Exphrasis Act #2: Karen Dennison & I respond with a poem to each other’s image

My poetry-pal Karen Dennison & I last did an exphrasis response on our blogs in Dec 2014 .  And we had so much fun collaborating, we’re back doing it again: we each provided the other with an image that we responded to with a poem.

Be sure to check out Karen’s website. Currently she’s working on the second volume of her ongoing Book of Sand project where poets respond to art and artists respond to poems (here’s one of the poems which will be in it — Stephanie Aroska’s “Girl in Blue”. )

First  is the poem by Karen which is a response to my photo  from Christmas last year. “Skiff” is a word often used in Canada for a light dusting of snow. It’s a pretty thing but can be dangerous for walking if there’s a skiff over icy patches!! Apparently, you can also have a skiff of ice over water.

I love how Karen has caught the special feeling of temporary aloneness – the uplifting  & transcending sense of being part of something together with many invisible others; and she uses a birth image which  astounded me the first time I read the poem.

Skiff of Snow

A snow-coated path
funnels the horizon, narrows
to a tree-lined gap, births
a wide heavy sky.

Ahead, a frozen flock
of ice-black footprints
recede to mottled-grey.
A pilgrimage of people

have passed this way,
marks unnamed,
their clouds of breath
swallowed by air.

— Karen Dennison

And here is my photo, which Karen used for her poem. I took it early one Sunday morning, December 2014.  It shows a part of the Confederation Trail (the old railway line) where it passes through Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Dec2014 Walk
Photo by Elly Nobbs (Charlottetown, PEI – Dec 2014)

Next is the image that  Karen  gave me to respond to with a poem. I was intrigued by the contrast of the geometric black “bars” and the eerie sense that I was being looked at by a line of creatures on the other side. Which got me off on a tangent …

Photograph by Karen Dennison – taken in Brussels near the EC headquarters in 2013 and manipulated in Photoshop.

To digress a bit more… in Jan. & Feb., I went to 3 sessions of a local Stage Performance Course. This was something completely new for me, and lots of fun. Just the other day I came across Alan Alda teaching improve skills to scientists . In the video, he uses some of the same exercises we did in our course. I’ve always liked Alan Alda. And since I’ve spent my working life doing scientific related stuff. I got a kick out of watching the scientists let down their hair.

But here’s my poem:

Two Characters & a Situation for an Improv Skit

i. Freeze – Upstage Left, Person #1:

The old chimpanzee,
veins & vitals scarred from years
at this pharma research facility, behind bars
that reach to the sky, waits
for 5 p.m. supper, hoping something

unusual might happen; she’s lonely & hungry
(her stomach is rumbling)
& yes, she’s certainly dangerous
we agree…

ii. Enters – Downstage Right, Person #2:

The white-coated human, who contravenes
(just this once) Sect.1(c)-23
of the for-everyone’s-protection lab
SHE’S SEDATED – unlocks

the escape-proof cage door, scoots in (it will only
take a second) to retrieve the tray
from lunch  ignoring  the long pole with grippers
he should’ve used to safely slide it
through the slot

but slipping on a banana skin, he knocks
shut the door behind  him when he stumbles
… the key flies from his hand
arcs through the air to hers…

iiiThe Two Characters Interact  Inside the Locked Cage:

Note — the two actors
agreed before the skit
that they must
find a way to help
the old chimpanzee

— so used
by us —
or we’ll not let them
off the stage.

— E.E. Nobbs

FINAL WORDS: It seems I’ve been reading a lot about chimpanzees the the last few years:

Two books about chimpanzees used in research & chimpanzee sanctuaries that I have read & recommend:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a novel by Karen Joy Fowler  – Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll –  Winner of the 2012 Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction

And of course there’s Jane Goodall, who is one of my heroes.



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