Now On View

Vermeer, Monet, Rembrandt: Forging the Frick Collections in Pittsburgh & New York is now open. Get your tickets today!

Ekphrasis: Poetry Meets Art (Meets the Web)

Ekphrasis: Poetry Meets Art (Meets the Web)
May 8, 2020 By: Lisa Viscusi, Manager of Adult Learning

Ekphrasis: Poetry Meets Art (Meets the Web)

Like most public gathering places, the Frick’s buildings and grounds aren’t open right now. But we are still open. We’re open to being in community with old friends and new through virtual programs and live events like our ekphrastic poetry reading held last week. Earlier this year we commissioned six local poets to create work in response to the objects on display in our exhibition Maker & Muse: Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry. In lieu of a live reading scheduled for early April, we regrouped and assembled a virtual reading on the last day of April, the end of National Poetry Month. The experience of sharing in the unveiling of brand-new response poems to the delicate, intricate pieces of art—a brooch, a cocktail ring, a cigarette case, a wallet—was a welcome sound in the quiet of recent days. 

There is something warm and intimate, and decidedly vulnerable, about being inside each other’s homes as we join in on Zoom meetings with colleagues, coffee dates with friends, and social experiences we would have had in rooms with high ceilings and stages and hundreds of strangers. 

From their homes, I watched these poets read words from their hearts about beautiful art objects that sit miles away in galleries behind the locked doors of The Frick Art Museum.  These days, we meet each other in a new kind of gallery. It’s not a physical place, like those at the Frick or other museums we love. It’s a virtual gallery, where our portraits are hanging in a living tableau—one next to another next to another.

There was perhaps a longing in their reading, and in the audience’s listening, that would not have existed had we not been one hundred people in one hundred homes - one hundred self-portraits, filtering through Zoom to create this new collective mosaic of portraits.

Our new way of gathering, through Zoom, or Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Teams provides a uniform way of coming together. You may see one or one hundred screens within your own screen. The facilitator greets the participants from their living room or home office or a quiet corner of their dining room. Those in attendance wave or unmute their microphone to say hello, while some type a “hello” in the collective chat thread. Every face is framed with art or photographs hung on wallpapered or painted walls, half open windows—some with the curtains drawn, some allowing the day’s remaining light in. 

This notion that our social lives and gathering places now fit inside our computer screens made up of a collection other screens has been mounting in my mind as we do more and more virtual programming at the Frick. And as we navigate this new way of connecting, and join together for poetry readings and lectures and workshops, we will celebrate and grow with a renewed sense of community. 

We are thrilled to share the poets' responses to the exhibiton with you.

Henry Charles Barker, Galleon Pendant, c. 1915. Silver-gilt, copper alloy, enamel, abalone, baroque, pearl. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photograph by John Faier, © 2014 The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

The Galleon
by Veronica Corpuz


He builds a galleon
like a papal cross
upon the chest

paints the hull
in cloisonné
color of mahogany

paints with powdered glass
three masts of white

a cross upon the sail
in zaffre blue

the figurehead
a tiny mermaid

He builds this galleon
to float upon
a sea of abalone

green dolphins
racing below

a baroque pearl
as anchor

He sets the ship
beneath a rainbow

A pendant to sit
upon velvet
under glass.


Think of the galleons:
Think of the galleons
sailing for centuries
Think of the galleons
seeking land
seeking spice
seeking silk
Think of the galleons
unable to dock
close to islands
Think of the shallows
and the conquistadors
Think of conquistadors
who swim in full armor
think of the weight of armor
corrosion and seawater
think of salt
think of the conquistador
who does not swim
think of the weight of drowning
think of fleet footed Lapu Lapu
who flies through the water
think of Lapu Lapu & Magellan
think of red snapper named

after Lapu Lapu
think of the swimming red snapper
think of the fried flounder
think of the pan
think of the Chinese restaurant
with the full-bodied flounder
fried and set upon a white plate
think of my mother who removes
the bones
think of the many meanings of tinik
think of her choking in Chinatown
think of her can of Coca Cola
think of my father who is not alarmed
think of her coughing
think of her eyes tearing up
think of her alarm
think of my father who says
if you cough, then you can breathe

think of the infidel
think of the paramour
think of the plate full of bones
the fish eviscerated to its spine


When I think of the ancient gold
I think of the present gold
When I think of the present gold,
I think of the miner.
When I think of the miner,
I think of the conquistador
When I think of the conquistador
I think of the missionary
When I think of missionaries
and miners, I think of
measles and chicken pox
When I think of measles and pox
I think of the Yanomami
When I think of the Yanomami,
I think of the schoolboy
with the fever and shortness of breath,
I think of his chest pains.
When I think of his chest pains
I think of his mother’s broken heart
When I think of her broken heart,
I see her mourning her son
dead from COVID.

