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It's an Ekphrastic Extravaganza! Artists and creative writing students join forces at CT gallery

An untitled photograph by Wendy Fulginiti that is part of the exhibit at Vernon's Arts Center East. Student Brenna Schnitzke of Rockville High School’s creative writing program saw the photograph as a symbol of lost love and penned a poem about it.
Wendy Fulginiti
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An untitled photograph by Wendy Fulginiti that is part of the exhibit at Vernon's Arts Center East. Student Brenna Schnitzke of Rockville High School’s creative writing program saw the photograph as a symbol of lost love and penned a poem about it.

Ekphrastic poetry is defined as poems written about works of art. John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is one example, as well as Anne Sexton’s take on Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

Each year at Vernon's Arts Center East (ACE), ekphrastic poetry takes center stage for “Ekphrastic Extravaganza.” Earlier this year, students from Rockville High School’s creative writing program selected a piece of art from an ACE member artist, and wrote a poem based on the work.

“The students tend to gravitate toward works that sing to them,” said Victoria Nordlund, creative writing director at Rockville High School. “Over the course of two months, they take the piece, they write poetry about them. We revise the poetry together, they come up with their final products, and then they get to see their poetry next to the work of art. It means a lot to my students to be able to have this authentic writing experience.”

One of the works in the exhibit is an untitled photograph by Wendy Fulginiti. The landscape picture shows a broken fence, a dusting of snow on the ground and a gray sky. Student writer Brenna Schnitzke saw the photograph as a symbol of lost love and wrote the following:

Your words are growing / in pots in the pits / of my stomach / & maybe that’s why / I cannot forget / the way my name bloomed / from your mouth / & grew gardens into mine / Maybe you are something / I am supposed to remember / Keep you rooted / to my shoulders & carry you /barefooted through the cold / Like our love is seasonal / & the promise of spring / comes with the return

As much as the project benefits young writers, the experience is equally thrilling for the artist as well.

“Nine times out of 10, when the artists see the poem, they are so surprised by what these kids found in their artwork that they absolutely did not see themselves,” said Liz Bologna, executive director of ACE. “It’s delightful to hear the artist say ‘I had no idea that’s what the writer would find when they looked at it.’ It’s my favorite event of the year.”

The exhibit closes Saturday, but Arts Center East is hosting an “Ekphrastic Extravaganza” reception and poetry reading Thursday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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