‘Poetry is painting that speaks’

Poet Bethany Rivers, who is interested in ekphrasis and how poetry and painting are mutually inspirational, gave a reading and talk for the penultimate Reading Art lecture. She has been inspired by a number of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, which gave rise to a particularly interesting discussion about Millais’ Ophelia and the ways in which Hamlet inspired both the painting and Bethany’s poem.

Bethany talked about ekphrastic practice, quoting Plutarch: ‘Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks’. The way poetry might describe a painting represents the poet’s view, of course, not every viewer’s image, and this potential for creating new images with words is a fruitful topic for a poet. Bethany read from her forthcoming book Off the Wall, which is entirely ekphrastic, and the audience enjoyed a lively discussion ranging from feminism to Shakespeare.

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