When I see her mourning,
I pray for this mother
I pray for all mothers
I pray for all mothers
with sons on ventilators
for mothers with mothers in nursing homes
for the mothers in nursing homes
I pray for peace in the hearts of all mothers
and their children
I pray for peace for Mother Earth
Mother who says, Enough
Mother who is burning
I pray for the Amazon
and the trees, for the Yanomami
and the land that is being scorched
into domestication
I pray for the animals who reveal
themselves in the empty beaches
hatchling sea turtles
as they crawl from sand to sea
I pray for the jackals that howl
in the parks of Tel Aviv
I pray for the wild boar that descend
into the streets of Barcelona
and the whales that swim in peace
along the Mediterranean
shipping lanes
graceful blue galleons
of the deep

IV. Invocation
I could damn you with the shipwrecks
into the wreckage of the seas
burn your masts and hulls
light your jib and topsail
pour gasoline into the forecastle
set the whole scene ablaze
burn the mermaid figurehead like Joan of Arc
melt you down
as the conquistadors melted down the Philippine gold
the Incan gold
the Aztec gold
the Mayan gold
the gold and gold and gold of the Americas
pried the gold from the walls
of the sacred temples
forcibly with the tips of blades
the gems
the jewel stones
the amulets
as they did so, so could I
steal the abalone
from this pendant artifact
crush the masts and blue cross under my heal

everything except the rainbow
because I still believe in hope

I will build a boat instead
a gold boat for the dead

collect the souls and carry them
across the ocean of time
across the centuries of silence
I will be the ferry-woman
the boat builder
the shaman who forges
a new amulet to give you passage
out of time
release us
from this time-bound
tradition of suffering

Come, beloved Chino
Come, beloved Indio
Come, little children
orphaned and stolen
Come and sail with me
out of the depths of
limboed death
into liberation
across arco iris
the arc of flowers
the arc of all colors
of light

Come aboard
this barangay
Come and sail
out of the silence
so that you may speak

Alphonse Mucha, Cigarette Case. Silver, enamel. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. Photograph by John Faier, © 2014 The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.


by Jim Daniels
She waved the magic wand

of her cigarette before,

during, and after sex

as if to cast a spell

or keep away bugs

on hot summer nights

and mornings and afternoons

beneath the opaque purple blind

that let half the sun shine through

and half the moon and half

of nothing when nothing

was all there was, gray haze

blocked by the purple

which she called violet

or lavender or lilac or plum

depending on when her ex

had last called

or if the check had cleared

or depending on whether

she’d emptied the little magic box

of all tricks, and the tracks on her arm


were beginning to heal

with reluctance and returning

to need again. And what could

I say, lost myself

in those clouds

under those spells.

Louis Comfort Tiffany. Ring, c. 1920. Agate, diamond, gold. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus.

by Jamie Agnello

René Lalique, Winged Sylph Brooch, c. 1900. Freshwater pearl, enamel. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photograph by John Faier, © 2014 The Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

The Winged Sylphs
by Karen Howard

The slightest glimmer of light
Slices the darkness of night.
The sun, rises just beyond the mountains,
Casts a healing glow upon the earth below:
Home a dim, cold cove guarded by anxiety,
Filled with disease, depression, dismay.
Lilacs dance to nature’s lyrics,
Lure me from my dismal abode
Down an irresistible, fragrant path.
An invisible conqueror crawling among the living,
Deposits fever, breathlessness, pain,
Leaves the stench of uncertainty to swirl
In and out of hearts.
Body, weak, worn, weary,
Stumbles toward the early light—
Upward eyes spy
Beautiful, translucent wings
Brushed with iridescent greens and purples.
The magical meeting of minute, mythical creatures
Resembles a Kansas tornado,
Glistens below the sun’s golden rays.
Sylphs, canopied with jewels of hope,
Frolic above my prostrate frame,
Open a sacred, pearl-like pouch,
They sprinkle antidotes of healing,
That cancels dread and death,
Sylphs,  shrouded with power
Bring faith, joy, love.

