Passion in the Picture: Ekphrastic Poetry

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by Adrian Ernesto Cepeda

When I walked into Francesca Lia Block’s Antioch University seminar, The Importance of Social Media for the Contemporary Writer, I had no idea my life would be changed and inspired. Francesca highlighted the growing trend of the most successful writers linking to their fans, followers and other writers by using social media as a tool to express their creative message. I know if it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have been introduced to the writers, poets and artists I now call my friends. Francesca reemphasized my belief that the point of a writer is to connect with an audience. She said it best, “Don’t just journal, you are here to write, get your voice out in the world.” Not only did she open my eyes specifically to the world wide web that was reverberating all around me, but she helped me focus and I realized how much the internet was the essential ingredient to all my creative writing endeavors.

Douglas Adams once said: “Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you.” My whole life I’d been learning if you, as a writer, write down what you see, fear and love from your own universe, you will make the reader want to live inside your mind, your vision and your own creative voice. It was like a lightbulb exploded and I realized that if you’re a writer looking for ideas on what to write, go on Pinterest or Tumblr and write an ekphrastic poem, a poem reflecting what you see and feel from a photo or work of art. I discovered that my main source of inspiration was the internet footprint I was creating daily around me. We are unique and no one has the same online presence; harness that distinctive spark that inspiration is everywhere online for your creativity…that is your power as a writer.

The World Wide Web is much more than watching videos, spreading chatroom chisme, and surfing the internet. I follow the lead of poets like Nayyirah Waheed who’s Instagram and Tumblr posts shows how a poet can reflect an online presence creatively while inspiring their audiences. I have also discovered many poets like A. Van Jordan and Gary Jackson who have published collections about their pop culture passions. Jordan’s book The Cineaste merges his love of cinema with his gift of verse and Jackson’s Missing You Metropolis combines Gary’s affection for graphic novels and comic books with his talented poetic voice.

Poets like Francesca Lia Block, Nayyirah Waheed, A. Van Jordan and Gary Jackson have inspired me to connect with my love of vintage black and white photographs and classic film stills and create my own style of ekphrastic poetry. I wake up every morning and log into my Tumblr account and scroll through my dashboard and usually a photograph or film still will grab my creative intention and I stop, open up a word file and let the visual inspiration spark a new poem. Although I’ve written poems inspired by paintings, like one I’ve had published this year at Ekphrastic California inspired by The Blue Boy, (1770) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) oil on canvas on display at The Huntington Gallery in San Marino, California and often write poems inspired by color photographs found on Facebook and Instagram, there is something about trying to write a poem from a black and white photograph. As a poet, it’s more of a challenge. There are no colors, so we as poets, need to dig deep inside while trying to connect with the photograph and conjure up an interpretation that satisfies the creative curiosity of the reader.

I’ve written and had poems published inspired by photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. I have to admit, one of my favorites poems, “Take Me to the Aquarium and Make Out with Me in the Jellyfish Room” was inspired by Dmitrijs Belokons black and white photo of an elderly couple kissing at an aquarium was published in a collection called Getting Old. It was only the silhouette of this couple, as I poet, I had to fill in the lines and create a portrait, bringing their ageless passion to life on the page. Most of the times, poems like this “Take Me to the Aquarium” flow out from my fingers and magically becomes verse.

But it takes dedication to search, scrolling through my dashboard and being open to every picture that appears in my feed. I have a philosophy that I follow when I am online:

When inspiration calls, you must accept the charges.

When I’m Tumblr, it’s to work and I have to be ready to write when the right photograph speaks to me. There’s a connection that wants to be made and most times the images connect with something I need to explore on the page. Bringing color to these images with my poems, is never easy but I love challenging myself, trying to expand my writing voice reflecting verses from these vintage photographs.

Bringing these images into focus with my poetry is a passion I’ve discovered online and one I am excited to share with other poets. I know I’m not the only writer who goes online to seek inspiration for their writing voice. As a poet, I always heed the words of Poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera who said, “Do not wait for a poem; a poem is too fast for you. Do not wait for the poem, run with the poem and then write the poem. And of course immerse yourself in a sea of books and poems. You want to be in that parade, that’s what you have to do.”

My course Internet your Senses and Tumblr Towards Creativity is for writers are eager to explore the art of writing poetry by using Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr as your spark of visual inspiration. If you are visually inspired by photographs and artworks, then my class is for you. We will learn the craft of ekphrastic poetry, taking those images and reflecting our impressions on the page as poetry.

I wouldn’t be teaching Internet your Senses and Tumblr Towards Creativity without Francesca Lia Block’s inspiration. Thank You to Francesca for making me realize I needed to embrace technology, connect with my writing audience, harness my creative energies, and share my knowledge of using the internet to inspire poetry.

Adrian’s class Internet your Senses and Tumblr Towards Creativity begins Monday, May 2nd. Sign up here!

Adrian Ernesto Cepeda is an LA Poet who is currently enrolled in the MFA Graduate program at Antioch University in Los Angeles where he lives with his wife and their cat Woody Gold. His poetry has been featured in The Yellow Chair Review, Thick With Conviction, Silver Birch Press and one of his poems was named Cultured Vultures’ Top 3 Poems of the Week.

To date, Adrian has eighty poems published in over sixty different publications. One of his poems “Buzz Me” has been nominated for Best of the Net 2015 and, also in 2015, his poem “How She Kills Me” won honorable mention in Cultural Weekly’s 3rd Annual Jack Grapes Poetry Prize. Adrian also had one of his poems “Longing for our airport reconnections” featured in Shinpei Takeda’s Poems of Arrival for the Inscription Installation Exhibit at the New Americans Museum in San Diego, California.