A few months ago I sent some poems to an webzine called TheLight Ekphrastic and was delighted when I heard back from the editor, Jenny O’Grady, that my work had been accepted and I had been paired with Meredith Purvis, a book artist who lives in Maryland. She would create a new work of art based on one of my poems and I was to write a poem based on a photograph of a piece of her art.
I received three pictures of a Coptic bound book. I make such books myself and was therefore excited to get an image of one to write a poem about. I put one of the photos up as my laptop’s desktop picture so for a couple of months it was the first thing I saw when I opened my computer. Those of you who know me personally will know I saw that picture often!
But how to write a poem about it? I could see that the cover was done by some form of weaving process. It looked as if strips of paper were cut into half or three-quarter inch strips. The front cover appeared in predominantly pinks, beiges and skin tones. I could see a face reminiscent of Bridget Bardot, (or Brittney Spears, or someone), and I could make out a few words. Early on, I thought the title would be “His Social Note”, words that appeared at the top of the cover. What could that mean? I became obsessed with the smattering of legible words. I tried making some sort of Stein-like collage using only the words I could see. That didn’t work. Then I decided to use the found words along with others and make a poem of that. A story began to emerge. To weave itself together, you might say. It was loaded with rhymes and rhythm faintly reminiscent of Kipling (not a style I normally use), but the story just didn’t make sense to me, no matter how long I fought with it.
I’m still on holiday in Mexico but thanks to email I ran the poem past my long-suffering writer’s group back in Nelson, three poets whose wisdom I appreciate and trust. They were, as always, helpful, but the poem didn’t make a lot of sense to them, either. One of my favourite comments was from Susan, about a dismal line that had to do with a spear: “Okay, what kind of spear? Asparagus or sarcasm?” I took her point (sorry). What to do?
About a week before the poem was due I went to a screening of a new documentary (so new it’s pre-release, so I’m not going into details about it as I figure it would be nice to get permission from the director first and I haven’t heard back from them yet). One of the scenes has to do with a book that’s been passed down through many generations of the same family. It was written in Sanskrit and is a thousand years old. The film is beautiful, and incredibly moving. I went home and shortly thereafter a new poem arrived in the way they sometimes do, almost all at once. The ancient book was there, as was Meredith’s cover. Those eyes. That social note. I spent a few days moving stanzas around and you can read the poem here.
But that’s only the beginning! Meredith got five of my poems to read and had to pick one to work with. She chose What’s Best for Us, a poem I wrote about asbestos (the heat- and fire-resistant mineral whose particles are extremely carcinogenic when inhaled) that reflects my disgust for the fact that Canada still exports the stuff to countries whose safety standards are not as stringent as ours while here people have to wear hazmat gear when removing it from buildings. Meredith responded to my poem with Lung Book. I can’t imagine a better depiction of what that poem is about.
Here's the link to our paired work. I am so honoured to have been part of this project and I hope you will have a look at all the amazing pairings The Light Ekphrastic has to offer.