“Ars Ecphrastica” by Matthew Buckley Smith

Matthew Buckley Smith


for C.

Although your fingers and my eyes agree,
It is unheard of, Cameron, what you see—
Describing scenes of color, form, and light
Which you perceive by any means but sight.
We cannot know the god’s unheard-of head,
Protested Rilke, when he should have said
Unseen, because we hear of it from him
In carnal terms, becoming of a hymn
To any of those bad old gods, the kind
That loved man’s form but not his living mind,
Delighting in some tyrant’s blinding wrath,
Then disappearing in the aftermath.

Prompt: “I wrote this in response to one of two suggestions made to my writing group. I had been reading a lot of Horace, and at two different sessions I brought up the idea of imitating something he did in his odes. In one, I proposed that we each write a poem that argues with an existing poem. In another, I proposed that we each write a poem addressed to a friend. I cannot remember which prompt inspired this poem.”

from Rattle #81, Fall 2023
Tribute to Prompt Poems


Matthew Buckley Smith: “Every week, I meet for an hour by Zoom with two women I got to know through a poetry anthology we were all in. One of us supplies a prompt, and then we write for an hour in response. Sometimes the prompt is an image. Sometimes it’s a line from a book we’re reading. Sometimes it’s an idea drawn from an existing poem. I save the results of my efforts in a file that I examine some months later. Roughly one draft in ten is worth revising.” (web)

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