More Than Meets the Eye

The perfect opportunity in the most imperfect moment.

Eighteen participants from OLLI-USF and OLLI at Northwestern recently completed a five-week blended learning course, More Than Meets the Eye: Our Perspectives in Art. “Blended learning” combined two face-to-face sessions (the first one in two classrooms and the final one on Zoom) and three sessions where participants worked through online material in collaboration with a member at the partner university. Halfway through the course, both OLLIs had to cancel their planned Spring programs due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This course continued. One participant described the course as “a beautiful distraction.”

Some background: The National Resource Center (NRC) for Osher Institutes invited OLLI-USF and OLLI at Northwestern to develop and present this first-of-its-kind blended learning, joint course. Participants in the course investigated different ways to look at art, including art made in response to art. They discussed their learning experiences using technology and an online learning management system called Canvas. For the duration of the course, the two OLLI groups became one community.

The course included an exploration of Ekphrastic poetry: poems written in response to works of art. Each participant completed the course by writing a poem. We are publishing several of these poems in OLLI Connects in celebration of the course and National Poetry month.  We plan to repeat the course during our Fall 2020 semester.

My first ekphrastic poem and my first online course, and at this stage of my life firsts are hard to come by. Thank you.”

Vermeer_Woman writing a letter
Woman Writing a Letter with Her Maid – Jan Vermeer

Woman Writing a Letter with Her Maid

You left abruptly leaving me
With only your last words
You left more than an empty chair
You left the sadness of silence

Your words are still with me
In this space also so empty
Only the light fills my space
Trying to push away my own emptiness

Light falls on this page encouraging me
To share my thoughts and heart
To tell you the chair remains empty
But invites your return

Then on an even brighter day
As I will again say,
“Yes, I heard you and then ask
Will you also hear me?”

My maid waits at the window
Guarding against the end of day
Ready to carry my wish for your return
When we can again share what we love

Mary Jon Girard (OLLI at Northwestern)


The Maid

Gazing out the window
Wondering where her lover is right now
Is he in the garden?
Or perhaps bathing?

Imaging what tonight will bring
He’ll embrace her
Then take off, one by one,
All those heaving garments

–Anne Strozier (OLLI-USF)


The Girl in the Red Hat – Jan Vermeer

The Girl in the Red Hat

The small, beady eyes under the
oversized red feathered hat
resist being probed too deeply.

I am one of a kind, she says, an original.
My pink, rounded, child-like cheeks
display shadowy clouds ready to burst.

My small nose points to deceptive lips.
Inviting, sensuous, rose-colored, parted,
revealing a bit of tongue, a hint of teeth.

My luminous neck scarf, pearl earrings,
and silky, deep blue enfolding coat
are meant to entice, to cuckold, to fool.

You believe you’ve entered my essence,
That you know the secrets of my hat,
its size, its multitudinous explosive reds.

Look once more and once more and once more.

–Lydia Lombardo (OLLI-USF)


Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window – Jan Vermeer

The Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window

Steady light floods interior,
We chose stillness… simplicity.
Girl, pinhole and vanishing lines,
Intimate, unguarded moment,
The objects seem to defend her.
Does the letter bring her good news?
Does a black cloud hang over her?
We’re spying; I dread her answer.
Colors dazzle: red, green, yellow
Uniquely, window’s golden light.
Quiet  beauty, light and shadow
“More, than meets the searching eye”.

–Judy K Patterson (OLLI-USF)


Woman Holding a Balance – Jan Vermeer


A remote cool beauty,
Vermeer got that right.
But is it really you?
Serene, secure.
I see a gilded bird in a cage of shadows.
Rich but weary,
Unease hidden in sleepy eyes,
A mirror with no reflection.
Enveloped in heavy fabrics of rich blue and gold,
Your delicate white hand holds an empty balance.
Before you, pearls and gold coins.
Behind you, the sufferings of the damned.
Contentment or surrender?
Love or money?
Is there really a choice?
Your balance couldn’t hold a feather.

–Kathy Winarski (OLLI-USF)



The sun shifts as she
In white fur
Is so careful.

Iridescent silk
Pearls from the depths
Gold conveyed
Compel her touch.

Tedious the task
With weight of days
— Ponderous —
She calculates.

How to weigh a life
Its grace, its fears
She will decide.

–Mary Jo Huck (OLLI at Northwestern)

We’ll give you more Ekphrastic poetry in our Thursday issue.  Meanwhile, remember that we have a new OLLI-USF SIG.–Editor

New OLLI SIG  OLLI-USF welcomes you to our new online poetry-writing community: Write Time for Poets. Twice a month, join us in our videoconferencing room – your creative space to work on your poems-in-progress and/or practice timed writing in response to prompts. We meet for 90 minutes on the 2nd and 4th Thursday each month from 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. starting May 14.

Contact Cath Mason for details.

Mary Jon GirardMary Jon Girard

(OLLI at Northwestern)



Anne Strozier 01Anne Strozier




Lydia LombardoLydia Lombardo




Judy K Patterson cropJudy K. Patterson




Kathy Winarski cropKathy Winarski




Huck, Mary JoMary Jo Huck

(OLLI at Northwestern)




8 Replies to “More Than Meets the Eye”

  1. When you see this class offered – just sign up! Don’t hesitate. It was such an delight and I learned so much. Thank you Cath for taking me to places I didn’t realized I could go.

  2. Lovely tribute to both the artwork that inspired these poems and the writers that shared their ekphrastic poetry! I miss our class and just loved our assignments. Thanks so much Cath!

  3. Lovely poems! – and such a creative way in which to view both art and poetry. I hope that this course is offered again.

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