Ode To Black And White Film (Photographic)

Ode To Black And White Film (Photographic)


You turn spider veins
below the one-piece to
inroads into
the intimate,
make pimples spots
almost capable of coupling
with the word “beauty;”

wrinkles, under your auspices, shape
a face
like the tentative tries of
the sketch artist,
while the cross-hatch of liver stains
grants depth.

All skin,
no matter the shade,
turns as velvet in your grip
as Colbert’s (Claudette):
all grins claim Clark Gable
as their close kin.


Old names fit
because we enter
another age
between your frames–
time turns back
to a when we mourn
for its lost grandeur,
at least simplicity.

Then one pictures
the harsh-bright hunch of shoulders/breasts/bellies
lined up beside the charcoal-wooled SS;
the black and white stripes of
limbed kindling–

Sheriffs’ belts in the South, the highlit teeth
of snarl, blinding shirts over backs


Maybe what we miss is a time when man,
for all his good and cruelty,
operated the machine, the machine
that now runs us–

Maybe what we imagine in your
stilled life
is the machine turned off,
maybe what we hear
in your dark/light are whole minutes
as buzz-free as forests covering with snow,
lost streets pooling in lamplight–


But even before the machine,
there was a kaching-ching-ching
beneath most human doings,
gold that worked
its own gradations,
sometimes even
posed for its picture.

In its portraits, the ermine borders have spots
frequently, and the strands of fur can almost
be counted.

Forgive me for the length of this very very drafty all-over-the-place poem, written for Kerry O’Connor’s prompt on With Real Toads to write poetry in black and white.  The idea, explained  beautifully by Kerry, was to write something using various types of contrast, and not necessarily about black and white photography.  My literal brain had a hard time with it, though it really is an excellent prompt.  Check it out! 

The above photograph is not black and white, but it has a very monochromatic feel (and in the distance are forests covering with snow.) 

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14 Comments on “Ode To Black And White Film (Photographic)”

  1. Machines do seem to have taken over a bit … we are so dependent on them, especially computers & the internet. My father-in-law said something very poignant yesterday … “no one talks to each other anymore” … as he was lamenting about getting emails rather than a phone call or face to face. Machines have somehow made it all a bit impersonal yet giving the ability to reach many. A black & white paradox. Your poem was thought provoking. Thanks 🙂

  2. “wrinkles, under your auspices, shape a face like the tentative tries of the sketch artist”- loved it.
    Perfect imagery, beautifully written. 🙂

  3. Sam Edge Says:

    I also struggled with the abstract of this post – it has been interesting seeing what everyone comes up with.

  4. So much to smile at here, k. I especially like the lines ‘make pimples spots
    almost capable of coupling’ – neat 🙂

  5. Brendan Says:

    To write an ode to black and white photography is to endear and differ with time itself, I think — fine work. I love the didactic sweep of this, a tryptich with its small fourth panel at its crown, its depth. As for length — How else to bring out the medium’s love of contrast? I’m guiltiest for the over-long post, but it takes what it takes to brew a complex thought — multiple faces to bring to view, the long laddering tale — how do we get there without taking our time? I know online is the worst medium for that, but how else do we slow the flood? Our obedience should not be to the Internet but to the gods we sing to. I rant, when I meant just to comment on fine job, sorry – Brendan

  6. hedgewitch Says:

    I am so glad you were able to find the time and space to play with this prompt–or work with it, more appropriately speaking. You managed to take a lot of tropes that are rather one-dimensional and breathe an idiosyncratic life and variation into your shades of black and white. I don’t feel it is overlong for what you were revolving–I especially thought your concepts of the machine in the center of the poem were striking, and well-amplified into the gold at the end, both as a modulation of color–or non-color– images, and of ideas–while the opening with its calls to the past and to permanence and an alternative view set that up and make it work all the better. It read short, anyway. Really an excellent job, and a hundred times better and more finished than my ‘drafts’ ever are. ;_)

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. I cut a huge amount as I kept rambling all over the place–I even had French actress Jeanne Moreau in for a while!–although I tend to be pretty repetitive so I’m pretty sure that cuts are always positive. I then just got tired and didn’t want to think about it any more. I have to decide today whether I should go back to large amount of end-of-year work, or make more tries at novel, or just walk around in the snow. (I think/hope I’ll do a fair amount of the last.) Thanks again. k.

      • hedgewitch Says:

        Waking in the snow sounds good. Snow has not only it’s own character and mood, but a sort of masking uniformity that one needs when the mind is frazzled with the numerous choices, details and decisions of things. I can relate to the getting tired of a piece and not wanting to think about it any more–that’s the stage where I always end my editing and rewrites also. Best of days to you, k.

      • hedgewitch Says:

        walking not waking!

  7. To me, this was like flipping through a few black and white scenarios: firstly, an extreme closeup, a stark descriptive of facial features pimples, wrinkles, liver spots and all. Next seemed more like a grainy scene from the annals of history and then a fast forward to a more modern or even futuristic age of machines.
    In each there is a heightened sense of contrast, highlighting and extreme tonal qualities.

    It is a very intriguing piece of writing.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Yes–it is a bit discursive! This is why I put in the sections, and even why I called it an Ode in the end because that seemed to allow for the ramble. Maybe it would be best to separate it into discrete poems as I did have a bit more for each but couldn’t weight it any more. I may have made the machine part more confusing than otherwise with big cuts, but agh! I hate to torture kind readers!

      Thanks, Kerry. k.

  8. Kay Davies Says:

    There is a very black-and-white feeling to the photograph. I had to look twice to notice the blue, so the photo really does make the poem flow forward.

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