The Frame

I was at a writing workshop run by Frances Leviston on Tuesday, which is focusing on form.  We began by looking at definitions of form in relation to a Robert Frost poem, “Design”.  One of the definitions listed synonyms for form, and the first writing task was to take one of these words as our title and write a poem about poetic form using the form of the poem to discuss it, if you see what I mean.

I didn’t get very far with the poem, but the ideas around form, and one of the words, “frame”, fed into some of the things I’ve been thinking about in relation to ekphrasis, and Yacobi’s description of ekphrastic writing as re-presentation of the art discourse within the verbal discourse of the poem, a frame through which the art becomes visible and is modified by the poem for its own ends.  This is particularly perceivable when you think about notional ekphrasis, where the artwork is fictional.

For example, in Browning’s My Last Duchess, the portrait is modified through the narrative conceit, and works to question the reliability of the Duke’s character.  The frame is the Duke’s discourse, that allows the viewer to see the portrait at all, and restricts the reader’s view to his description/perception of it.  But the frame is also the tone, the language, the dramatic monologue construct, which creates space for the reader to sense friction, story and character, both the Duke’s character and the Duchess’s.

In one way this allows us to think about how the text is imposed on the art and how it affects the artwork as perceived by the reader.  This is, perhaps, in opposition to how we often think about ekphrasis, which is to think of the art as the primary object, that affects, or manipulates the text.

But I think this idea of the frame acts to break down this rivalry between mediums, similar to Derrida’s idea about the parergon, the frame between the artwork and the wall, and how this is neither internal to the work, nor external.  When you look at the wall, it appears to be internal to the painting, but when you look at the painting, the frame seems to belong to the wall.   It suggests how the artwork and frame work in relation to each other, rather than setting them up as hierarchical or as binaries

By thinking of the frame this way in ekphrasis, we begin to see space opening for the reader to engage with the friction generated by the two forms, and the potential this creates.  This isn’t the same as earlier theories, where one form was thought to complete the other, and it doesn’t prescribe how these forms might relate, as was implied by thinking of the poem as mute painting.  Here, art and poetry aren’t coalescing into a stable structure, but have energy between them, and it’s this energy, this space and interplay, I think, that makes ekphrastic writing interesting.



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