Hot Frog Action

Ekphrastic after Grimm’s Fairy Tales: The Frog King, John Baldessari


Nobody sees the frog under their feet
as he pops the valve of an inflatable pool
toy. One shaped as a palomino, naturally.
This is how knights fought in medieval times,
you know.


The frog considers where to deploy
a submergible mine. Why? Where?

Who to thwart? 

The frog licks his eyes.


As is royal custom, the frog keeps
a desert terrarium as an oubliette
for his political prisoners. Sagely,
mice can run down the ladder,
but they can’t climb back up.

Of course, there’s no water.
It’s a desert terrarium.

But oubliette misnames it –
it’s more of Saturday night show.


Father of the bride to be,
father of the spots on a ladybug.

It must be irritating to look down
to see that your executioner 
is a common pond frog.




The frog requires his ministers and generals
to watch him swim in a bowl. This is strategic
planning at its finest. Decisions of utmost
gravitas must be made underwater.


Either the kiss worked its spell too well,
or the princess wasn’t much of a princess
to begin with. The frog skipped his
princeling stage and went straight
to the crown, much to his new queen’s
dismay after several drinks.


The queen sleeps one off again.

The staff say this happens with disquieting
frequency, lately, but at least it keeps
the palace doctors busy.


The story skips ahead a few years, I think,
as we see one of the frog’s daughters
finding what’s left of him on a sidewalk
after the coup.

A kindly guard tries to comfort her,
but since he’s a seal, the barking
flipper clapping just makes everything
that much worse.


Reprisals in rope. I assume whips
are involved, possibly chains.


Still life of what didn’t happen 
after the princess-kissing, with elephant;
see above.


We’ll suppose the man in the goggles
was the target of that mine, after all,
which would explain the plane.

Was it wise to set a mine trap
for a man with a plane?

The frog was a frog. He couldn’t
grasp the concept of flight.

Matthew Bullen

3 Questions for Matthew

What was your process for creating this work?

The idea for the piece came from a writing challenge for my journal, Red Ogre Review. We posted several art pieces from a variety of genres in a call for submissions and asked for ekphrastic writing based on them. One of the pieces was John Baldessari’s collage, “The Frog King.”

While reviewing submissions, I quickly noticed that our writers selected essentially any other piece but the Baldessari collage. The preference against the piece was striking. The few who selected it seemed to struggle with writing from it as well.

That piqued my interest, so I decided to try the challenge myself.

Link to the collage:

What is the significance of the form/genre you chose for this work?

The twelve sections or stanzas of the piece map to the twelve frames of the collage, starting at the top left in standard left to right order. The tone of the writing is meant to suggest a bored and/or poorly-trained museum docent attempting (and failing) to explain each frame to an equally baffled tour group.

What is the significance of this work to you?

John Baldessari is one of my favorite contemporary artists. I’d like to think this piece reflects something of his famous statement, “I will not make any more boring art.”

Matthew Bullen is a recent graduate of Lancaster University’s Creative Writing Masters program (England) and the founder and head editor of Red Ogre Review, an online journal of contemporary poetry and occasionally visual art. Matt has poetry published or forthcoming with Arsenic Lobster, glassworks, Surreality Press, and tinyfrights, creative nonfiction with National Geographic, and street photography with Punk Monk Magazine. He lives in Santa Monica, California where, aside from writing and photography, he works for a well-known movie and television studio.

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