Saturday, January 3, 2015

Prompt #211 – Still Life Fast Moving & Happy New Year

Happy New Year!
It's great to be back blogging again!

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday season,
and I hope that 2015 brings you good health,
happiness and peace,
and, of course, the joys of poetry written and shared!

We’ve worked with ekphrasis before, and it’s always a great way to jump start the creative process. I thought we might begin this New Year with a prompt that takes its inspiration from a Salvador Dalí painting. (If you click on the picture, you'll get a larger image to work with.)

I recently used this prompt with one of my workshop groups, and the responses were amazing: five group members and five dramatically different poems.

By way of background on the artist, Salvador Dalí (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989) was born in Figueres, Spain in 1904. He is known for his technical skill as well as for his incredible imagination. Dalí was the only surviving male child of a wealthy Catalan family. After attending a leading art academy in Madrid, he became involved in the Surrealist movement (Paris, 1929), and soon became its most unmistakable and notorious member. Also in 1929, he met Gala Eluard when she visited him with her husband, poet Paul Eluard. Gala ultimately became Dalí’s wife, his muse, his principal model, and his life-long obsession.

By 1939, Dalí broke away from with the Surrealist movement. He and Gala left Europe in 1940 and spent the war years in the United States where his artistic philosophy changed as he rejected Modernism and embraced other traditions. They returned to Spain in 1947, but continued to spend time in both Spain and in the U.S. In 1974, Dalí established the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres to house his own art. After Gala died in 1982, Dalí’s own health declined, and he spent his final years in seclusion at home. Although considered outré by some, his work is arguably the most unique of the 20th century.


  • Look above at the picture of the painting Sill Life – Fast Moving by Salvador Dalí.
  • Study the various images and get a sense of “what’s going on” in the painting. Imagine the artist creating this painting.
  • How does the painting “speak” to you? To your life? To a specific experience that you’ve had?
  • Come up with a startling opening line (make the reader want to read more), and then write a poem based (even if only loosely) on this painting. Notice how Dalí controls his subjects and makes them float in mid-air—they tilt and tango and travel across the canvas in unexpected ways. Make your words do the same thing!
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, to “translate” the painting into written language, to suggest emotion. Flip into the unexpected, or, find a more “standard” way of telling your “story.” Dalí was a Surrealist; so don’t hesitate to give Surrealism a nod if you’d like to try that kind of poetry. Most importantly, let the artwork direct your thoughts—let your poem tell you where it wants to go. 
  • Avoid cliches, sentimentality, and preachiness (poetry that beats you over the head with a message or moral rarely, if ever, works).
  • Create an integrated whole of language, form, and meaning.
  • Show, don't tell. 
  • Move with momentum and a sense of trajectory. 
  • Connect, reveal, surprise.
  • Remember that your dismount shouldn't merely "sum up" the poem. Close with a punch.

Here's a poem written by Bob Rosenbloom from my writing workshop group in which the inspiration painting reminded him of another, and he merged two Dalí paintings in this "encounter with the artist."

                  By Bob Rosenbloom

After The Persistence of Memory and Still Life-Fast Moving by Salvador Dali
It is what it is, Dali said— 
generations trapped
in tar pits of parent-guilt.
Travel light, he says.
He led me into his efficiency apartment. 
What is persistent memory, he asked?
It chases its tail. Its fragrant.
It smells like bacon grease.
Character is key, he pontificates,
great art, basic. 
The fundamental rules apply.
Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think.
Make someone happy.
You're nobody until somebody loves you.
I felt like a tourist in the art world, 
a Sunday driver, thanks to Sal.
Come for breakfast on the weekend, he said.
He mixed me up with someone from Manhattan,
The Village, probably.
I'm Brooklyn born, Jersey now.
His "clocks" had melted, slid down
the walls and came to relax on furniture.
Soft wax coated the sofa and credenza.
Mounds of it clogged the kitchen sink.
Time disappears like electron traces
in cloud chambers, memory clings
like sweaters charged with enough
static electricity to light up New York.
I told him what I thought to be 
universal truth, that
God wound up a big spring
clock and walked away.  
Time has been nothing but trouble
ever since.

And here's another by Nancy Lubarsky that takes a completely different direction:

     By Nancy Lubarsky

—After  Still Life – Fast Moving by Salvador Dali

The mess – It begins innocently with
yesterday’s clothes, this morning’s
breakfast dishes, today’s mail. Over time
it spreads to floors, cabinets, drawers,
and hard-to-reach shelves.

The mess – We argue, blame each other:
Aren’t those YOUR jeans?
I thought YOU put the mugs in the sink.
These coupons – do you REALLY need them?
But it’s too late.

The mess – It grows and expands
to every surface, every corner. It’s why we
can’t shut the closet door, or pull it open.
It’s the excuse not to invite friends over,
or the reason we lug piles to the attic.

The mess – We clean it up, the next day
it’s back.  It swells through doorways
and out to the porch, the yard –
it’s our own Blob without
Steve McQueen to rescue us.

The mess – It’s become family.
We squeeze between it while
watching TV, excuse ourselves
when we trip over it.
It even has its own room.

