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A Spectator: Ekphrastic Poetry
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Poetry as a form of research dissemination might include poetry written either by the researcher or the participant or by utilising, editing and compressing interview data into a poetic form. As Patricia Leavy puts it:. The representation of data in poetic form is not simply an alternative way of presenting the same information; rather, it can help the researcher evoke different meanings from the data, work through different sets of issues, and help the audience receive the data differently.
However, there is clearly the potential for participant produced, crafted and reflective pieces of writing to increasingly speak for themselves, at least partially obviating the always problematic requirement of the researcher to speak for the participants. With participant produced creative writing, perhaps the researcher becomes instead a kind of curator and analysis becomes a form of literary exegeses. In her book Poetry as Method , Sandra Faulkner explores a range of issues relating to the use of poetry within social research.
Her reasons for this include the ability of poetry to evoke embodied experiences and to manifest the complexity of the social world. Noticeably a sizable element of the book is concerned with poetic craft and the study of poetry as form, and this emphasis on the quality and art ness of arts-based research is a provocative theme in this area.
For Faulkner, Prendergast and others it is essential for any researcher wanting to use poetry as methodology to engage fully with the aesthetic qualities of the medium. Faulkner, for example, writes that:. My interest in poetic craft was born out of frustration with some poetry published as academic research that seemed sloppy, ill-conceived, and unconsidered. Just because research poetry is published in academic journals, read at academic conferences, or merely labelled academic, does this mean there should not be a concomitant interest in poetic craft?
If the motivation is the different kind of sensibilities that poetry is able to communicate to the reader, then in order to fulfil this objective poetically voiced research needs to be strong research and strong poetry. Another question that this discussion raises is the nature of the difference between writing per se and creative writing or poetry. Or even, more subtly, between poetry and poetic writing. It is possible to argue that, in terms of the kind of social research being discussed here, any form of writing provides space for reflection that immediate spoken responses do not allow.
To consciously think of something as poetry is to call upon a particular kind of attitude to language that is different—in intent and attention if not necessarily in actual form and content—to everyday speech.
And moreover that had an explicit intention to actively engage participants with the nature and quality of their writing; to focus attention on how and why particular words and images were being used. In this manner the writing workshops run with dance spectators needed to be more than simply another form of focus group where the motivation was to gather responses that could then be analysed or sifted through for meaning. Instead the workshops had to be genuine creative writing workshop that sought to help the participants develop their writing, to craft and hone their responses, and thereby perhaps enable their writing to begin to articulate something of their sensorial, emotional or embodied experience of dance.
However, there is a tradition of writing that does something similar, which is ekphrastic writing. Ekphrasis is the literary description or recounting of an event, thing or experience in the world. More commonly, as ekphrastic poetry, it relates to the evocative description of a work of visual art; less commonly ekphrastic art produces transmutations between language and music.
This is certainly a clear articulation of the motivation, yet it is one that most writers recognise is held simultaneously with an appreciation of its impossibility. Remembering that the original artwork is itself often already a representation, this means that ekphrasic writing operates in a series of dualities: one communication within another; one frame within another; one representation within another; one set of authored perspectives within another.
It involves an act of transposition that invites the reader to access something new, which is informed by not just by the original art work but also by the sensibility of a new and reframing author. Benton describes the result as a potential clash or potential enhancing of readings. Yacobi describes the result of an inherent instability.see
A Spectator: Ekphrastic Poetry
A process of quotation that is also a process of misquotation, of translation and transposition see for example Caputo As a research methodology the fact that this is not a straightforward task of translation provides a particular point of analytical interest. In my research the act of ekphrastic writing required participants to actively reflect and consider their response to the performance.
As a countersignature to the original artwork, the ekphrastic writing produced by dance spectators represents a trace of the experience that also generates a kind of experience in its own right. For the creative writing workshops two groups of participants were recruited. The first group consisted of seven writers, all of whom were students on either undergraduate or postgraduate creative writing programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University. None of this group were regular dance watchers.
A Willy-Nilly Definition of Ekphrastic Poetry
The second group consisted of eight experienced dance watchers—defined by watching live dance on average at least six times a year over several years—none of whom had experience in creative writing. The project was particularly interested in the embodied and kinesthetic engagement of experienced spectators and any contrasts that might be made with novice or inexperienced spectators. With each group we asked the participants to briefly introduce themselves to each other and it was noticeable how strongly the dance spectators identified themselves with dance.
This contrasted strongly with the writers group, for whom dance was marginal perhaps taken once or twice by friends or did a dance class as a child but never since or entirely absent from their life for a couple this was the first time they had seen as contemporary dance at all. For audiences this subject matter engaged with experiences of friends or family suffering from similar symptoms of loss of speech, movement and ability to engage with the world around them.
The participants attended a midweek performance and took part in a creative writing workshop on the following Saturday. In the period between these dates we asked each of the participants to complete some short writing exercises. On the evening after the performance: Write for two minutes about things you saw in the performance Write for two minutes about things you thought in response to the performance Write for two minutes about how you felt while you were watching the performance.
On the following day: Do these exercises again without looking at your writing from the previous occasion. These tasks were primarily intended to generate material for use within the workshops, as I will go onto explore in a moment. Indeed, as the focus was to be on how participants actively worked with language, rather than on taking their first utterances as automatically the most valid or insightful utterance.
Spectator Ekphrastic Poetry - Per Brask - McNally Robinson Booksellers
However, three points are worth noting. The first is that broadly the dance watchers, despite being non-writers, on the whole wrote more than the creative writers. They typically had more to say. Second, and connected to this, these initial writings usefully illustrate how greater experience in watching a particular art form produces an increased literacy in both prosaic and more complex forms elements of engagement.
On the prosaic level several of the creative writers were confused by the notion of a triple bill of contemporary dance where the three pieces are not connected. Tense—not bored but excluded. Trying to grip onto meaning but finding that none of the meaning-making tools at my disposal were any use.
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