I like how Nobel Prize-winning poet Tomas Tranströmer talked about his poetry:
My poems are meeting places. Their intent is to make sudden connections between aspects of reality that conventional languages ordinarily keep apart. Large and small details of the landscape meet, divided cultures and people flow together in a work of art. Nature meets industry, etc. What looks at first like a confrontation turns out to be a connection. (Quoted by poet and Tranströmer translator Malena Mörling, here: https://uncw.edu/writers/faculty/morling.html)
When writing an ekphrastic poem, it’s never enough to simply describe a scene; one must inhabit it. And to inhabit a scene is to be there as a living being who is a creature in and of time, not removed from time, not observing from the cool distance of timelessness.
It’s true, however, that a picture is time stopped, a moment removed from all the other moments flowing before and, especially, after it. The way scientists remove a core sample from the earth in order to run tests in the lab, the painter or photographer has taken a core sample of time, the better to meditate on a particular moment. In so doing, one hope is that from the particular we may experience some larger truth.
An engaged viewer returns a picture to time’s animation. The poet who uses a work of art as a starting point is doing just this. And what it means is the picture is allowed to live, allowed all the gifts of time: action and transformation chief among them. Shadows lengthen. Icarus disappears into the sea without a trace, and the water’s surface is seamless again. The girl making lace feels a sudden rush of rebellion in her fingers.
A good poem generates energy, or better yet, is energy. What does this mean? That there’s action and contrast. Movement. Transformation. To better understand, ponder the opposite: stasis, inertia. Passivity and monotony.
To make an image or idea dynamic means to give it something to spark against, to put it into contact with something else. You could try banging a flint against empty space, but nothing will come of it. Take a poem you love and examine how the sparks are created. Do the images and ideas interact, bang into each other like excited atoms, or are they suspended in a sterile environment, cool and aloof?
I try to keep thinking about energy not only during the writing process but also (and perhaps especially) during revision. Having images and ideas already on paper to work with – to rearrange, expand upon, cut, simplify, complicate, connect – makes the job of activation easier.