Art & Culture

The transformation of everyday objects

Sridala Swami
Sridala SwamiOct 05, 2015 | 11:43

The transformation of everyday objects

When I travel, I return with stones. Pebbles, usually; but sometimes rocks. To an uninterested eye, they look materially the same: granite, sometimes pink but mostly grey; often smooth, river-abraded into roundness; sometimes jagged, rarely green, glinting or shiny.

Stones are stones. One can think about how they began, where they ended up, of what minerals they are composed. But for the most part, stones are - or become - complete in themselves. When I think of stones, I am reminded of Zbignew Herbert's poem, Pebble:

  • The pebble
  • is a perfect creature
  • equal to itself
  • mindful of its limits
  • filled exactly
  • with a pebbly meaning
  • with a scent that does not remind one of anything
  • does not frighten anything away does not arouse desire

But of course things are never only themselves. Objects accrete not only memories but also histories.

I bring back stones because they remind me of places I want to carry back with me. When I see people leaving behind offerings of stone at places like Bergen-Belsen, I know there is something at work that is beyond the yearning for detachment that fills Herbert's poem.

This month's prompt is an ekphrasis: a poem that comes from meditating on a particular visual work of art. There have been many notable poems that are ekphrastic but I am not going to link to them.

Instead, I am going to ask you to look at this use of stones and pebbles by Syrian sculptor Nizar Ali Badr and use the image below in particular to write your poem.

Via Rabih Alemeddine on Twitter. 

Study the image and its composition. Make rough notes: what is happening in the image and how is the material being used? What words do you associate with the image? Are these words related to each other? How?


Keep in mind that art has always reflected the world in which it exists and that it in turn works upon the world by existing. Think of the image - and the poem that it will prompt - in this context.

Current events tend to make a certain kind of poem - immediate and visceral. Remember that these experiences are not yours (unless they actually are or have been); if they are not your experiences, do not appropriate them. Instead, allow room for empathy. Write your first draft and put it aside for a day or two.

In the meantime, continue to think about what shape an ekphrastic poem could take. Should it be in a particular form? Can it have dialogue? Try things you haven't tried to write before.

When you return to your draft, return to the image. Look at each stone and pebble that makes up the figures represented. Look at their colour, shape, size and the space they occupy in the frame. (Remember that this is a photograph of a work of art and the frame does not accurately reflect the space which the arrangement occupied or occupies. This is worth thinking about: where was this sculpture made? Has it since been removed or erased? Is it a temporary thing, like a Buddhist mandala or an everyday kolam, or does it still exist outside these photographs?)


Think of your words as analogous to those pebbles and consider how you will make them construct something more.

Read your poem over several times and remove all that sounds false or sentimental. Work with what is left.

Keep your poem under 20 lines and send your final version as word documents to thesidewaysdoor@gmail.com by October 20. I look forward to your submissions.

Last updated: October 05, 2015 | 11:43
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