Saturday, August 21, 2010

Poetry Prompt #19 – Color Your Poems

The use of color in poetry has a long history: among other early poets, Virgil used over 500 color words in The Aeneid, and Shakespeare often used both colors and the word color to heighten linguistic drama. 

Personal and cultural associations affect our experiences of color and, while perceptions of color are essentially subjective, there are color effects that have general meanings. For example, colors in the red section of the color spectrum are considered warm and include red, orange and yellow. Warm colors evoke emotions ranging from love, sincerity, and comfort to anger and hostility. Colors on the blue side of the spectrum are called cool colors and include blue, purple and green. Cool colors are often described as calm, but they are also related to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and indifference.

While “color poem” prompts are often used in classrooms with young students, color can enhance mature poetry as well (with the caveat not to overdo). Before writing, take a look at some examples of poetry in which colors are used. Notice how effective judicious use of color can be – only one or two color references can add much to a poem (less can be more). Consider the following examples:

For your color poem:

Begin by taking a “color inventory” of your life. What colors do you like to live with? If you had to live with a single color what would it be? What is your favorite color? What colors do you associate with the best or worst times of your life? What colors do you associate with people, places, experiences? Following are ten possibilities for color poems:

1. Write a poem about a color without naming the color and without using one of its synonyms (for example, don’t use “crimson” in place of “red” or “azure” in place of “blue”).

2. What color is your life? Write a poem about your life’s color(s). 

3. Write about an experience using colors to set the “tone.”

4. Compare a relationship to a color.

5. Compare a person to a color. 

6. Compare your job (or creative work) to a color.

7. What is your life’s “rainbow?” 

8. Write a poem about a place (scene, landscape) and use colors to highlight descriptions and details.

9. Think about implied colors as in Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” Wordsworth only mentions “golden” once, but the sense of “yellow” is strongly present throughout the poem. Try this in a poem of your own. Click Here to Read Wordsworth's Poem.

10. As an alternative to color, write a poem about something colorless. 


  1. This reminds me of your poem "Of Feathers, Of Flight." You have an image near the end, after the children set the baby bird free, in which the sky spreads it's blue wing over the children, the tree, and Mrs. Levine. It's an image made more memorable because of a single color word, which supports your suggestion that less can be more when using color in poems.

  2. Revisiting Greekscapes

    Images of dry summers
    and suns explode from
    gold, blue, and lavender circles.
    Aegean waves wash sand and

    pine needles, work the craggy
    rocks into submission, one
    millennium at a time.
    Images of white chapels

    perched on weathered cliffs,
    old fishermen sailing home,
    and silver olive groves –
    golden taste, golden sun –

    seascapes framed by
    wind-bent pines, the barren
    cliffs covered with thyme,
    covered in memories.

    Copyright © 2010 by Basil Rouskas. All Rights Reserved.
    From Redrawing Borders
    Forthcoming October 2010 from Finishing Line Press
    Pre-Publication Orders at:

  3. Bob,

    Thanks so much for your comment and for recalling "Of Feathers, of Flight!"

  4. Basil,

    Thanks for posting your wonderful poem. The gold, blue, and lavender set a tone for the descriptive loveliness of this poem in which you remember your homeland. These colors, along with the white chapel and silver olive groves, and the golden taste enhance details that provide a feast for the senses.

  5. My Grandmother’s Eyes

    Red mountains curve around me.
    Bits of rock stick to my soles. I sit
    on a stone slab, greet the silence with
    deep breaths, then thank my eyes.

    A ten-year old plops herself beside
    me. I grin to be polite, scan the space
    behind her, wait for a mother’s call.
    The girl inches closer, opens her hand,

    shows me a piece of glass. It’s beautiful,
    I say, the color of my grandmother’s eyes.
    I inhale the moment, recall how grandma
    loved to show me off to the ladies under

    a willow on North Grove Street. She’d
    smother me with kisses, introduce me to
    her cronies, ask if I were hungry or wanted
    a drink. It was easy to make her proud.

    A pony tail brushes against my cheek. Keep
    it, she says in her little girl voice. It’ll
    help you remember. I clutch the glass, drop
    it into my pocket, and thank myself.

    Copyright © 2010 by Wendy Rosenberg. All Rights Reserved.

  6. Thanks, Wendy, for posting your lovely poem! I love the way you begin with those red mountains and then let other colors in the poem define themselves (the glass, your grandmother's eyes); throughout the poem there's a subtle sense of unnamed color in your imagery.

  7. This prompt, and the great poems readers have shared, remind me of a poem I've always admired – "The Métier of Blossoming" by Denise Levertov. In this poem Levertov's use of color in the first stanza is brilliant in the way it enhances such an amazing observation. You can read the poem at:

  8. Oh, Bob, yes, I know that poem, and you're spot on!