The Ekphrastic Poetry of Tourism

Milroy, Olivia, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Cushman, Stephen, Department of English, University of Virginia

The destabilizing forces of modernization and globalization have led tourists and poets to ask a similar question: what is the self and how can it be constructed? Both Romantic and modern poets often travel to search for answers, turning to landscapes, works of art, and architecture as interlocutors for their inner dialogues. Shared concerns about authenticity, site-marking, and commemoration thematically unite poetry and tourism, while the seriality of touristic vision and the portability of both souvenirs and poems create a further, formal association. In ekphrastic poems, poets work to make sense of their relation to the world by measuring their position and perspective in reference to a particular object. Rather than categorizing this spatial relationship as merely “on-site” or “off-site,” my research suggests ekphrastic poems be arranged on a spectrum with on-site poems at one end and poems with imaginary subjects at the other. Once this spectrum is established, a generic pattern emerges. This paper explores three primary poetic perspectives and their correlated poetic genres: first, Richard Wilbur’s “Fountain in the Villa Sciarra” demonstrates how on-site poems perform a dialectic ode; second, William Wordsworth’s “Elegiac Stanzas” and Agaha Shahid Ali’s “Postcard from Kashmir” both reveal the off-site poem’s reliance on elegy to convey the post-tourist’s sense of distance and loss; third, Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Monument” and Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias” describe an imaginary work of art by means of dialogue in order to offer a self-aware and self-critical structure for “reading” a tourist site. The relationship between the self and the other, the poet and the object, the tourist and the site, becomes increasingly fluid as poems move away from the site and toward the imagination. The dialogic nature of notional ekphrasis opens up rather than closes down the interaction between the self and other and offers an example of what Jahan Ramazani calls “self-interruptive paratourism.”

MA (Master of Arts)
American poetry, tourism, Percy Shelley, Agha Shahid Ali, poetry, Romantic poetry, semiotics, ekphrasis, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, William Wordsworth
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: