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Ekphrastic poetry and the Middle Passage: recent encounters in the Black Atlantic

Plasa, Carl ORCID: 2015. Ekphrastic poetry and the Middle Passage: recent encounters in the Black Atlantic. Connotations: A Journal for Critical Debate 24 (2) , pp. 290-324.

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During the mid-1990s, several black Atlantic poets produced ekphrastic responses to the visual memory of the transatlantic slave trade, most notably David Dabydeen, whose 'Turner' (1994) is inspired by Joseph Mallord William Turner's Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On (1840). Since the time of 'Turner''s first publication over two decades ago, however, a number of other important Black Atlantic poems in which ekphrasis meets the Middle Passage have appeared. This essay looks at three of the most salient recent examples of this trend, all of which have to date attracted little or no critical attention: Elizabeth Alexander's 'Islands Number Four' (2001); Olive Senior's 'A Superficial Reading' (2004); and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers's 'Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, Great-Niece of Lord Mansfield, and Her Cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray, c. 1779 (by unknown artist)' (2011). By bringing these three texts together, the essay enables us, in the first instance, to gain a sense of how the technique of ekphrasis has developed in the hands of twenty-first century black Atlantic poets wishing to traverse anew the ground of Dabydeen's pioneering imaginative experiment. More significantly, perhaps, it simultaneously builds on the work that 'Turner' has elicited by further correcting the biases intrinsic to much of the existing criticism on ekphrastic poetry as a whole. Valuable as it is, such criticism is blinkered by a tendency to privilege texts where the poet's gaze is white and thus remains blind to the rich alternative fields of vision that the black gaze opens up.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Uncontrolled Keywords: Ekphrasis; Middle Passage; Black Atlantic; African American and Caribbean poetry
Additional Information: Connotations - A Journal for Critical Debate by the Connotations Society is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
ISSN: 0939-5482
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2023 01:49

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