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Ekphrastic Poetry Inspiration: The Photography of John McDermott

By Flapper Press Poetry Café:



For our Summer 2024 Ekphrastic Poetry Contest, the Flapper Press Poetry Café celebrates word & image by connecting poets with the work of photographer John McDermott. We thought it only fitting to share the photographer's words about his work and specific photos—regardless if you are inspired to write a poem for our contest or not.


Learn more about the photographer's beautiful work in our in-depth interview.


Check out the Contest Submission Guidelines below and read what John had to say about each photo.


 

Contest Submission Guidelines:

(Please read carefully and submit all elements!)

 

Deadline: July 31, 2024

 

1. Choose a photograph from among the 12 photos below.


Read what photographer John McDermott has to say about each photo for additional inspiration.

     For more inspiration, make sure to read our previous interview with photographer John McDermott.

 

2. Write a poem about the photograph you selected.

    Use any poetic form you desire (free verse, sonnet, haiku, haibun, etc.).


3. In the BODY of your email submission, please include:

  • Your name

  • Your state of residence

  • Your poem

  • A short bio (approx. 25 words)

  • A photo of yourself attached with the submission


4. Details:

  • There is NO submission fee to enter this contest.

  • Each of the 5 selected winners will receive a $25 cash award.

  • You may submit as many times as you like, BUT each submission must be provided in a separate email; AND only one submission per poet will be selected.

  • You may collaborate with a friend or write by yourself. ALL submissions must be original pieces and not previously published.

  • All ages are eligible to enter.

  • Feel free to ask any questions prior to the contest deadline.


5. Submit your poem via email.

  • In the subject line, use the following format:

Your name - # of the Photograph - 2024 Summer FP Poetry Contest

( EXAMPLE: "Annie Newcomer - Photo # - 2024 Summer FP Poetry Contest")

 

Our judges will choose 5 selections.

Our winners will be featured in an upcoming Flapper Press Poetry Café article.

We will also consider the selections for the Best of the Net and Pushcart nominations.


 


Photo # 1:

Monks Ascending the Stairway

Phnom Bakheng, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000


"Monks Ascending the Stairway," Phnom Bakheng, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000— Photo by John McDermott

Sitting atop one of the few hills that rise off the plain in Siem Reap province in Cambodia, the temple of Phnom Bakheng was the main temple of the first Khmer capital in the Angkor region. Built near the end of the 9th century as a Hindu temple, it has a stepped pyramid construction that represents Mount Meru, symbol of the universe in eastern religion and mythology. 


At the end of a long day of shooting, I was packing up around sunset when a small group of monks arrived and started climbing toward the top. Their soft shapes and bright orange robes stood out in contrast to the linear shapes of the stones as they ascended the steep stairway, an exercise that symbolized the struggle of man’s ascent toward perfection.


 


Photo # 2:

Torchlight Procession in Angkor Wat

Cambodia, 2016


"Torchlight Procession in Angkor Wat," Cambodia, 2016— Photo by John McDermott

Visak Bochea Day is one of the holiest days in the Buddhist year. In the evening, hundreds of monks and nuns gather and form a torchlight procession that circles the temple of Angkor Wat three times, after which they enter the hallways of the temple chanting in prayer. The glow of torches, the shadows on the walls, and the chants echoing through the hallways create a surreal and magical scene.


 


Photo # 3:

The West Gate

Angkor Thom, Angkor, Cambodia, 2008


"The West Gate," Angkor Thom, Angkor, Cambodia, 2008—Photo by John McDermott

The ancient royal city of Angkor Thom, the center of the great Khmer Empire, had a population at its height of almost one million people. The inner city, which contained the royal palace and residences as well as its most sacred temple, was surrounded by a great wall that had five gates: North, South, East West, and a special gate called the Victory Gate. 


At the time I was photographing Angkor, the West Gate was the only one that was still rather secluded. It only had a dirt trail passing through it, while all the others had paved roads and were in use daily. The West Gate served mainly local villagers on bicycles or on foot. 


It was always one of my favorite places in Angkor, as it appeared timeless in its setting. I made this photo in early 2008. When I visited again about a month later, giant wooden braces had been placed against the walls and a large wooden ramp replaced the pathway through the gate, making the scene as I shot it merely a record of a moment in history. It would no longer be the magical place of seclusion and contemplation that I had so often enjoyed. 


 


Photo # 4:

Three Fishermen on Lake Inle

Shan State, Myanmar, 2010


"Three Fishermen on Lake Inle," Shan State, Myanmar, 2010—Photo by John McDermott

Lake Inle, in the Shan state of Myanmar, is an enchanting wonderland full of floating gardens, stilted villages, Buddhist temples and monasteries, and home to numerous ethnic tribes. It is probably most well-known for its local Intha fishermen, who use a unique style of rowing using their legs and feet. Each fisherman will stand on one leg at the stern of his tiny boat while wrapping the other leg around the oar, swirling the water beneath in a beautiful ballet.


 


Photo # 5:

Camels Near the Pyramids

Giza Plateau, Egypt, 2019


"Camels Near the Pyramids," Giza Plateau, Egypt, 2019—Photo by John McDermott

A small caravan of camels winds its way through the dunes behind the pyramids on the Giza Plateau.


 


Photo # 6:

The Causeway After a Rainstorm

 Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000


"The Causeway After a Rainstorm," Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia, 2000—Photo by John McDermott

I was sitting at the top of the stairs of the entryway terrace of Angkor Wat late one afternoon just after a brief but torrential rainstorm. Puddles of water filled the stone causeway leading up to the temple, turning it into a bejeweled mirror of light leading into the background of dark storm clouds from which the sun is just beginning to reemerge. It was a beautiful scene, but it needed another element to tie it all together. After a few minutes, a woman walked up the causeway holding the hand of a small child for a visit to the temple at the end of the day, and that completed the image for me in a very enlightening moment. 


