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When our Muse has withdrawn the helping hand and is seemingly reclining somewhere in the Greek Isles, we turn to others for inspiration. Sometimes it is published poets whose words act as starting pistol. Other times it’s random words re-worked, as in Magnet Poetry. Quite often it is the visual – a photo, or any illustration or art work. Thus the ekphrastic poem is born:

“The practice of using words to comment on a piece of visual art is an ancient one. One of the earliest and most commonly cited forms of ekphrasis occurs in The Iliad, when Homer provides a long and discursive account of the elaborate scenes embossed on the shield of Achilles… the term ekphrasis derives from Greek, where it literally means “description” and was formed by combining the prefix ex- (“out”) with the verb “phrazein” (“to point out or explain”)”. (Merriam Webster)

And turning to the famous poets, we find a wealth of famous art-inspired poems. Here is X. J. Kennedy’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”, after Duchamp

“Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh, 
A gold of lemon, root and rind, 
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs 
With nothing on. Nor on her mind. 

We spy beneath the banister 
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh– 
Her lips imprint the swinging air 
That parts to let her parts go by. 

One-woman waterfall, she wears 
Her slow descent like a long cape 
And pausing, on the final stair 
Collects her motions into shape.”

And from de Chirico’s painting, Sylvia Plath makes “The Disquieting Muses” her very own visceral childhood: –

Mother, mother, what ill-bred aunt  
Or what disfigured and unsightly  
Cousin did you so unwisely keep  
Unasked to my christening, that she  
Sent these ladies in her stead  
With heads like darning-eggs to nod  
And nod and nod at foot and head  
And at the left side of my crib?

Taking that legendary work of van Gogh, Anne Sexton gives us an emotive and mobile vision of “The starry night

“…It moves. They are all alive. 
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons 
to push children, like a god, from its eye. 
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars. 
Oh starry starry night! This is how 
I want to die:

Into that rushing beast of the night, 
sucked up by that great dragon, to split 
from my life with no flag,
no belly, 
no cry.”

What struck me about these poems is how the poets managed to liberate themselves from the paintings’ visual reality so that instead of mere description, depiction and duplication, they engage, and interpret, and thus the paintings become their personal works of art. (I have linked each to the original artwork so we can see just how unique the poem is in relation to the painting).

  1. For this Poetics prompt however we begin not with the visuals but with some titles of modern and contemporary abstract art
  • A Painter Without a Brush’ (Gerhard Richter)
  • Broadway Boogie Woogie (Piet Mondrian))
  • Convergence (Jackson Pollock)
  • Movement in Squares (Bridget Riley)
  • Small Flies and Other Wings (Christine Ay Tjoe,)

Choose ONE title ONLY and write a painterly poem – in other words, paint us a picture that you imagine fits the title.
Suggestions: Write as artist or observer of an abstract, surrealism or realism. Include texture and colour & engage with the visuals in mood.


3 .  OPTIONAL: For those of you who like an extra challenge, then only after you have completed Part 1 look up the artwork link of your title  choice and write a second part to your poem as ekphrastic.

NOTE: Name your poem according to the title you chose – and also cite the reference in your post

Once you have published your poem, add it to the Linky widget and leave a comment (see below). Then go visiting, reading and sharing your thoughts with other contributors which is half the fun of our dVerse gatherings.