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  • Celia Jenkins

NaPoWriMo 2020, Day 2, Poetry Challenge

Wasn't in the poetry groove until later in the evening, so only uploading my 2nd poem now. Yesterday I tried ekphrastic - poetry that is in response to art. According to the Poetry Foundation, "an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art." More generally, an ekphrastic poem is a poem inspired or stimulated by a work of art.

I've tried this sort of poetry before but without penning anything noteworthy. I was introduced to it by the poet Carrie Etter who, in my poetry classes, handed out postcards for us to work from and be inspired by. More recently, I had ekphrastic poetry in mind on visits to museums and art galleries, looking for pieces to write about. While I found plenty of inspiration, particularly at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, my poems were mostly about the museum experience, an exhibition of themed pieces, or the artisan who made the piece, rather than a singular piece of artwork.

I bought a postcard of The Last of England at the Blackwell art and print shop (mainly because it was reduced, just 10p, rather than because I liked the painting). Once I was home I looked it up and discovered that there was something in the painting I hadn't first seen - a tiny hand, a hidden character. This is what inspired my poem. I've worked from the 1860 reproduction, housed at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which is important as the colour of the cloak is different to that in the 1855 original.


After ‘The Last of England’, Ford Maddox Brown, 1860

Sea salt crystals on infant fingers,

a saline taste on my young lips,

hazy red checked light

through flapping fabric,

and your firm grip

that thaws the ocean chill.

My new life, our new beginning,

father contemplates, dark fearful,

but your face is a sigh.

Wherever we’re going, we’ll be there soon,

where my world will stop rocking

and the air will lie still.

My postcard.

P.S. I've battled with whether I'd rather describe the fabric as 'checked' or 'checkered'. In speech, I think I'd be more likely to use 'checkered' but my research indicates that this is the American spelling/pronunciation, and was flagged as an error when I wrote it, so I changed to 'checked'. Your thoughts?

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