Saturday, August 23, 2014

Prompt #197 – Ekphrasis Revisited

Every so often, I like to work with ekphrasis (using other art forms as inspiration for poems)—we’ve done it before on the blog, and I thought it might be a nice time of year to relax and revisit the process of writing ekphrastic poems. So, fix yourself a tall glass of lemonade, choose an artwork that “speaks” to you, gather your writing materials and a picture of the artwork, and find a comfortable place indoors or outdoors where you enjoy writing.  

If you’re not familiar with ekphrastic poetry or need a quick refresher,  click here.


1. Simply choose a work of art (painting, sculpture, musical composition, photograph, etc.) and write a poem based on it.

2. Be sure to include a reference to the artwork somewhere in your poem (at the beginning, within the text, or at the end).


1. Don’t just describe the artwork you’ve chosen; let the artwork be your guide and see where it leads you.  Relate the artwork to something else (a memory, a person, an experience, a place).

2. Speak directly to the artwork; that is, address the subject (or subjects) of the art. 

3. Write from the perspective of the artwork, or adopt the persona of the artwork itself (i.e., write as if you were the Mona Lisa).

4. Write in the voice of the artist who created the artwork.

5. Work with strong images and, if you tell a story, be sure not to overtell it.

6. Think about including some caesuras (pauses) for emphasis, and leave some things unsaid—give your readers space to fill in some blanks.

7. Pose an unanswered question or go for an element of surprise. Let your poem take an interesting or unexpected turn based on something triggered by the artwork.

8. Look at the “movement” of the artwork you’ve chosen and try to represent that movement in your line and stanza breaks. For example, if a painting “moves” across the canvas, find a way to suggest similar movement in the way you indent and create line breaks.


"The Shield of Achilles" by W. H. Auden
"The Painting" by Jon Balaban

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats
"Photograph of People Dancing in France" by Leslie Adrienne Miller 
"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams

By way of sharing, 
the jacket cover illustration 
on my book What Matters was based 
on the painting Beata Beatrix 
by Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter 
Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Here’s the poem the painting inspired:

In Memory Of

(After Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix)

No movement but this: subdued luminosity, sunlight
from the distant city. River. Bridge. There is always
a background (that far, this close), and what memory
does – like the dusky lines of a double shadow,
it multiplies loss.

In Rossetti’s Beata, a sundial casts its metal wing
on the thin, blown hour when leaving begins.
Red dove, white poppy: the woman, transfixed,
slips – diffused like light through darkened glass –
her hands open and soft.

I am here and you aren’t. It is summer –
the sky is clapper and bell, the lemonade sweet.
I can almost hear you singing. In that voice
without margin, the notes I remember most
are high and low.


  1. Ekphrasis is always enjoyable -- so interesting to see where an artwork can lead a poet. I think it's especially interesting when the inspiration artwork isn't a painting.

    Love your book cover and poem. Thanks for sharing them here -- made me go back to your book and read it again!

    1. Thanks, Jamie! I like ekphrastic poetry and enjoy seeing the relationships that develop among different arts media.

      Thanks for your kind words.

  2. I remember that poem from your book and, of course, the cover is stunning. It's nice to revisit this subject and to think about relationships among various works of art. I agree with jamie that it's especially interesting to read poems based on sculpture, photographs, music, etc. Thanks, Adele!

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Rich. So glad you enjoy revisiting ekphrastic poetry.

  3. Perfect time of year (in the Northern Hemisphere anyway) to sit under a shady tree, look at a picture of an artwork, and write a poem about it. Great idea. Thanks, Adele!