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Towards a new ekphrasis: Multiples

As Poetry Editor for the journal of the Society of Wood Engravers: Multiples, I select pairings of poems and wood engravings. Presented with this opportunity, several points contingent to understanding ekphrasis emerged. We must first question the definition of ekphrasis as a blanket method "a verbal description of, or meditation upon, a non-verbal work of art, real or imagined, usually a painting or sculpture" (Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms).

Martin Crucefix has gone some way to unpacking the many ways of writing ekphrastically. However, in this editorial role and in line with PhD research which interrogates the ekphrastic methodology in practice and particularly, in line with my own archival practice, I was interested to use the opportunity to assemble - thoughtfully - an artist and engraver's work in which one may be completely unknown to one another and to forge, to create a new ekphrastic relationship.

In this sense, such pairings can do much more than a limited and limiting 'illustrative relationship'. This is imbued with a hierarchy that publishing illustrated literature predominantly suggests i.e. the author completes a piece of literature and the artist is commissioned to make particular images in response. This is common even where so-called collaborative work is undertaken, for many reasons: deadlines can be tight; artists in either discipline tend to want to work alone; collaboration often involves compromise and many artists will not sacrifice their vision/conviction/ego for two-way collaboration.

For Multiples, my aim has been to do away with the complication of a pre-existing ekphrastic provenance and instead, to free up the possibility of a new ekphrasis.

Assemblages of the sort I publish in Multiples are an invitation for the reader to engage in an ekphrastic interpretation on their own terms. That is, rather than for the poet or poem to spell out the push or pull between its figurative language and visual image making, that we should engage as a both critical and imaginative readers: opening the possibilities of the text and image on their own terms when placed together in close quarters.

I make these editorial pairings based expressly upon this potential and trust in the eloquence of both works and a willingness for the reader to discover their own interpretation. Forthcoming in Issue 35 is Andy English's print The Wren and John Clare's poem of the same name. Two firm favourites.



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