Not Paying Attention

Fast and loose ekphrasis

This hybrid critical/creative paper addresses ekphrasis in an age characterised by short attention spans. It suggests that while ekphrasis is generally considered as arising from a poet’s close attention to an artwork -- the product of what psychologist Daniel Kahneman terms System 2 perceptions thatrequire time -- and can in turn prompt the reader to return to an artwork with heightened attention, it can also represent the fleeting glimpse that characterises much of our sensory experience of the world around us and, indeed, art. Considering Owen Bullock’s idea of ‘radical ekphrasis’ in relation to Kahneman’s category of System 1 perceptions – that is, immediate response to stimuli -- this paper explores the possibilities of an ekphrasis of the transitory and concludes with an example thereof.


Declarations is a collaboration between a British poet who has spent long periods in Japan and Italy and a New Zealand painter now living in London. Both are versatile creative artists. Peter Robinson is a prolific poet whose Collected Poems 1976–2016 was published by Shearsman Press in 2017. He has also written novels and short stories and several volumes of literary criticism, and in his early years he was a serious amateur painter. Andrew McDonald, who has recently changed pronouns to ‘they’, also has several strings to their bow, working mainly as a painter and performance artist and sometimes as a maker of ceramics and of fashion textiles. They have been friends for twenty years and interested admirers of each other’s work. This is their second collaboration, after the pamphlet Ekphrastic Marriage (Pine Wave Press, 2009).