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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Ekphrastic Vistas: Poetry and the Portrait

On Likenesses, by Judith Aronson
Rachael Boast
In February 2014 the Bristol Poetry Institute set up a poetry competition in collaboration with the Royal West of England Academy. This was the first collaboration of its kind and the occasion was the opening of Likenesses, an exhibition of photographic portraits by Judith Aronson, former photographer for the Sunday Telegraph, whose work is held in many private and public collections, including the National Portrait Gallery in London. The exhibition, which ran from 8 February to 20 March, gave rise to a number of related events, including a poetry masterclass on the theme of ekphrasis (works of art that transform one art form into another), a public talk by Aronson in the gallery, and an evening of readings of poems or prose extracts from the authors who featured in Aronson’s exhibition, read by University of Bristol staff and students to a full house in the RWA’s Cube Gallery.

After the competition award ceremony on 19 March, the winner’s poem, two runners-up, and five commended poems were sent to Aronson, who responded with pleasure at the quality of the entries. As one of the judges, I was also struck by the extent to which people had engaged with, and responded to, Aronson’s work. The depth of their engagement with the photographic portrayal of, not just poets, but other literary and cultural figures of note, had brought out stories within stories both factual and personal. Furthermore, it is not
often the case that multiple judges of a poetry competition unanimously agree on the winning poems as we did, ...

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