What We Are Reading Today: Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures

Updated 22 August 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures

Why do painters sometimes wish they were poets — and why do poets sometimes wish they were painters? What happens when Rembrandt spells out Hebrew in the sky or Poussin spells out Latin on a tombstone? What happens when Virgil, Ovid, or Shakespeare suspend their plots to describe a fictitious painting? In Mute Poetry, Speaking Pictures, Leonard Barkan explores such questions as he examines the deliciously ambiguous history of the relationship between words and pictures, focusing on the period from antiquity to the Renaissance but offering insights that also have much to say about modern art and literature.
The idea that a poem is like a picture has been a commonplace since at least ancient Greece, and writers and artists have frequently discussed poetry by discussing painting, and vice versa, but their efforts raise more questions than they answer. From Plutarch (“painting is mute poetry, poetry a speaking picture“) to Horace (“as a picture, so a poem“), apparent clarity quickly leads to confusion about, for example, what qualities of pictures are being urged upon poets or how pictorial properties can be converted into poetical ones.
The history of comparing and contrasting painting and poetry turns out to be partly a story of attempts to promote one medium at the expense of the other.
At the same time, analogies between word and image have enabled writers and painters to think about and practice their craft. Ultimately, Barkan argues, this dialogue is an expression of desire: the painter longs for the rich signification of language while the poet yearns for the direct sensuousness of painting.


What We Are Reading Today: Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

Updated 22 February 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Notes on a Shipwreck by Davide Enia

The book is a moving firsthand account of migrant landings on the island of Lampedusa that gives voice to refugees, locals, and volunteers while also exploring a deeply personal father-son relationship. 

“The island of Lampedusa, as the Italian playwright and journalist Davide Enia explains in this quiet yet urgent memoir, is territorially European but belongs tectonically to nearby Africa,” states Steven Heighton in a review published in The New York Times. 

For some 20 years, migrants and refugees launching from Africa have been arriving on this remote, treeless outpost, hoping to travel on to the European mainland. 

“Structurally, the book attests that a sincere engagement with global crises can grow only from a soil of sympathy that’s local and personal,” Heighton added.

A reviewer commented on goodreads.com: “Enia reawakens our sense of wonder at the existential nature, the true terror and dangerousness inherent in the refugee journey by sea. And in the process, he reawakens our compassion.”