In the Frame: Women's Ekphrastic Poetry from Marianne Moore to Susan Wheeler

In the Frame: Women's Ekphrastic Poetry from Marianne Moore to Susan Wheeler

In the Frame: Women's Ekphrastic Poetry from Marianne Moore to Susan Wheeler

In the Frame: Women's Ekphrastic Poetry from Marianne Moore to Susan Wheeler


The subject of In the Frame is poetic ekphrasis: poems whose starting point or source of inspiration is a work of visual art. The authors of these sixteen essays, several of whom are poets as well as critics, have a twofold purpose: calling attention to the contribution women poets have made to this important genre of poetic writing and re-thinking ekphrastic poetry's motives and purposes. From Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop to Mary Jo Salter, C. D. Wright, and Susan Wheeler, many of our best women poets have done important work in this genre, and when they describe, confront, or speak for an image that is itself wordless, their motives are not only formal but aesthetic. Their poems also raise important questions, from a perspective that is often, but not always, gender-inflected about how art is made and displayed, experienced and valued, celebrated and commodified.


Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought,
As doth eternity….

—John Keats, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”

Ekphrasis, the act of speaking to, about, or for a work of visual or plastic art, has drawn considerable attention of late from literary scholars and theorists of visual culture: we are teased into thought by a body of poetic writing that tends to leave questions of motive and intention provocatively open to speculation. What do poems see, and what do they seek, in works of visual art—in paintings, sculptures, and photographs? Are there good reasons for claiming that poems by women see differently—that women poets bring a particular set of motives and intentions to their ekphrastic encounters? Several of these essays will argue that this is indeed the case, but the question of gender has not been raised in every essay. An equally important raison d’être for this volume is that ekphrastic poems by women have been largely overlooked in the critical literature on ekphrasis, and this creates a special opportunity for calling attention to how some of our most important twentieth-century poets have experienced the challenge and the lure of ekphrastic writing. Each of the poets these essays discuss, whether she is accosting, admiring, or simply paying close attention to works of art whose “silent” medium is paint or clay or stone, is “speaking out” on behalf of her own aesthetic, political, and/or psychological commitments with particular force and clarity. in writing about someone else’s art, she is engaged simultaneously and self-consciously in creation and interpretation, making and viewing, seeing and saying.

… We have surprised him
At work, but no, he has surprised us
As he works.

—John Ashbery, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”

In an essay published in 1992 whose avowed purpose is “to seek a way out of the relentless inscriptions of masculine desire in Western . . .

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