Ekphrasis and Technology


Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Webcam January 4, 6:30 a.m.

Ekphrasis: a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art.

Origin of EKPHRASIS: Greek ekphrasis, literally, description, from ekphrazein to recount, describe, from ex- out + phrazein to point out, explain. First Known Use: 1715 (Merriam-Webster)

I believe there’s another blog post about ekphrasis kicking around here somewhere. Most of my ekphrastic poems begin with vintage photos, or Andrew Wyeth paintings. I think poets love ekphrasis because it gives us a starting point (a not blank page, not blank canvas)  and many poets naturally respond to image. Photos and paintings are more closely related to poetry than any of the other art forms, they’re literally snapshots, encapsulated scenes, flashes of image and insight; just like poems.  There’s a certain mystery in a photo: what’s happening outside the frame, what happened just before the photo was taken, just after, and what’s the story in the scene itself, not just the literal story but the metaphorical one. Lately I’ve been kind of addicted to the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse webcam at Pemaquid Point in Maine. I’ve visited many times so when I look at the still image ‘refreshed every five minutes’ I can imagine the landscape, the topography, and how it feels to sit on the lawn pretending I live there. So, the poem I wrote about this experience, ‘Webcam’ is a kind of contemporary angle on the ekphrastic poem. What’s funny is that the still webcam image became a kind of painting, a piece of art, when viewed metaphorically. The other day around dusk, the camera caught the lighthouse beacon in full flare. It looked like the entire top of the lighthouse was on fire (I’m feeling a little breathless just remembering it).

The challenge: consider a piece of technology as you would a painting, this could be purely a visual output of a technological device, like a webcam image or a google street view image, it could be the device itself. I heard the other day that a hospital in Boston has one of its new high-tech operating rooms viewable online. I guess the point is to see the classic lines, the artfulness and the story, all things inherent in Art, within the technological- that thing we often deride as soulless.


the image will automatically refresh every five minutes


At 5 am Pemaquid Point Lighthouse may be dark,

the webcam image a black square, but I know

the ocean’s right there, if I could hear it,

260 miles distant, beating against the striations

of iconic rock. I’m not sure why the light goes dark,

if it’s on a timer like the webcam and their syncopation’s off.

On other days at 5 am the light, as they say, is a beacon;

casts its bluish haze over the ground, as they say,

sweeping, but which looks to me like an ultrasound,

the light in its center a fetus.

With each refresh day advances. I usually miss

that moment dawn because it happens in the interval

and I suspect the webcam’s five minutes is closer to ten.

The sky is dark, the sky is light.

There’s the rough outcrop, the whitewashed lighthouse

anchored in rock but tipped toward the silver, viscous ocean.

In one frame the scene is nature’s, then there’s a man,

standing on the yellow grass, looking up

for no reason. He stays that way five minutes,

more or less.


Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Webcam January 5, 7:57 a.m.

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