Report on The Last Ekphrasis

IMG_3748Last night we enjoyed one another’s company for the last time — at least, it was the last time that Ekphrasis will gather under my auspices with its regular purpose of sharing and critique, since I’m moving to Texas to start my PhD at Baylor. It was a magnificent meeting! There were food and flowers, hilarity and drama, literature and art. In attendance were myself, Sharon G, Devon W, Eric M, Richard B, Curt D, Laura W, Andrew S MacD, Betsy G, Jeff H, Amanda L, and two newcomers, Thaina D and Diante R.

Even though it was a sort of a going-away shindig, it was really just an ordinary hard-working meeting. Lots of people shared excellent work.

IMG_3744(1)At the beginning of the meeting, Thaina and Devon shared the hot-off-the-press Spring 2016 issue of Xanadu, Lehigh Carbon Community College’s literary magazine. Thaina and Devon, along with Diante, are student editors of the magazine this semester, and I’ve been a faculty adviser to it for six years. This semester’s may have been the most professional issue of the magazine we’ve ever produced: the design is streamlined and debonair. Diante has a poem published in it; Thaina has a few poems and several pieces of prose.

indexThen Sharon G read another chapter of her Robin Hood novel adaptation, Mercy and Justice. This chapter included a sad story of a poor, cast-off, single, expectant mother, helped by Marian and Robin, which was a good way of revealing their compassionate character. Sharon has completed about half of this novel and hopes to draft the rest of it this fall, after finishing her current novel-in-progress, Chrysalis!

13184680_1014038361966917_2053915199_oRichard B and Eric M each showed pieces of their artwork. Richard is writing and illustrating a comic book starring his Jack Windsword character. Eric is working on drawings he’ll bring to the Baltimore Comic Con. Their work is somewhat similar–both depict heroes, villians, mythic, archetypal characters with bold lines and swift action–but their techniques are quite different. The black-and-white image to the right is from Richard’s book. The colored images below from Star Wars and Star Trek are some of Eric’s works of art.

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Then we moved into a sort of stage-like area we had set up, in order to watch several theatrical scenes.

First up was a stage adaptation of a bit from a Brandon Sanderson novel, by Betsy G. It was a scene packed with secondary-world-building, lots of neologisms and names and cultural references. In it, an experienced con artist is teaching her apprentice how to fool her potential victims by posing as a foreign princess. The prize? Her dupe’s boots. 13184742_935769666536853_1112604979_o

Next up was a selection from Jeff H’s recent full-length adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, which was recently produced by Players of the Stage. This scene was Toad on trial for causing a motor car accident–which is really just a cover for his enemies to lock him up and take his ancestral mansion.

Then came my short play, Galatea Awakes, which I wrote for my creative writing class at LCCC, and from which I previously posted a selection. It’s a retelling of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, and I’m exploring themes of the artist’s isolation and relationships, the idea of the art as a child, issues of voyeurism and objectification, questions about the nature of beauty, etc. It was admirably performed by Richard, Andrew, and Sharon, and much hilarity ensued–sometimes when it wasn’t in the script, such as when Pygmalion whispers to his animated statue to “scroll down, scroll down” for him so he can read his script!

We got to see another play from my creative writing class, too: this one by Thaina. It is a side-splittingly funny drama entitled Why Deals With the Devil Never Work (And You Should Always Read the Fine Print). I’ll give you just a tiny snippet here to give you an idea of how funny it is:

ASH: Look man, I just really want my soul back. Please? Pretty please? Have a heart.
SATAN: What part of Lucifer, Demon, King of Hell, do you not understand?
ASH: I know you’re Satan and all, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk!
SATAN: Do you listen to yourself when you speak?
ASH: Hm? Of course I do! My soul is gone, not my hearing!

Yup, it’s all like that. With a great twist at the end.

And we were treated to a performance of a powerful slam poem by Diante, a tale of troubles and salvation. It is meant to become his final project for Creative Writing class.

Finally, Laura W ended our evening with a mind-boggling 2-min mystery: a piece of flash fiction in 500 words. Since Laura won most of the weeks of Signum University’s “Almost an Inkling” flash fiction contest, you won’t be surprised to hear that it was magnificent!

There were some amazing conversations, too, about the “Artist-as-inspired-romantic-genius” myth, about the use of profanity and taking the Lord’s name in writing and drama, about anachronism and style and craft. These are the talks on which my soul feeds.

So, yes: a fitting ending for, what, eight years, I think, of Ekphrasis meetings. I’ll miss you guys, and I hope you carry on!

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February Meeting Report

On Tuesday evening, we eccentric Ekphrasians gathered in the wild world of Wegman’s. It was a glorious meeting. While the skies froze outside, we heated things up there in the cafe with our readings, performance, talk, and laughter.

First, Jeff Harvey started us off by imitating Andrew Stirling MacDonald’s approach to 2015: he shared a list of ambitious creative writing goals for the next 12 months or so.

spitfireThen Marian Barshinger showed her very great confidence by performing a dramatic monologue right there in the grocery store! She’s taking a course in Acting for the Camera, so her focus in this piece was on facial expressions and voice, rather than blocking or gesture. She chose a speech from The Spitfire Grill: a heart-rending narrative of abuse. She performed it very powerfully, with depths of expression and serious focus.

