Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 8: Kimberly Hall

I encountered Kimberly Hall and her poem “Autumn Maples with Poem Slips” at a reading of ekphrastic poetry hosted by the Friendswood Public Library. Her poem had earned some recognition and with good reason!

I’m such a fan of ekphrastic poetry, or poetry written in response to other artwork. It’s one of my favorite styles to write in, like being in artistic conversation with someone else who might otherwise be inaccessible to me. For example, Kimberly Hall’s poem here responds to a beautiful screen by Tosa Mitsuoki, c. 1675. You can view the inspiring artwork, and learn more about its history, here.

Autumn Maples with Poem Slips

Times like these,
time seems to pass       slowly
and then
            all at once

Is it time travel
if I watch this moment
while the rest of the world keeps turning?

A screen
separates us, a sliding screen
            or a door, or a window
and the hands of the clock
.                                          outside
cannot meet
the hands of the people

Times like these,
moments pass
differently – they pass
                        sometimes like running water,
and other times like
            treacle syrup –
but most times
like they
do not

How do you measure a moment –
in seconds? the span of a feeling? a poem?
the time it takes one maple leaf
.                                                        to fall
.             to the ground?

We watch the seasons change,
the cherries      blossom and the maple leaves
and we know that the world has turned
but we do not feel it –
and all things bright and beautiful are fleeting,
we know this,
but still the world seems

Times like these,
the world moves and does not –
and we move and do not –

but the poems –

the poems flutter in the wind,
whispering, like leaves,
like the sound of a brush
on paper, or the
secret scratch of pencil lead
.               inside a borrowed book, or the
slide     of a pen
as it      settles
            behind your ear –

whispering, like the slide of fingers through your hair –

whispering, like the voices of the world beyond the screen,
beyond the door, beyond the window,
and the rasp of pen on paper sounds like
.                                                         your own voice,
                         whispering back

Times like these, it can seem like
the world has come to a stop –
like we, too, are            suspended        here,
a moment within a moment,
a maple leaf, always
.             falling, never
.                                           touching

and yet –
here we are,
trying to leave our own
.               poems
tied to our own
.             maple branches –
trying to leave beauty in the world
.                             even as that beauty fades –
trying to catch a moment
in our hands as proof that we have
reached beyond the screen

Here we are –

             – fluttering from our own branches –

.                                                      – and here we will remain.


Kimberly Hall is a writer and graduate student at the University of Houston- Clear Lake. Her work has been featured in two ekphrastic poetry anthologies, Do You See the Way the Light (2019) and Still the Waves Beat (2020). When not writing or studying for exams, Kimberly can be found stress-baking, playing the violin, and trying to pet every cat she meets. She can be contacted at kdotcdothdot@gmail.com.

Poem-A-Day: William Carlos Williams

Auden’s poem about Brueghel’s painting cannot make an appearance, in my mind, without also acknowledging William Carlos Williams’ poem on the same painting, on the same subject. The two poets’ styles couldn’t be much more different from each other, and Williams’ poem also relies more heavily on description than many ekphrastic poems. Yet it still highlights the most salient feature of Brueghel’s painting, titled as it was. It still conveys, through brevity, diction, and line/stanza breaks used as punctuation, a gut-punch of despair for the futility of Icarus’ sacrifice, of Daedalus’ trauma.


Landscape with the Fall of Icarus


According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning




Poem-A-Day: W.H. Auden (again)

Here’s another poem by Auden. It’s one of my favorites and is my first go-to when teaching ekphrastic poetry. I love that the first stanza of the poem, which comprises more than half of it, isn’t really about the painting at all, but about the theme Auden believed the painter was getting at. This, I think, is the most important aspect to an ekphrastic poem: that it doesn’t really describe the art it’s about so much as it responds to it. It continues a dialogue begun by the initial artist.

This concept might seem simple at first, but I’ve found in teaching this form for many years that it’s not as easy to put into practice. So here’s a bit of a challenge for you, should you choose to accept it: write an ekphrastic poem and either post it at your own online space and link to it here in the comments, or else email it to me at forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com. Be sure to include the original artwork you’re responding to. (I still have a spot or two open later this month, and maybe your poem will be curated into the mix here.)


Musée des Beaux Arts


About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.



National Poetry Month — Day 6

Yesterday’s post reminds me of another fragment, this one from an ekphrastic poem I wrote in response to Cranach, the Elder’s painting Suicide of Lucretia (1529).


This painting is on display in Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
This painting is on display in Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


But she calls to my modern lie
from a time when beauty must have been
a function of virtue, and virtue a function
of obedience.


Ekphrasis #1

kids, ca. 1981
photo taken by MaryBeth Jamail, probably in 1981

I wrote this sonnet when I was in college, meditating on the theme of love presumed to be inherent in the sonnet form. I thought, love takes many forms, and so, this…


Lullaby for a Crying Child

When my cousin died (olive skin and thick
black hair and twelve years old laid under dirt
and roses) I realized that death is
not a one-way gate, but is a long silk skirt

in the rain:  shadows of skin inside the silk
(bare legs running to get inside, get warm)
stick to my skirt until I peel the silk
from my skin, and hang it in the bathroom.

My cousin (body of a child with eyes
and mind that have just turned twenty-three)
visits me in my sleep, touches my fingers, and I
look at him, then through him, and he leaves me

but not alone.  And I wake to rain and
my skirt dripping from the shower curtain rod.


This poem originally appeared in my first published volume of poems, Gypsies.