Self Portraits: Ekphrasis Poetry Essay

Self Portraits: Ekphrasis Poetry Essay

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Ekphrasis poetry can be written as either an exhibition of the sensational aspects of an artist’s life or as a act to explicate the artwork itself. Gehrke balances both options by opening the gaze of the audience to witness the life of the artist but also the process, aftermath, and desire to paint. Gehrke respects the creative process of the painters, but also gives voice to the torments of the artists, their subjects, themes of death, life and love. The book as an entire collection gages the immediacy of art and time, because life is but a fleeting glimpse of fractured memories and light. Moreover, the images presented in Gehrke’s collection are intertwined capturing the urgency to paint, the transcendence of the artist from their body, as painting is an out of body experience, but also maintains the humanity of the artist’s by examining the fascination of the human body, medical crises and emotional turmoil. Michelangelo’s Seizure by Steve Gehrke explores ekphrasis poetry through crisis, whether that be the medical ailments of the artists, or the psychological and emotional associations for the artist. The poems, specifically “Self-Portrait Monet” and “Late Self-Portrait Rembrandt” are presented through emotional terms, associated not only with the circumstances influencing each artist, but the internal crisis and life consuming desire to paint what they see, experience and felt, to echo back and remember things passed.
In fact, the poems “Self-Portrait Monet” and “Late Self-Portrait Rembrandt” pay lyrical homage to artists’ work and biographies, the remembering of love, seeing their wives die and trying to catch their lost images on canvas. Gehrke as a poet tries to explain the thoughts of an old man reflecting on his life. G...

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...he flowers of his sight,/ going blind, he imagined,/ was a way to feel her/ leaving him again” (“Self-Portrait Monet”). This indicates that painting was so closely associated with the passion for his wife, that when the cataracts lead to blindness he saw his wife leaving once more. Then Rembrandt cannot even bring himself to paint saying, “When she died,/he could not see, for days, through the dusting/ of his grief, until he revived a painting/he had made of her” (“Late Self-Portrait Rembrandt”). Gehrke extends the themes of grief, death and love throughout the collection. The canvas of a page and the ones the artists paint upon transmute creativity, providing compelling insight into the lives of Gehrke as a poet and the biographical influences and crises of the artists.

Works Cited

Gehrke, Steve. Michelangelo’s Seizure. University of Illinois Press, 2007. Print.

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