Black Angus, Cooperstown by Paul Niemiec, Jr. (used by permission of the artist)

Caroline Mary Crew, writing about ekphrastic poetry in her always engaging blog, Flotsam, asks,  “Can the poem stand apart from the painting?”

She cites some worthy examples of various approaches and “types” of ekphrastic poems, including famous examples by Auden, Keats, and O’Hara, as well as a poem that was completely unknown to me, Monica Youn’s “Stealing The Scream.”

I was intrigued by Caroline’s question and sent her an example of my own, “Fallow Field,” which was not quite an ekphrastic poem by strictest definition — that is, a poem that comments upon another artwork, because Joshua Sheldon’s photograph and my poem were created at the same moment.

It occurred to me that another of my poems, “Black Angus, Winter,” was also a kind of ekphrastic poem, of the type Caroline categorizes as narrative/monologue.

This poem, which was part of a group that won The Nebraska Review Award, was inspired in part by the landscape of central New York State, where I spent summers in the mid-1980s.  There was much to inspire: rolling hills, dairy and cattle farms, cornfields, and old, often dilapidated farm buildings.

The poem also found inspiration and a launching-off point in a painting by a friend, Paul Niemiec, to whom the poem is dedicated.  (Reproduced above.)

Here is my poem

 

“Black Angus, Winter”

 

I.

 

The angus rap their noses

on the ice–

fat, gentle fists

rooting water

from the trough.

They kick up clods of dirt

as a madrigal of shudders

ripples their hides.

 

 

II.

 

The barn needs painting,

it’s chipped like ice

from an ice-cutter’s axe.

The fence also needs work,

posts leaning, wire slack.

The Angus keep still–

they’re smarter than we think,

know all about electricity.

 

 

III.

 

I cross the barnyard

on my way back from the pond,

ice skates keeping time

against the small of my back.

The sting of the air

is tempered by the heat of manure.

Through the barn door:

Veal calf jabbing at her mother’s udder.

 

(For Paul Niemiec)

–Scott Edward Anderson

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