A Sylph (also known as Sylphid) is an air spirit. They are formed of air, they live in the air, and they have unusual power over the air, particularly the wind and the clouds. Usually, Sylphs are portrayed as guardians who protect secret knowledge, beautiful women, or the environment, but it’s not out of the question for a Sylph to cause mischief among men.

Unknown maker (German). Wallet, c. 1900. Silver, leather. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus.

Maker & Muse: Wallet
by Ellen McGrath Smith

What if I told you I'm on a wallet,
a brown deco wallet of metal and leather,
that I was made of a dark petaled silver,
and was young and full of promise?

You'd probably want to see how much
money was inside, you'd ransack
my entire grounding for the pelf
and secret passwords, as big (back then)

as Victorian skeleton keys, and as jangly.
My wallet was intended to make its holder
a smart young woman again, whether they
were a woman or not. The eyes droop

not in despair but, believe it or not,
with all the softest parts torn
from a luscious word so that all
the letters remaining formed, in just

a few seconds, the word "stoic."
She also looks like Talia Lavin,
though Talia and I don't
look anything alike.

You can take the money, leave me be. 
I'm contained in the metalworker's lasso 
of a halo or ribbons of abandon
twisting, betimes, into nooses,

so it's not like I can follow you
and, what, leave this enclosure
of geraniums, as bronzed as I,
as everything because of

robber barons' smoke? You had your chance
to have a smart young woman—wise
beyond her years so maybe now
just average—give you sage advice

of a frugality that doesn't pain her,
not a wrinkle on her face.
But because she wasn't looking
up to you in adoration, because

she seemed to have made peace with
a world of debt and domination,
and was content not to share this
with you, knowing, finally,

you'd never understand,
you rubbed her face with the wide part
of your thumb, even now still
surprised by how cool,

and off you ran.

Gaston Eugène Omar Laffitte (French, active c. 1900) Brooch, c. 1900. Gold, enamel, diamond, pearl. Collection of Richard H. Driehaus.

Thinking of My Grandmother as I View the Exhibit
by Valerie Bacharach

As if plucked from a not-of-this-world garden. Petals of fresh cream
edged with turquoise, rimmed with gold. A diamond as crown,

a small moon of a pearl. Curves flowing with diamonds, surround
the flower. It seems to float in air. My grandmother loved brooches,

pinned them to the lapel of the suits she wore to work each day.
Inexpensive copies, they brightened the black of her jacket,

the stark white of her blouse. She sold men’s shirts at Lazarus,
wore tiny gold apples on her nametag, awards for excellence.

He is Gaston Eugene Omar Laffitte, avant-garde artist trained
in the techniques of enameling: basse-taille, grisaille, plique-a-jour.

The petals, semi-translucent, organic. Ridged leaves the bright green
of early spring grow from the stem. He will work on each piece

of the brooch separately, then the complex steps of assembly. His hands cramp,
his eyes tire, but when done it will seem alive, as if able to sway in April’s wind.

Home from college, I visited my grandmother at work.
She would slip $5 into my hand go buy a treat for yourself.

On her break, we would gaze at the glass counters housing fine jewelry.
She went straight to the brooches, with their fantasies of flowers.

Sighed over fluid lines and colors, their delicate proportions. Placed her face close,
as if she could smell their scent. I have one of her pins, a cameo, that I wear occasionally.

And I can imagine her in that plain black suit, a symphony of a jeweled flower
pinned to her lapel as she smiles at her customer, finds him the perfect shirt.

Our Story

You May Also Like...

Grandmother Childs' Pin
Dawn Reid Brean, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts
Grandmother Childs' Pin
Jewels of Denial: A Look at British Suffrage Jewelry
Kim Cady, Assistant Curator, Car and Carriage Museum
Jewels of Denial: A Look at British Suffrage Jewelry
The Shape of Things: A Brief Journey through <i> Maker & Muse</i>
Alyson Cluck, Curatorial Assistant
The Shape of Things: A Brief Journey through Maker & Muse
Previous Story: Laurel the Graves: The History of Memorial Day
Next Story: People at Play: Sport, Leisure, and Fun in the Gilded Age