Review by Richard Paul
R. Bremner’s Ektomorphic, a chapbook of 23 ekphrastic poems, takes us from a brutal civil war to a sculpture garden, to sun showers, Edward Hopper, and Hieronymus Bosch. The forms range from formal to Surrealistic to Dada. No images are in the book, however, with the exception of the cover. I recently interviewed the author over the telephone.
RP: What brought you to ekphrasis?
Bremner: My wife is an artist. She paints phantasmagorical scenes with wraithlike figures in mostly dark and subdued colors, and I’m wild about her paintings, so I started writing based on those images. And I expanded to write about other images from there.
RP: Why are there no images in the book?
Bremner: I wanted the poems to stand on their own, with no distractions. Everyone has a different idea from a painting, I wanted the reader to concentrate on my idea.
RP: How did you choose the subjects for the poems?
Bremner: Some of the subjects were chosen for me. An anthology of writing about “The Garden of Earthly Delights” led me to write a piece that went into that anthology. I used pairings of words from my friend Janet Kolstein’s poems. The Hopper poems were both in The Ekphrastic Review. And two other poems were for an ekphrasis exhibit at the Montclair, NJ library.
RP: How would you describe the style of the Bosch poem? For example, lines like:
Bremner: I don’t know. Someone mentioned Dada. To me they’re just word pairings that fit together.
RP: The two poems about your wife’s paintings seem to have a common thread.
Bremner: My wife is from Sri Lanka, and many of her paintings concern the horrific civil war there. Most of us in the Western Hemisphere couldn’t find Sri Lanka on a map, let alone be aware of the atrocities that went on there. Civilians herded into camps, or forced to flee miles from their homes, torture and rape an everyday occurrence – and the rest of the world paid no attention. So her paintings, “Crucifixion” and “The Distant Boat” peered into that carnage, and I not only made “Crucifixion” the first poem in the collection, it’s also the cover of the book.
RP: The opening lines of “Crucifixion”:
Peek through the curtains, the broken walls,
the soiled canopy,
beyond the ghosts of ravaged souls
See if you dare the source of the savagery
Bremner: Thank you for including that.
RP: But the chapbook isn’t all gloom. There are uplifting poems about paintings by Carole Black-Lemon, “Transcendence” and “Volcanic Ash”.
Bremner: Yeah, even I can’t be downbeat about Carole’s paintings!
RP: And three of the final four poems got me laughing.
Bremner: Yeah, the owner of the Rectangle Gallery invited me to write about a photograph there. I found one with a man, a dog, and a wall, so I wrote about myself climbing the wall into Paradise, but the man spraying me with machine gun fire and a nun comes along on a bicycle to throw me a grappling hook. I guess you had to be there.
RP: In this collection, there are twenty poems about paintings, two about photographs, and one about a sculpture. Do you mind if I close the interview with one of the Hopper poems?
Bremner: Not at all. And thank you.
RP: Thank you, sir.
Edward Hopper’s “Steps in Paris”, 1906
Carefully place one foot on the step
then push up, your body rising
to the beat of your heart.
You will climb
out of the darkness
into the light
smelling the air of forgiveness,
the life of air,
the steps to a future.
Richard Paul is a writer and reporter who has lived in Boston, Toronto, and Colombo, Sri Lanka. Recent work has appeared in Anthem: a Leonard Cohen Tribute Anthology.