 


Photo # 7:

Monk in the Wind

 Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia, 2001


"Monk in the Wind," Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia, 2001— Photo by John McDermott

Angkor Wat is quite tall, and as I was looking up at the top level one afternoon, a monk emerged from the doorway there and then stopped to gaze out at the view. The wind caught his robe, and it billowed in the breeze. His hand bracing the side of the doorway seemed to anchor him to the temple. His size relative to the doorway illustrates how massive the building is. 


Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument on the planet. People don’t often realize that “Angkor Wat” is actually only one temple in the huge complex of Angkor. In fact, the term "Angkor Wat" means "temple of Angkor"; "Wat" means "temple." 


Angkor is a huge complex of some 400 square kilometers and contains ruins of dozens of ancient stone temples. It was once a huge city, the capital of the Khmer Empire, with a population of almost a million people at its peak. What remains today are the ruins of many of these stone temples that were able to withstand the ravages of time while the rest of the great city folded back into the earth.


 


Photo # 8 :

Chin Tribal Woman with Facial Tattoos

 Chin State, Myanmar, 2010

"Chin Tribal Woman with Facial Tattoos," Chin State, Myanmar, 2010— Photo by John McDermott

There is a small town in western Myanmar called Mrauk U. It was once the capital of the Arakanese Kingdom and contains many ancient temples and monuments. Even though it is well off the beaten path, it is well worth the lengthy trip. I visited there on many occasions and was always transported back in time. Set among picturesque hills and rivers and streams, the only indicators of the modern day were some generators for a bit of electricity and a few motorbikes. 


I had heard for some time about the existence of many elderly women of the ethnic Chin tribe living in villages to the north that had elaborate "spider-web design" facial tattoos. These villages were accessible by traveling up the small rivers near Mrauk U. I made the half-day trip up to one of the villages and met some of these women, who allowed me to photograph them. The beauty of their tattoos was astounding. As legend has it, this ancient custom was done to keep invaders from stealing away the local women. The tattooing process was very painful and took many hours to complete. It has since been forbidden by the government and was stopped some years ago. 


At the time that I made these pictures, not a lot of people knew of them, and few had visited or photographed them. That has since changed, and now they have sadly become a tourist attraction, with many boats carrying tourists up to see them; at least it was like that before the recent conflict and violence in the region over the past couple of years. 


 


Photo # 9:

Twisted Tree

Ta Prohm, Angkor, Cambodia, 2001 


"Twisted Tree," Ta Prohm, Angkor, Cambodia, 2001—Photo by John McDermott

A huge part of the character of Angkor comes from the giant trees that are spread through the temples. Their twisting, turning roots envelope the stone ruins like creatures from the netherworld. They are both beautiful and demonic; nature reclaiming its own. 


The temple of Ta Prohm has many of the most impressive of these, and this particular tree has always appeared to me as a giant claw grasping the stones below it. This picture was made over twenty years ago, before tourists starting flocking to the temples. In recent years, the government authority that manages the temples has made major restorations to some of the temples, but not all for the good, unfortunately, especially at Ta Prohm. 


Ta Prohm has become one of the most popular sites for tourists and their cameras and selfie sticks, so the authorities have constructed large wooden stages in front of many of these trees so that they serve as a background for photos of the tourists standing in front of them. Like many of my images of Angkor made many years ago, this one cannot be repeated. It is truly sad that this surreal scene of history and nature combined is now just a cheap and trashy background for tour-group photos. 


 


Photo # 10:

Oxcart

Shan State, Myanmar, 2010


"Oxcart," Shan State, Myanmar, 2010—Photo by John McDermott

Trekking through the countryside somewhere in the Shan state, an oxcart came rolling down the dirt road I was walking on. The oxcart is a common means of transport in rural areas. This cart driver drove this cart while standing, as there was no seat. 


 


Photo # 11:

Young Monks Carrying Alms

Mrauk U, Myanmar, 2010

"Young Monks Carrying Alms," Mrauk U, Myanmar, 2010— Photo by John McDermott

Buddhism is widely practiced all throughout Myanmar, and temples, monasteries, and monks are ubiquitous. These young monks were passing by carrying their alms baskets on the way to somewhere. Even though they are wearing their Buddhist attire, underneath they are still young boys at play in the afternoon.


 


Photo # 12:

Apsara Dancers Preah Khan Temple, Angkor, Cambodia, 2001


"Apsara Dancers," Preah Khan Temple, Angkor, Cambodia, 2001— Photo by John McDermott

Apsaras in Hindu and Buddhist culture are traditionally celestial beings or dancers. In Angkor, they are featured prominently in the thousands of bas-relief carvings that blanket the walls of the stone temples, no two alike. 


The performance of Apsara Dance has been passed down through generations since the days of the great Khmer Empire and are regularly presented today. The dancers, adorned in spectacularly ornate costumes, perform in a graceful ballet-like style but moving very slowly with great precision and care.


These girls were preparing for a performance in one of the temples and had set up a small dressing area where they could prepare their makeup and hair. When I saw them, they looked like figures in a renaissance painting.


 

To read more about John McDermott and his work, visit Asiaphotos.net and jmcdphoto.com.


 


Presenting a wide range of poetry with a mission to promote a love and understanding of poetry for all. We welcome submissions for compelling poetry and look forward to publishing and supporting your creative endeavors. Submissions may also be considered for the Pushcart Prize. Please review our Guidelines before submitting!


Submission Guidelines (Not Contest)

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