Ekphrastic Poetry of Niagara

According to Poets.org, ekphrasis is “the use of vivid language to describe or respond to a work of visual art.” Poets.org has a brief history of the origins of ekphrastic poetry on their website, which includes the statement that “early ekphrasis was used as a vivid description of a thing.” So using that definition, a great majority of the poems on the Niagara Falls Poetry Project website are ekphratic, with Niagara Falls being “the thing” in question. However for the purposes of this particular page the narrower definition of a work of visual art will be used. 

One of the most anthologized poems about Niagara Falls is an ekphrastic poem, The Fall of Niagara written by John G. C. Brainard. In 1874, the editor of Littell’s Living Age “pronounced this the finest poem ever written on Niagara” (Dow). Brainard, editor of the Connecticut Mirror from 1822 to 1827, was admiring a picture of Niagara Falls one day in 1826, when there was need for a little more copy for that edition of the paper. Within 15 minutes Brainard had written this poem. Apparently Brainard never did see Niagara Falls.

Other ekphrastic poems on the site include Platt by James Penha, Bossy Simms, A Limerick by Andrew Porteus, Ferrotype by Karen Drayne, Lines Written for a Lady’s Hair Album, at Niagara by M.F. Bigney, On Viewing the Falls of Niagara, as Photographed by George Barker by Jones Very, and Sonnet Suggested by Mr Wall’s Painting of the Falls of Niagara By Samuel Ferguson.

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

In 2023,  Lorette C. Luzajic, founding editor of The Ekphrastic Reviewissued a challenge to authors to write about Frederic Edwin Church’s painting Niagara, painted in 1857.  The painting, 7 feet long, is housed at the American National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and was a blockbuster sensation at its unveiling (Read about the painting here). On a personal level, a full size reproduction of the painting was hung on the wall behind the circulation desk at the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library, where I  (Andrew Porteus, curator of this website) worked, and I was bequeathed a slightly smaller reproduction on the death of my friend and co-worker Betty Beam, some of whose children’s poems appear on this site. A number of authors took up this challenge, and submitted  poems and  prose pieces in a range of styles and subject matter to guest editor  Julie A. Dickson, who selected the 13 poems and 2 prose pieces that appeared on the Ekphrastic Review page Frederic Edwin Church: Ekphrastic Writing Responses. Lorette contacted the authors for me and asked if they would agree to let me publish their poems and prose pieces on this site, which most graciously allowed. Julie and Lorette, it should be noted, both grew up in the Niagara area, and both have poems on the site also. Although this is a poetry site, the prose pieces are also included to maintain the wholeness of the challenge.

Poems from this challenge are:

Bard, Portly . To Frederic Edwin Church Regarding Niagara Falls

Boehm, Rose Mary. An Item on my Old Bucket List

Brosnan, Jim. Vantage Point

Brown, Daniel. Niagara November 1978

Chou, Lucie. Looking at Church’s Niagara Falls on the Web

Cole, Diana. Nik Wallenda Walks a Wire Across Niagara Falls

Copeland, Kate. Dad, you have left us

Copeland, Kate. Falling Days

Das Gupta, Sarah. Uncertainty

Smith, Donna-Lee. Leaping

Sorrentino, Elaine. Spellbound

Steele, Ann Marie.  Hear Me Roar (permission not received to include on this site)

Tee, Emily. Memories of a Niagara Falls Morning, 1856

Walker-Lass, Debbie. The Ice Crack’d, 1912

Young, Kate. Hearing the World Differently

In addition, poet Julie A. Dickson was the guest editor of the challenge using Church’s painting. Dickson hails from Buffalo, NY, so counts as a local poet on this site, and in addition the subject matter of the poems are all Niagara related. Her poems on this site are:
•   Dry Falls
•   Niagara Ball Falls
•   Niagara River 1965
•   Yellow Slicker [1967]