Whereas Adamson’s narrative was intimately linked with the painter’s, Arthur Boyd’s Shoalhaven River, Afternoon II shares no history with the lived experience of the poet Martin Harrison. Yet, Harrison finds a way into the work of Boyd by instantiating the ‘autobiographical focus’ in ekphrastic poetry, of which Alfred Corn in Notes on Ekphrasis writes:
The center of attention in this kind of poem isn’t solely the pre-existing work but instead is dual, sharing the autobiographical focus found in the majority of contemporary lyric poems written in English.
‘Individualising’ the ‘invariants’ contained in Boyd’s painting, Harrison makes use of the shapes and figures on the canvas. But where Whiteley’s lived experience is a conduit for Adamson’s experience, Harrison’s lived experience is uniquely his own in the performance of his viewing of the painting. Referring to the exchange across temporal boundaries that take place in this moment, consider the first section of Harrison’s poem:
Afternoon A final thought might be how after sex with you I want the light to be permanent some utterly sun-drowned afternoon where intense, golden drifts freeze across the ranges ‘utterly’ because of what is open, airy, so exposed with a long drift of time and distance starting in the gap every gesture’s a response to light every thought speaks to its change with a sense of what happens when dreaming, perhaps inland along a river: the ripple of a single movement dissolving a broad hill slope which just as it melts in water stays still enough trance-like, to engage us in our love.
Harrison accounts for the corporality and intimacy of this exchange in the first stanza, alluding to a shared post-coital moment where the ekphrasis is effected: as the poem inhabits the space ‘after sex with you’, where Harrison’s speaker wishes for ‘the light to be permanent’. This concept of permanence, or the desire for permanence in a fleeting co-emergent moment of beauty, is beset by Harrison’s use of the present tense verb ‘freeze’ in the seventh line of the poem. This is later juxtaposed by the present participle in the twentieth line, ‘melts’, that suggests narrative: the direction of time constantly in motion, much like the ‘river’ of line fifteen that embodies the ekphrastic moment as long enough for the poet and the painter, the ‘us’ of the poem, to remain in ‘love’.
Consider Jones’s poem about the work of Olsen:
This Material Spirit He made this lying down: reaching up with close and distance in the origin bird flame, salamander sun amoeba and embryo, the artist’s circle and begins. As helpless and astounding life begins with the cell, its own chaos acres. Then question, the snake, marks a wall approaches writing though wombs, tentacle sperm and flume we come from this matter whose arrow of love can’t be predicted. Earth bubbles escape into whale call the fish’s tear, where it’s all going, mouth helix to a child’s handprint, a tongue (red) into wormholes, universes, sacs of blue birth passage. Perhaps sea felt like this as colours crawled out and made ochres in the sun. Within water’s eye is release, tasting the first connection of salt in motion and one-ness, then sun’s line, letting it run as fast as it can flow. Trails mix trails evolving a dark script so many stories in high-red waters, winding seas whose issue bursts on topographies lines and loops of existence, the way numbers form then become invisible. Tangent suns and filaments merge a fiery dream you might want to escape whose threads of existence aren’t inevitable whose parallels don’t hold forever. Can we look at what is over here, or there? DNA to infinity, dotted through coral stars. Some crazy life is running with odd grimaces and grins, hands in the air, a sting in the tail as bloodskin feels the air with tongues and questions are overwritten to disappear, animal within animal.
As the evidence for an Australian performance of ekphrasis, Jones’s poem embodies this sense of ‘a pattern danced into the ground’. Jones’s process, sitting before Life Burst on a computer chair shifting over and gliding along the surface of the artwork, is inserted diachronically through her interrogation of the painting: ‘Can we look at what is over here, or there?’ Concerning ‘questions’ that are ‘overwritten’, in responding to an existing artefact the poet is asked to engage with the artwork, such that their lived experience, the process of finding an original way to address these questions through affect and interpretation, becomes the content of the poem.