What the heck is ekphrasis anyway?

Learning the meaning of ekphrasis will not only allow you to impress people at cocktail parties with your awesome vocabulary, but it will also help you understand the link between Tarot and poetry, which can improve your reading of both. Furthermore, this technique can be used when writing your own Tarot poems.

One of my favorite resources is The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics because I worked for a professor who was one of the assistant editors. It says ekphrasis is a:

detailed description of an image, primarily visual; in specialized form, limited to a description of a work of visual art.

The word comes from the Greek language, and in ancient Greece, ekphraseis (the plural form of the word) were used to help people remember long speeches.

UrnHomer’s description of Achilles’ shield in the Iliad is one of the oldest examples of this technique used in poetry. A more recent example of ekphrasis is Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats, which describes the scene painted on a piece of pottery. (Musical theater fans may remember the Grecian Urn scene from Music Man.)

Most poems about Tarot describe the visual art of the card, although the level of detail and kind of detail vary widely. So, most Tarot poetry can be loosely classified as ekphrasis. A collection of Tarot poems is a like a gallery of paintings—the reader is the art lover walking through the exhibition.

One can use Tarot poetry like the ancient Greeks, to help with memorizing the cards as if they were a long speech; the art helps map out a narrative. People who are more language-oriented than image-oriented (who think in words instead of pictures) can learn about Tarot art with the aid of poetry.

I recommend writing your own Tarot poems using this technique. Here are some tips for writing ekphrastic (one of the cool things about this word is that it can be used as an adjective) poetry:

-Consider poetry as painting; your words should paint a picture for the reader (Horace called this ut pictura poesis).

-Consider the many different elements of art, such as color, perspective, background/foreground, symmetry/asymmetry, sharpness/softness, movement/stillness, etc.

-Try to make your descriptions unique; draw from your own ideas and experiences when describing the image to avoid clichés.

-Treat writing as a magical act; use your own rituals to begin and end ekphrasis.

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2 thoughts on “What the heck is ekphrasis anyway?

  1. Pingback: Misconceptions about the Tarot cards | Earthpages.org

  2. Pingback: Impressionist Tarot || Spiral Nature

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