By Mary Ann L. Miller
Jane Hedley, co-editor of In the Frame Women’s Ekphrastic Poetry from Marianne
Moore to Susan Wheeler moderated the panel of three critics who commented extensively on the
work of Jorie Graham, Rachel Hadas, and Susan Wheeler. The critic, Willard Spiegelman, who
frequently writes about Graham commented on how unusual it was to speak to an audience about
a poet who was actually present in that audience. He said that “Graham had always been a
looker,” meaning that she was a writer who had keen visual perception and, thus, it was
understandable that she would write poems about art.
One of the most interesting moments, of many, was when Jorie Graham talked about her
response to one of the paintings, Quentin Metsys’s “The Moneylender and His Wife.” She said a
poem was beginning to form within her as a result of looking at and hearing about the painting.
It was exciting to witness Graham’s initial inspiration and to hear the inception of her process.
Susan Wheeler has written a long poem titled “The Debtor in the Convex Mirror” based
on Metsys’s painting, that can be read at www.bostonreview.net. It is an example of a complex
painting illuminated by an equally complex poem that alternates between the setting in the
painting and New York City where the writer lives.
Another interesting moment was when the critic Nick Halpern presented excerpts of his
chapter from In the Frame about Louise Glueck’s oppositional response to being told what to
look at, namely, paintings. Simply put, her protestations have the effect of focusing attention
even more fully on the visual art she is avoiding.
The colloquium was akin to a three-dimensional living copy of In the Frame, a
performance of its pages and the poets who inspired them.