Methods of Ekphrasis & A Neon Tryst

The centuries-old act of ekphrasis—describing one artform in the medium of another—has traditionally existed as direct description. Defined as a literary description of, or commentary on, a visual work of art, ekphrasis has evolved within the last two centuries with the emergence of objet trouvé and notional ekphrasis.

 Notional ekphrasis offers three, currently established possibilities of expression:

  • description of mental processes such as dreams, thoughts and impulses of the imagination;
  • one art describing or depicting another work of art—which as yet is still in an embryonic state of creation, in that the work described may still be resting in the imagination of the artist before he has begun her creative work; expression may also be applied to an art describing the origin of another art, how it came to be made and the circumstances of its being created; and
  • description of an entirely imaginary and non-existing work of art, as though it were factual and existed in reality.

To these three, I submit a fourth (as one might an Oulipan constraint): description via created persona/additional perspective.

In 2007, I began ekphrastically working with poetry and film. Then unaware of notional ekphrasis or its established “types,” I attempted a self-created method (not necessarily new to actors or fiction writers) of responding to film poetically.


First, I viewed a film from beginning to end, uninterrupted (with sound, often paying close attention to subtitles). I then recorded initial reactions as the film progressed (I drafted poems) to each scene.



Traditional ekphrasis
Second, I generated a persona, a “ghost director” from whose perspective I could write when re-viewing the film—this time without sound and accompanied by natural/environment sounds/background and/or music (random) to “soundtrack” the film. The “ghost director” not only determined “newly cut” scenes (poem form) and created new dialogue (poem text), but also served as mediator/transcriber of an emerging dialogue happening between actual film and developing poem.



Created a new perspective (POV), altered external environment by enhancing natural sound or adding music (stimulus); attempted to capture overarching, implicit dialogue between two art forms themselves
Third, revision/amalgamation of poems from groups A and B.



Conglomerate poems from both groups to form one for each “newly cut” scene/poem

Instead of simply describing or directly responding to the films I viewed (my reaction, my perspective) these added layers of perception/revision helped yield an interesting outcome, most recently evidenced in my book A Neon Tryst. Of this outcome/experience, reviewer James Pate (author of The Fassbinder Diaries) has stated:

“The poems aren’t about the films in any literal way. Instead, the poems do something more interesting, more ambitious. They capture what I imagine to be a fairly universal and yet unusual experience. You fall asleep on the couch while watching a movie or TV show. You wake up around two or three in the morning. You have a sense of intense lateness, even if you aren’t sure what time it is. It feels like no one else in your house or apartment building or town or city is awake. You can feel their sleep around you. The room is dark except of the TV screen. You see the images dance around and try to make some sense of them. They seem more than confusing: they seem chilling, as if they were being broadcast from a failed state, or from some subterranean nightclub that only existed for a few weeks. There’s a sense of magic and conspiracy. The images look utterly alien, and yet intimate too, as if what you’re watching was an extension of the dream you might have been having (even a dream you don’t remember upon waking up).”

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