Defining a beach birthday

Here are some more attempts at imagery through Ekphrastic poetry triggered by a photograph of my birthday Crème brûlée from last year. There are many months to go before another one and hurrah, I will be two !

Birthday minimalism

Ekphrasis refers to “Description” in Greek and an ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. (Poetry Foundation). I have veered away from the traditional in that I have chosen an object from the everyday for the subject of my poem, in this case a sweet dessert.

Hannah Huff has described it best [1] in that Ekphrastic poetry about art is the use of rhetorical device, where art amplifies art. In the original Greek Ekphrastic exercises, Huff maintains, there was a lot of ‘rhetorical sashaying’ unlike as in the more rigid definitions used in latter times, in the poetry oft used as examples in illustrating Ekphrasis. Ekphrastic poetry makes for vivid imagery and draws the reader into the artwork, it brings a fresh perspective on a painting or any form of visual imagery created by another artist. The most over used example I think is John Keats’, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, but in her essay, she has analysed Edward Hirsch’s “Edward Hopper and the House By the Railroad (1925)”, in a thorough Ekphrastic Poem Literary Analysis for it’s lucid detail, poetic response and focus on a painting. This is a great starting point to understand the nuance of image amplification.

Here below is less of an Ekphrastic poem, as in, it started off intending to be one and then simply became a poem wandering in wondering.

Aging in Sand A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing an aging carapace amidst / a sage gathering of beach sanded feet / in stringy thongs of varicose veins / confined to callus corruptions that splice / into years of cloudy hair // Candles are wished away in smoke / as a monsoon carafe pours over a thatched roof / and time slows until the sun returns / and dries the grains of sand to measure the minutes / to another cake finale // Do you not sometimes prefer knowing the days you didn't remain born ? But these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

The other attempt at making the object itself interpret or thread the theme of the poem has a bit more of Ekphrasis but I am unsatisfied that it isn’t wholly Ekphrastic as yet. This calls for further explorations in this genre.

Caramel Halo                    A birthday song is the language of  burnt caramel / glazing a wise halo amidst / a sage gathering on sand / as pale as the sugar from Morogoro* / The years string in sweet zest / like streaks of happiness in the hair / every old day stamped in cloudy white reflections / but soft like cream / and every new day burnt like sugar, as promising as a new sunrise / Candles are lit in hopes of happy sunsets / as a monsoon carafe pours love / in rain that drops over sand // Do you not marvel that we are alive for a singular spark in the eternity of death ? And these people that love you, always sing you Happy Birthday !

*Morogoro is a region in Tanzania that has some of the major sugar plantations in the country.

In a very interesting essay [2] on the evolution of Ekphrasis, of the various writers that engaged in it, is one by Marjorie Munsterberg. The author has explained in great detail about John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) impassioned defense of the painter J.M.W. Turner in brilliant ekphrastic passages where he described Turner’s painting , ‘Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhoon Coming On”, also known as ‘The Slave Ship’. She has also included in the essay William M. Thackeray’s Ekphrasis of the same painting which serves as an art criticism of Ruskin’s work. These are tremendously informative exercises on Ekphrasis.

My Ekphrastic poetry exercise also triggered the gustatory, so I looked for a recipe that I should try sometime soon given that I bought six very fancy ramekins recently and I haven’t even ever used my older ones for a Crème brûlée!! The reason I chose this one from ‘Sally’s Baking Addiction’ [3] is because she wrote something towards the end, that struck me as quite poetic. Her recipe is well illustrated and the dessert looks supremely delicious.

"Burnt sugar on creamy custard = simple beauty and decadence. Doesn’t this make you feel fancy? We should be wearing pearls and eating our crème brûlées with crystal spoons while sitting on our gold thrones calling each other on our diamond encrusted phones talking about how fancy we are."

~ Sally

Speaking of birthdays and aging, I would add that as a woman grows older, she must hopefully do it like Sophia Loren in Mambo Italiano. Here is a woman who knows how to have fun [4] like she is the last one standing. Thank you for reading !!


[1]Ekphrastic poetry: When Art Kindles Literature; Hannah Huff ~ (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)

[2]Ekphrasis; Marjorie Munsterberg ~ (Retrieved on 21/apr/2021)


[4]Sophia Loren Mambo Italiano ~

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