Samuel Peralta here…
Several nights ago, a midwinter storm hit Ontario, a storm that was the confluence of two weather front formations, that buried my neighbourhood in over two feet of snow.
It took me the better part of an hour to dig through to the road, and in that time, a poem was born.
A couple of nights ago, on Open Link Night, you may have had the chance to read that poem, “Ice at the Window”.
The poem is a variation on the sonnet form, and also a poem in response to the painting “Refracted Portrait’ by the artist Heather Horton.
Heather is a well-respected Canadian artist, a magic realist whose work can be found in private collections in Canada, the United States, Germany and Great Britain.
A constant companion and muse is her Russian blue, Sasha.
“Ice at the Window” is part of a collaborative series of visual and literary art pieces that I am doing with Heather.
If you weren’t able to catch the poem then, here it is again, in its current form:
ICE AT THE WINDOW
Midwinter closes. This afternoon’s snow,
that melted in droplets on this surface
of frail glass, transfigures into ice.
From where I stand, outside, the hall light’s glow
paints a refracted portrait of your face,
a palette of sadness, pain, of sacrifice.
Each frozen prism, ice lens, a cameo
of suffering, a Murano glass trace
of time wearing down these, our fragile lies.
And will this be how I remember you?
Face fading in unconsummated grace,
light failing – and I cannot see your eyes.
Shorn of season, the wind begins to blow.
Midwinter closes, and you watch me go.
The poem’s framework is a variation on the sonnet form – a fourteen-line form in (roughly) iambic pentameter.
It consists of four tercets (with rhyme scheme ABC-ABC-ABC-ABC), followed by a heroic couplet (with rhyme taken from one of the above tercet lines, AA, or BB, or CC).
A similar format has recently been referred to as a trilonnet – often with the somewhat inaccurate identification of the tercets as triplets.
Unfortunately, this reference obscures the relation to the sonnet, and overlooks the many previous examples of this and similar variations on the tercet-based Terza Rima or Diaspora Sonnet.
I prefer, therefore, to refer to the ABC-ABC-ABC-ABC-AA/BB/CC structure here as a Trireme Sonnet, in honor of the maritime vessels used by the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans, propelled on each side by three rows of oars.
Triremes figured prominently in the myths I learned in school, wondrous vessels that could imbue the mundane with magic.
Consequently, magic realism became a common technique in my own poems, where magical elements find their way into an ordinary and realistic environment.
In my case, the magical element could be spiritual or scientific in nature – transfiguration, sublimation, prisms, refraction – that serve to elevate the realistic experience into something more.
In further revisions, I also pick and choose elements that do not contribute to the overall theme of the poem, and edit them out.
The removal of these extraneous items also constitute a magicality – an exception from reality – that focuses the reader on what is essential to the poem.
These techniques are common in the visual arts as well.
In Heather’s own words: “My work is primarily figurative. I strive to create a visual tension in my work through cropping, stark environments and overall composition.”
“There is a prevailing sense of isolation and alienation in my paintings. I want the viewer to wonder what is beyond the borders of the canvas.”
I’ve done ekphrastic poetry before – poetry in response to art – notably in my “Sonnets from the Labrador” series with the work of David Blackwood. (Incidentally, Heather’s work provided the inspiration for the cover image of the ebook version.)
The challenge – and payoff – in ekphrastic poetry is to find an interpretation of the original artistic inspiration that allows the poem to complement the artwork – and yet stand on its own.
For “Refracted Portrait”, I found that interpretation not with my pen, but with my shovel.
Digging through the snow, that day of the midwinter storm, I stopped exhausted, turned to look back at my house, its bay window glistening with frost – and it hit me.
In that moment, I knew I had to transform what had been a third-party narrator of the poem into an active participant in the undescribed drama.
That viewer, that participant – indeed the backstory of the image – isn’t in the original artwork at all.
However, with that new character, I could begin to explore the story “beyond the borders of the canvas”…
As I noted before, “Ice at the Window” is the first in a collaborative series of visual and literary art pieces that I am doing with Heather.
The series – with over-arching themes and metaphors of snow and ice – is my first sustained collaborative art-and-poetry effort.
I’m pleased to set out on this new journey, and excited to see how it evolves. I’m hoping that you make this journey with me.
Tonight, I invite you to contribute a Trireme Sonnet, as I’ve laid it out here. If you can go one step further and make it an ekphrastic poem – a poem in response to inspiration from a painting, sculpture, photograph, or the like – that would be amazing.
Please don’t forget to take in the poems of your comrades-in-writing and leave them a note to say you’ve been there.
Samuel Peralta – on Twitter as @Semaphore – is the author of five titles in The Semaphore Collection – Sonata Vampirica, Sonnets from the Labrador, How More Beautiful You Are, Tango Desolado and War and Ablution – all #1 on the Amazon Kindle List of Hot New Releases in Poetry on their debut.
Read a recent interview with the author and his thoughts on writing poetry on Combustus magazine’s “Samuel Peralta: The Physics of Poetry”
More of Heather Horton’s art can be found at HeatherHorton.com
Copyright (c) Samuel Peralta. All rights reserved.
“Sasha, Sun”, “Refracted Portrait”, “David’s Studio, Sunset” and “Palette” copyright (c) Heather Horton, used with permission.
Other images public domain / via WikiMedia Commons or as attributed.