Saturday, June 20, 2020

Prompt #355 – Painting to Poem

 1. Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich

2. The Sun by Edvard Munch

3. Mountain Landscape with Bridge by Thomas Gainsborough

These days, with the pandemic still present and a threat throughout the world, with so many related worries and concerns, and with all the other issues that affect our daily lives, it can be good to step outside of our "personal spaces" and enter the art world. I’ve selected three paintings (above) that I hope you’ll find inspirational. I worked with these paintings myself in my most recent book. 

Our goal for this prompt is to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of the paintings above. If none of these painting works for you, feel free to choose any other.

Importantly, Ekphrastic poetry is more than mere textual description or verbal interpretation of visual art. Making an object (painting or other work of art) lively before the reader’s eye involves, in the best Ekphrastic poems, an emotional and perhaps even spiritual response to the work of art— achieved through written language.


1. Look at the paintings and choose one that especially appeals to you.

2. Notice details within the painting you’ve chosen.

3. Then, jot down 10 or 12 things that in the painting that capture your attention (and, hopefully, your imagination).

4. Think about how your items relate to one another, how they work together to form a unified whole.

5. Jot down some notes about what you “see”—this will become your “sensory pool.”

6. Free write for a while and begin thinking in terms of a poem.

7. Then, begin writing a poem that’s based on, about, or that includes some of the items you noted. Look for connections among those "things" and yourself. How and why do they "speak" to you? What story might they tell?

8. Let your painting become the “emotion,” the “landscape,” or the topic of your poem. Write in the present tense—here and now. Let your ten-twelve items direct the content of your poem. Describe them, define them, contextualize them, analyze them, repurpose them, recreate them. Let your poem take you where it wants to go.


1. You can approach your ekphrastic poem in several ways and, as the poet, it's your choice. You may write about your experience viewing the art, about an experience the artwork draws from your memory or a monologue or story you imagine coming from a voice inside the painting. The choice is up to you, and what notes you jotted in your sensory pool will help you pick.

2. Pay close attention to sight, suggested sound, color, light, feeling, movement and other aspects of the painting you chose. Try to disregard your analytical mind or any historical knowledge, and instead experience the artwork through your senses. A poet doesn't need to "know" facts about a piece of art. Instead, the poet experiences the artwork: memories, sensations of smell or touch, impressions of the images you see inside the art. These will help to inform your poem once you've decided on your approach.

3. You may want to create a dialog in which you journey in “conversation” between the painting and your text.

4. Be sure to acknowledge the artwork somewhere in your poem (I like to do this at the beginning of the poem, just under the title).

5.  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, an emotion).

6. Work with strong images and, if you tell a story in a narrative poem, be sure not to overtell.

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

8. 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 painting.

9. Look at the “movement” of the painting 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.

10. Most importantly, let the painting you chose inspire you.


All Examples are from Wind Over Stones, Welcome Rain Publishers, LLC, 
Copyright © 2019 by Adele Kenny. All rights reserved.

This Almost Night

(After Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich)

It’s the way trees darken before the sky … this almost night … another side of time and new. We think in pauses and, in those pauses, everything (it seems) stands still.

The moon, rising, reorders the sky, drifts and slips through clouds—sliver of moon, its nimbus pale, like a word almost spoken.

A night bird lifts its shadow away from the world, a world flown white with the ghosts of our passing (thoughts vaguely remembered)—the sky dimmed to November gray, and us moonstruck—what we thought we knew, fistfuls of winter we didn’t see coming, this sack of rocks slung over memory’s shoulder.

This Particular Light

(After The Sun by Edvard Munch)

Weavers of the same place—beyond the body’s dark containment, we entered the forest by our own choosing. Above us, galaxies pitched and sieved through air—another degree of second thought. Having used up all the words we knew for loneliness (and not sure what we found or what to call it), we considered options (as if happiness might be a choice). Finally, we returned to the larks’ twill, the blue jays’ liquid clicks—this life that is not about what things are but what they mean (all gift, and so much more than blood in the heart).

Do you remember the fox at twilight, the edge of the woods like a mirror in rain? Face it, there’s only (ever) one whole note—the minor third, the perfect fifth—gratefully, we turn from the dark’s protective depth into the brimmed burning of this particular light.

Once, Late in the Day:
                       East Canada Creek, Stratford, NY

(After Mountain Landscape with Bridge by Thomas Gainsborough)

I’ve come to see the sun flick over stones in moments of gentle flashing, to think how fast a memory becomes its own illusion. I’m here because what we call the soul—that almost visual echo—is always close to holiness.

A birch on the shoreline shapes itself to the breeze; aspens tremble as if this moment were all there is between one beauty and another, between mystery and revelation. Here, there is no revision, no opposite for recollection.

Once, late in the day, my father and I fished beneath this bridge. I was seven or eight, and small trout shone underwater, quietly golden. On the only road home, we were part of the shadows’ perfection (trees and what was left of the sky). As we walked between hills (close in the last light), my pail of water filled with stars, and the sun came down, fallen from a larger light that, far too soon, my father walked into and was gone.

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