The mess – Someday we’ll retire to a
seaside cottage with tables that can tilt
toward the water. Or, better yet, when
laundry, dishes, or paper piles feel an
ocean breeze – they will rise up,
and take leave.

And ... a murder scene by Basil Rouskas:

     By Basil Rouskas      

After Sill Life – Fast Moving By Salvador Dalí

Make no mistake,
this is a murder scene!
Don’t look at half-full
wine glasses, empty bottle’s
levitation over tables, or
orange rhombuses
on the butcher table.
Forget dried coral reefs,
and artsy-stem bowls;
they are all here to distract.

Don’t be fooled by brown leaves
or a pear’s mock grind against
the sharpened knife.
Who cleaned the blood from it?
Why would you settle peeling a pear
when you’ve just drained a queen’s blood?
And, where is the second glass?

The murderer wants to confuse —
Check out the aimless
swallow’s flight
and shadowy patterns’
nitty gritty obsession
with the tablecloth’s wrinkles.

Most of all, look at
the invisible man’s hand
on the left — he sits where
the sun sits; his seashell
doesn’t miss an ocean sound.
Is he The One?
Where did the lovers go?
No blood stains?
Where are the bodies?
Are these cherries on the table,
or her lover’s eyes?
And, where is the second glass?

And, adding on January 4th, still another "take" from the poetry workshop group:

     By Wendy Rosenberg
—After Still Life–Fast Moving by Salvatore Dali

They met on the beach—
leaves in her hair,
sand stuck to cheeks.

He saw her through teenage
eyes, asked for a date—
dinner, his place.

She arrived before sunset,
watched his table float, and
the olives dangle midair.

An apple hit from behind
glared at her through its
pale, bruised skin.

She mistook a broccoli head
for flowers, sniffed it, thought,
How sweet.

Her parents, in a parked car,
didn’t see the water turn to
ribbon, or hear the neighbor’s,

No one’s home! They didn’t see
their daughter jump the gate,
pummel the table,

slice the pear, sip the Scotch,
or salt her ego. The gull
refused her invitation—

suggested instead she sit
in a bowl, chat with the shadows,
and move on.


  1. Welcome back! I've missed the weekly prompts and love the inspiration painting for this one -- very evocative.

    Here's wishing you, Adele, and all the blog readers a healthy and happy New Year.

    1. Thanks, Jamie! It's great to be back. Hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that the New Year brings you good health and much happiness!

  2. Welcome back Adele! Missed the blog...

    The information on Ekphrastic poetry is terrific and Bob Rosenbloom's poem shows the power of the ekphrastic poetry to integrate/relate diverse visual images.

    I hope the readers will also click on the "Additional Information Click here" link
    ( I did and learned quite a bit about the genre. Thank you Adele.

    1. Thanks so much, Basil! Your inputs are always much appreciated here on the blog!

      I'm glad to know that you found the info interesting.

  3. Hey, Adele! I missed the weekly prompts and am so glad you're back. This is a great one, and the example poems show how diverse the inspiration can be. Please thank the members of your group for sharing their poems with us.

    1. Hi, Sandy! Thanks so much for your comment. I'm happy to know that you're enjoying this prompt and the example poems. I'll be sure to let the workshop group members know.

  4. I love every one of these poems. Bob, I loved the last lines. Trouble indeed. And Nancy, did your mess hire a car service and make its way over here? Basil, I think this is a case for Law and Order. Ekphrasis: what fun!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments to the group members, Gail! They're all gifted poets who work very hard!

  5. Awesome example poems! What a ride! It's amazing and wonderful to see three different responses to the same painting. Thanks so much Adele, Bob Rosenberg, Nancy Lubarsky, and Basil Rouskas (Basil, I remember you from the April Poetry Month prompts, and it's great to read you here again.)

    1. Just saw the addition of a poem by Wendy Rosenberg among the examples -- again, a completely different "view" of the inspiration painting. Fantastic examples of where one can go with ekphrasis. Thanks, Wendy!

    2. Thanks, Rich! I'm glad to know that you like the prompt. Will you be able to use this one with your classes?

      Yes, Wendy sent her poem over this morning, and I added it right away.

      Those different "views" are what makes ekphrastic poetry so much fun. The sky is the limit!

  6. Happy New Year greetings to you, Adele! I'm so happy to see that you're posting prompts again. I missed them but hope you had an enjoyable break during the Christmas season.

    The Surrealist painting by Dali is very evocative and the example poems you provided show how amazingly well such inspiration can work. Please convey my congratulations to your workshop poets on their wonderful poems.

    Happy New Year from Mumbai!

    1. Thank you Amita, and happy New Year to you too!

      So glad you enjoyed the prompt and the example poems.

  7. Máire Ó Cathail (Ireland)January 7, 2015 at 9:51 AM

    Fantastic example poems! All so different. I love the play on words in Wendy Rosenberg's title, and the amazing imagery in each poem.

    Nice work Bob R., Nancy L., Basil R., and Wendy R. Thank you for sharing these with us.

    New Year greetings to all from Ireland!

    1. Happy New Year, Maire, and thanks so much for your comment. The workshop poets are all great writers—I'm sure they'll be happy to know that you like their work.