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Weekly Prompt: Writing the Family

2010 July 30

If you’ve been following the Lantern Review Blog for a while, you’re already familiar with the ekphrastic poem, that is, a poem written in response to a work of art.  This prompt is a variation on the idea of ekphrasis and, like this prompt from two weeks ago, gives you an opportunity to play with perspective (except with higher stakes).

Pick a photograph of a meaningful occasion in your family’s history. A wedding, for example, or a baby shower.  Maybe even a funeral; just choose an image that tells a story and features more than one member of your family.  Look carefully at the people in the photo and think about their personalities, voices, idiosyncrasies.  What family folklore comes to mind when you look at each individual?  Now think about who’s not in the photo.  Someone who passed away recently, or who has been deceased for decades.  Someone who missed the occasion because they had something else to attend to, or forgot to show up.

Now write from the point of view of the absent party. Proceed in whatever way feels most natural to the voice of the person whose absence you’ve identified — this may mean you’re working mostly with direct address, description, narrative, or a combination of modes.  You may find yourself experimenting with the voice of the dead, the voice of a divorced parent, or that of an uncle who cut himself off from the family.  The idea is to forge a new perspective from which to consider your family’s history, one that would otherwise go unaddressed by more normative modes of “telling” family lore.

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