“Ekphrasis” is not part of anyone’s everyday vocabulary. Some scholars believe the term was coined in the 18th century to define the act of describing a visual artifact in words. Since this century, the word has been most associated with poetic composition. In his poem “Ode on a Greek Urn”, for example, John Keats describes a set of happy revelers painted on the surface of an ancient pottery vessel.
A new anthology of stories and poems titled “Magic, Mystery, Madness” puts a new spin on the ekphrastic experience, and as with all successful experiments with this particular rhetorical device, much depends on compelling visual subjects. In this case, at the heart of the book are digitally manipulated photographs by Jerry Craven. Already an established poet, fiction writer and editor, Craven has recently expanded his creative repertoire to include photography.
And what are these photographs. With a heavy dose of digital wizardry, Craven combined elements of vintage photographs with luminous “starscapes” captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Thus, a gentleman in a frock coat is walking on a distant planet, and a young lady in a leather jacket, pilot’s goggles on her head, contemplates a flight path to another galaxy. This blend of the earthly and the heavenly Craven calls itself “graphic magical realism”.
Each of the nearly 40 full-page graphic artworks, so beautifully rendered in color in this skillfully crafted volume, is accompanied by a sensitive short story or poem by Andrew Geyer, Terry Dalrymple or Craven himself. Thus, the book offers readers a treasure trove of visual and verbal pleasures that most often inhabit the realms of fantasy and/or science fiction.
As required by ekphrastic writing, each tale or poem uses elements found in its visual referent. Thus, in his tale “Egret Angel”, Terry Dalrymple introduces the reader to a white heron, such as the one depicted in Craven’s manipulated photograph. In Dalrymple’s account, the egret in question makes repeated visits to the distressed narrator’s home to offer a modicum of mute consolation.
The cosmic jogger in Craven’s graphic image “Running Blind” becomes the protagonist of Andrew Geyer’s evocative tale of the same title. The anonymous narrator, a border collie mix and a Land Rover has a fateful encounter at South Boundary in Aiken. Geyer captions his story as “a tale of guilt and penance, and (perhaps) a miraculous rebirth.”
The interplay between two art forms – the visual and the literary – found in this new book is an integral part of Craven/Geyer/Dalrymple’s penchant for experimentation. Four years ago, for example, I edited an anthology for the talented, award-winning trio called “Dancing on Barbed Wire,” which included 15 related stories and a collective short story. This volume and the current ekphrastic publication are positive proof of the will of these three writers to push the limits when they collaborate. I very much enjoyed serving as editor of this final volume and playing a small role in shaping the final product.
Copies of the book can be purchased directly from the publisher Angelina River Press or online at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com