Responding to Visual Works of Art with Poetry

                                                                 By Lelia Ferro

A few years ago I bought a beautiful etching, The Nearest House, by Mersea based artist, Elizabeth Morris. I recently wrote a poem in response to it as part of my Writing Workshop coursework.

I had this idea because I frequently lose myself in its dark blue finely etched tones. It captures everything I love about the magical coastline near to the University. It also depicts my dream house – I would love to live there all alone with only the sheep and the seabirds for company.

Perhaps the most lovely detail in the picture is the humble line of washing. I find hung washing quite poetic. It has the form of human bodies and often dances by itself. It also reminds us of childhood, mothers and home.

Writers have been inspired to write poems about works of art since Greek times. Ecphrasis means an often passionate verbal response to a visual piece of art. In The Gazers Spirit, John Hollander covers a diverse range of artworks responded to in poetry.

My reply to The Nearest House is called The Last House, and it begins like this:

In a garden edged by marsh,

abandoned washing wildly dances,

whipped by calls of lonely snipe,

their liquid notes fall with the rain.

From a little wooden window,

land and sea and sky have merged,

held tight together by the fog,

as flocks of birds wheel round unseen.

I feel very lucky that when I wrote to Elizabeth about this post she very happily gave me permission to reproduce her etching here for you to enjoy too. The biggest compliment of all was that she liked my poem and told me to keep writing. It made me think about how the writing is such a small part of my experience. It is all the little connections, encounters, memories, and door openings, both real and imaginary, that makes it so thrilling. As I look at the picture again tonight, I think about the wonderful journey that we have been on together.

nearest_house_image-2nd-post ‘The Nearest House’ by Elizabeth Morris. The artist has kindly given the author permission to publish the picture on this blog.