2023 Ekphrastic Poetry Prize WINNER: “Still Life, Round” by Ryan Varadi

Please join us in congratulating the WINNER of Frontier Poetry‘s 2023 Ekphrastic Poetry Prize, Ryan Varadi. Dive into the vivid and evocative poem, selected by guest judge Steve Bellin-Oka, “Still Life, Round.” 

Here’s what Steve Bellin-Oka said about the poem: “Still Life, Round” does what the best ekphrastic poetry does–takes its source work of art as a jumping off point for an exploration of how art relates to the world and to human perception and experience. In deeply lyrical couplets, this poem offers new insights into the mysteries of birth, childlessness, and survivor’s guilt.

Still Life, Round 

Nature morte, it’s called in French. Still,
like a coma, the fruit sits between death and life.

Sibling, were you me, born sooner? Like Two Fridas your heart
is bound to mine. If only you had not been born still.

You and I are butterflies, blending into the colors of the leaves.
Climbing the mound, we tread over the bodies of prior life.

Flash frozen fruit staring with cyclopic eye and vegetative grin
as the bouquet of hands reach out to restrain me, hold me still.

The squash is a martyr. The squash is a saint. Witness the followers
feeding from the slit stomach, the dribblings of life.

Once, my love crowned me with flowers
and told me I’d be pretty if I’d just hold still.

In their unfruitful marriage, Rivera wasn’t faithful; neither was Kahlo.
Some mistake love for the promise not to part in life.

The frame is a locket with a frozen portrait. Or it is a coin, invaluable.
Or it is the steam of me traveling through the copper wires of a still.

Even when the artist holds the brush steady and still
a painting can be a thing that teems with life.

Frid, from Frida, means ‘peace,’ which is not the same as stillness.
Just as being alive is not the same as living.

Ryan Varadi

Ryan Varadi is a midwestern poet living in Chicago, where he writes on the train on the way to work his retail job. He holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he received the Bernice Kert Fellowship and taught undergraduate courses in creative writing. He received his BA in English from Northwestern University, where he won the Edwin L. Shuman Award for Poetry for two of his original poems. He has served as editorial staff for Ecotone and Chautauqua and as an intern for RHINO Poetry. He currently teaches online with The Porch. His work appears in Poetry Northwest, The Shore, and Collision Literary Magazine, among others. You can find sporadic updates on Instagram @ryanvaradi or ryanvaradi.com

Close Menu