Arts & Culture

Arts Appreciation Month: The Art of Ekphrastic Poetry

Poets Vanessa Zimmer-Powell and Mary Wemple find inspiration in visual art.


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Poets Vanessa Zimmer-Powell and Mary Wemple
Poets Vanessa Zimmer-Powell and Mary Wemple find inspiration in visual art.

“Perro Semihundido” by Francisco Goya, which inspired Vanessa Zimmer-Powell’s poem, “Francisco’s Dog”
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Houston is home to both an active literary scene and a thriving visual arts scene. The city boasts of a world-class museum district and numerous independent galleries, as well as the top-ranked UH Creative Writing Program and a plethora of organizations that host reading series attracting Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and up-and-coming writers alike.

What happens when these two artistic scenes and forms — literature and visual art — intersect?

In honor of “Arts Appreciation Month: Literature Week,” we explore the sub-genre of poetry known as “ekphrastic poetry” — poetry inspired by a visual artwork.

Houston Public Media’s Catherine Lu chatted with local poets, Mary Wemple and Vanessa Zimmer-Powell, about letting an artwork “speak” through their pen, and they each share an ekphrastic poem of their own.

Mary Wemple holds degrees in Studio Art and English from the University of Houston. Her poetry has been published in the Houston Poetry Fest Anthology, and Spiky Palm. She is the creator and coordinator of Words & Art, a reading series inspired by the art at Rice University Art Gallery.

Vanessa Zimmer-Powell is a speech and language pathologist in Houston. She has been writing poetry since she was a teenager and has a special interest in ekphrastic poetry. She is regularly featured at the Words & Art reading series at Rice Gallery. Her poems have been published in the Houston Poetry Festival Journal, the Austin Poetry Festival Journal, Harbinger Asylum, The Avocet Journal, The Avocet weekly, and the Texas Poetry Calendar.


Ana Serrano’s installation, “Salon of Beauty,” which inspired Mary Wemple’s poem “Washing Machine.” Photo by Nash Baker.



Catherine Lu

Catherine Lu

Senior Content Producer & Announcer

While growing up in Chicago and Houston, Catherine’s love for art, music and creative writing was influenced by her teachers and parents. She was once concertmaster of the Clear Lake High School Orchestra and a four-time violinist of the Texas All-State Symphony. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Catherine...

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