Magical Beasts – NaPoWriMo 2017, day 24 – ekphrasis poem based on marginalia

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Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS


Magical Beasts – La Monde Reverse


Should you choose to convey many things,

all at the one time, give a creature, three heads:

a creature which is about to discard his blue

velvet pantsuit; a three-headed dragon and

his wacky companion marshaled to the marginalia

of a holy book. Monty Python genius sashays to mind.

Yes, he’s crazed by his options, his three faces displaying

three different emotions. (Definitely, scenes for John Cleese.)


How fierce can one be when you are a unicorn

emerging from an exceedingly curly snail tail?

This, even a bewildered Michael Palin, could not

achieve. Or was this abhorrent creature displaying

his anger, perhaps because he’s at the bottom of the page?

(Now that assuredly a Palin position.) Elsewhere,

in the marginalia, a surreal Graham Chapman. This team

queered our world and the full La Monde Reverse

of the medieval worlds was never beyond them. It’s

a cartoon world we can but guess at. It would take

a lifetime to unravel but let us look on.


A bespoke hare uses a man cum snail as his stead;

he carries a spear and a shield And balancing

on the vine a few feet in front of him, another

hare, a startled hare, startled because he carries

a monkey on his shoulder: a burden for any

startled hare. Did he not know the monkey was there?

Does he object because the monkey too has a spear

and a shield, about to take down the untroubled hare

from his vine balancing unbalanced snail?


Another vine sweeps over a forger and his forge,

a sweet cathedral to his humble labours. I imagine

he is used to his flimsy skirt, not fashioned to soak

up the sweat which trickles down his bare leg

dampening his pixie footwear while in the garden

his sister Nun plucks penises from the phallus tree.


I leave you with these two knights

swords drippings blood, each holding

their grotesque, blood drained heads,

in their hands. And the vine on which

they balance twitters profanely on and on;

in rich marginalia; strange playfulness

everywhere. If you’ve watched Monty

Python, this is where it came from.

Benita H. Kape © 24.4.2017

Blue pant suit

Blue Pantsuit

Magical beasts in the Rutland Psalter, c. 1260. (British Library Royal MS

. Today, I challenge you to write a poem of ekphrasis — that is, a poem inspired by a work of art. But I’d also like to challenge you to base your poem on a very particular kind of art – the marginalia of medieval manuscripts. Here you’ll find some characteristic images of rabbits hunting wolves, people sitting on nests of eggs, dogs studiously reading books, and birds wearing snail shells. What can I say? It must have gotten quite boring copying out manuscripts all day, so the monks made their own fun. Hopefully, the detritus of their daydreams will inspire you as well!