’s definitely the memory of a captivating visual .Murky sights of slum dwellers make great copy for news hounds and media pundits .They splash the visuals of vacant eyed orphans peering morosely into the azure. That is what elicits potent poetry too.That haunting image of back breaking penury brings forth verses that immortalize poverty .Whether it is a poem about the lady who laboriously breaks stones into gravel in her tattered sari or a poem about autumnal leaves written by T.S.Eliot

“The burnt out ends of smoky days
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots ,..”

It’s all about the stunning effect of visual imagery .A master craftsman of words will bring alive the throbbing picture of real life. That is the magic of Pictorial poetry .How endearing are the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson –

“Now folds the lily all her sweetness up ,And slips into the bosom of the lake

So fold thyself my dearest thou and slip into my bosom and be lost in me .”

The moment I flip a page and rest my eyes on a picture ,it starts a conversation with me . It preens and poses and demands to be seen .It acquires a life of its own ,seducing me with its image ,The colours and tints jump up to cuddle me , the lines and curves sing an opera that must be heard until I fall prey to its charms and write a ditty .

A picture is not just its present image. It carries in its overflowing heart the history of the place , the characters , the culture , joys and traumas .There is something extra in a picture that you may not have noticed in the gigantic canvas of life . The picture brings it closer .It somehow personalizes the experience .The magnified span of vision is all yours to go back to and reconnect with . Each time I cross a picture of a loved one in my sitting room , a new emotion jostles my heart .A poem takes birth , a song resounds !

When stone caves got their first drawings of animals and warriors ,literature was consecutively formulating it’s own unique idiom.When man is exploring his own amazement ,trying to be the priest of those barely visible shadows behind the pictures ,that’s when poetry emerges brazenly from beneath the veil of modesty .Looking at the picture,a poet let’s you into his private world . He strokes and shades with his own gossamer brushes and with his vivid imagination.

Ekphrasis which means description in Greek , gave the name ekphrastic to a poem which is a brilliant description of a scene or work of art .John Keats automatically leaps to one’s mind with his exemplary poem? ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’

“Ah happy happy boughs!that cannot shed
Your leaves ,nor ever bid the Spring adieu
And happy melodist unwearied
For ever piping songs for ever new
Keats brings alive the scene on the urn and infuses life in it .”

The modern ekphrastic poems have shaken off the obsession that antiquity had with elaborate description.The new buzz is to try and confront , inhabit , interpret and even talk to the subjects .There are many ways to approach a poem which is stimulated by visual art . You could describe whatever has caught your fancy in the picture ,or describe it with a vicarious and voyeuristic imagination, incorporating the bizarre or the surprising .At other times a poet can make the main figure speak like Thomas Hardy makes the Elgin Marbles speak in ‘Christmas in the Elgin Room ‘.You could even make minor characters or only the objects speak . Another way a pictorial poem can come alive is by making the artist speak as Robert Fagles did while writing about Vincent Van Gogi’s ,’ Portrait of the Artist’s Mother ‘. The other tools that have been used effectively are interrogation of the artist , of figures or of yourself.

A poet’s description of this genre of writing remained with me and I must share it with you all . He said “ I personally like to think of ekphrasis as an entirely fluid type of poetry writing, one that is at the poet’s idiosyncratic whims and desires ‘“. Presuming that there is no ekphrastic police then one is free to digress and splash the picture or work of art with one’s own traumas , fears and thrills . It’s your poem and it must have your sensibility and subtle nuances .

I would like to describe the words of John Hollander who said ‘The earliest ekphrastic poetry describes what doesn’t exist , save in the poetry’s own fiction “, Famous paintings of Picasso , Modigliani, Degas are vilified by poets desirous of bringing new meaning to renowned art works .

For me personally , it is always a taut invocation of the seen and unseen .My soul does cartwheels in the air and walks an imaginary tightrope as I juggle the words in my erasure trove and hey presto ,a pictorial poem sails in the monsoon breeze lashing my city . Allow me to share here my poem that I wrote for a picture of frangipani and tube Rose flowers,

“Let me

Let me walk beside you along the river
Let the fragile ferns caress my thoughts
Let the bleeding soldier of a sun
Bandage my wounds with his fire
Let the musky fragrance of frangipani overpower you
With its heady murderous whirlpools
Let the eddies of my screaming innards
Engulf you in ocean currents
Let the tuberoses infuse incense in my sanctum sanctorum
Let me anoint and salve your traumatized aura
And hold it close to my bosom
Let me not whisper tender endearments in your reddening ears
For I am the dream that has still not conspired to come alive”

Copyright Lily Swarn 25.7.2018

One thought on “Pictorial Poetry / By: Lily Swarn

  1. Poetry creates images of its own. A poem which doesn’t succeed in creating emotional images is not a poetry. Poetry doesn’t need prop of a picture to attract a reader. A good poem does not stands on crutches of pictures. It rather helps reader to create vivid visual images with the help of narrative.
    Ghalib is read and appreciated though he did not use even an illustration to explain his poetry. So was the case with Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley or Auden.

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