EK is my latest collection, which will be published in 2016 by Cervena Barva Press. The forward to this collection and the poem below will serve as an introduction to what is to come. I'll post more information when the book is published. That's when we'll be able to see the cover art! I've also posted some advance thoughts on the collection from leading poets Rebecca Seiferle, Kathryn Rantala, John Sweet, and Michele Belluomini.
What is ekphrastic poetry?
after a travel report by
o city of fragrance and clouds babylon
you sit up all night
throwing incense on the brazier until dawn
when you bathe in water fragrant with petals
dress and (solemnly)
catch the subway
the commuters break down into fragrant and other
even when my night has not been blessed
I try to sit near someone
whose hair still curls in damp tendrils
whose skin is redolent of smoke and full-blown roses
Ekphrastic poetry is often written about encounters with painting or sculpture. The poems in EK address a wider variety of partners, including such unconventional subjects as printed text, television images, bound feet, fat bodies, music, a book bound in human skin, or a eucharistic wafer zinging around a church like an air-filled balloon losing its air.
In this book, what can be written about is what can be perceived by the senses as a unified impression. If writing about religious ceremony, the poem will be about one specific occurrence of that ceremony. If writing about preserved human bodies, individual bodies will be the subjects.
The criteria for this collection are the following: (1) The subject must be real (including the reality of notional ekphrasis) although not necessarily realized in a concrete way. (2) It does not need to be visual or static; thus there are poems about music and rituals. (3) It may be a complex of images if the complex has a single strong emotional impact. This is relevant to the poem about Chernobyl, for example, which has a strong iconic feeling of fiery desolation and ruin, although written from conflated photographic images. (4) The subject must exist because of human intervention; it must be "made." Therefore none of these poems is about nature, although it may be about a painting of nature. There are no poems about astronomical phenomena, only about scientific images of those phenomena.
These are poems of witness.
The poems in Tree Riesener’s EK: Poems of Ekphrasis hark back to the original meaning of ekphrasis-- “to speak” “out.” Driven by a kind of surrealistic urgency, the poems use all the language at their disposal to name what they see so that one bird “might escape the net.” Whether focusing on works of art, photos, ultrasound images, relics, a bull fight, Chernobyl, or a shrine for a boy struck while bicycling, Riesener is an “eye witness,” combining a longing for an “otherworld” with a sharp awareness of the “dead zones” of our making.
—Rebecca Seiferle, Editor of The Drunken Boat, Tucson Poet Laureate, author of Wild Tongue
In this new collection, Riesener’s “poems of witness” move into powerful, unexplored worlds of language. What strikes me the most? The vitality and freshness of her work—the beautiful side by side with the ugly and the sacred with the profane. The author dares you to tell the difference.
—John Sweet, author of Famine, Human Cathedrals, and Century of Dreaming Monsters, winner of the 2014 Lummox Poetry Prize
In the epigraph to EK, Goethe speaks of reproducing the world that surrounds by means of the world within. No argument there as far as it goes - but he may have, in his heart, aimed for more. Tree Riesener applies wit and sometimes ecstatic imagery to form and to literary conceit, clearly aiming for more; beyond reproduction toward provocation; in this case, evoking not just the world but the mystery of encountering it. In EK, such evidence is abundant, first poem to
last:"clear bright dense mysterious dusky blueish venous arterial subterranean multi-layered sustaining singing vulnerable scarlet” or"you signed the forms to be present in this room because being here where perpetual light shines upon you is better than being in the prison yard buried under a number”
—Kathryn Rantala, Founder-Editor of Ravenna Press, author The Finnish Orchestra and other collections.
Tree Riesener is absolutely fearless in her writing. The breadth and range of subjects in her latest collection, EK: Poems of Ekphrasis, stretch the boundaries of the form, demand attention, enthrall, unsettle, and delight the careful reader. In “annunciation of reluctance”, she has captured both Mary’s terror and her desire for things to be normal with an unpleasant but quite ordinary migraine, a signal of that surreal occurrence. Brilliant! Riesener uses the litany of the hues of red in "on a field of sable the letter A -- gules" to explore the ramifications of a scarlet letter for a woman who has transgressed her society's rules. With a group of poems inspired by the Messiaen musical quartet, written in a concentration camp during WWII, the reader joins her in "searching the ruins of the rainbow for the angel who announces the end of time" (after katrina). The ending dirge, “owed to thanatopsis gardens,” is written for the plastinated bodies in an exhibit. Beautiful questioning meditations on the sublime round out these poems of witness truly written on the body and the soul.
Tree Riesener is absolutely fearless in her writing. The breadth and range of subject matter and concern in her latest collection, EK: Poems of Ekphrasis, stretch the boundaries of the form, demand attention, enthrall, unsettle, and delight the careful reader. Beginning with the litany of the hues of red in "on a field of sable the letter A -- gules" to "searching the ruins of the rainbow for the angel who announces the end of time" (after Katrina) -- poems inspired the Messiaen musical quartet written in a concentration camp during WWII -- to the ending dirge, "owed to thanatopsis gardens," these poems of witness are truly written on the body and the soul. You will be moved.
—Michele Belluomini, poet and storyteller, former Literature Librarian of the Free Library of Philadelphia, author of Crazy Mary and Others (winner of Plan B Press chapbook contest), Translations from the Dark and signposts for sleepwalkers.