Next Betsy Gahman read a revised chapter of her novel Dragonhoard. This novel is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale, and in her version, the Beast is a dragon. In what we heard on Tuesday evening, our narrative-perspective character finds himself transformed into a dragon. Betsy’s revision goal was to get into the physicality of dragonness, and she achieved this admirably.dragon_symbol

A performance of another kind followed: a reading of of a scene from Sharon Gerdes’s play Rifton. This is a lively, funny, thoughtful family and small-town drama. It is really coming to life as she reworks it, deepening the relationships and exploring the pain of misunderstanding.

Following this reading, Eric Muller of Hand-in-Hand artworks shared more of his amazing drawings! It is a huge blessing to have a professional artist in our midst. He showed us the final, colorized version of a book cover he has recently created, plus several original portraits of U.S. Presidents for Pastime cards.eric

Switching to creative nonfiction prose, Carl Hoffmeyer shared a really gritty tale of torture–with a surprising historical twist. Carl has a gorgeous reading voice and a masterful command of narrative pacing, so his reading is always a supreme pleasure.

Continuing with our successful streak, Richard Berrigan honored us with the first few pages of his new comic book, starring the same characters from his ongoing Jack Windsword world. His style is lively and active, with exciting plotlines and mythic figures.

Then there was more fiction: a back-story chapter from Earl Pape to go with his dwarf-human saga. This was an account of a battle between minotaurs and their mysterious opponents.

We have a new member of the group, Devon, and she graced us with a piece of tragic creative nonfiction. We hope to hear more from her in the near future!

Since we still had more time, we got to hear yet another scene from Sharon’s Rifton and yet another of Carl’s gripping stories. This was an unforgettable tale of dinosaurs in the backyard!!

Do join us sometime with your own work to share.

 

“The Chapel of the Thorn” launched at Ekphrasis

Chapel CoverOn Monday (January 5th), my edition of Charles Williams’ play The Chapel of the Thorn celebrated its official release with a nice little Book Launch Party at Ekphrasis. You can purchase the book on Amazon. After enjoying fellowship and really great food (see below), we gathered to listen to a selection from Chapel, read by Betsy Gahman, Jeffrey Harvey, and Andrew Stirling MacDonald. You can watch the reading here: . I apologize for my zombie-like condition; I was (and still am) recovering from a horrific bout of ‘flu.

IMG_1399After the Chapel party, we proceeded to a regular Ekphrasis. It was short, but successful. Jeff and Alex shared fiction, Marian performed two drama audition pieces, and several members read an adaptation Besty made from Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. Is that it, folks? I can’t remember.

Do come out and join us next time!

Dramatic Reading: The Chapel of the Thorn

imagesUpcoming in-between meeting:

When: Monday, March 17th (St. Patty’s Day), 6:00-10:00ish
Where: Lehigh Valley Presbyterian Church, 31 South 13th Street, Allentown, PA 18102
What: A reading of a verse drama, The Chapel of the Thorn, by Charles Williams. I am editing this play for publication and need to hear it read aloud so that I can write about its performability.

Bring food and friends. Please let me know if you are planning to attend (and have not already told me), and I will cast you in a role and send you the script by the end of this week.

Here is a blog post about the play, and here is the first 10% of the text.

Meeting Report May 2011

Although Ekphrasis has been meeting monthly all year long, I have not made the time to write up reports of the meetings. First of all, I’ve had more than I can do keeping up with the interview series I’m doing with contemporary artists, my writing for Curator, my teaching, and the million other wonderful projects that keep a semi-freelancer busy; secondly, summaries of workshops are probably pretty boring to read. However, Ekphrasis meetings have been and are going to be quite different this summer. We’re dedicating each session to one person’s large-scale work. The upcoming meeting is advertised here; please come if you are in the area! What follows is a report of our most recent meeting. Enjoy!

On Tuesday, May 31, from 3-6pm, members of Ekphrasis and the general public gathered for a reading of “The Jesus Story” by Elizabeth S. This was a collection of oral meditations on the excellencies of Jesus. Each section, or meditation, began with “Once upon a time, there was a man named Jesus, and He was beautiful.” It then proceeded to mention an attribute of Christ’s, and then riff off of that attribute to show His beauties of character and action. Some of the attributes were typical: nearness, righteousness, servanthood, love, and peace. There were also roles, such as husband and brother. And there were sections whose themes were surprising: ugliness, danger, and shame, for instance. In each section, Elizabeth strove to offer images that were fresh, original, and memorable, sometimes delivering an unexpected twist on the nature or expression of an attribute.

During the reading (for the first 8 sections, until our technology failed), we also recorded each section onto audio CD. Indeed, this piece originated as a kind of bedtime-story meditation, designed more for listening than for reading.

As Elizabeth and I talked about genre (“What do we call this piece?”) and as her father spoke about the similarity of this work to some of Jonathan Edwards’s meditations on the nature and work of Christ, I thought of something remarkable. We had been wondering whether Elizabeth had inadvertently invented a new genre with this work. Well, in a way. But I think she’s actually revived a very ancient and long-neglected genre: the Medieval mystical meditation. Her work seemed to have distant echoes of the writings of Julian of Norwich, or others of her ilk, who spent years and years, pages and pages, just meditating on the excellencies of Christ. Their work often sounds strange and uncomfortable to our 21st-century, post-Enlightenment ears. The ecstasy of these saints is often expressed in semi-sexual language, or with a vivid earthiness and sense of embodiment outside our comfort zone. Elizabeth’s work did a little of this, forcing us to ponder how Jesus’ body looked on the cross, what love of Him really entails, and how sacrifice might operate on a daily basis.