Eileen R. Tabios is a poet working in multiple genres and in-between. She also loves books by writing, reading, publishing, critiquing, romancing and advocating for them. This blog will feature her bibliophilic activities with posts on current book engagements and links to her books and projects related to books.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


As described in a recent conversation with Thomas Fink (Dichtung Yammer), I’d spent the past 4 years generating poems through what I call my Murder, Death and Resurrection project. After such a comprehensive series, it took some time for me to identify my next big project. But I found it through this year’s April as National Poetry Month; many poets write a poem a day during this month and I did so this year. Through that exercise, I began what's become my next big project, writing off and away from John Ashbery’s major poem, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.” I'm calling this series The Ashbery Riff-Offs.

I love Ashbery’s approach to ekphrastic poetry, for which I'll quote David Lehman  (in “Ashbery, Parmigianino, and the Convex Mirror,” Poets.org) as using

specific paintings “as points of departure that discover themselves by meditating on objets d’art, and thus displacing them. . . . Gazing at the painting, the poet comes virtually to inhabit its room, to make its quarters his own.”

This is non-caption type of ekphrasis which possesses my loyalty, and I tried to apply the same approach in writing poems from Ashbery’s poems, with his lines being the “objets d’art.” That is, all of my poems begin with 1 or 1-2 lines from Ashbery’s poem. The ekphrasis work as being more than just illustration is aptly captured by the convex mirror. If you look at this illustration, you’ll see how the outward gaze from a convex mirror expands to take in more of the world, versus the concave perspective that narrows the gaze:

According to Google, there are 522 lines in “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (I keep counting or mis-counting 515 lines). With 1 or 1-2 lines of Ashbery’s beginning each of my poems, I estimate the series will be comprised of over 300 poems.

By the time April ended, I’d written 29 poems (though I’ve continued writing a poem a day since).  Having said that, Locofo chaps is publishing six poems from the series which all coincidentally fit Moria/Locofo’s “political, anti-Trump” series.  The political is just one dimension—though it makes for a great click-bait  (and I hope you agree, funny) title for the chap, MAKING NATIONAL POETRY MONTH GREAT AGAIN!

(There are other poetics issues, besides ekphrasis, that relate to my choice to work with Ashbery's poem, but I'll save those discussion items for another day.)

As of today (May 2), here are photos of Ashbery’s poem showing some lines underlined in peach-colored ink. The underlined lines are those that I’ve used to date, and as you can see there's a lot  more to go.  It's encouraging that so far the poems have received positive responses during readings at Berkeley Museum of Art and during the New Orleans Poetry Festival. It took a while to get  here, but I’m eager to do more. 

(click on images to enlarge)

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