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Weekly Prompt: Ekphrastic Poetry

2010 March 5

Torso of ApolloEdvard Munch’s “The ScreamGrecian Urn

In keeping with our theme for the month, The Page Transformed, this week we’ll be looking at the ekphrastic poem, or poetry written in conversation with a work(s) of visual art.  In its most traditional form, the ekphrastic poem is an elaborate, highly detailed description of a work of art: a painting, a statue, even a drawing or photograph.  In contemporary poetry, however, the ekphrastic mode has evolved to include a wide range of forms and responses to visual art.  The poet can respond to the artwork, challenge its claims, inhabit it in the lyrical mode, or even use it as a point of departure into a larger discussion or narrative.

Alternatively, ekphrasis can also be an invitation to reflect upon the moment of encounter between the poet and painting (for example), or the circumstances under which the work of art was created.  Some of the most successful poems of ekphrasis are contemplations on the materials from which specific visual masterpieces were created.  Others adopt a mode of “re-framing” the painting, and narrate a particular scene from the perspective of someone situated outside of the painting, or someone shadowed in the periphery of the image.

Virtually any of these forms of engagement (and many others, not listed here!) can afford the poet a powerful way to further explore the rich intersections between language and visual art.

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Prompt: write a poem that engages a work of art in one of the modes discussed above.  You can either begin with a selected work of visual art and let your poem unfold from there, or begin with a line (or image) of poetry and work “backwards,” searching for a work of art that captures the mood or sensibility you want to evoke.

However you choose to approach this, allow your creative process to be dialogic, to move in conversation between image and text, and to afford both the room to be works of art that can stand on their own.

For further reading and some wonderful examples of ekphrastic poems, take a look at the Academy of American Poets’ article “Ekphrasis: Poetry Confronting Art.”  Among the poems listed in the article are:

Stealing The Scream by Monica Youn

Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats

Good luck, and happy writing!  As always, please consider sharing any responses to this prompt with the Lantern Review community by posting here.

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