New to using prompts? Take a look at these notes on how to use writing prompts. Otherwise, jump right in!
GO GET SOME INSPIRATION –>
For this poetry prompt about about a painting, start by reading “Field With Wheat Stacks” by Barbara Crooker and give some thought to what you like/admire.
For me, it’s the way Crooker opens: by bringing us close to the artist. The intimacy, although it’s imagined, establishes a tone of tenderness right from the beginning, even as we swing from “foolishly in love” to “snicked by the scythe.” (Great assonance there, too!) I also really love how the poem travels across time. It moves from a memory to an understanding about what the future brings and then lands us in the present moment: “But right now, / it’s spring, and the wheat aligns / in orderly rows.”
And a list of what I admire in the poem wouldn’t be complete without a hat tip to the different words Crooker uses for the color green: “Yellow green. / Snap pea. Sage. Celadon.”
Now find a painting or other piece of art that speaks to you. You may already have one in mind. If not, here are some online sources:
- The Met Collection
- The National Gallery of Art
- The Virtual Online Museum of Art
- Ormond Art Museum’s Pandemic-Inspired Online Exhibit
- Oorja’s Unbound Online Exhibit
- 19 Immersive Museum Exhibits You Can Visit From Your Couch (PBS)
START WRITING –>
- Name something the artist may have loved (as Crooker does) or something they may have been inspired by.
- Jump back in time to some way you connect with the artist (object of attention/affection, an emotion that’s evoked, etc.). Blend images of this memory/feeling with the painting and use the artwork as a basis for metaphor.
- Return to the present moment by describing how you are experiencing the painting (i.e. what you’re noticing) right now. Tip: Use present tense.
Be sure to credit the artwork/artist in the epigraph of your poem.
IMPORTANT NOTE –>
Do not copy the poem that inspired this writing prompt. It’s a good idea when you harvest material from these exercises to either credit their inspiration (i.e. make a note at the top of your poem, like after Barbara Crooker’s “Field With Wheat Stacks”) or remove the scaffolding provided by the example and keep only the material you crafted. In other words: make it your own.
You may or may not know that this type of writing is called ekphrasis. Here’s a definition of ekphrasis from the OED:
You can approach ekphrasis any way you choose, but here are some personal rules and approaches I often consider when trying this type of poem:
- It’s easy enough to get started by listing visual details you see in painting (and don’t overlook it: it works!), but if you want to try something else, here are some of my favorite approaches to writing an ekphrastic poem:
- Stand alongside the artist, like Crooker does in the poem featured in this post. In other words, take a look at the work and the world from the artist’s POV.
- Embody something specific in the painting — not only people but objects, too.
- Jump into the scene and tell us what life is like in that dream/world.
- List items in the painting that have similarities, like colors, shapes, position, etc.
- Imagine the painting hanging/living in a place far from its current home gallery or exhibit.
- Consider what would happen if a key item in the painting were changed.
- Research the history of the painting and let some of those details shape the poem.
- Don’t limit your inspiration to paintings found in galleries. Try also street murals, children’s drawings, postcards, wallpaper patterns, photographs, etc.
- The amount of detail from the painting you bring into your poem (i.e. how much you rely on the painting vs. stray from it) is up to you, but make sure the poem can stand on its own, even if the reader is not familiar with the artwork that inspired it.
Let me know if you write in response to this poetry prompt about a painting or use my notes about ekphrasis to inspire a different approach. I’d love to read your work! I’m going to attempt to share at least two new poetry prompts with you each month in 2021. You can find past poetry prompts here, including writing prompts from prior years.
PLUS (added January 19, 2021) – I *just* discovered ekphrastic writing challenges from The Ekphrastic Review. Check out the prompts and send in your work!
Another ekphrastic/prompt technique I favor is to write a poem about an imaginary work of art, that way you are not bound to what another artist did.
interesting! though i have to confess that i don’t consider the source artwork as binding either way. just a launching pad. & in some regard, i like having some elements known ahead of time — works kind of like forms do for me. sometimes boundaries/containers force us to be more creative. i also think that having an actual piece of artwork helps create some texture because it occupies some shared space between the reader and poet — another launching pad, of sorts. but of course, this medium has no actual bounds. any/all rules — including no rules! — apply.