Ekphrasis: Pastime Theater

The term “Ekphrasis” refers to art that finds its inspiration in other art forms; one of my personal favorites is Holly Crawford’s art installation inspired by Wallace Stevens’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

Inspired by V. Penelope Pelizzon’s essay “Light Speaking: Notes on Poetry and Photography,” I had students in my Introduction to Creative Writing course collaborate in response to this archival 1924 photograph from Bakersfield, California.

pastime theater 2

I also brought in sensory “triggers” to manipulate their responses: seaweed, a brick of sea salt, a cd of whale songs, fossils from Ant Hill, and a sea-salt scented bar of soap.

I took my own assignment to heart and came up with this sonnet:

Optical Allusion

In 1924 on the southside
of Nineteenth Street between Chester and Eye
the Pastime Theatre unveiled a sign
promoting the latest wise-guy
feature, but fourteen million years ago,
this was all a shallow saltwater sea
starring sea lion and shark, a dumbshow
one can excavate from Ant Hill to reel
in whale song, salt on the tongue, vertebrae
the temperature of sedimentary
Miocene siltstone, a fossil bouquet
the color of your slow trajectory
through anniversary sales and visits,
for glaucoma, to the optometrist.

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