Do you ever see a painting or photograph that speaks to you? An entire story that unfolds in your mind and begs you to write it?
Odds are you haven’t heard of ekphrasis poetry—not the technical name, anyway. Most of us don’t even know what the word ekphrasis means, but it’s likely you’ve read or written some ekphrastic poems in your life. Ekphrasis poetry is the vivid description of a scene or work of art. It’s not only description though. You often amplify and interpret the meaning of the artwork so much that a brand new world is created for the subject.
John Keats did it with “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which he created a life of dancing and music for a couple frozen in time on an urn. W.H. Auden’s “The Shield of Achilles” is ekphrastic as well. He reimagined the events of Homer’s description of the shield in The Iliad. Countless others feel an overwhelming sense of inspiration to speak for and through works of art.
Writing an ekphrastic poem can be an easy start. Sometimes, it’s as simple as feeling inspired from any piece of art and putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). If you want to write your own ekphrastic poems, here are some prompts to help inspire you:
- Visit an art gallery or museum. Check out different exhibits and write about a specific work that catches your attention.
- Do you follow your favorite artist on social media? Write a poem inspired by one of their Instagram photos.
- Imagine van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Kahlo—anyone!—have “lost works.” Write a poem about what you think their unseen paintings would look like. There could be a story there!
- Pick a painting or photograph special to you and write different poems about it. Create a different scenario each time—the possibilities are endless.
Ekphrasis poetry is all about being inspired by other forms of art. Writing ekphrastic poems can help us elicit inspiration, overcome writer’s block, and simply have fun while writing. We don’t all have to write an ode to an urn like Keats did, but we should have just as much fun challenging our writing and creative processes. So, go on! Find a picture on Instagram and write about it. Write about a very Starry Night. Just write!