• Pictorialist

Inspiring Poetry: Shadows and Dreams

In October 2015, poets gathered at the museum for a day-long workshop focusing on ekphrastic poetry, the description in verse of a work of art. Visiting Shadows and Dreams: Pictorialist Photography in America, they found plenty of inspiration. Pictorialist photographers emphasized creativity and personal expression in their work, and the photographs in the exhibition represent a wide range of imaginative, artistic visions. After looking closely at the exhibition, each poet selected one or two of the photographs on view to use as a focus for the day’s writing. 

Below, enjoy a selection of the poems written in the workshop.  Inspired? Sign up for the next writing workshop on Saturday, August 20.



The Terminal, 1893. Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864-1946), photogravure, Image - h:12.10 w:15.70 cm (h:4 3/4 w:6 1/8 inches) Paper - h:27.90 w:19.90 cm (h:10 15/16 w:7 13/16 inches). Gift of Karen and Walter Holtkamp 2014.421



See how she leans, yearning ear to window,

glazey eyes not so secretly wishing it be he

down there at the terminal,

tending to those fog-backed beasts,

easing their twitching haunches itching from exertion,

there at the end of the Harlem line.


So she looks and waits and wills him to turn

to her window, not caring if the dirty snow

mocks her unwomanly wanting for him

in all his work-worn glory.

Her fingers pinch curtain panels in dreamy substitution

for holding his hand, her cheek on his shoulder,

listening to him speak of the horses and how they slay

him with their thunder, so proud is he of their will.

In repose she waits once more, quietly, a shadow

and hopes for his settling gaze to land on her, and not the beastly horses.

-Luke Frazier



Terminal Tower, Cleveland, 1928. Margaret Bourke-White (American, 1904-1971). gelatin silver print, Image - h:33.50 w:25.70 cm (h:13 3/16 w:10 1/16 inches)  Paper - h:34.40 w:26.10 cm (h:13 1/2 w:10 1/4 inches) Matted - h:60.96 w:50.80 cm (h:24 w:20 inches). Gift of Max and Betty Ratner 1985.76.         © Estate of Margaret Bourke-White /Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY


Terminal Tower. 1928.
For Ella

There is no traffic

No evidence of rain

Just a familiarity

The time lapse I took in reverse

Terminal Tower.  1928.

Light, Dark. 

The engineering of men

Gritty, Polluted.   

The smoke choking me

A vile scent  

Something they grew used to

Viaduct with graceful arches 

Smoke stack with bright white steam

A bridge     Still     There

Billows of clouds in variegated shades of grey

Was anyone looking at them?  

Seeing shapes

Imagining the future


Tall pillars, odd shaped boxes and floors

Windows in varying degrees of openness

If trees, if grass, if a river

It disappears into the black

The grave

Where was the sun? 

The angle of the light that birthed the tiny rectangles.

What was the season, the time of day?

And in the meantime

The mean, mean time that was to come.

The depression. Divorce. Cancer. Death.

What were you doing the day it was taken?

Rocking your granddaughter

Making spaetzles 


Red cabbage with allspice and bacon

SHE was standing on Pearl Street, making art

An icon for my time travel - 2015

To visit with you

The longer I stayed, the more I entered

The more light I was exposed to

My fingers, taking notes

Shadowing in layers on the white paper

Me, Mom, Grandma, Great Grandma.

Seeking the color of my genes

The seeds of my being

Returning with their tears

-Karla L. Rivers 




The Orchard (Julia Hall McCune, Letitia Felix, and Stella Howard), 1902. Clarence H. White (American, 1871-1925). Photogravure, Image - h:20.50 w:15.70 cm (h:8 1/16 w:6 1/8 inches) Paper - h:28.60 w:21.10 cm (h:11 1/4 w:8 1/4 inches) Matted - h:45.72 w:35.56 cm (h:18 w:14 inches). Gift of John Flory, Elizabeth Flory Kelly, and Phoebe Flory 1980.149


The Orchard

I. Stella

I am always looking up. See the light 

caught in these leaves, I say, 

don’t you want to feel the rays 

against your upturned chin, back arched, 

arm raised to pluck a piece of God

from this tree, one globe of water and fire, 

fruit of dust and patience. I choose

this one. Pose me always facing west.

I will turn from the shadows 

in the shadow of apple canopies. 

Why do you bow, dear Julia, 

to pick discarded fruit 

when you can reach heaven’s 

orbs at their source?


II. Julia


I can’t abandon fruit that has fallen,

why leave it to return to dust—

isn’t there enough of the stuff

already, dust in my skirt, dust 

in the grass, dust eating at the edges 

of this orchard—enough with dust 

already. Why let this one fall to earth 

and rot, why not save it? I turn 

and stoop, back to the sun. 

I’ve had enough of its glare,

its insistence, the way it overexposes.

I carry light captured in the crumpled 

plumes of my skirt. See it bellowing, 

mingling with dust? It’s becoming 

dust itself, linen and light together 

with my dry bones, someday. Even

if it’s just this moment, I want to save 

one apple between my thumb 

and forefinger. I want to make it 

flesh incarnate.


II. Leticia


Girls, look at the blurred bright line 

that borders our orchard. 

We are on the edge of eternity, 

it’s coming, the place where trees 

cast no shadow. Girls, I say 

in a whisper, it will swallow us 

soon—our gowns, our shadows, 

our apples, the grass, the dust, 

the trunk. Just keep picking. 

This may be the only tree left

in the garden. The tree, too, 

reaches up and down. Reach 

for the unseen apple in the canopy, 

reach for the fallen fruit

just beyond the hem of your skirt. 

Keep reaching. I am watching—

your dark shadow sister—make 

your selection.

After Clarence White: The Orchard, 1902/1907; platinum print. 

-Sarah Wells


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