This week our guest prompter is the poet and poetry series host Karen Lee Ramos, shown above with her son (also a published poet), Daniel. Karen is the creator and host of POETRY at the BARN, a seasonal poetry reading series and writing program located in the historic Barn Gallery of New Jersey’s beautiful Ringwood State Park. Her poetry has appeared in various publications such as the Paterson Literary Review, Exit 13 Magazine, The Stillwater Review and the Paulinskill Poetry Project anthology Voices From Here 2. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and their two children.
POETRY at the BARN is sponsored by the nonprofit Ringwood Manor Arts Association. For more information please check out their website http://ringwoodmanorarts.org/ or contact Karen at email@example.com.
As the host of a poetry program that takes place in a local gallery, I am lucky to be surrounded by an ever-changing array of beautiful art. I took advantage of that inspiring atmosphere to create a fun, generative exercise by combining the essence of ekphrasis (from the Greek description) with the simple practice of word association.
According to Wikipedia, word association is the spontaneous and unreflective production of words in response to a given word. You say sky, I say blue...you get the idea. We can borrow that concept and react to a succession of images instead of given words. Your spontaneous responses will become the springboard for composing a poem. I call this process image association. Here is how it works:
· In a museum or gallery move from one piece of art to the next, writing down the first word or short phrase that comes to mind. Don’t censor yourself. The key is not overthinking. Unlike typical ekphrastic poetry, you don’t want to focus on a single work of art. Just keep moving.
· No access to a gallery or museum? You can use magazines, art books or websites ... any source that is image-centered. As you turn pages or scroll through photos, jot down whatever immediately occurs to you.
· This exercise can be done in many locations and with a variety of objects. Visit a big box store, suburban mall or flea market and come up with quick associations for each piece you notice. Try choosing items by color, shape or material. Experiment!
Once you have a list of words, look for connections, themes or repeating ideas. What happens if you rearrange the order you wrote them in? Do new meanings emerge? Perhaps some individual words stand out, evoke an emotion or represent something you can pursue? If nothing cohesive materializes at first, try writing a spontaneous line for each word, or pick out a few strong words and brainstorm with them. Play and see what happens.
Unlike traditional ekphrastic poetry, the resulting poem may have no connection with the visual images that originally provoked it. For instance, this poem evolved from a single word that had nothing to do with sketches of quaint winter landscapes:
by sharp consonants
with a soft hum
at the end
Karen Lee Ramos
Stillwater Review 2018
Image association is a simple technique that can be used again and again. It is an easy way to explore hidden corners of your imagination. I hope it inspires you!